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Bearings

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2018 by Vince.Puzick

When I was growing up, we had a joke in our house and, later, among backpacking friends to not ever take Pikes Peak for “granite.”  We made the play on words because of the pinkish-hued rock that comprises the Peak and, by extension, much of the surrounding area.  My childhood home on north Cascade Avenue had a big bay window on the west side that opened up a wide vista of the mountain. We could observe the Peak’s changes throughout the year – when it was snow-capped in the winter, to the pink granite rock above timberline in the summer time.

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It was there, everyday: steady, secure, visible.  If we set our bearings by telling people to “head toward the mountains,” or “if the mountains are on your left, you’re heading north,” then Pikes Peak became the heart of the GPS system that was the front range.

As I grew, though, I did come to take the mountain view for granted.  It was just there, everyday.  When I moved away for a short while in the 1980’s, though, that pink beacon stayed with me.  It was part of me.  I always felt just a little disoriented without it as I navigated streets of my new homes.

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Since returning to my hometown, I have renewed those vows to not take Pikes Peak for granted.  I look at it every day.  I love it in different light.  The early morning sun hitting the summit first, then, as the sun rises, the light spreading down the mountain.  The granite lights up pink, then the hues of green at tree-line, then the entire mountain is lit up and the day is well underway.

I love it at dusk, too, when the backlit mountain reveals the orange and blues of sunset.  When the light filters through the valleys and foothills of the front range.  Each day seems to be brand new from sunrise to sunset depending on season.

I was recently in New York City and had a view of the Statute of Liberty from the office in which I was working.  I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty before, a couple of times.  From Battery Park, then up-close as a tourist, a visitor to the area. Walked around the perimeter of its base. I came to appreciate the massiveness of Lady Liberty, the enormity of the torch she holds.

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But the view from the office was different. It was from a different angle, up higher, with a long stretch of the Hudson River framing the Statue.  It wasn’t a tourist’s view.  It was more-or-less an every day view.  One that could be easy to get used to.  From this distance, I couldn’t read the inscription about huddled masses. About tired and poor. Couldn’t read the words, “yearning to be free.”

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But those words are there. And while they don’t form the basis of policy, they shape the spirit of the country. Or they should. Lest we take them for granted.

Holden

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

This Holden Cornfield ain’t got nothin on me.

“You mean Holden Caulfield.”

Me and my partners called him Cornfield.  A play on words.  Cornfield running through the rye.

“Ahhh that’s a good one.  So why do you say he has nothing on you?”

Because this punk is runnin through his hood trying to erase all the times somebody tags up a building or somethin with the f-bomb.  Fuck that.  Can’t protect your sister from the world by trying to erase the shit.  Embrace don’t erase.

“What does that mean?  Embrace don’t erase?”

It means that Holden should be taggin over that shit.  Mark your territory.  Claim your turf.  Carve out your place.

“And that would –”

That’s the difference between white folk and black.  If that was my little sister, Phoebe, I’d still be protecting her but not by hiding that world from her.  Hold that world up.  Let her see what it looks like.  You can’t survive what you don’t see.  Then have her back.

“And –”

That’s the difference.  You people claim “Stand your ground” and shit.  You can only “stand it” if you got it.  I gots to gets mine.  Black folks got to get theirs.  Nothing to stand on.  Don’t erase that taggin. Tag back.

“So you think Holden is a punk?”

Punk ass bitch.  Grow up.  Whining about the way the world is.  No wonder he locked up.  Can’t hang.  Crumbled to the pressure when you got to be the one exerting the pressure.  It’s like D-up.  Ever see a guard crumble when he is pressured bringing the ball up the court?  Press or be pressed.

“So do you think we can talk again about Holden next time?”

Yeah, we can do that.

Hank: A Tribute

Posted in Nature, Observations, Uncategorized on December 8, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

I want to write about a horse named Hank.  He deserves a long post, a real tribute.  The more I write, though, to elevate Hank, the more trite it sounds.  It needs to be a simple story.

The significance of my relationship with Hank was only made possible because of an experience I had with a horse and her young colt six or eight years prior.  My Aunt Mary, who lived about a quarter mile away from us on Cascade Avenue, boarded horses one year.  I made my way to the prairie at the back of her house where she kept the horses.  While I was petting the mare and her colt, I decided to climb through the fence.  Stupidly, naively, I found myself between the mare and the colt.  In a fury of hot June dust and a thunder of hooves, she spun around.  Her back hooves snapped out in a blur directly at me.  I leaned back, stepped back, as her hooves stopped about three inches from my pre-adolescent skin-and-bones chest.

I climbed back through the fence.  Heart pounding.  Legs shaking.  If I hadn’t peed a little, I should have.  The mare’s fury was instinctual, predictable and protective.  My actions were the problem.  I could not shake the fear.

A few years later, I was hired at Blue Mountain Ranch near Florissant, Colorado to be a hiking and backpacking leader as well as a camp “counselor.”    One of the perks was to have access to the other amenities of the camp — including horseback riding, if that was an interest.

Despite the nagging undercurrent of fear, I went out riding with a small group of the guys attending the camp.  A couple of them were relatively close to my age and, with Texas roots and frequent visits over the years to the Ranch, they were pretty accomplished riders.

I saddled up Hank and we took to the hills.  My limited experiences with horseback riding had been on relatively flat land, with some occasional hills to negotiate.  We rode through steep hills here, though, sometimes on a trail, sometimes not.  Winding our ways through trees.  Down steep hills and back up — so steep I was fearing that I’d slide out of the saddle and over Hank’s rump.

We went out several times — long rides in the morning or evening.  At one point, they talked me into riding Hank bareback.  My fear subsided even as I felt Hank’s power.  I was maybe 175 pounds.  Any control I felt was probably an illusion.  I did feel more comfortable around at least one horse.  Interestingly, recognizing Hank’s power and beauty helped ease the self-inflicted fear from years before.

Until one afternoon I was heading to the corral to take Hank out for a ride.  One of the ranch hands stopped me.  The veterinarian said we could not ride Hank for a while, maybe a long while.  I asked him what happened.  A group of girls had been out riding Hank and jumping logs with him.  He had banged up his cannon bone — the equivalent of our shin.  Between his hoof and his knee, Hank was banged up, swollen, sore.  Other than staying off of him for maybe the rest of the summer, another recommended treatment was to walk him down to the small lake on the property and soak his legs.

I watched a few times as different people took Hank down to the lake and waded in with him.  Hank would go into the water maybe three or four steps, the water barely high enough up his front legs to do much good.  And I would watch them bring Hank back to the corral.

When I asked the ranch hand one afternoon if I could take Hank down to the lake, he handed me the reins and said “have at it.”  I swung the gate open and led the beautiful horse down to the lake.  My first two steps into the lake reminded me why this was a good treatment for his swollen legs.  The cold water shocked me at first, then felt pretty good on this summer afternoon.  I waded in a bit further, Hank following.

After a few more steps, the cold water was at the bottom of my rib cage and Hank was in up to his forearm. His legs, up to and even above his knees, were completely submerged.  I stepped closer to him and ran my hand along his broad nose and muscular neck.  Hank let me walk him into that lake throughout the remainder of the summer.  In fact, I was the only one that could get him in deep enough to have any real effect.

The corral and horse barn were visible from the cement slab at the door of our cabin.  I’d push the screen door open and step out, let out a whistle, and Hank’s ears would turn forward, alert, knowing.  He’d walk to the fence and wait as I approached the corral.  I’d slip the bridle on, swing the gate open, and we would walk down for our cold water soak in the mountain lake.

This is a simple story.  It’s about Hank, the horse.  It’s about fear and soaking it away in a cold mountain lake.

24 Hour Resolution

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

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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.

A complex problem, a multi-faceted solution

Posted in People, Teaching, Uncategorized on December 22, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve read the NRA press conference transcript, nearly 2500 words of what Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s Executive Vice President, deems a call for “decisive action” toward securing our schools.

The NRA’s plan of action – to be pursued immediately in order to be in place in January when our kids return from their holiday vacation – is called the National Model School Shield Program.  At the heart of the plan is for an armed police officer to be situated in every school in America.  LaPierre’s plan is to ensure that a “good guy with a gun” is a short minute away from any intrusion from a “bad guy with a gun.”  He argues that despite the strained resources on police departments nationwide – and, I would add, school budgets – Congress should appropriate resources now to ensure that this School Shield Program is in place.  He argues that despite these limited resources, trained and courageous police officers and retired police officers (along with a long list of others) are willing to be “deployed” right now.  In essence, he is calling for an armed peace-keeping force in our nation’s schools.

The NRA’s proposal attacks “the media” as immoral and refusing to look closely at its own contributions to the current social crisis.  The media, he argues, refuse to look at its violent movies, offensive music, blood-spattering video games as causes to our mass murders in public schools.   He argues that “[r]ather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners.”

He situates the NRA position to be one of taking the moral higher ground – with the cause being to protect our children.  But not once in the nearly 2500 words of his argument does he make one concession that perhaps we should revisit and seriously look at current gun control legislation, or the availability of assault rifles (in fact, he criticizes “the media” for not even getting the terminology correct — but what does it matter what the correct name of the weapon is?), or the availability of ammunition of the weapons. In short, he blasts “the media” for its continued glorification and glamorization of killing through video, song, and games.

No doubt, any single-sighted approach to solving the current social situation is going to be insufficient.  A complex problem requires a multi-faceted solution.  No single condition is sufficient to produce the crisis; no single-pronged solution is going to solve this epidemic of mass killings.

No single party is going to concede or compromise its position if it appears that no other party is willing to compromise its position.  We have created a culture right now of “either/or” rather than “both/and” for working toward any meaningful compromise.  We see the dichotomy as we approach the fiscal cliff; we see it in our rhetoric about gay marriage, religious and spiritual beliefs, gender equity.

So, what might it look like to truly engage in meaningful dialogue in a society which values individual freedoms?  What might it look like to pursue a solution to a complex social crisis – mass murders — in which there are several contributing factors none sufficient in itself to produce a culture in which young males can strafe movie theatres, malls, college campuses and first-grade classrooms?

Our national dialogue must:

  • Revisit gun ownership laws Yes, let’s protect the Second Amendment.  And let’s not generalize and stereotype all gun-owners of being capable of mass murder.  However, let’s make meaningful laws about ownership and production of assault rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, that are available.  Let’s even look at the term “sport shooting” which seems to be part of the rationale for the availability of these weapons.  The NRA, in its assault on “the media,” should take a reflective look at its own moral and ethical landscape.  Does “sport shooting” with assault rifles do anything but glamorize the ownership of these weapons?
  • Renew the conversation about mental health policy and care in our nation:  This conversation should also include education policy and practices in our schools.  The recent mass murder shooters have been described as intelligent, brilliant even, and with mental health issues.  And, again, let’s not generalize these individuals’ behaviors to the whole population of others with mental health issues.  I do think that as we discuss mental health care in the United States, we also need to revisit the legislation for providing education to students with special needs.  Do our public school environments, facilities, and resources effectively meet the needs of our students?  I am sure that my education colleagues who closely serve our special needs population may take issue with this concern.  However, if we are going to have a serious dialogue about a multi-faceted, complex issue, then we need to consider all sides of the issue.  If we are going to look closely at mental health policy in the United States, then we need to consider those policies within our educational system, as well.
  • Revitalize our dialogue about being male in our society:  One look at the profile of the mass murderers reveals a police line-up, if you will, of white males in their late teens or early twenties.  As we look at other statistics concerning gender, we see that enrollment of males in our colleges and universities is on the decline.  We see that males are medicated more for such conditions as ADHD and ADD.  This, alone, is a complex issue within a complex issue.  As a society, we have done much in the past 40 years to redefine responsibilities, ambitions, and opportunities for girls, young women, and women in our society.  Have we done enough to support boys, young men, and men in that transformation.  Regardless of how slow this progress may seem for women’s rights and progress, the transformation of our cultural expectations on young men may be revealing itself in unhealthy mental and physical health of our males.  Again, we may be in a position of “either/or” rather than “both/and” thinking for our young males – and females, as a matter of fact – as we look to broaden the ambitions and opportunities for them.  That is, just as young women entering the professional world battle between “either” being a professional woman “or” a mother, we need to become a culture where we can be “both” a professional woman “and” a mother.  Have we effectively addressed a similar dichotomy in the world of masculinity?  We may have made strides for males that it is rewarding to be a “stay at home dad” or for a father to be much more involved in his child’s life than in a generation ago.  But do we do enough to help adolescent males negotiate that emotional and psychological terrain as they are growing into young men?  Do we help them address the competing demands on their lives – as we watch them dropout of high school, fail to attend college, or not enlarge and enrich their late-adolescent lives?
  • Address meaningful reform movement in public education:  Has a focus on standardized assessment and achievement in our public schools diminished the most meaningful role that our schools may play in a child’s life?  Have we become a test-prep nation rather a life-prep educational system?  In our efforts to become competitive in the global economy, have we diminished our capacity to be compassionate, empathetic, collaborative in our human economy?
  • Rejuvenate our voices toward spiritual health:  We saw a glimmer of what the conversation could be like during the Sunday night, December 16, vigil following the Newtown massacre.  Regardless of the path toward spiritual health – Christian, Muslim, secular humanism, Jewish, New Age – we need to foster the health of our soul regardless of individual belief.  We need a collective consciousness toward a spiritual health in our nation.  Regardless of whether we are a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl,” we need as much attention to our First Amendment rights as we do to our Second Amendment.  What we need are voices in our country to continue to foster a larger Self, a wholeness to our individual lives and our collective lives.  I was moved not only by the spiritual and religious voices at that Sunday night vigil but also by the juxtaposition of the religious and the political.  The religious voices preceded the political voice of President Obama.  What if that were always the case?  How can we meaningfully change the context in which our conversations take place?  How do we change the language to inclusivity, to multiple avenues for a solution, to the handshake of “both/and” rather than the finger-pointing of “either/or” and dichotomous polarization?
  • Heal.  Something is wounded in our nation.  Rather than merely call for policy change and a single-sighted solution for complex problems, mournful cries to “fix something” – we need to heal.  But to heal, we need to acknowledge the wound.

At the heart of the issue is not the gun policy, nor the mental health issue, nor the gender issue; those are contributing causes.  Those are factors but they are not, in themselves alone, sufficient causes for the epidemic of mass murders we suffer today. We voice our sorrow but do not change our collective behavior.  Rather than purposeful actions toward deep-rooted, meaningful change, our response is a short-lived emotional sorrow.

Each of us cannot do everything.  But we all can do something.  Let the change begin with me.

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.

Catch and Release

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about catch and release.  And “let go and let God.”

Catch and release fishers let their fish go within a minute after landing the fish they have pursued.  The fisherman may have pursued a specific fish for several casts, or he may have called out “fish on” with the first cast in the riffles, and after fighting the fish through the current, “playing” the fish – letting it run, perhaps, so as to relieve the strain on the line — positioning downstream to ease the fight, he brings the fish to the net, unhooks the fly, admires the fish for a second or two, then releases it back into the current.  The adrenaline rush of the fight is replaced with the satisfaction of the release and the fish’s swift return into the current.

And so it is with letting go and letting God.  We hook something and struggle with it, play it, respond to its moves, sometimes letting it run like the fishing line through our reel, try to outwit it. Then: feel its heft and weight in our hands.  And until we acknowledge the thing’s weight and tug in our hands, we cannot let go and let God.  Until we feel the catch, we cannot release it into the world around us, into the hands of a Higher Power, into the swift current in which we steady ourselves once again.

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