Passions

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The daughter and I are lounging after dinner under a patio umbrella and watching swallows perform a sky ballet as they hoover up bugs out over the field. It’s hot, dreadfully hot, like Out of Africa even and we sit apart but together in the quiet comfort of like minds and personalities, alternating companionable silence with bouts of conversation. One of those wordy parts went like this…

“Dad? What if I can’t make a living from my passion? I’ve wanted to sing since I could walk, practically. But what if I fail?” I paraphrase a quote I read recently, about how you should never trust someone who doesn’t have a passion for something, no matter how unreasonable. Then we talk about voice lessons, singing every chance you can other than church choirs (anathema to us both; I’ve done it and churches make her uncomfortable as a cricket on a hot griddle) and how we go talk to her choir director and see what advice he has to offer, and give it the very best shot she can.

“If it doesn’t ever pan out as a way to make a full living,” I tell her, “you find every way you can to feed it anyway. Local theater. Karaoke even. Start a band. Just do it. Meanwhile you find a plan B, C, or 14 as a way to earn your bread. Something that’s not mindless, still has purpose, and that you can do well. But mostly you give that passion fuel to burn. I’m always behind you no matter where I am. You know the saying…”

“Whole-ass one thing!” she replies. “What about you? I don’t think the rest of the family has it. But we do. Is brewing, baking, boats or writing most important? You’re good with telling stories. You’re good at bread. Which is the passion?” I tell her bread and maybe someday brewing are ways to feed myself. Boats are a joy that I don’t get to indulge enough. “So, it’s words, then.” We sit, quiet for a few minutes, cats languorously and inelegantly stretched out, flopped at our feet. “Dad?” she says. “Write a damn book.”

Thank you for reading and be good to yourself. A more substantive post will go up Wednesday. Cheers!

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Non Sequitur? Not!

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Since we’re still blogging on Vermont, did you know Heimir Hallgrímsson has led Iceland’s national soccer team to its first-ever World Cup this year? It’s true. Back in October FIFA tweeted Congratulations Iceland! The smallest nation ever to reach a World Cup! I know what you’re thinking. Why is he writing about sports? (It’s relevant to VT. I promise.) NPR dragged me in with a segment by some Brit where he talked about the World Cup and especially Iceland’s team. Their coach still works as a dentist part time and until a few years ago was running youth teams. I don’t know if it was the guy’s accent or the story of the Viking spirit or that soccer, not being one of the four popular sports that weight most heavily in the US, gets a pass in my book. Iceland (the team) are subtly badass, punch above their weight in awesomeness, and easy to love. Iceland (the country) is so damn fine it is always running on one of the tracks of thought in my mind.

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Like Vermont. Yes, Vermont (49th state in population) is mostly known for autumn leaves, skiing, maple syrup, cheese, and Democratic Socialists. Spend some time walking the streets along Lake Champlain in Burlington though, or scoot over to Montpelier or up to Glover. Slip out onto a lake that remembers when it was a finger of the sea that dipped south in between ancient mountains once covered by two miles of ice. Hike the Long Trail. Weave around the tourists in a Farmers’ Market and talk with the people who grow, raise, and bake your food. Breathe in the Green. If it doesn’t speak to your soul then there may be something wrong with you and you have my sympathy. But I get it. The state is easy to overlook because it’s small, tucked out of the way and oh yes, it was an actual country from 1777 to 1791. Take that, Texas. How is that for badass?

vtpnwI’m going to admit it. I love the Columbia Gorge more for some things, especially when I can see two stratovolcanoes sitting all impossible looking at each other across the river and feel the magic in the air in the morning when the sunlight shoots down from the east and just pets your heart like a kitten until it purrs. Astoria is wicked as Hell and in reach of some of the most wildly beautiful coastline I can imagine. I’d kick box with a six foot tall surly badger to be able to walk down to the ferry dock on one of the San Juans with my morning coffee on the regular. There is a list and I know I will fall for other places as I meet them on my travels. But Vermont, like Iceland, is a definite contender. I could give it a few years of my time.  You might consider giving it a visit. I think you’re in for a surprise.

Be good to yourself. Don’t count out the underdogs. Thank you for reading.

Shicksal and Serendpity Strike Again

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“Odd coincidences continue to occur…” reads the horoscope today. Sister, that’s been the whole weekend. Last week was like that too. You know how they say the universe, how life, isn’t fair and that the world is uncaring and indifferent at best? Well…I am here to tell you that sometimes Shicksal (fate) smiles and Serendipity (happy accident) is your friend at the very least and perhaps they are even watching out for you after all.

That feeling of being looked after is not unexpected in Vermont. This trip a week ago it was most evident while scampering along the Long Trail from the south onto Mount Mansfield. There was a moment after I left my hiking partner behind to rest when I scrambled up a spine of rock and could see New Hampshire one way and New York the other. No people near, 46° in the sunshine, some of the oldest, wisest mountains around for company, and no sound except the scrub trees teasing a soughing voice from the west wind. Just…perfect. For a long moment I felt absolute peace, the restoreth the soul sort.

The truly odd coincidences were this past weekend being told out of nowhere by people that I encountered, again and again; you are loved, you are valued, and you are wanted. Friends, the kids, a few almost strangers…even my ex-law nieces passed along a message. It was as if they knew, or the universe did, that I was feeling very much not any of that; wanted, loved, worthy…and even though I did not express my feelings all conspired to make sure to let me know how mistaken I was. It was surreal and beyond coincidence. Not an uncaring universe at all. Though I have a feeling maybe it was getting me ready for some hard lessons to come.

I am coming to accept that may be one of the reasons I am still around. I’m to encourage, reassure, and be a catalyst to action. To help other people out by listening to them; not just getting ready to reply, but letting them express their troubles and dreams, and then being a mirror. How many times have I heard a variant of “That’s exactly what I needed to hear! I was thinking it but it helps to have it come from somewhere else.” Many times, “Yes, move. Yes, apply to that program!” etc. I feel like the hot breath that causes the lemon juice to reveal the secret message on the back of the Declaration of Independence. (That’s a National Treasure reference. I couldn’t help myself.)

Thing is I can do that encouraging and all from a place not Ohio. So I will. Hopefully I can make that be very soon. I know this was all sort of strange but so is most of this long meandering journey. I hope you liked the picture at least. If you set your GPS to 44.5437° N, 72.8143° W you can see that view for yourself. Be good to yourself and thank you for reading.

Sunlit Nights

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I wasn’t sure how Vermont was going to affect me this trip. It had been a minute since I was last there and that was taking the two youngest so they could experience it for the first time. That whole trip was mostly watching them take in someplace that was not Chagrin Falls, not Florida. When I came around that last corner on the freeway in the Adirondacks and caught my first view of Camels Hump though, the yes feeling came over me, like straight from Olympus sunbeams, shooting down through the tattered remnants of charcoal grey thunderclouds after a rain. It felt mythic. It was “Homeric!” in the words of Michaleen Flynn in The Quiet Man.

It was damn good but it was different too. Now that I have flown along the Columbia and thrilled at seeing Mt Hood out the window and the string of other stratovolcanoes looming, unpossibly thrusting skyward and I’ve taken the grownup ferry between islands that have already tattooed their names on my heart somehow Vermont felt like it had become not *the* home place but *a* home place. There is a buttload (Butt: two hogsheads or 126 gallons. It’s a thing.) of promise and possibility for creating a present that can turn into a past worth having in the accepting that last bit. More than one place can feel like home. So noted. Yes.

At the point I saw the mountain I still wasn’t sure I could make the last ferry. An hour before that traffic had been moving at 15 mph past two accidents, while the Mandarin voice of my GPS said nothing and the ETA display added minutes. Old me would have become anxious and worried but now me (who is doing his damn best to learn new tricks at living life) thought of Plan B and C, considered that at the worst I would find the ferry full or gone and I could then drive 30 minutes south. I pushed on. Off the freeway, past the houses that finally felt Vermonty and cows contentedly grazing, down the winding roads, into Essex, up to the ferry landing where there was one car waiting, arriving 45 minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave. I took a breath, let out the tension from the trip to that point to flow across the parking lot into the cold waters of the lake.

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I got on, made my ride across the lake just the way I had intended and hoped. With a little grace, luck, and determination I had made it happen. Of course I took pictures, and I looked at my Insta feed considering which to post and noticed Rebecca Dinerstein was in Norway filming her book The Sunlit Night. (This is relevant. Trust me.) She had a dream for a story. Spent beau-coup time in Scandinavia researching it, writing, getting it published, and now is turning it into a movie. I own a copy and I keep borrowing one on rotation on the Kindle. I am not only a fan but she is one of my inspirations for taking a dream, planning it out, and making it happen. Dream, scheme, do it. Yes, again.

What I am learning to do, and you can learn to do better with your life, is to take the start I’ve made in changing how I live…all the lessons from the past six years, six months, six days; the stuff that got me to the point of being able to zen ride to the Essex ferry landing mostly stress free, and take that to The Sunlit Night levels. I think it will make me better at living true to myself, and that self will be better for me, my loved ones, and the world. Dream big, scheme well, do. Mostly, DO. Get shit done. Dinerstein it.

More on the trip and lessons learned next Friday. Here’s a sunset that is almost a sunlit night. Be good and thanks for reading.

c

What’s Your Road, Man?

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“What’s your road, man? — holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.” -Jack Kerouac

The whole point of this blog (if there is one other than a bit of internet space where I can put words together) is writing about the road. My road, your road, every (wo)man’s road. Life itself. I’ve called it a long dance but it’s also a saunter (I like the suggestion that saunter comes from French sauntrer (mid-14c.) from French s’aventurer,”to take risks”) in the Thoreauvian sense of not being so much a trip with a final destination as a journey for the journey’s sake. Life is about the living of it and about the experiences you have, the people with whom you connect, and the places you find yourself along the way. It is you engaging with the world, taking chances, paying attention to things along the way…and that to which you attend weaves into your story.

I’ve noticed something the past few weeks. I have found myself focusing on things that I like in what I read and watch. Like they way the inner monologue that Lucy Ives wrote for her character Stella in her book Impossible Views of the World touched and connected with the way my own mind thinks down multiple tracks at once in a mad rush of non sequiturs that somehow come together to make sense more often than not. Then Heidi Thomas and Vanessa Caswill put together their BBC adaptation of Little Women that pulled me in so readily much I forgot I was streaming PBS and not part of the March family or  at least a neighbor. There are more examples. I’ve been drawn in to find what is good, first, not what is wrong. It’s like discovering your inner critic’s heart grew three sizes overnight or something. Or it’s Scrooge on Christmas morning all of a sudden. I like it.

How is this relevant to life and the road? It’s about how you choose paths. Think about a garden and one of the problems that come up (literally) while growing vegetables; namely, weeds. You can go about tackling the pesky vegetation a couple of ways. One is to attend to the plants you value and focus on caring for them. An organic approach takes time spent on your knees, hands in the dirt, teasing up the weeds you do not want, making space for and caring for the things you do. You’re looking toward fostering the *good*stuff, making sure it thrives. The other choice is to put your main attention to the weeds. You apply weed killer liberally and select seeds that grow along with *it* to plant. Then you end up with excess glyphosate in your body but damn is your garden plot weed free with little effort.

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Both ways work and both may help you realize your goal of a weed free garden but consider the costs and benefits. Now apply it to your life. Do you work toward the good stuff, keeping your attention on what feeds your soul? Or are you always noticing what’s wrong first? I know in a world that floods us with stories of outrage and hurt and things we need to change, avoid, fix, &c the tendency is looking first at the bad shit. There are harms that need to be addressed, great wrongs and injustices, evils wrought upon society and nature, and we do need to do something about them. There’s so much good stuff too though. We run the risk of weaving mostly what’s wrong with life into the majority of our story and leaving out the joys if we don’t set our focus on caring for the people, places, and things that we love, first.

I know, YMMV. I’m not preaching one way over the other. But let me tell you how I know that the change in me is deep and real. A friend posted pictures of a bunch of people watching Manhattanhenge (this year May 30) when the full sun lines up with the streets as it sets between the buildings. My first, second, and third thoughts were I want to see that someday. Manhattan. If you know me well that speaks volumes. No NYC anxiety. Just, YES DO THIS. Finding the good stuff first and working from there to weave a good story from the road taken. No fear. It feels good, I want to get on the road and see everything.

Speaking of the road I will be writing from Vermont next week and about Vermont, the PNW, and things along the way for a few weeks, and not so much introspection. You’re welcome. Be good to yourself and thank you for reading.

vtpnw

Weaving a Life

spiderLast night I watched a spider working on its web. It would drop suspended by the silk coming out its butt, swing, attach, climb back up, again, again. Easy falls, smooth steady ascents, all like there was a plan, a blueprint, but there was not. Still, it kept on. It’s at it again this morning, no real symmetry to the structure but a beauty nonetheless. From itself, in the most true, visceral way the spider made art as part of its life. I think of one god form to whom the spider is sacred and raise my cup of hella good German roast coffee in salute and thanks for the reminder. Cheers, Athena.

This morning the leaf shadows shimmy their dappled dance in the summery breeze. Clouds drift in misty fleets in the brilliant cerulean sky-sea. Sunlight beams all the potential and promise of another day, reflected a thousand million times in grass tip dewdrops. There is no room in that sort of morning for anything but gratitude even though the world of man be fraught with woe and distress. It is a call to live the best you can. I am resolved in the spirit of the gift of a fresh dawn wrapped blank slate to emulate the spider and craft my own life; with no blueprint, but with intent, a direction, determination, and furious purpose, into something beautiful, even though I pull it out of my ass as I go. It will be art.sky

Piece by Piece

I spent some time thinking the other day about life. Well, our lives, as humans…how others see us, and how we see ourselves, and looking for a metaphor to better understand how to go approach consciously making *major* changes in my own. In more than one way we’re each an amalgam. Best recent estimate I found of microbe to *you* in the average person is the 1.3:1 ratio – 39 trillion microbial cells to 30 trillion human cells. Each of us is a mix of genetic factors, social interactions, and all of our environments; both large and small scale human and the nature of the places in which we live. We are memories and learned things, experiences had and dreams unrealized. We are a mix, a process and a mess. So I thought of a life as less science than as art.

Life is a jigsaw puzzle. That’s pure predestination. You have pieces that you are given that only fit a certain way and if you don’t find all of them the picture; who you are, can never be complete. The image that you create as you assemble your life is whatever is printed on the cardboard and whether you like it or not the only choice you get is whether you look for the pieces that fell off the table and finish or leave the gap. You are more crafts-person than artist. Gods help you if something chews those pieces up.

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Life is a collage. It is absolute free will. We have magazines from which to choose whatever pictures we want and can combine them in a way that appeals to our sense of expression. Or maybe it is a stack of found objects from which to make some pleasing arrangement. Though some people get pictures from Vogue and some Popular Mechanics or some objects from high end store shelves and others thrift shop bins the free will to make of them all we want life to be is ours. The finished product is up to our imagination, not predetermined.

Life is a mosaic. We get pieces because of the circumstances of our birth, childhood, relationships. We find pieces by chance as we live out days. We go out looking for things to complete whatever picture we want to make, and then figure what, or remember who we wanted to be. Then we jumble the whole mess up and start over if need be. Sometimes pieces get broken or we break them on purpose and still use them; the memories, experiences, relationships, in a different way. Life is a mess of a mix, of lessons and choices, but we are still the artists and can create and recreate ourselves as we go along. The end result is not set and we can tweak it as we grow.

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That last one is the one that speaks most to me. YMMV. Remember, broken bits, though the circumstances of the breaking may hurt, are sometimes are exactly what we need to make things right. Life lessons I think is what you call them. They fill gaps in just the right way though we don’t think so as we are learning. Step back and look at it all if you feel lost. Then arrange things as you like! YOU are the artist here. Good luck!

OK I am two weeks out of having some more road trip experiences to write about and am going back east for the first time in a long minute. I am interested to see how it feels after all this time. If there is something worth sharing, and there will be, it’s going up here. Thanks for stopping by. Be good to yourself.

What the Duck

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Just as I made my wish and prepared to toss in a penny I watched one fall. I wasn’t sure what it was I saw at first, but then another dropped over the waterfall into the foam, then yet another. Their feet started working furiously against the current immediately. It wasn’t a minute until their mother launched herself off the lip of the falls to join them. The Ohio and Erie Canal runs through downtown Akron and there are two parks (Lock Three and Lock Four) built around it. In Lock Four the walls are steep and high, no way for a human to get down without a ladder or rope. That is where an unfortunate family; a mallard hen and her very young ducklings found themselves today. They were four wild fowl in the middle of a perplexing dilemma.

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The babies were good swimmers. I watched them be swept downstream and then fight their way up to the falls repeatedly. They followed their mother to the left side then right then left over and over. No luck. The only way out for them to go upstream was to fly. No good because they were too young. I considered going after them and ruled it out. The ducks drifted downstream then, toward the only real option they had; through the gateway into the darkness.

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That’s not a bridge. It’s where the canal goes underground for a quarter mile. I know where it comes out. If they surrendered to the water and drifted along they would end up at a lovely duck friendly spot on the Cuyahoga. I don’t think they knew that because I watched them go in and out and into the dark, each time shooting back to the falls, and from whence they came, again and again. I tried talking reason to the hen. I quacked, literally, hoping to maybe convey (in accidental duckspeak) the idea that she should just drift, or on the other hand say something offensive so that she would gather her babies in an “I declare!” huff and swim into the tunnel to get away from the crazy human. She did give me a funny look.

What I said in English is this: “Mama, sometimes the only way out is through the darkness! You have to trust that there is light on the other side. The only way out is through.” Then thinking that is something I need to remember for myself…the only way out is to push on through the darkness…I wished them luck and went back to work. What the duck thought of my advice I do not know. Be good to yourself and thank you for reading.

Go Places That Scare You

31939628_10204597886784731_3643433251256664064_nYou know the saying. “Everything you really want is on the other side of fear.” It may not look like fear. Sometimes it dresses up like reason or an overabundance of caution. Here’s an example from yesterday. I took a walk down a trail I used to go to once a week but haven’t done for years. It’s tricky, following a stream through a ravine. You have to cross the water at a few spots. One crossing is a precarious, moss-covered, fallen old growth tree trunk. I watched people scoot across it rather than walk because it was wet, and slippery. I had a few choices. Chance it and maybe wet my phone falling off. Wade across. Go back and high up to the ravine edge and bypass it. Turn around on the trail. All came to mind because of caution. It is a reasonable thing to do of course. Think it through. But if you ruminate too much it can be paralyzing because it comes from fear. You could spend an hour trying to figure out the best choice. A squirrel would scamper across without hesitation. In the end I stepped across it; carefully. (I did not spend an hour.)

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” —Rumi (At least attributed to Rumi; it could have been Kendra the Yoga teacher.)

One cure to the hesitation that keeps us from trying, from the overthinking that guarantees failure, is to go places that scare you. Practice facing your fear. Maybe another country is what it takes. Maybe it is only another town. Maybe it is a class, job, craft, sport, that is the *place* you are scared of. It might be piling into a raft and white watering. Too risky, not worth the chance you might fail, look silly, or get hurt. No one speaks your language. The fear could be any or all of those. But the thing to remember is to take the first step and go. It will teach you to embrace possibility. Buy a ticket, take the class, or send out the resume. Not going and opening your mind with the journey, whatever shape that takes, is what keeps you from what you want. You become mentally and spiritually sedentary and that does for your *soul* what 8 hours a day at a desk job literally does to your heart. It’s the new smoking. It is fatal to growth and the possibility of achieving any real goal. Going is practice for the big moves through life.murray

Pro tip from Mr. Bill Murray: relax. This will help you get past the fear. I started going places that scare me most recently in 2012. This is when I started flying again and it took two tall beers before I boarded the plane to get me to relax. Allow me to tell you that little crutch (I don’t need two beers anymore) helped open up a whole new side of the continent to me. I reached the Pacific and it changed my life for the better. It is still transforming me. You may wonder if you are the curious type, what is frightening about the PNW. That it might make you want to live there is my answer. I know… Fear can be reasonable and keep us from making fools of ourselves and it can be a stupid ass. Take a Saint Christopher medal or some other talisman with you if you must, but relax, and go.

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Let me wrap up with some personal advice. When you *do* go to the place that scares you remember to take off *all* the armor. I have been going to Vermont longer than many of the people I know have been alive. From the very first it has been a place that lets me feel like I can breathe and just be myself. But the other night I realized that is not completely true. Even there I have been walking for decades keeping a layer between me and the Vermonters. From fear that I might not fit in and be accepted I guess. That’s not an unreasonable consideration in a state where you aren’t considered a native unless your family knew Ethan Allen but, still… I took off the plate mail but left on the gambeson; the padded coat that you wear underneath. It still provides a layer of protection and is armor of a sort. I mean metaphorically of course. I did not go medieval in Vermont. I have never fully let it work its way and that is a damned shame.

Not next trip up there. I am just going to be me and count on my charm and kindness and let the place work its way without the protection. Then maybe stop in NYC on the way to Iceland and give it a shot. Go somewhere that scares you. Relax. Open up to the experience. There is a lot of pain in the world of course, but even more wonder. Go find it. Go past the fear. Let the places that scare you change you. Transform you. Then use what you have learned and go and get what you want. Be good to yourself and thanks for reading.

Bodhi’s Three Universal Laws: YMMV

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This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in something that was both a homecoming and a sendoff. There is an annual gathering of poets that has been taking place for three decades in a town that was one of the more important formative factors in my life. The focus of much of the poetics and storytelling at this year’s event was the recent passing of one of its founders; literally an iconic figure who everyone sort of assumed or hoped might outlive us all because what will we do if he goes? I know this blog is supposed to be about journeys. Both my meandering life journey with all the detours and setbacks and epiphanies of course, and also some informative, entertaining travelogues to share places that are visit-worthy or spots to go and live. I’m going to write now on a particular subject that is relevant to both sorts of trips that came up in discussion with some of the creative folks this weekend: people.

(Years of observation went in to the development of these Three Universal Laws™. We just polished them up this weekend. As always, friend, remember; YMMV.)

First Law: Humans as a species are worthy creatures. If you are familiar with MBTI typology and you consider the INFP viewpoint you will remember we (INFPs) have a belief that all humans are inherently good. There is a spark or embers or flames of goodness in every single human being…somewhere. It may be hidden very well but our task is as much as we can to foster that goodness when we come across it. They may run the goodness scale from Ghandi down to Nazi soldiers being kind to puppies but the goodness is in there. We can’t know how much we will affect the people we meet by their interactions with them but by our own nature we might bring out their best. We hope that in time, we can even turn a planet of feuding nation states into the Federation. This brings us to…

Law Number Two:  People SUCK.  My service industry friends know this very well. We all see it all the time. (Hu)man’s inhumanity to (hu)man. In any given day you will read about, watch online, or (I am so sorry if this happens to you) be on the receiving end of someone treating someone like garbage. As in the First Law of course there is a scale that runs from taking the last donut in the break room up to planet-killing or genocide, but we all, we ALL suck at one time or another. In line at a store, on the freeway, between members of families; people can be assholes. This mindset, writ large, is also one of the roots of all the strife in the world. It is fueled by politicians, advertisers, tyrants, even religions. Someone is stealing your job, no one loves you but they will if you buy this, (insert deity here) says to do (insert atrocity here) to someone not us.  The third law speaks to the hope of the First Law and gives an answer to Number Two…

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Law of the Triple Threat: Angels walk among us. We encounter angels all the time. I do not mean supernatural winged creatures or even the theory of 36 tsadikim who keep G-d from destroying the world. These are the people we think of as persons, the ones who touch our lives in the most meaningful ways, folks who make us better humans and the world a better place. Whether they are a small-p person or large-P Person they act as messengers. Literally; it is in the name. (Angel: Middle English, from Old English engel & Anglo-French angele; both from Late Latin angelus, from Greek angelos, literally, messenger.) They may not look any different from the rest of the crowd or they might stand out but the main thing is through speech, action, and attitude, they bring the message of the First Law and apply it against Law Number Two.

They create spaces of beauty and refuge. They heal the wounded heart, rescue lost souls, fight oppression and injustice, or maybe just feed hungry people really good food. They make art; sometimes out of their very lives. Whether they become friend-family, a partner, or just someone you meet in your travels, you will always remember them. They are the hope of the world. One of them might be you. (I’d be a scruffy pirate angel myself.) Our friend who died recently, definitely, no doubt, an angel of  this sort, is why I wrote down these laws. I’d like for you to meet such a person as Maj. I am sure you already know some in fact but if you don’t realize that here in the next picture is some advice both on how you might encounter them and maybe how to become one as well.

Be good to yourself and thank you for reading.

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