Inspire and Be Inspired

Head on over to the new davecenker.com, sign up to be a member of my author community, receive a free award-winning short story and continue the conversation! See you there!

DaveJen-BannerOne thousand days ago (hey, it just sounds better than 2 years, 8 months, and 26 days) I remember sitting down with a guitar resting on my knee.

Those malformed chords I was strumming were messy sounding, but the chord it struck inside me was perfectly in tune. I remember thinking … I should start a blog. It came out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure why I vocalized that thought. I had written less than a total of 500 creative words up to that point in my life.

If someone would have told me way back then that I would be composing this post today, I would have surely let out an involuntary chuckle beneath my breath. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be here, but I have this way of starting different things (lots of them) only to have them collect metaphorical dust as the initial excitement fizzles out along with my passion for it.

And yet, a thousand days and just a few more than five hundred words later, I compose this post with an anxious yet excited heartbeat. This will be my last post at this blog site. That’s the sad part, for me at least. This little corner of the blogosphere has been a sort of virtual private sanctuary for me to discover and share insights, thoughts, and stories with each and every one of you.

The exciting news – again, for me at least, and hopefully for you too – is that my writing will continue forward with as much, if not more passion than I have had up until this point. Today, I am launching my new author-centric website at www.davecenker.com.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey over the past three years, you will know my tagline by heart – inspire and be inspired.

Second ChanceI’ve written personal essays, flash fiction, short stories, and even a novella up until this point. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November, I set an ambitious goal to write my first novel, uncertain where that lofty ambition would land me. 50,000+ words and several personal revisions later, I have a draft of my first novel, Second Chance, that I am now ready to pass over to my editor. My plan is to have it published sometime later this year.

In an effort to build an author platform, I have migrated my online presence to www.davecenker.com. Along with promotion and news on the release of my first novel, I will be offering flash fiction, short stories, book reviews, and the occasional dip into non-fiction.

I have a feeling that pressing the publish button on this post is going to be more difficult than any I have pressed up until this point in my writing life. But, if you’re reading this, I suppose that I’ve been successful in overcoming that small hurdle.

I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for all the reads, the likes, and most importantly, the comments that have helped me to embrace this role as an author. I know it sounds so cliché, but truer words could not be spoken – I simply couldn’t have done it without you.

HomecomingI invite each one of you to visit my new site and continue onward with me on this journey we have started together. As a small token of my appreciation, when you sign up to be a member of my author community, I will send you a copy of a previously unreleased short story titled Homecoming. I would be honored to share this story with you that has received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

You can join my author community by visiting my new site at www.davecenker.com and clicking the Free Story! link in the top right corner of the home page. I’ll still be checking this site for the next couple of weeks, so if you have any problems or questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~Meister Eckhart

Let the magic of new beginnings be with each and every one of you. Inspire and be inspired.

 

Shifting gears

mustang-50I sit at the traffic signal, eyes locked on the red light. My left foot is depressing the clutch while my right foot is hovering over the top of the accelerator pedal. With my left hand at the eleven o’clock position on the leather wrapped steering wheel, my right hand caresses the gear shift knob presently in first gear. The tunes are streaming wirelessly from the cell phone in my left pocket and I am perched at the starting line awaiting clearance to launch with the anticipation of a green light.

I have been in this situation many times before. The versatility provided by my car allows me so many choices. I can ease away from a standstill and revel in the low rumble of the engine as the RPM gauge cycles from 1,000 to 3,000 – back and forth through the sequence of gears.

I can punch the accelerator with my right foot while simultaneously releasing pressure on the clutch pedal and accelerate – to a legal speed, of course – faster than most vehicles on the highway. And it’s perhaps what I enjoy doing most, getting where I want to be posthaste, both in my car and in the things I set out to do in life.

I was prepared to do just that on this day when something happened. It’s another reason why I am so protective of the commuting time in my car. It’s like a personal sanctuary for me. Some of my most persuasive and compelling thoughts have come to me while nestled in the cockpit of the driver’s seat.

As the final chords of The Goo Goo Dolls Rebel Beat finished, there was a momentary pause while the software in my phone decided what would be queued up next. Once upon another time.

sara-once-upon-another-timeNo, this is not the beginning of a story. This was the song now streaming through my car speakers. The title track off Sara Bareilles’ EP album released in 2012 had been played so many times before. But, on this particular day, it provided me with something different than it had in the past – perspective. There is no logical reason why I heard the lyrics differently on this given day, why I paid them more attention, especially since I was focused on coordination of movements between feet, hands, and brain to accelerate quickly off the starting line. But, that is exactly why I have allowed logic to ride in the backseat more often these days. Situations arrive on our doorstep when we are ready to invite them inside for a visit. Today was that day.

Once upon another time
Before I knew which life was mine
Before I left the child behind me
I saw myself in summer nights
And stars lit up like candle light
I make my wish but mostly I believed

Something about the words resonated with me on this go-around. And I felt compelled to look up the meaning of these lyrics when I arrived into work. In an interview, Sara explained that this title track is really about loss of your childhood and letting go of your past, a part of her journey through life at the time she wrote the song. I sat and thought for a few moments. I was grasping for some connection. I was meant to hear these words in a different light for some reason. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I had a good childhood. There was nothing I needed to let go from that past. And then, it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. There is more than one past. There are an infinite number of pasts that we are creating each and every moment of each and every day. And I did need to let go of one of those to move on towards my next big ambition.

rafiki-it-is-timeFor the past year, I have been publishing short stories to this blog. And it has been extremely gratifying – to tell stories, to share emotions, to welcome everyone who chooses to read them into my small corner of the world. It has become comfortable – like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. But, it is time for me to toss the comfy blanket aside and embrace the chilly air of doubt and uncertainty. You see, I have been encouraged, nudged – and eventually now – persuaded towards publishing some of my stories. I have a sense that it is going to require a fair amount of time, work, and growing pains to reach this ambition. But, as Rafiki proclaims in The Lion King, “It is time.”

Here I was, all ready to accelerate to 60 mph as quickly as I could, and instead I ease from one gear to the next as the captivating sounds of the harmonium echo in my ears. I am not going anywhere from a writing sense. In fact, I will probably be writing as many stories, if not more, than what I was writing before. But, they will now be in anticipation of publication in a book as well as on my blog.

Many of the stories that I have previously published on this blog will be made accessible, in the near future, via Amazon in e-book format. Check if one of your favorites is slated for release through the new Short Stories menu on the home page of my blog. If your favorite isn’t there, let me know and I will add it to my next wave of short stories to be published in e-book format. Each of the stories will be provided in their entirety with a short passage provided by me detailing the inspiration behind the story.

artist-easelIn addition, I will be releasing a new short story series titled Impression exclusively on Amazon. As a humble way of showing my appreciation for everyone who has read and commented on my stories to date, this new short story will be available to download for free during the initial days after release.

I will still be a regular contributor in the blogosphere – perhaps just in a different capacity now. I am not exiting the highway, I am simply changing lanes. I am shifting gears so that I can accelerate towards the next step on my own journey as an author. It’s a difficult decision for me, more than you could probably imagine. I have had this draft sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind for several weeks. Although things never seem to be black and white – except for my car, of course – the perspective provided by each situation helps us to discern the various shades of gray in between the two extremes. And even though it may not be easy or comfortable, it’s the process of choosing one of those shades of gray that adds depth to our perspective, and growth to our lives.

Home again

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters before the finale, please visit: Chapter 1 – The keyChapter 2 – Plus oneChapter 3 – The seedChapter 4 – Step by step, and Chapter 5 – Hope.

lighthouse-portland-maineDamon had a suspicion the numbers he found scribbled in the margin of that book by T.S. Eliot would be the last ones he’d encounter on this memorable journey – because he recognized them. There were no other clues to be deciphered, just the coordinates that would lead him back to his home in a seaside town just outside of Portland, Maine.

As he exited the public library, the two facial expressions staring back at Damon from the base of the marble steps held a look teetering back and forth between enthusiasm and anxiety. One was human, the other canine. Jo, the co-owner of a restaurant in rural Virginia had her eyes locked on the exit door in anticipation. Gryffin, Damon’s loyal golden retriever, began to tug on the leash when he caught a glimpse of his owner. Jo allowed Gryffin to lead the way, although not entirely by choice. She began to stumble as Gryffin pulled her along towards Damon, the distance closing quickly.

As they reached audible range, Jo not wanting to wait any longer, called out to Damon, “Did you find it? What did it say?” Gryffin followed suit with an imploring bark. The semi-confused look on Damon’s face left her with a feeling of apprehension. Damon was still attempting to process what he was supposed to do next, other than return home. “Was there nothing there?” asked Jo hesitantly.

“No, no. There was definitely something there. I’m just not sure what to do next,” responded Damon.

“Well, lay it on me. We’ll all figure it out together,” urged Jo.

“There was another quote – in the book, that is. It was highlighted and in the margin were a set of coordinates that lead back to my new house,” offered Damon.

“What was the quote?” asked Jo.

“It was by T.S. Eliot – We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Damon recited the quote from memory. It had already been catalogued in his mental library.

“Well, am I missing something?” asked Jo. “It seems pretty obvious that you’re supposed to return home.”

“Yeah, I get that part,” responded Damon, “I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do when I get there.”

faith-take-the-first-step“Hey, remember that parchment that came with the acorn?” asked Jo. Damon reached into his pocket to grab hold of the acorn, making sure that it was still there. Jo continued, “There was an important word in that quote. Remember it? Faith. Let’s just have faith that we’ll figure it out once we get there.”

“So, you still want to continue on with us?” inquired Damon. “I wasn’t sure if you would just want to return to the restaurant. It’s only a couple hours away.” Damon couldn’t believe that he was even proposing something so far against what he actually desired, to have Jo accompany him on the final leg of this journey back to his hometown. He chided himself internally for allowing something so foolish to escape his lips.

“No way, compadre, you’re stuck with me now,” smiled Jo. “I was serious about new beginnings back on that mountaintop. My sister can take care of the restaurant. It was always her special project anyway. This is my new beginning. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up, but I do know the next stop on the journey.”

With the sun beginning to set on another day filled with fortuitous discoveries, the driving duties were transferred back to Jo. With a desire to close the gap slightly between their present position and final destination, the truck and its three occupants began to head north on the interstate. The conversation was quiet as the speakers streamed uninterrupted tunes from the satellite radio. After about three hours, somewhere near the New York border, Damon shook his head slightly as if to keep his eyelids from involuntarily shutting. Looking over at Jo, he could tell that she was beginning to show signs of exhaustion too. It had been a long day.

Damon reached over, turned down the volume, and proposed one final layover on their journey. “How about we find a place to get some rest? We can get on the road first thing in the morning and be back in Maine before noon.”

“Sure, that sounds good,” said Jo as she allowed a yawn to escape mid-sentence. As if the offer of rest had provided her second wind, Jo felt compelled to share something. “You know, these last couple days, they have been a lot of fun.”

“Yeah, same goes for me,” replied Damon. “I’m just not quite used to so much spontaneity in my life.”

“Funny,” chuckled Jo, “I think that’s one of the things that made it so enjoyable for me.”

“Maybe you’re right,” smirked Damon, “I never thought about it that way.” Finding a pet friendly hotel just off the interstate, the last thoughts Damon entertained before succumbing to sleep left him with a smile in his heart.

The following morning brought with it an intense feeling of anticipation – the three travelers just weren’t sure what they were anticipating yet. The remaining few hours of their journey passed quickly. Damon had beaten his estimate by a good hour as he rolled into his hometown a little before eleven o’clock.

As he coasted into the driveway and turned off the engine, Damon stared ahead at the front door in front of him, “Okay, now what?”

“Well, you could give me a tour, you know,” said Jo smiling.

“Sure, right, where are my manners?” replied Damon. Gryffin was at the front door waiting to enter with his tail wagging excitedly. Damon guided Jo through a brief tour of the old house, boxes still strewn around each of the rooms they walked through. “It’s not much yet, but it has a lot of potential,” offered Damon somewhat defensively.

As they entered the bathroom attached to his bedroom, a thought occurred to Damon. The coordinates led him to his house. That was obvious. There was another clue in that library, one that he didn’t consider too closely until now. He recalled the quote once again, whispering it to himself – We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Where we started – that phrase stuck with him. This was the exact location beneath the sink where everything began. This is where the brass key still hanging around his neck was found wrapped in twine.

wooden-floorboardHe stood there, motionless, for a few moments before he recalled the dull thud that sounded when the ball of wet twine made contact with the wooden floorboard beneath the pipe. Damon returned to that floorboard, got down on his hands and knees, and looked at it a bit more closely.

Jo, sensing that Damon was on to something but not wanting to disrupt the flow, bent over to look but remained silent. The nails securing this particular floorboard were missing. Reaching his fingers into the tiny gap between the wall and floorboard, he noticed that he was able to pry back the piece of wood quite easily. There was a sealed container built into the space beneath the floor. Placed inside it was another piece of parchment rolled up and tied with a red ribbon.

Rising back to his feet, Damon untied the ribbon and unrolled the sheet with Jo standing next to him. Together, they silently read the quote etched in the same perfect penmanship that they had come to know so well.

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. ~ Joseph Campbell

Damon just smiled. Of course. Had he known that the final piece of his journey was right under his nose when he discovered the brass key, he would have most likely jumped to the conclusion straightaway. And look what he would have missed out on – adventure, friendship, lessons in giving, receiving, and perhaps most importantly – love. Love of others and love of self.

“Wow,” offered Damon to Jo, “this certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.” And then he smiled and continued on, “But, you know what, I think that’s what makes it all that more special.”

“I guess I’m rubbing off on you,” smiled Jo as she bumped shoulders with Damon. “Hey, you know what,” said Jo with an intriguing twist in her voice, “I just thought of something. How do you spell your name?”

Damon wasn’t catching on quite yet, but he played along, “D-A-M-O-N,” replied Damon. “Why, what does that have to do with anything?” he continued.

“I was just thinking. Reverse the letters of your name, and what do they spell?” offered Jo.

“N-O-M-A-D. You’re a nomad, a wanderer. And what you have chosen to do over the past week has been exactly that – you have wandered from place to place for the sake of wandering, to explore, to be alive.”

Damon was beginning to appreciate this woman more and more with every passing minute. Maybe he was living life up until this point as his name – backwards. But he had more than a fleeting clue now. He had a revelation, and he certainly felt alive, more alive and vibrant than he had in his entire life.

flowers-of-tomorrowReaching into his pocket, he retrieved the acorn and placed it on his bathroom sink – a constant reminder to embrace new beginnings. “How about some lunch? I know this great seafood place just down the road. It sits right on the water.” Winking at Jo, Damon continued on, “I did promise, and I always do my best to keep promises.” An endearing grin spread across Jo’s face as she replied, “I’ll have to remember that.” As Damon took Jo’s hand in his own, another seed was planted in this wanderer’s life – one that he knew would flourish given time – and faith.

Author’s Note: This has been a wonderful adventure filled with discovery not only for Damon, Jo, and Gryffin – but also for the author. I hope that it has been as much fun and rewarding for you to read it as it has been for me to write it. I sincerely thank everyone who took the time to follow along on this journey over the past month and share their thoughts – it means more than you can possibly know. May the coming days, weeks, and years bring each of you wandering journeys filled with unbounded love and inspiration – a little faith goes a long way. ~Dave Cenker

Rejuvenate

holding-a-cup-of-coffee

Author’s Note: This is the continuation of a previously published story. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Submission.

The scenery of Jess’ life changed on an otherwise ordinary day. Of course, that’s how it always seems to work. Change arrives on our doorstep when we least expect it. Seated at her customary kitchen table position, Jess’ attention shifted from the space inside her head to the rumbling diesel engine applying its air brakes outside.

Pulling the kitchen drapes aside, just enough to catch a glimpse of the activity outside, the moving truck came to rest in front of the abandoned house next door. Arriving behind the truck a few seconds later was a small blue sedan. A young girl, about six or seven years old, bounced out of the back seat with the energy of a firecracker. She ran towards the front door, peeking behind every few steps to make sure that her mom was following. “C’mon mom, hurry up! I wanna see my new room,” exclaimed the exuberant child. Mom was indeed following behind with almost as much excitement as her daughter.

Jess let the drapes fall back to their closed position. She sat back down at the table to resume her daily session of contemplation, but her flow had been disrupted. There was no going back to her past today, maybe tomorrow. She may as well move forward with the list of chores needing to be completed before the evening schedule commenced. It was a crisp, fall day, zero humidity. The smell of autumn was in the air. It was a perfect opportunity to hang the laundry outside – more like a perfect excuse to get outdoors where Jess knew she belonged.

Clipping shirts on to the clothesline, one sleeve at a time, Jess was greeted by the young voice she already recognized. “Hi,” came the voice from the little girl’s head just peeking over the fence. Jess smiled, but before she could respond, a taller figure emerged behind the child. “I’m sorry,” she offered apologetically, “My daughter is quite the little socialite. We didn’t mean to bother you.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. I’m Jess. I guess I’ll be your new neighbor. Welcome to the neighborhood,” replied Jess.

“Thank you, I’m Claire and this is my daughter, Ella,” she replied placing a hand on her daughter’s head as she bounced up and down to get a better view.

Jess was never one to do what she did next, but something inside nudged her towards the words that came out of her mouth. “I know you’re new to the area and I’m really a complete stranger at this point, but would you and Ella like to come over for lunch later? I can make some sandwiches and we can have a little picnic on the back porch.”

“That is so very kind of you, but we wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” said Claire. “Can we mommy, can we, can we, please?” exclaimed Ella.

“It’s really no inconvenience at all. I’d love it if you two could come over. I know how difficult and stressful it can be to move into a new place,” replied Jess.

“Well,” smiled Claire as she looked down at her human pogo stick, “let us get a few things in place and we would be delighted to accept your invitation. You are very kind, Jess. Thank you very much.” And with that simple decision, a new relationship was born – one that would prove to be rejuvenating for Jess, both personally and professionally.

Jess came to learn that Claire was a single mom. She and Ella had moved here looking for a fresh start. Running a home business online, Claire could choose to live anywhere. The schools were supposed to be top notch in this area. All thoughts were on Ella and her future as she was preparing to enter first grade.

Jess was an only child. Perhaps that is why she was so prone to solitary confinement. There was always a part of her, however – despite her genetic predisposition – that longed for the companionship of a sibling. Over the course of the weeks that followed, she felt as though she had discovered, in Claire, the long lost sister that she never had beside her.

Jess came to welcome the warm, compassionate, and honest connection that had been sown between these two sisters living in parallel universes. It became part of her daily routine to have a cup of coffee with Claire after both their houses emptied in the morning. Sometimes at Claire’s place, other times at Jess’ home, her coffee never got cold anymore. She conversed with ease about anything and everything – from the best crepe recipes to the dreams buried deep inside. It was ironic that the two individuals living next door to Jess felt more like her family than the three other people living under her own roof.

chocolate-coconut-crepes“You know,” said Claire one morning over a cup of coffee and her latest baking endeavor, chocolate coconut crepes, “I have an idea.” Smiling, she continued on, “You need to find a way to rekindle your professional pursuits. Not like it’s necessarily my cup of tea, but I can tell you are tormented by the lack of dirt under your fingernails.”

Jess gave a lazy, knowing smile. Of course Claire could sense this, but why didn’t her own husband? Claire continued, “Ella’s class is doing a unit on dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in science class. I know it’s not the prestigious and high profile research that you are used to, but I bet they would love to hear about what it’s like to be a real-life paleontologist.”

When two like-minded individuals put their heads together, the ideas that emerge become greater than the sum of their thoughts. That is how it came to be that Ella’s first grade class would be visiting her own backyard on a field trip. Transformed into a prehistoric dig site, twenty young seven year old boys and girls would learn just what it was like to be a paleontologist firsthand.

Jess was going to let her husband know about her plans, but it never came to pass. The robotic sequence of events once he returned home didn’t leave a single spare cycle to hold a meaningful conversation. It was dinner, homework with the boys, television, late night sync-up call with his customers in Asia, a glass of scotch, and snoring from the bedroom that soon followed.

That was alright. Jess had a much more willing and engaged companion to assist her. On the morning before the “Big Dig” as they were coining it, Jess met Claire at her back door. Work gloves on, shovel in hand, Jess felt like a kid in a candy store. She felt more energized than she thought she would. She hadn’t realized just how big the void created by her lack of a professional life had become.

shovel-with-dirtEager to get started, Claire began taping off the dig area while Jess put shovel to dirt. The assortment of turkey and chicken bones would constitute a majority of the planned finds beneath the surface. Jess had pulled out a few of her own special specimens collected over the years as special treats for the young paleontologists. She remembered the day she cracked open that rock along the riverbed to reveal a three hundred million year old fossil. She would do everything in her power to recreate a similar feeling in the malleable minds of these young children.

One after another, holes were dug. Would be dinosaur bones were planted and covered back up. Near the end of the morning, as Jess was digging one of the final holes, the shovel pierced the earth and hit something solid.

“Oh, no,” grimaced Jess as she turned towards Claire, “Do you have an irrigation system installed in your yard?”

“I’m not really sure,” replied Claire, “but I don’t think so.”

“Well, if you do,” said Jess, “I think I just severed one of your pipes.”

As she got down on her hands and knees, she grabbed a trowel and carefully navigated around the point of interest. She was surprised how easily it all came back to her, delicately working around an object to unearth it while still preserving its integrity. Removing the gloves from her hand, she began to use her fingers to clear out the space around the object taking shape. It wasn’t an irrigation pipe after all. It looked like it was a box, almost like an old style ammunition container.

With her curiosity winning out over a desire to preserve its integrity, she began to move the dirt more quickly, less carefully, in an effort to bring this curious exhibit above ground. “What is that?” inquired Claire.

Running her hands over the metal top, brushing the dirt away, Jess replied, “I don’t know.”

old-journalJess was hesitant to take the next step. This wasn’t her property after all, finding it in Claire’s back yard. “Well, why don’t you open it?” suggested Claire. Having been given permission to learn more about an artifact excavated from the ground, natural or man-made – Jess didn’t need to be asked twice.

She unlatched the metal clasp on the front and lifted the lid. As the metal hinges creaked upon opening, the words on the leather journal piqued her interest as much as any specimen she had recovered in her past – Mes secrets – Chapitre cinq.

Imagine

blue-sky-clouds

Supported by a thousand blades of grass

Eyes directed towards the heavens

The water droplets are coalescing

Arranging themselves twice

Against the blue canvas overhead

Then in the infinite dimensions of my mind

A dragon soars across the sky

His spiny tail whipping to and fro

And in the next instant

The violent apparition has morphed

Into a trail of steam from a soothing cup of tea

The capacity of our imaginative mind

Unfathomable

Without it we are not human

With it we become something beyond human form

Able to do anything

Go anywhere

Be anyone

All this courtesy of a passing cloud

A fleeting thought

And an imagination that we take for granted

Imagine that

Open book

open-bookMaybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans. Or perchance it was the names of influential authors decorating the walls – Faulkner, Hemingway, Kipling, Yeats, and Steinbeck. Whatever the reason, the quiet bookstore situated off the bustling city street was a personal sanctuary for Evan.

Others found solace in the smoky confines of a pub, the noisy background and alcoholic influences drowning out the stressors of any given day. Evan never subscribed to this form of social medication. It wasn’t because of some moral dilemma that he shied away from this modus operandi for so many others. He had tried it himself on my different occasions – beer, wine, vodka, and scotch – they all placated his animosity temporarily, but it returned tenfold when the short-lived effects released their grip on him.

Evan was a thinker. He wasn’t one to push any occurrence, good or bad, to the mental filing cabinet before investigating it from every perspective, certain that there was some hidden nugget of wisdom to be mined from every experience. There was no amount of alcohol, smoke, or codependent bearing of the soul hunched over on a barstool that would ever allow him to reach his objective – a quiet and reflective journey within that allowed him to arrive at the same place he had previously been and see it as if for the first time.

That is why Evan found himself seated in his favorite bookstore café, looking left then right as if to absorb the information and knowledge in the books surrounding him through the power of osmosis. Four paces to the right in cooking and he has, at is fingertips, the steps required to create the most perfect flan in his kitchen. Eleven steps ahead in the music section and he too could learn how to play the melodic syncopation of the ukulele sounds streaming from the speakers above him. Seven strides to the right into the shelves of fiction and he is presented with a plethora of adventure stories, hidden caverns filled with elusive treasure, protected by the most ingenious measures, concealed to everyone save for those few who chose to look closer with a discerning eye. Evan wanted to be one of those few.

coffee-whipped-creamWith both hands wrapped around the glass hot to the touch, Evan was unable to see the steam venting from the hot liquid confined to its container. The small dollop of whipped cream on the surface was preventing that heat, that metaphorical tension, from escaping. Slowly, however, that whipped cream succumbed to the influence from the espresso below, dissolving into the mocha flavored java, allowing the inevitable release of heat. The physical realities of the natural world had a way of opening Evan’s mind to the more esoteric complexities of the world that were unable to be seen by the human eye.

The rustic wooden chair that he sat upon creaked with every subtle movement. Leaning onto the table built from splintering wood, its four legs rocked back and forth from its imperfect construction. We all have our own problems, imperfections, and stumbling blocks, thought Evan. It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we respond to it. He had read that in at least one of the volumes surrounding him right now, perhaps in several of them.

Sometimes Evan found himself in this sanctuary out of habit. Today, however, a specific catalyst accounted for his presence at the café table. As he loosened his tie in an attempt to quell the hostility beginning to resurface, he recalled the events of the staff meeting earlier that day. It was one thing to disagree with a colleague’s opinion. That was natural and necessary. It was quite another to backhandedly undermine another colleague’s suggestion in the name of personal gain. As deeply as he contemplated the scenario, Evan could not find an angle that made any logical sense other than pure, unadulterated greed. His patience for this bureaucratic and political landscape of big business was waning with every supporting circumstance.

Looking back up from his coffee, eyes perusing the other patrons in the café, Evan noticed a couple three tables over, just out of earshot. A middle aged man and a slightly younger woman sat across from each other. The man was slouched over the table, head in his hands, right leg bouncing up and down with anxiety. The woman held a much more composed demeanor, sitting more upright, reaching across the table with her left hand. The diamond ring on her left finger sent Evan’s thoughts running rampant.

Was this woman a mistress, now just breaking the news that she was, in fact, married? Was the man hiding something from the woman across from him, attempting to work up the courage to share it with her? Or maybe the two individuals were brother and sister, figuring out how to deal with the failing health of their parents, one handling it better than the other? Evan surmised that he had perhaps read too many far-fetched novels filled with unexpected plot twists, but the possibilities were endless. His curious nature was too strong.

Feigning indifference to the developing situation, Evan rose from his customary table, laptop in tow, and meandered towards the periodicals, picking up the closest magazine within his grasp. Wandering slowly back into the café area, he chose a different seat, slightly closer to the couple. Flipping through the pages of his recently acquired magazine, he could hear the exchange of voices between the two.

“What are we going to do,” the man pleaded with desperation.

“It’s OK, we will get through this,” reassured the woman.

“But, the mortgage, the college fund for the kids – heck, the electric bill – how are we going to get through this,” he questioned with a bit more urgency.

“Honey, just because I lost my job doesn’t mean there isn’t another one out there for me. It might take a little time and patience, but we will get through this.” She reached across the table and tenderly took hold of his hand.

As the man’s hands uncovered his face, Evan could see the tears running down his cheek. He thought once again of the whipped cream in his coffee cup. Just like the steam trapped within, emotions always find a way to seep through the barriers suppressing them. Sometimes, it takes more time, more persuasion, and more reflection to bring those emotions out into the world. Sometimes we need to be able to accept those feelings ourselves before we can even contemplate sharing them with others. There is always another angle, thought Evan.

george-bernard-shawAs if controlled by his subconscious mind, he leaned over and retrieved the laptop from its case. His eyes drawn to the author’s names on the wall, his gaze fell upon one in particular – George Bernard Shaw. Evan recalled a quote from this great playwright – Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Looking back down at his open laptop, a blank document and a blinking cursor greeted Evan’s eyes. It was both a challenge and an opportunity, a blank canvas awaiting the unique brushstrokes that only he could compose. And with that thought, his fingers began to dance across the keyboard – Maybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans …

Discovery

36919406G-6RMsGavin stared at the blue flame stretching from the base of the Bunsen burner. The contents of the test tube above it began to bubble in protest. Leaving its solid state, his latest concoction was reluctantly transforming into its liquid state. Gavin remembered conducting simpler experiments as a young boy in his makeshift home laboratory. Chemicals were lined up along his shelf in alphabetical order awaiting the opportunity to react in a magical and mysterious way with its perfect complement.

Gavin’s love of chemistry had remained a mainstay in his life. He still wore a lab coat and safety goggles. They just happened to be a few sizes bigger than the ones he wore in his younger days. For the past three semesters, Gavin had been working with his graduate school professor on exploratory research into the workings of the human brain. The recurring nightmares that haunted his sleeping hours nudged Gavin to specialize his studies in the area of neuroscience.

The laboratory where he worked felt more like home than his shoebox apartment just off campus. He could walk from his desk to the lab table, from the supply cabinet to the sink with his eyes closed. The neural pathways in his brain had committed the necessary navigation steps to memory. The only physical steps which always seemed to fire negative cerebral indicators, without fail, were when he approached the live supply container.

The sacrificial mice continued to be a moral dilemma for Gavin. It was difficult for him to resolve the internal conflicts as he subjected these living creatures to the experiments formulated in his mind. The effects of his experiments were unknown, whether they be positive or negative. The fact that these whiskered mammals with a tail carried a terminal illness within made it slightly easier for him to proceed with his research. But still, it disheartened Gavin to potentially cut any life short in the name of scientific advancement.

Flipping the switch on the brainwave monitoring equipment, Gavin slid on his protective gloves and retrieved his latest subject from the metal cage. Placing the gray mouse in the controlled environment, he turned back to the now boiling mixture in his test tube. Removing it from the heat, he allowed it to cool to room temperature before placing the necessary amount into the syringe. There was a precise timing to the steps of each and every experiment.

This was always the most difficult part for Gavin. Up until this point in the experiment, everything was hypothetical and theoretical. No effects would materialize until the next step was taken when he injected the latest speculative drug into his subject. His hesitancy in following through on this process with conviction would produce a marked shift in the proceedings of Gavin’s day.

mouse-in-cageAs he reached into the cage, this particular mouse seemed to sense the ensuing consequences of the situation. Maybe it was the smaller dose of the same mixture he had received earlier. As if running from danger, the tiny body scurried around the cage to avoid the needle that was searching for its hindquarters. In a moment of weakness and carelessness, Gavin lunged towards the mouse to expedite the completion of this always unpleasant task. Grabbing the mouse with his left hand, he quickly moved to inject the mixture in the syringe with his right hand. With another furious lunge uncharacteristic of such a tiny animal, the needle missed its intended target. As the needle pierced the latex glove on his left hand, the small red discoloration that appeared thrust Gavin into panic mode.

As well as Gavin knew the surroundings of his own lab, the unexpected always confounded his logical and intuitive mind. Looking left and right with urgency, he located the wash basin. Moving with expediency, he removed his glove and began to flush the pin prick hole between his left thumb and index finger. Leaving it under the flow of water for thirty seconds, it looked as if he was rinsing his hands after washing them. There was no evidence that the outer shell of his skin had been compromised. He would find that evidence later.

Returning to the open cage in order to continue with his intended experiment, Gavin was surprised to find the tiny mouse cowering in the corner. Given the opportunity to escape the confines of this controlled environment, the mouse remained still in the cage, eyes locked on Gavin in fear, as if he understood exactly what would happen next.

As he reached for the syringe once more, the majority of its contents still preserved in the vial, Gavin felt a wave a nausea wash over him. He had never had a strong stomach, but this was a different type of feeling. The brief episode of dizziness required him to place both hands on the table to steady his feet beneath him. As the feeling subsided, Gavin gave a gentle shake to his head and refocused on the task at hand. Looking back to his subject in the corner of the cage, he heard a voice. It was not an audible voice, but more like the mental form of a voice, a thought.

It was a thought characterized by fear. As he caught a glimpse of the monitoring equipment wirelessly connected to his subject, Gavin realized that the brain activity of the animal staring back at him was wildly active. As he pulled back, increasing the distance between he and the mouse, those mental thoughts filled with fear diminished. The display on the monitoring equipment showed a corresponding decrease in activity. Back and forth, Gavin experimented with the distance between him and the mouse, syringe in hand, periodically marking the correlated findings in his notebook. Staring at the helpless mouse along with the results of his experiment helped Gavin realize that he would never be able to tell anyone what he’d just discovered.

mind-readerThe combination of elements reacting in that test tube had created an incomprehensible link between the psyches of its carriers. Gavin was able to sense the feelings and emotions of the mouse looking back at him, and the furry rodent could sense the same in Gavin. They could read each other’s minds. Controlling the ratio of this substance injected into each individual, Gavin deduced, provided one of the subjects with a certain degree of control over the other’s thoughts.

As ethical as Gavin’s persona had been up to this point in his life, he could not help but imagine the possibilities. The city water supply was a perfect carrier for this pharmaceutical wonder. Everyone would be exposed. It was easy to control the amounts in each subject. No one would know.

Were the smiles of the attractive brunette in the apartment across the hall just friendly, or maybe something more? Could this be used in secrecy by the police force to avert criminal activity before it was committed? Were the latest actions of the city mayor carried out with the most worthy of intentions? As he stared at the innocuous liquid in the test tube, he realized that the power was in his hands, quite literally.

Gavin was accustomed to resolving the scientific dilemmas that he encountered on a daily basis. It was well scripted process of hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. The moral dilemma facing him in this very moment was more difficult to address. The human mind is capable of rationalization that is anything but rational.

Gavin remembered a situation from his childhood days. Walking into the corner drug store owned by his uncle, he pulled the ice cream sandwich from the freezer in the back of the store and headed towards the front counter to pay. On the way up the aisle, his eyes caught a glimpse of the baseball cards wrapped in clear plastic. The player’s card just visible through the exterior was one of the five remaining needed to complete his collection. As he slipped the thin pack into his right pocket, he justified his actions. It was under one dollar. It was his uncle’s store. It wasn’t really stealing if the store was owned by his family. As he departed the store, the seventy five cents Gavin had placed on the counter only covered the cost of the ice cream he was now eating. In his heart, he knew that his choices were misaligned. And yet, they had been justified.

sink-with-running-waterAs he continued to stare at the contents of the test tube in his left hand, he knew what he should do. As he walked towards the basin and turned the faucet on, the stream of water from the spigot invited him to do the right thing. Time to think is a good thing, sometimes. The longer Gavin stood over that sink, however, allowed him time to justify his final decision. As he poured the contents of the test tube into a sealed vial, he slipped it into his right pocket, just in case.

Uncharted

sara-bareillesThere are points in our life that we find ourselves on a precipice, teetering back and forth. A battle ensues between the rational mind and the impassioned heart. Step back toward solid ground, implores the sensible intellect. Take the leap, begs the courageous soul. Back and forth the maelstrom intensifies, leaving our physical presence stagnant. Disarray, chaos, and confusion suffocate what seems like the last breath of fresh air waiting to be exhaled from our lungs. Until the tiniest of nudges sends us over the edge, tumbling into uncharted territory. And suddenly it feels beautiful.

I pen these words in a moment of faith and hope. It has been less than forty-eight hours since I was coaxed into the dark abyss of the unknown. I want to give these emotions time to evolve, to come of age in my soul. I feel them intensifying. I don’t want to bring them into this world before their time. And yet, neither do I want to lose the rawness of those same emotions. I have decided that now is the time, the perfect time.

Traveling north on the interstate, my destination is St. Augustine Amphitheater for the second time in as many months. I have a peculiar habit of listening to the music I am going to hear live while driving, a concert before the concert, if you will. Streaming from the speakers in shuffle mode is a combination of perfectly produced studio recordings alongside the imperfections and subtle nuances that can only be captured in a live recording. The anticipation of a concert experience I had been looking forward to for months had me wanting to press down on the accelerator of my Mustang with a little more enthusiasm. This was one of those times where I am pleased that my rational mind prevailed.

As the ambient lights faded, an energy surged through the crowd as evidenced by the deafening pleas for the featured artist, Sara Bareilles, to appear. The electric blue lights illuminating the stage lit a fire inside that began what turned out to be a magical and breathtaking evening. The two hours from my seat in section 202 passed in the blink of an eye, the infusion of inspiration closely guarded and carried with me as I take a leap of my own.

There are singers. There are performers. And there are artists. Sara Bareilles is an artist. She takes the words, lyrics, and melodies of a song, one that you have heard a hundred times before, and transforms them into something new, like a song that you are hearing for the very first time. It’s a brush with genius that words cannot convey. It must be experienced to fully appreciate the significance of its impression. I heard many of my favorite offerings by Sara: Gravity, Chasing The Sun, Brave, King Of Anything. There were two songs, however, that moved me into an unexpected state of enchantment.

she-used-to-be-mineFor the past eighteen months, Sara has been working on the musical score for a Broadway show set to premiere next year, Waitress. As the opening notes of her song She Used To Be Mine carried towards the ears of her audience, they bypassed the physical senses and headed straight for the soul. A heart-wrenching, introspective, and incredibly powerful love ballad brought tears to my eyes. I don’t even know why it is that those tears materialized. I don’t know that I was either happy or sad. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just moved. We don’t always need to understand why it is that we feel a particular way. We just need to decide to feel. That is enough. A true artist has the power to kindle that emotional reverberation. With the final note of this spellbinding performance, I came to the realization that I was not alone in my sentiments. In unison, three thousand other fans, connected by a riveting rendition of emotional portrayal, found themselves standing in awe and appreciation. It was a moment, maybe the moment.

Compare where you are to where you want to be, and you’ll get nowhere. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

I have listened to this song time after time: on the radio, on my copy of Kaleidoscope Heart, on my Sara Bareilles Pandora station. It wasn’t until I experienced it live, however, that it finally hit home. Maybe it was the surge of emotion washing over me at this point in the concert. Maybe it was a connection to the fear, doubt, and uncertainty conveyed through the vocal chords of this gifted musician. Whatever it was, I found myself ready to enter uncharted territory of my own.

I won’t go as a passenger, waiting for the road to be laid. Though I may be going down, I’m taking flame over burning out. I’m already out of foolproof ideas, so don’t ask me how to get started. It’s all uncharted. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

little-black-dressInspire and be inspired. It is my mental anthem, my guiding principle. I have been inspired in a very unique and compelling fashion. I may never grasp the breadth of influence that was provided to me on this special evening. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t aspire to inspire the world, one person at a time. It’s all uncharted after all. And that’s what it makes it so incredibly beautiful and wonderful.

 

Perfect game

baseball-on-moundWith two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ryan had delivered a masterful performance. The velocity on his fastball complemented the sweeping break on his slider to the tune of twenty-six consecutive outs. One final out stood between Ryan and a perfect game: no walks, no hits, and no errors. Perfection was within his grasp.

Using his forearm to wipe the beads of sweat forming on his brow, he massaged the ball in his hands as if to summon a magic genie to grant him a final wish. Taking his position on the mound, he simultaneously looked into his catcher for the sign while placing two of his fingers over the red seams, a familiar texture to the pads of his fingers. Shaking off the curveball called by his catcher, Ryan had settled upon the tried and true heater with an imperceptible nod on this one ball, two strike count.

The complex movements of a pitcher and his arm are unnatural to a human body. The amount of stress and fatigue imparted by such an unorthodox motion is rarely appreciated. With a deliberate and repeatable windup, Ryan delivered the ninety-five mile per hour fastball just above the letters on the batter’s jersey. The swinging piece of lumber passed just below its target, the ball exploding into the back of the catcher’s mitt with a detonating crack.

Teammates from every position on the field and in the dugout swarmed the mound like ants toward a single kernel of corn. Buried beneath the pile of jubilant compatriots, Ryan didn’t feel the weight of those people on top of him. He would have cause to feel that weight in a different way later. Right now, all he felt was euphoria. Perfection had been attained on the baseball diamond.

apartment-windowLooking out the window of his 7th floor apartment, scotch on the rocks in one hand, the baseball he had used masterfully earlier that day in his other, he began to feel the weight and pressure that never seemed to visit him on the mound. The burden was originating not from anything outside that window, but rather from within.

Looking at the dirt embedded in the leather cover of the baseball, he stared deeply at it, as if he were peering into a crystal ball, trying to make sense of his tangled emotions. He had just attained perfection. Why was it that he felt so incredibly empty after such a momentous accomplishment? Ryan had everything he had ever dreamt of: fame, fortune, the applauding cheers and support of a huge fan base. Baseball came natural to him. He had what some would call an innate knack for understanding the subtle nuances of the game. Coupling that with the pure athleticism of his twenty-nine year old body resulted in a storied set of records, accomplishments, and accolades.

Rising from the black leather chair, Ryan found himself gravitating towards the acoustic guitar delicately balanced against the wall. Picking it up, taking it in his hands, he courted it as a gentleman would to a lady in requesting a dance. The choreographed dance that took part between Ryan and this instrument was as beautiful as any strikeout he had ever recorded in his career, probably more so. As the melodic chords began to echo from the hole in the solid body, the weight was lifted from his shoulders. An air of lightness came over him. There was nothing else in the world, just Ryan communicating with his soul through these six strings and the manipulation of his fingers over the fret board.

This was a recurring theme in his life, riding the highs of public recognition in the baseball world, followed by the ensuing loneliness and solitude of his personal life. He was too tied to the routine, too accustomed to the numbness to recognize it for what it was: a whisper from within.

The careful knock on his apartment door surprised him. Was it another reporter looking for the inside story? Was it a teammate’s attempt to drag Ryan out into a nightlife that felt foreign to him? The big city lights and flirtatious women did not appeal to Ryan. Despite his renowned acclaim in the public’s eye, he was a very quiet and reserved individual.

Looking through the peephole, Ryan felt the mounting anxiety of an anticipated confrontation melt away. It was only Callie. Turning the deadbolt and opening the door, his next door neighbor smiled, “Hey Ryan, how’s it going?”

Callie was the furthest thing from a baseball fan, and Ryan took solace in that. She was his welcome buffer from the fanatical experience in that other world he frequented on a baseball diamond. Working in the local museum as a curator, she was a recluse from the same mold as Ryan, enjoying the quiet serenity of her domain among the artifacts she collected and displayed.

“I heard you playing next door. Thin walls, you know? It sounded like you could use some company.” Ryan and Callie had an intangible connection between them. It wasn’t a surprise that the melancholy way Ryan strummed his chords on that evening sent a message to Callie next door. Their relationship was not. and never would be, romantic in nature. It was much deeper than that, almost like a familial bonding between brother and sister.

“Come on in,” said Ryan as he stepped aside to invite her in. “Do you want a drink? I have some chardonnay in the fridge.” It was the bottle of wine that was shared between Ryan and his last attempted romantic endeavor pressed upon him by his agent. “Get out, see the world,” his agent had said in a suggestive way. The unfinished bottle was indicative of the date’s outcome. It wasn’t that she wasn’t attractive, in the physical or mental sense; he was just left without any compelling interest to pursue a relationship at this point in his life. There was too much else going on.

“Sounds good,” said Callie, “just a half glass for me though. I have to be at the museum early tomorrow morning. We’re procuring some wooly mammoth tusks from an archeological dig site in Arizona. It’s going to be a busy day of cataloging and setting up the new display.”

Grabbing two goblets from the cabinet, Ryan decided to join Callie, switching from scotch to wine. Pouring a half glass in each one, Ryan carried them out to the living room while taking note of the excitement in Callie’s voice. “You really have a knack for taking otherwise ordinary things and infusing a breath of life into them.”

Deferring the compliment as was custom for Callie, she shyly responded back “Well, you do too you know.” Taking a sip from his glass, Ryan responded “How do you mean?” He didn’t feel attached to anything other than his next scheduled pitching performance, even if that connection was contrived in nature.

guitar-against-wall“That guitar, your music, it’s beautiful, poetic, and moving,” she said as she casually pointed to the instrument that had resumed its position resting against the wall. Ryan was taken aback. His narrow view, blinders only allowing him to focus on the catcher’s mitt and throwing strikes, obscured the observation posed by Callie. When Ryan didn’t respond, Callie continued on, “Seriously, you have a gift, don’t you see that? Even on those days and nights that I don’t knock on your door, I can sense your emotions through the vibration of those strings I hear on the other side of the wall.”

Caught in a momentary flashback, Ryan recalled the very first time he picked up that guitar. He didn’t even know what to do with it. And yet, his hand took hold of it, gripped it, and strummed the strings like he had done it a million times before. Sometimes the things that come to us so naturally are taken for granted until someone brings it to our attention. His presence in the sporting world had received the lion’s share of his attention. Callie’s recent words fell upon him with a warm sensation that he could not explain. The words wrapped around him so as to not let the feeling escape.

Coming back to the present without a word being said, Callie shook her head while smirking, “What are you smiling about?” Ryan hadn’t realized that a smile had materialized on his face. “I don’t know,” he said, “let’s just say it’s good I have friends like you to help open my eyes.” The creaking sound from the neighbor’s door opening one apartment down could have been mistaken by Ryan for the door that had just been opened within him, Callie’s words being the key to unlock it.

“You know, we’re hosting an event in our cafe on Saturday afternoon to promote the new exhibit. A little music would spice it up a bit. I think it would be a great idea to bring your guitar and play a set during lunch. Heaven knows we could use a little energy to help excite our patrons about the new offering,” she offered with a mildly sarcastic grin, eyes rolling.

Ryan’s next start was scheduled for this Saturday. But, being a night game, he could certainly fit this suggestion into his schedule. As much for himself as for the help it would provide his friend, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled, “Sure, why not?”

rotunda-cafeSeated on an unassuming bench near the center of the rotunda, the bubbling fountain provided a soothing backdrop to his melodic sounds. The tables situated around the fountain were filled with hungry patrons, black forest ham and Gruyere cheese sandwiches for the adults, gourmet peanut butter and jelly for the kids. The hum of conversation filled the cafe, sound waves bouncing and reflecting off the stained glass ceiling and columns supporting the architectural masterpiece.

With trepidation, Ryan brought the instrument into his grasp and began the familiar strum of his favorite song. In that moment, he could only hear the percussive sounds emanating from his instrument along with the trickling sounds of water meeting water in the fountain. At first, Ryan presumed he had retreated into his own private world, hearing only that which he was focused upon. Glancing up, however, he noticed that all eyes were on him. He had commanded the attention of every patron in that cafe.

As he began to play the final verse, the lyrics he sang brought a smile to his face. Two simple words, why not, had changed his life. Such an innocent statement in an otherwise ordinary day has the power to produce extraordinary results when we choose to embrace them. Inside those thirty minutes, Ryan forgot that he was pitching a baseball game that evening. He wasn’t concerned with giving up walks, stolen bases, or home runs. He was already home and he had no need to run anywhere.

Awakened

cabin-fogIt began as a mental cognition, nothing more. It was inaudible to his ears, the babbling brook beside his cozy lodge drowning out the pleas of the yet unheard voice. Logan was lounging in the rustic wooden chair carved from the spruce-fir trees on his mountain property. It was his favorite place, here on his veranda, unwinding while seated in a piece of furniture forged with his own two hands. Gazing out over the picturesque vistas he had pined for during his earlier city life, everything was as he had pictured it would be, except for the empty void inside.

Leaving the security of a six figure income at his accounting firm, Logan was in search of a new beginning, a fresh start in this remote and sleepy community thousands of feet above sea level. Trading in his exotic metallic blue sports car for a fuel efficient hybrid, he did all the right things to streamline his expenses and make this transition a feasible one. Everyone said he was crazy, giving up the life he had worked so hard to build for himself. In Logan’s eyes, however, the escalating pain of remaining stagnant in the quagmire of politics and bureaucracy convinced him he would be crazy to not make this choice.

It had been three months since the dramatic change of venue. He didn’t have a plan, an oddity for the detail oriented nature of a former accountant. Taking a sip of the coffee from his favorite mug, he kept it at his lips a little longer than necessary, allowing the venting steam and hazelnut scents to permeate his senses. Staring into the whipped cream as it slowly dissolved into a milky froth, he looked for some sign of his next move. Logan had always been like this, on the lookout for coincidences that he knew were anything but that, relying on his sense of intuition.

What you seek arrives on your doorstep only when you make an active choice to look for it. As if that deep and thoughtful gaze into a steaming beverage invited communication from a higher power, he heard it for the first time. Barely discernible, Logan turned his head, aiming his ears in the perceived direction of the faint source. As quickly as it had materialized, it was now gone like the trails of steam from his coffee mug evaporating into the air above him. Had he imagined it? Had it been a figment of his deepest desires to be presented with a divination? No, Logan had learned to trust these gut instincts. They had never led him astray in the past, unless his move to these highlands proved to be a misstep.

The frequency of these visits from a foreign voice heightened with time. So commonplace they became that Logan began to discount the value of any intended message to his body, mind, or soul. Always the faintest of vibrations traveling through the air, he could not differentiate the value of these mumbles from the trickling of water through the stream, the whisper of wind through the spruce trees, or the crackling of foliage as the resident salamanders made their presence known.

In addition to relying on his inner muse to guide his daily decisions, Logan possessed another trait, perhaps not as valuable in this particular situation: stubbornness. After weeks of the silent whispers, they became little more than background noise, fading from a source of heightened acuity in Logan towards the desensitized numbness that he now felt. Luckily, his inner muse, the source of these murmurs, possessed this same steadfast resolve and stubbornness, determined to break through the thick shell fabricated by Logan’s former lifestyle.

Fall leaves with rakeThe various hues of amber, crimson, and gold adorned the trees spreading out across his panoramic view. The occasional deciduous tree on his property was partaking in its own autumn parade of colors, shedding its leaves while creating a warm blanket on the ground, almost akin to a tapestry painted by the inanimate trees themselves.

Logan disliked the task of raking those leaves, not because of the manual labor, but because he held a natural aversion for disrupting such a beautiful creation of the natural world. His rational mind persuaded him, however, to carry on with the necessary chore. The Kentucky bluegrass that comprised his lawn was a cool season grass, most active during these predominantly cooler weather months before the harsh grip of winter took ownership. This was a time when the grass revitalized itself. The abundance of sunlight, nutrients, water, and seasonable temperatures strengthened the root system, preparing it for its eventual emergence from the melting snow during the spring months. As he grabbed the wooden handle on the rake, the timely arrival of a wind gust brought with it that same imperceptible message. This time, however, the intensity of its voice rising in a crescendo allowed Logan to perceive the communication not only with his mind, but also with his ears.

The uncharacteristic outflow of air from the heavens sent the blanket of leaves on the ground upwards, embracing Logan in a tornadic funnel of color swirling around him. Beneath the rustle of leaves and the howling of the wind, an unmistakable whisper became clearly audible to him for the first time. A single word, repeated every three seconds in a surreal and unearthly tone, “who.”

Although this all seemed to transpire within the time allotted to a single flap of a butterfly’s wing, he could not deny its existence. That did not, however, imply that Logan could make any rational sense out of the experience. With hands still gripped on the rake, he remained frozen, hopeful that his stillness would free his mind from any distractions and help him comprehend the intent of this message carried on the wind.

smoky-mountain-stormAfter the passing seconds turned to minutes, Logan realized that a metaphorical bolt of lightning was not going to strike his consciousness and enlighten him. The darkening skies and encroaching line of storm clouds rolling in behind those squally winds, however, might provide some real life lightning that would certainly not be helpful to his cause.

Leaning the rake against a wall inside the tool shed, Logan latched the door shut and retreated up the wooden stairs. Returning to the safety of his humble home, the raindrops began to tumble from the saturated clouds. Seated on the stool beside his kitchen counter, he was perched midway between a world where raindrops fell and a world where mystical messages were spoken by the amorphous wind. The rain, blowing at a forty-five degree angle was now pelting the kitchen window with increasing energy. As he watched the small droplets of water navigate their way down the pane of glass, Logan continued to search for his own path, unsuccessfully.

As the talons of the fierce storm released its hold on the mountainside, the water continued to collect in puddles as it rolled off the roof, racing to catch up with its brethren that had made the same journey earlier. Logan thought he could feel the roots of his lawn strengthening with each subsequent trickle of precipitation. If only he could find a way to fortify his own roots. Ripping them up and transferring them to a completely new environment created a transplant shock reminiscent of that felt by the rhododendron shrubs he relocated earlier in the week.

Falling back on the familiar and comfortable habits he had cultivated over the previous months, Logan grabbed the trail running shoes from his closet. Seated on the edge of his couch, he laced them up tightly, found his keys, and headed out the front door. The solitude provided by nature allowed Logan to hear himself think. It released any strangleholds on his attention so that he could hold the heart-to-heart conversations that connected his physical and spiritual world.

Upon reaching the trailhead only a quarter mile from his front door, Logan limbered up his joints, stretching his muscles before setting off on a slow and steady jog under the canopy of trees framing the path ahead of him. As he slipped into his groove, Logan picked up the pace of his steps, heartbeat following suit. He had stumbled upon this seemingly magical elixir not too long ago. Channeling his mental focus on the physical obstacles in his path, the creative right brain was free to roam without the distractions of the rational and sometimes commandeering left brain. It had taken deliberate and repeated practice to keep at bay the precision, exactness, and accuracy of his life as an accountant.

The thoughts bounced back and forth between the mental capacity on the left and right side of his mind. Left side: Left foot square on the flat rock ahead. Right side: Who? What does that mean? Left side: Right foot just past that gnarly root. Right side: Is it a question? Is it a statement? Left side: Duck head to avoid the cobwebs waiting to wrap its silky residue around us. Right side: Is there a different meaning to the word?

Back and forth, the communication ensued without a single audible word being spoken. The only sound evident to the aural senses was the rhythmic inhalation of oxygen followed by the exhalation of carbon dioxide, over and over again. He could have been on the trail for five minutes or fifty-five minutes. Time passed in an unexplained manner when he fell into this trance like state of contemplation, one foot planted in the existence outside his body with the other one leaving its footprint on the world within.

After many journeys through this portal, it took a significant distraction to extract Logan from this deep hypnotic state. The forty-five foot dead spruce tree blocking the path in front of him was more than enough to do just that. Pulling himself to an abrupt halt, Logan looked left and right to get a sense for where this behemoth once stood. Branches angled to the left, this giant tree, now devoid of any needles, must have succumbed to the fury of the earlier storm. It had fallen in such a manner that he could not squeeze beneath it. He would be required to scale a height of at least five feet to continue onwards. Thankful that he hadn’t completely severed the relationship with his left brain, Logan began to calculate the best route available to him.

It was in that moment of calculating thought that the creature appeared without his knowledge. Swooping down from the treetops on an eighteen inch wingspan, the owl quietly alighted on the fallen spruce, just out of Logan’s peripheral vision. Quieter than the wind, he approached to make a statement. Too-too-too it called in its signature voice. Shifting his gaze to the right, Logan caught a glimpse of the Saw-whet owl, eyes fixated on him as he repeated his call again, too-too-too.

saw-whet-owlBeing highly nocturnal, seldom seen by any human, this bird of prey’s appearance was anything but ordinary. In a frenzied digestion of visions flowing through him in the moment, Logan saw the spruce tree lying in front of him, the owl perched upon it. He heard the mysterious sound that had become more prevalent in his daily life. And he captured a fleeting image of the rustic wooden chair on his back porch. Inside the maelstrom of seemingly unrelated and disconnected details, Logan’s eyes locked on those of the owl. It was then that everything came into alignment.

He was always led to believe that things had to make sense. The impossible was not possible without a feasible explanation. Logan had learned to abandon that line of thinking and allow events to unfold naturally, absorbing that which was presented without worrying about if and how it made any sense. This was a perfect opportunity to practice that holistic approach.

He had been peripherally aware of spirit animals in the past, those creatures whose traits and characteristics best align with your own. Captivated by the eyes staring back at him, Logan now knew that this owl was connected to him, his spirit animal. The owl spirit symbolizes a deep connection with wisdom and intuition. It is able to see beyond the visible. Beyond the illusion and deceit set forth by the physical world, it perceives true reality.

Not only did the characteristics of this owl align with Logan’s soul, its presence and appearance was indicative of a transition, just like the one Logan was struggling through over the past several months. The who that he heard fall upon his ears was misconstrued. What was really being shared was the too call of his spirit, summoning him towards his true vocation.

Since he had moved north to these higher elevations, he had not only crafted his favorite chair, but many other pieces of furniture that appeared around his house. In clearing the space to build his quintessential mountain home, the fallen trees were recycled in an act of reverence for the sacrifices provided by Mother Nature, a manner of paying homage for the serenity provided to Logan and his new life.

He was able to transform these wooden pillars into works of art, infusing them with the inspiration coursing through his veins, pouring out of his fingertips like water from a faucet. He was meant to create, the inherent joy of the creative process enough to fill him to the brim. Gone were the days of concern for profit margins, net income, and balance sheets. Interest took on an entirely new meaning. No longer was it a fee paid by a borrower of some asset. Instead, it had become an indicator of how much of himself he found inside his creative endeavors. That was interesting.

forest-trailIntuition had always been an important piece of Logan’s persona. On that afternoon, in that deciduous forest, after that violent storm, an owl reminded him just how important it was to his life. As he turned around, Logan began walking with a relaxed but purposeful gait, more than ready to get back home, eager to start on his next creative endeavor. The owl perched on that spruce tree did not follow, but his spirit did. The smile on Logan’s face and the contented presence in his soul was living proof, no intuition required.