Free Your Inner Latchkey Child (to put the lime in the coconut)

It is oft said that every child is possessed of boundless creative energy. The drive to create is innate. It’s the dominant mode of nearly every kid.

That is until it’s wrung out of them by parents, schools, and society. Hell, everyone knows that what this world desperately needs is more accountants, lawyers, and middle managers. So as our little creative souls age, we steer them toward more practical pursuits like business (whatever the actual fuck that is), technology, or finance. Thus supplanting the desire to create with the desire to earn.

Enter the incomparable Harry Nilsson

If you don’t know Harry, he’s our Paul McCartney. And if you’ve never taken Nilsson Schmilsson for a spin, you owe it to yourself (and your inner child) to do so—STAT!

Of course there is a documentary that I just watched: Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? which was the impetus for this little literary soiree. While I was watching, I heard his quote about indulgence, and it hit me like a good beer buzz, then a ton of bricks: I have to write about this!

As a toiling-in-obscurity artistic type (writer), I relate to pre-fame-and-fortune Harry. Before he caught his big break, he got a job at a bank, you know, to pay the bills.

He was so good at banking (whatever the actual fuck that is), he got promoted to computer operator in the late 1960s. At that point in history, he was on the bleeding edge of corporate computering. He’d eventually get promoted to night supervisor of the other poor corporate computering schlubs at the bank. To say that I uniquely relate to this man—a dude who went from corporate American icon to American musical icon—would be understating how enthralled I was with Nilsson’s arc.

Sure, the end was troubling, but the ride…

Unlike Harry Nilsson, or for that matter, Harry Holien (my grandfather), I have exactly no musical aptitude. Whereas my grandfather could play the guitar, I’d barely learned a few chords. Whereas Harry Nilsson had the voice of an angel, I have the voice of a sober Barney Gumble. For me, music is all about inspiration, not aspiration.

Where I really relate to Harry is flipping the script from paying the bills with his intellectual acumen to paying the bills with his artistic acumen. This was the inspirational turn during his interesting journey. So many, including this GenX latchkey kid, have done it the other way around. That people like Harry were able to do it the right way, the ideal way, is pretty damn hopeful—at least for a supervised computering schlub like myself.

Not that he knew it at the time, but Harry had summited with Nilsson Schmilsson. He won a Grammy, and by all accounts had reached the pinnacle of his career. Predictably, the excesses of fame eventually engulfed him as they’ve engulfed many of my heroes. But achievement is achievement. In the moment, it’s bloody glorious. If the whole thing folds into a shitshow down the line, the achievement still stands.

So how does the quote fit in here?

To me, it seems that imagination and play are the keys that unlock the door to the endless artistic landscape available at the subconscious level. Art is how kids translate the threads of wonder, beauty, and inspiration into the conscious realm.

After watching the retrospective of Harry’s life, I feel like that goes double for us jaded adults. Adulting is hard, so it’s our duty to release our inner children to play and run amuck. Doing so is our only hope to recapture that unbridled spirit that once reigned supreme and created all sorts of cool crazy shit.

“Indulgence”, in Harry’s sense, has been a contentious topic of conversation lately in my mixed up muddled up shook up world. I won’t bore you with the details, as there is really no one to bore. Seriously, no one reads this, I’m literally pissing into the wind.

Anyway, I digress.

Suffice it to say, when you approach the mid-century mark of your lifetime, you begin to evaluate everything. Then you reevaluate it. Then you bring in friends to confirm or deny you reevaluation of the original evaluation. Pretty soon, you don’t know whether to drink a box of wine by yourself, or drive straight to the nearest AA meeting. It’s just a weird period.

“Indulgence”, in a general sense, is a gateway into the creative realms. It can be nearly anything the energizes the inner child and impels it to bring new magic into the world. In Harry’s case, it was booze. In Warhol’s case, it was amphetamines. In Kerouac’s case is was booze, amphetamines, and pot. The list goes on into eternity and back again.

For me, I can quickly find myself in a frenetic creative space after throwing back a G&T or three on a weekend evening, I love that about alcohol. Music has the same effect. I love that about music. Mix the two, and I no longer have to think of what to write. Everything flips. My role shifts from writer to transcriber. The narrative begins to feed directly from my subconscious to my conscious, and I frantically type it out. I can stop thinking and just flow. It’s magnificent.

Ultimately, indulgence awakens the ghosts of childhood and opens doors to unlimited creative energy. That’s my theory anyway. Harry is right, indulgence IS an artist’s prerogative. I dare say it’s an artist’s duty.

In that spirit, I offer this inanity. It’s something my inner child dreamt up (didn’t have a hash pipe handy, so I went with something more up my alley: a tumbler of bourbon)…

…now I’m gonna go put the lime in the coconut (whatever the actual fuck that is).

© 2022 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Acid-Washed Flashback Series: Lifetime’s Scalene Affectation

WARNING: what you are about to read is real. It was actually published a long time ago on a platform far, far away. It comes from an epoch when I had much more ego than experience, much more swagger than savvy, much more hubris than humility. That said, I believe this essay retains at least some redemptive qualities. Hopefully, you’ll uncover a nugget (or three) of insight, humor, or wisdom you can pocket and carry with you on your journey. Other than cleaning up any blatant grammar boo-boos, it’s presented for you in its original gory, umm…I mean glory. Cheers!

This essay entered the cyberverse on 11/24/2014 at 12:00 AM. Reader discretion is advised.

Author’s note: I wrote this when I thought 42.87 was old. I’m exactly 81 days from 50; I feel ancient. That is to say, time has passed, but the sentiment remains constant. Oh to be 42,87 again….

I’m not sure if it’s the actualization that you’ve since climaxed your time-space excursion (trippin’ somewhere past “over the hill”), the uneasy rationalization that inevitably ensues (dadgummit, my best years are ahead of me), or the realization that your teenage dreams were nothing more than absurd ambition (reality – a road paved with broken dreams)?

Life could be a dream (sh-boom)
If I could take you up in paradise up above (sh-boom)
If you would tell me I’m the only one that you love
Life could be a dream, sweetheart

It’s the repetitive lyrical beating by the modal verb could, that I’ve always found so dispiriting in this song. As though that dreamy life was being dangled just out of reach and would be attainable if only for some pesky impossibility. Ahh…the joys of interminable mediocrity set to a pleasing melody.

At 42.87 years of age, I’ve pretty much embarked upon the abbreviated version of my lifetime (if I’m above average, and not hit by a bus prematurely). From this point onward, anticipation will become scarce and recollection abundant. In fact, that proportion will continue its bias toward the latter until I’m left with nothing to look forward to but quiet sojourns down memory lane. At least that’s how I’m interpreting the future from the Wyui oolong tea leaves that cascaded down from the surface of my Hario Largo Tea Dripper as I brewed cup last week at my desk. I’m not a licensed tasseographer, but I’ve brewed enough tea over the years to develop an osmotic understanding of the pseudo-psychic art. It’s oddly at work where I do my most inspired thinking in the realm of gloom—not sure why that is?

Anyway, this revelation seemed to coincide with my begrudging acceptance of the maxim that my daily 24-hour experience now seems half as long as it did amid those boundless days of yore. I swear each night as I climb into bed, the prior 16 waking hours elapsed in just under 6. Yet more alarming than the haste a day now makes is that a year seems to pass in two January’s and half a February. “Once” has become a distant blip in the slipstream when stopping to smell the roses or at least freshly mowed grass, was a literal sentiment. “Now”, stopping to smell roses, grass or even tea—I don’t drink coffee—seems a frivolous indulgence. Ferdinand the Bull, if I ever was, I ain’t no mo’.

As someone who openly mocks preoccupation with time acceleration when others express it, the irony of this piece is not lost on me. But allow me some leeway, as I tend to do my best work in the ironic arts. I have repeatedly highlighted George Carlin’s masterful debunking of time as proof that said construct is fictitious and thus can’t speed up or slow down any more than Santa Claus can get fatter or skinnier.

But Carlin’s diatribe, while fully amusing, no longer asserts a narcotic effect on my chronological anxiety. Seeing as how the steepness of the descent ahead of me is no longer obfuscated by the gentle seesaw ascent of yesteryear, I can nary feign regard for nor outright dismiss what is quite clearly a thing—time just keeps slipping, slipping slipping, into the future…W(ay)-T(oo)–F(ast)—!

Since I can no longer ignore, I must explore. And, I prefer exploring these phenomena in one Brobdingnagian storm of analysis rather than letting my inquiry trickle out in what eventually becomes a steady deluge of platitudes like:

  • “Oh dear! Where does the time go?”
  • “They grow up way too fast.”
  • “It’s already Monday–what?!”
  • “There’s never enough time in a day!”

But enough with the prologue already, right? I mean who has the f*cking time to read all this bullsh*t!?

Speaking of bullsh*t, the crappy thing is that most of us expend so much valuable time—forget the heaping side order of angst—trekking upward toward life’s hazy apex, that when we finally realize we’re careening downward, it’s a rather abrupt face-slap. For me, it was more of a face-plant. I just looked in the mirror yesterday—really looked—my face peered back with a dour aspect. I noticed that my focus was not as sharp as it once was; my eyes appeared dull. There was, however, no mistaking the silver gossamer strands germinating from either side of my head just in front of my ears. It was as though their dormancy period had all-of-a-sudden expired, this week. I looked at my hands; they appeared a nearly complete approximation of my grandfather’s with just a bit of wrinkly detail and spotty ageism yet to be filled in. I was clearly no longer the callow vintage I was in bygone days.

To me, this lifetime that I mercilessly reference looks a lot like a mountainous scalene triangle (an obtuse one at that, obviously)…


(superimposing scalene triangle graphic)


The illustration is perfect in that the upward climb is at times wrought with pitfalls—not a smooth and steady trajectory at all. It seems a ramble of gallant effort more than a casual promenade. But throughout that ascent, a seemingly endless supply time expedites the purchase of tremendous experience. Ironically, in those days, I felt like I was carelessly frittering time away so that I could get on with my life. As it turns out, that’s when I was really living. This lies in stark contrast to my current daily allowance of the inflation-compressed seconds, minutes, and hours. I wonder what manner of future experiences I’ll be able to afford with this debased currency? I’d love to have some of that copious, opulent, slow time back.

On this daunting side of the mountain, I expect to encounter many apparitions last seen back on the other side. I pray I’m now possessed with the perspicacity to evade the panic these specters once provoked. This is the portion of my lifetime when the afflictions of maturity like insight, prudence, and wisdom deepen—the part where sh*t just makes more sense, right? Although my eyes do not focus sharply as they once did, through the corrective lens of sagacity, I feel they see much farther and wider than ever. As weary as I’ve become attempting to make sense of nearly everything (to explain it all…), therein lies a deeper satisfaction. I’m periodically overtaken by a refined sense of accomplishment that lifts the corners of my mouth to previously unknown heights. I know what kind of husband I am—challenging. I know what kind of parent I am—adequate. I know what kind of writer I am—prolix. But most importantly, I know what kind of man I think I am—Renaissance. I feel like I’ve mostly completed the jigsaw puzzle that shows me the full picture of who I am, so that I can simply be that person as I coast southward.

At some point in late 1980, the day the music died occurred for me. It’s more-or-less detailed in this post. I won’t bore anyone with the significance of Don McLean’s magnum opus “American Pie”. You can work The Google for your own self. For me, it’s a powerful metaphor—the most powerful. My experience over the past five years as I eclipsed the summit of my lifetime bore an uncanny resemblance to my experience in those early darker days. The roles were reversed, however. I’m no longer the bewildered eight-year-old. I’m the bewildering forty-two-year-old…trying to wield some of that new-found understanding.

It got me thinking…

I wonder if I can assuage the frenzy a bit despite the steep grade. If I am to relive some of those days as a semblance of my then self—if I am to confront the ghosts of my past—why must we do battle at a breakneck velocity? Why must I again expend all of that angst? Whereas uphill angst begets despair, downhill angst begets rage. I guess I’m looking for a bit of serenity on the steeper side of the mountain. I guess I’m looking for fewer historic battles and more peaceful treaties.

One of my  favorite sayings that I said is:

“The greatest moments on your path through this lifetime may be under your feet right now.”

Maybe if I lengthen my gait, relax my pace and refocus those blurring eyes, I’ll be able to take in a lot more beauty and catch a rosy whiff or three on this formidable slope. Maybe if I employ some of those afflictions of maturity, I can agree to terms with the ghosts of lifetime past. Maybe if I just steep the tea leaves instead of reading them, I’ll eschew that chronological anxiety. If the trip is going to seem half as long, why can’t it be twice as lavish?

© 2014 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

The Year of the “Metaverse” (Old Man Yells At Cloud)

From David Foster Wallace’s videophone allegory, to the diabolical dreamworld the Wachowskis imagined in The Matrix, to the Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits”, to David Eggers’ cautionary tale of “going transparent” in The Circle, to the past year and a half of IRL, folks have been sounding alarm bells about technology eliminating actual face-to-face human interaction…




And yet in the same week (this one), both Microsoft (#msignite) and Facebook (or whatever the fuck it’s called now) are taking a page right out of the sci-fi dystopian playbook with their virtual reality avatar technology announcements.

Hilarious side note: Nike has moved swiftly to trademark it’s apparel & sneakers in this digital astral plane. In other words, if you want outfit your avatar in a cool pair of Nike kicks, you’re probably gonna have to strut to the virtual Foot Locker and shell out a little Shiba Inu coin. Watch for other major footwear and apparel brands to follow. This won’t be an immediate concern in Microsoft Mesh since it’s just torsos for now, but more on that later.

As in Infinite Jest where the videophone phenomenon eventually, spectacularly, fails under the sheer weight of its own existential pressure, I’m rooting for this brave new metaverse to suffer a similar fate. More than ever, we seem to be living relentless cycle of BIG TECH creating solutions to the problems it in turn creates.

It’s not like any of this foretold disconnectedness is a revelation. But this week it was underscored in a most frightening manner. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I had the misfortune of attending yet another digital Microsoft Ignite conference. For the unassimilated, Ignite is Microsoft’s annual gigantic tech conference.

Over the years, I’ve rather enjoyed tech conferences. This is despite the fact that as I grow older, my love for my chosen career path has not aged well. There is something cozy and exhilarating about being in that frenetic and extravagant space, in-person.

The scale of these events is spectacular. There is so much going on everywhere. All of my fellow sweaty IT geeks in attendance are treated like minor royalty—dukes and duchesses at a minimum. As much as my tech career has worn me ragged, I do enjoy a good gigantic tech conference, in-person.

Normally, the tone is of these conferences is nauseatingly upbeat. They are rife with pie-in-the-sky predictions of farfetched flights of tech fancies that no one ever asked for and (thankfully) will never see any actual use by actual humans—at least the ones with whom I work.

This year, however, the tone was considerably more ominous. There was a glaring spotlight cast on a new technology called Mesh. I’ll just leave you with a quick image of what all Mesh entails. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand characters.

Avatars in an immersive space having serendipitous encounter.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking…besides the avatars that look like they just walked off the set of Primus’ video for “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver”, what’s new about this?

Well, it was the way in which it was pitched. The pitch for Mesh went something like this (taking great paraphrasing liberties here, but the sentiment is on point).

We heard loud and clear that the one thing people missed most during the pandemic was in-person interaction. So we are excited to introduce Microsoft Mesh—a totally immersive mixed reality experience that will bring that human interaction back to the digital workspace.

I was actually watching live when this warped vision of reality was dropped, almost so casually that it didn’t initially sound schizophrenic. I recall saying out loud to…myself, “Did they just attempt to pass off yet another virtual meeting platform as somehow in-person???”

I was struck dumbfounded.

But it just down-doubled from there. “Pandemic” was slipped into every other sentence. Suggestions of “in this for the long haul” from last years conference were replaced with the cringeworthy upbeat phrase, “This is the future of work!”.

Eventually, we were invited to suspend disbelief and accept that dropping a bunch of torsos into a virtual conference room was the epitome of that “in-person” experience for which we’ve all been longing…

And not just torsos hovering around a table (sans cool Nike kicks, or feet, or legs), but torsos clamoring for a spot at the virtual whiteboard. Can’t you almost smell your co-worker’s too-strong virtual perfume as you wrestle for red dry-erase marker supremacy?

Two avatars in an immersive space that resembles a virtual lobby.

An eerie emphasis was placed on the idea that you can create your avatar to be “the best version of you”. You know, as opposed to actually you, in-person. This ties back to the failure of Wallace’s imagined videophone so exquisitely that it makes me question if any Microsoft employee who worked on the Mesh initiative ever read Infinite Jest.

Surely not.

Teams meeting showing two participants, one person is shown on camera, the other is displayed as an avatar.

Your “the best version of you” avatar would mimic your body movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Seriously, I kept flashing back to the acid flashback that is the Primus video. How did Les Claypool expertly thump those bass strings so gracefully with that huge cartoon hand?

Essentially, the gamification of reality is in full swing. And it’s moving full speed ahead to the point where reality will become a game, or Tron, or altogether unreal.

At this point, we’re well beyond “Is It Live Or Is It Memorex?” We’re being asked to accept a future where all real personal interactions take place in a “totally immersive mixed reality experience”.

Honestly, I don’t want to be a part of this (or that) brave new virtual world any longer. Things are getting just a bit too weird just a bit too rapidly. And in a bitterly ironic twist, it’s (currently) my job to investigate Mesh. I cannot adequately explain how dystopian this feels.

So, I find myself praying for a backlash. And maybe the backlash has already begun.

In China, the Lying Flat Movement has been so successful, that the totalitarian government actually stood up and took notice. And because the movement is so ubiquitous, they can’t identify exactly whom to ship off to the reeducation camps.

The Great Resignation is in full swing here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Since the start of the pandemic, seven co-workers in my division have retired or announced a retirement date. That’s 10% of our division in less than two years. Maybe they were all as weary as I am.

A Slow Movement has swept the globe during the pandemic. The essence of this movement is shifting from a frenetic pace to a ponderous yet deliberate pace—slowing down in a world that is spinning out of control.

But my greatest hope comes from observing the 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son who periodically share our home. I cannot imagine what utter havoc this past 18 months has wreaked on their psyches. I had the luxury of nearly five decades on this rock hurling itself though space before everything changed. They had barely one.

Paradoxically, they seem less affected. They are bummed out for sure, but much less defeated than I am. This could be attributed to the exuberance of youth, or it could be that hope springs eternal, or it could be something else. But as I listen to the stories of what transpires in their world on a daily basis, their stories suck less than mine. They aren’t jaded, much. Accordingly, my hope for them springs eternal.

I told them both on a recent drive to school that they have to fix this. I told them they have to right this ship we call earth. I told them they have to be like the rebel alliance in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

They have to be “the reasonable generation” or “the pragmatic generation” or “the connected generation”. My generation (X) fumbled all of those opportunities right at the line of scrimmage.

The inanity gripping humanity at this point in history is unsustainable. I told them they have to stop it before we’re all in full-on Sarah Conner mode. I told them that “in their time”, they have to fix all this shit.

In the meantime, I feel old.

Really old.

This old…

Copyright © 2021 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Freaky Friday (on a Tuesday)

There is an episode of Red Oaks where the father (Sam) and son (David) imbibe multiple shots of a mysterious clear liquor at a Japanese restaurant. After passing out and waking up the subsequent morning, they find themselves in each other’s bodies. Predictably, hilarity ensues. It’s based on the Lohan/Curtis romp based on the Harris/Foster classic Freaky Friday.

There is a flashback sequence in my forthcoming novel Finding Fidelity where the father (Leo) shows up to watch his son’s (Jaye) cross country meet. Jaye gets hopelessly lost on the course (in the woods) and nearly finishes dead last. This of course happens during the sole race where his father actually makes an appearance as a spectator. It’s essentially a barely fictionalized account of an actual event in my life. Such is the nature of writing in the first-person.

Today, I kinda conflated those two scenarios IRL and attended my son’s (Nate) cross country meet. Although not his first, it was the first meet at which I could make an appearance as a spectator. As an eighth grader, this is his first year of cross country. As a ridiculously dedicated PC gamer, this is the first real team sport in which he’s shown interest strictly of his own volition.

Nate’s 8th grade cross country photo just hit my in box last week…

And he’s front/center in the team photo that was in the local newspaper.

Here is my 8th grade cross country photo…

I still find it hilarious that in 1985, the only sports team that was not herded together for a group photo was the lowly cross country team.

wah wah wah…

Non sequitur/side note/full disclosure: In addition to my son’s burgeoning running career, my daughter swims, a lot. Despite having a pair of active kids, I am not a helicopter parent. I operate much more toward the free-range end of the spectrum. Frankly, I pull up just shy of total anarchy. As a result, I do not religiously attend my kid’s sporting events with zeal and vigor. I have never volunteered to sell concessions, run a stopwatch, or stand around and look “official”. I do not travel to distant northern lands to stay at two-star motels and dine on one-star meals for weekend tournaments. I don’t own a “parent’s themed” shirt/sweatshirt/hoodie/ballcap/headband/wristband/sunglasses for either of my kid’s sports teams.

And neither did my parents.

Honestly, 8th grade me was fine with that. 8th grade me understood that my folks had demanding jobs. 8th grade me knew they both lead busy lives. Unlike today, attendance was never mandatory, nor did chronic absence brand anyone a derelict parent.

And yet, 49-year-old me knew I had to make at least as many appearances as my father did. I needed to go for multiple reasons beyond that. Unexpectedly, being in that space again, that setting, that vibe—it was surreal. The whole experience of watching my kid like my father once watched me catapulted me right back into my 8th grade soul.

Unlike my cross country events of yore, the “Princeton Tiger’s Cross Country Invitational”—held at the one-and-only golf course in Princeton, MN—was PACKED!!! There were parents, grandparents, and even siblings every fucking where. Back in ’85, if a gaggle of parents showed up, it was a minor miracle. This was due in part to the fact that there ain’t much to see at a cross country race. Essentially, you see the start, then everyone disappears into some great beyond, only to reappear at or near the finish line. During a 15-minute race, you might see your kid for a minute total.

In this case, since my kid was running all around and over a golf course, I was able to jog over to the 4th fairway from the 1st tee starting line to catch him halfway. Other than that *bonus sighting*, it was a pretty standard cross country spectating experience. It went something like this…

And they’re off…
Rounding the 4th fairway…
Big finish!

Based on my scene-of-the-crime observations, the kid seems to be a bit faster than I was at his age. I mean…he was far from taking the penultimate booby prize like his old man.

After the race, our exchange went like this…

Me: “Nice! Do you know if your time was better than last race?”
Nate is red-faced, huffing and puffing, hands on hips.
Nate: “No clue.”
Me: “Cool.”
Nate: “I have to get water, hold on.”
He walked over to his backpack in his team’s outdoor tented gypsy encampment and grabbed his water bottle.
Me: “So you gonna to do cross country next year?”
Nate: “Yea, it’s really fun.”
Me: “Totally awesome, so are you just gonna hang out here for the rest of the races?”
Nate: “Yea, then get on the bus, then get a ride to Dairy Queen,”
His eye twinkled a bit.
Me: “Sounds brilliant—have fun!”
Nate: “I will.”

With that, I headed toward my truck. I looked over my shoulder, and he had already settled in and struck up a conversation with one of his teammates. Grinning, I refocused on what was ahead of me just in time to barely swerve out of the way of the roped off practice green.

I had a solid 55 minutes of reflection time during my ride home—Princeton is “up north” from my pad..

The first thing that struck me is how different cross country meets in ’21 are in comparison to cross country meets in ’85. In ’21, there is a PA system blaring bouncy pop music between races. In ’85, there were maybe some birds chirping. In ’21, there were seven teams with tents, blankets, chairs, coolers, and even tables with displays (for the home team). In ’85, we were lucky to find a picnic table to sit at or railing to lean against. In ’21, there was chatter, exuberance, and excitement everywhere. In ’85, there was quiet contemplation, silent stretching, and a general sense of foreboding.

The contrast between the two epochs was staggering.

The next thing that struck me was how I was nothing like my father, and my son is nothing like me. My father is an extrovert prone to loud outbursts. I am an introvert prone to contemplative spells. My son is an extrovert prone to loud outbursts. And yet, we are all inextricably linked via blood and ancestry—we’re most assuredly “Donley men”.

That said, I’m clearly the odd man out.

Finally, it was a kick to be in this setting with this kid. He has been a diehard gamer since we sold his Thomas the Train collection to buy an Xbox 360 six years ago. And that was just the beginning of his gaming odyssey. During that period, I heard all of the usual concerns from all of the usual suspects. Rather than caving to the onslaught of well-intentioned parenting advice, I stuck with my gut. I told him as long as he kept his grades up and didn’t act like a prick, I wasn’t going to tell him how to spend his free time.

This was essentially my old man’s parenting style.

I totally had him figured for a geeky gaming kid. When he told me this summer that he was joining the cross country team, I was flabbergasted. The aforementioned concerned usual suspects were delighted. Secretly, I was delighted he made this decision sans any meddling, goading, or hectoring on my part. It reinforced my theory that telling your kids which friends to have, which classes to take, or which sports to play is a mug’s game.

Watching him do this thing, on that golf course, on Tuesday…it struck me how much better he is at all of it than I ever was. Back in ’85: I was a lackluster athlete, I was an average student, and I was prolific loner. And yet somehow, I’m “raising” (whatever that means) this smaller version of me, who is none of those things—the opposite, in fact.

As I’ve previously essayed, autumn is a wondrously paradoxical time of year for me. It was always rife with unrequited expectations. It was a time when my dreams were intense and optimistic, but my reality was flaccid and disappointing. Yet my hope sprang eternal, and I always looked forward to the idea of fall more than the actuality.

This fall marks my 49th seasonal shift. And while the autumnal transition no longer concerns me, the birthday ahead is a daunting one. It was when my father turned 50, that he started to become more and more irrelevant. Lately, I’m starting to see myself fading into the background as well.

It’s a peaceful uneasy feeling.

Embedded in that setting, on a perfect fall day. watching my son run—it struck me how long ago everything in my life was. It reminded me how supererogatory I’m becoming. I was reminded that youth must be served, regardless.

Rather than the hands-on/elbow-deep parenting I once did when they were in elementary school, it would be hands-off from here on out. And just like my father, I’ll soon be relegated to perpetual spectator. But I guess that was always going to be the point of this little endeavor, right?

What the hell was I expecting?

Like life, the drive home passed so rapidly it seemed as though it never happened. As I pulled into my driveway, I couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like for my father…

Thankfully, he’s still around.

I should probably ask him.

Copyright © 2021 – ∞ B. Charles Donley


Acid-Washed Flashback Series: Love, Karma, & the Whole Damn Thing…

WARNING: what you are about to read is real. It was actually published a long time ago on a platform far, far away. It comes from an epoch when I had much more ego than experience, much more swagger than savvy, much more hubris than humility. That said, I believe this essay retains at least some redemptive qualities. Hopefully, you’ll uncover a nugget (or three) of insight, humor, or wisdom you can pocket and carry with you on your journey. Other than cleaning up any blatant grammar boo-boos, it’s presented for you in its original gory, umm…I mean glory. Cheers!

This essay entered the cyberverse on 10/2/2015 at 11:28 PM. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: I neither claim to have insider information, nor do intend for anyone to believe the subsequent blather I’m espousing here. Said blather is a loose aggregation of books I’ve read, people I follow, and the collected experience of my life compressed into a crystalline belief system. This is the wisdom I’ll impart on my kids. The rest of you can label it utter bullshit and me a charlatan–I’ll happily don that label.

Warning: Results may not be typical. In fact, they may not be much at all.

Dogma: There is a spiritual energy that binds all living things. It ain’t your God or her God or his God or their God. It ain’t Jesus or Muhammad or Vishnu or Zeus. It ain’t Bordeaux or chocolate or music or a good fuck. It’s a spiritual force that lies just beneath the perceptible physical realm. You are connected to it, I am connected to it, cats and dogs and trees and frogs are connected to it. It is the “place” from which everything came and everything will return. It is the universe that all things—past, present and future—inhabit.

In this universe, benevolence flows toward those who contribute and malevolence is cast upon those that neglect. That’s where Karma steps into the spotlight. Karma is there to mete out universal justice—both sweet and severe.

One of the functions of this universe is banking. The currency is good and evil deeds. The exchange rate varies from entity to entity depending on its complexity. For small children, the exchange rate is much more favorable than for grown adults. Empathy (intuition), Altruism (action) and Gratitude (appreciation)—these are the means to accumulating prosperity.

  1. Empathy – when you see another suffering, try to imagine their suffering (sympathy) or recall your own similar experience (empathy).
  2. Altruism – act to ameliorate that suffering, give comfort, right the wrong.
  3. Gratitude – give thanks for the opportunity to heal, make a sacrifice, reflect on your gifts.

This entire process can be as easy as picking up a the screw-top to a soda bottle in a parking lot, so that it does not end up in the belly of a dying seagull. Then pause a moment to take in the majesty of birds in flight. This can be as hard as dutifully remaining by the side of a loved one in hospice care to provide comfort amid their final days. Then reflect on all of the joy you shared with that person. This can be every positive action in between.

When you contribute to the well-being of the universe, you accumulate universal prosperity. Do the opposite—be apathetic, act neglectful, inflict suffering, and you go into universal debt. The universe is not a forgiving lender. Karma confronts those that fail to repay their universal debt. But it also distributes prosperity to those who accumulate it.

With banked prosperity, you must then believe that you deserve a withdrawal; it won’t just drop into your lap. The universe doesn’t simply dispense prosperity in the form of lottery wins, luxury homes, or career advancement. Like any financial institution, the universe likes to hang onto the prosperity you’ve deposited.

The universe will remain oblivious to your desire for a withdrawal until you make it known. You have to believe you deserve the prosperity you’ve accumulated through your good deeds. You have to believe it to the point where is binds to the core of your reality. If you have accumulated enough prosperity through empathy, altruism, and gratitude, if you believe in that which you desire, if your gratitude will be profound, the universe will dispatch Karma to set events into motion that will ultimately connect desire to reality.

That said, even if you’ve banked much universal prosperity, you can short-circuit this exchange with negative thoughts, negative vibes, and doubt. What you do not feel you deserve will never be yours. Regardless of how much prosperity you’ve accumulated, the universe will not dispatch Karma to work on your behalf if you feel unworthy. Ultimately, the universe never rewards the unworthy.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of my whacked-out spiritual belief system. You can now crumple this entry and toss it into the recycle bin at the bottom corner of your screen.

Copyright © 2015 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Acid-Washed Flashback Series: When It Was Like Sep-tem-ba (I Rememba)

WARNING: what you are about to read is real. It was actually published a long time ago on a platform far, far away. It comes from an epoch when I had much more ego than experience, much more swagger than savvy, much more hubris than humility. That said, I believe this essay retains at least some redemptive qualities. Hopefully, you’ll uncover a nugget (or three) of insight, humor, or wisdom you can pocket and carry with you on your journey. Other than cleaning up any blatant grammar boo-boos, it’s presented for you in its original gory, umm…I mean glory. Cheers!

This essay entered the cyberverse on 9/17/2015 at 11:28 PM. Reader discretion is advised.

Full disclosure: a lot of the “front end” portion of this post is too ridiculous to (re)post. This bums me out, since the “back end” is kinda lovely. Hence, I’m (re)posting with liberties taken.

Accordingly, before I got embarrassingly off-track at the front end, let me set the stage: I was mowing the lawn, listening to music, and wallowing in the wonderous autumnal glory surrounding me.

Let’s pick it up there…

Anyway, back to me and the lawn mower and the iPod Touch wired to my head. As the music in my ears elevated my consciousness, the unconscious sludge that obfuscates my secret writer’s powers all-at-once disintegrated. In a few milliseconds shy of an instant, my awareness exploded. I was suddenly acutely cognizant of…

A vivacious murmur I could not see
A musky breeze I could not hear
A crisp atmosphere I could not taste
A ripening grist I could not smell
A silent decay I could not touch

something like this in my mind’s eye

And it hit me. This day of mowering was one of those rare betwixt days when a seasonal shift was evident only to those accordingly attuned—I was accordingly entranced. I was privileged to be in the thick of the numerous forces pushing, pulling and battling for seasonal supremacy in this fleeting moment of purgatorial latency. And I almost missed it. I was sleep-mowing through my banal task as summer was exhaling it’s final breath—an exhalation that would certainly stoke autumn’s elegant blaze of color.

As previously stated, I revere and revile this particular seasonal shift. Like no other annual transition, as the pungent sweaty aroma of summer mellows toward the refined musky scent of autumn, I am as alive as I am dying. For me, the magnitude of social and romantic possibility historically piqued this time of year.

For a decade-and-a-half, September marked my return to the hallowed halls of some educational institution. I often embarked with renewed hope that I’d stake a claim in the twisted social scene. The dashing of my hopes was generally complete a few weeks into the campaign. But you know what they say about hope… Possibly because all of the significant affairs of my heart were in full regalia or stripped naked come September, my heart still takes umbrage and flight this time of year. Sure, the heart heals, but it never forgets.

My monotonous chore suddenly became an orgasm of sensory throughput. Nature’s lines – the ones that defined my quaint little Urbandale Lane North – despite being obscured by too much human interference, were more bucolic than normal. Bees and butterflies suckling the last drops of nectar from exhausted blossoms assuaged my dismay regarding their inevitable frosty blight.

I snatched a fallen apple from the clutch of little yellow headstones that dotted the space under the apple tree. It was a autonomous planet complete with uncommon beauty, obvious imperfections, and a population of busy inhabitants. And like so much aging newsprint, a yellowing thistle jumped out as I passed to prickle my forearm and remind me that much like old news, it too was not irrelevant.

You know how the anticipation of something is nearly always more satisfying than the actuality of it. This is especially true when it’s viewed in retrospect. Looking forward to something is a precarious notion at best. That’s how I felt Monday evening as the sun faded with the harvest season barely over the horizon.

Autumn has always held so much promise throughout my lifetime, and yet it rarely delivered. Regardless, I cherish every aspect from the crisp air to the plethora of aromatics to the promise of cozier passion. I hate to love the onset of autumn, and I love that.

Copyright © 2015 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Acid-Washed Flashback Series: A Latesummer Night’s Dream

WARNING: what you are about to read is real. It was actually published a long time ago on a platform far, far away. It comes from an epoch when I had much more ego than experience, much more swagger than savvy, much more hubris than humility. That said, I believe this essay retains at least some redemptive qualities. Hopefully, you’ll uncover a nugget (or three) of insight, humor, or wisdom you can pocket and carry with you on your journey. Other than cleaning up any blatant grammar boo-boos, it’s presented for you in its original gory, umm…I mean glory. Cheers!

This essay entered the cyberverse on 9/7/2015 at 12:08 AM. Reader discretion is advised.

When I was slightly older than my daughter, this time of year used to cause me considerable angst. The waning moments of summer were the bitterest of sweetness. If you’ve ever lived in Minnesota, you know the value of a hot August night. Sure, the other seasons each have their allure, but none so much as the ides of August. When life can be so cold at times, there is nothing like the rich dense warmth of summer. Plus, heading back to school was one of my fondest  miseries.

To those that contend northern winters are too much to handle, I ask…would a season by any other name taste as sweet? That is to say, whilst you simply endure your blistering southern summer, I’ll savor my therapeutic northern doggish days – a respite from “that other season” – a reward for “surviving another one”. I’ll suck every last bit of temperate marrow from this most hallowed of northern seasonal varieties.

And so it was this weekend, that I had the kids at the Urbandale estate. As per my entire life since April (or thereabouts), we were carting ostensibly important stuff back and forth from our previous residence to our newest one. Subsequently. we’d put each piece of stuff in its newest temporary final resting place. I swear my kids think life with me consists of: sleeping, eating, and every activity in the realm of home renovation + moving. I don’t think we’ve sat together and stared into space whilst getting lost in conversation, a board game or even a movie more than once since before the capacity of my middle-term memory.

On Saturday evening, in the bowels of the basement, Nate looked at me as we were assembling the latest ingeniously engineered modular storage contraption and asked: “Dad, are we ever going to be done moving? Summer is pretty much almost over; all we did was work on the house.” As per my pointless parental pandering, I fed him some cliched hackneyed bullshit about how adults “have to get things done” and “we’ll be done eventually” and some other crap that contained the word “done” or “finished” or “complete” – shit he’s likely heard from me a billion times in the past year. He shrugged, sighed and handed me another 12″ x 12″ rubber-coated-metal mesh shelf. I proceeded to bang it into place. And so it went…

The fact that this was our last summer weekend before school was never lost on me. I’ve actually ached a bit more than a bit since exiting Delano Elementary on orientation day last Wednesday. The summer is so rich and wondrous and we spent it boxing up the stuff that clutters our life, carting that stuff our new house (or Goodwill, or ARC), meeting strangers to exchange stuff for money via Craigslist transactions too numerous to recant, putting stuff on shelves in drawers or in ingeniously engineered modular storage contraptions or throwing stuff in the garbage. I’m starting to realize that I exist strictly as my stuff’s bitch.

And so indeed I do.

Nate sees stuff differently than I. He likes his stuff, but he pays it less heed (and homage) than I do. Rather than ogle and fondle stuff all day, He’d rather wrestle with me, blow my doors off on a bike ride through our new neighborhood or sit on the tailgate of my truck and eat ice cream with his sister and me. He’s a kid. He’s starting to get the fascination with stuff, but he stops short of worshiping at an alter of it.

That’s so great! It must be liberating to live beyond cloistering shadow of stuff. Alas, I’m a hypocrite, I never will.

Saturday night, after we’d assembled the ingeniously engineered modular storage contraption, and I’d shoved some stuff into it, I noticed particularly gaudy chorus of crickets serenading us from just beyond the screen porch. I asked Karli (watching Full House season 5 on DVD) and Nate (playing The Lego Movie game on the XBOX) if they wanted to go hang out in the screen porch (for the first time all summer). They both literally dropped what they were doing and bolted for the porch. With lemonade in their hands and an Oatmeal Stout in mine, we sat on the porch and chatted amid the dulcet cricketorial concerto.

We chatted about the summer’s of my youth (they love my “back in my day” stories for some reason). We recapped the one or two highlights our summer together. We uttered the “S” word (school) and looked ahead to their 2015-16 campaign. The crazy thing is that all of this transpired in the absence of any stuff. I guess we were sitting on neat-o Coleman portable folding chairs, but we could have just as easily been sitting on the floor for all it would have mattered.

I was amazed at how unaffected Nate and Karli were about the forthcoming school year. Thank God! Another one of my manias with which I failed to afflict either of them; lord knows I’ve done enough damage already. They felt nothing but the sheer joy of soaking up the waning moments of a humid summer evening on a screen porch with their dad, plus a few million crickets. I felt the weight of the impending school year (homework, lunches, 8 PM bedtime), the inevitable seasonal shift (raking leaves, freezing to death on Halloween, sharpening the snow shovels) and everything that was on Sunday’s to-do list.

Why in the hell do we bother growing up…?

Copyright © 2015 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

(My) Life Is A Parade

Writing, lately, is akin to a July 4th caladiscopic acid trip.

It’s like being a kid at the ’76 bicentennial parade.

I was there.

It’s loud. It’s colorful. It’s frenetic.

But, the candy is the goal—the candy is everything!

And so, the candy is thrown, and I know I can’t grab it all.

My hands are small, I’m small, there are so many small people doing what I’m doing.

But, it all looks so enticing.

I want at all.

I want it now!

Chaos erupts.

Candy is everywhere.

I have to hone in on one piece–sharpen my focus.

If I try to grab it all, I’ll get none.

Too much competition.

Writing these days…

…for me…

…is like that.

© 2021 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

The Music Gal

As many of you know, I’m “the music guy”, or, at best “a music guy”. And, if I’m any sort of “music guy”, Cyndi was most assuredly “the music gal”. The impact of music on our respective lives is incalculable.

As “the music guy”, I was tasked with playlist duties for this evening’s festivities. Normally, I’d just do what I always do—assess the guest list, gauge the tone of the evening, and gather some tunes into an appropriate flow.

I’ll be honest, this one gave me pause. I tried to imagine Cyndi here, as she most assuredly is. This made the task quite daunting. “The music gal” would surely want me to step up and offer something a bit…more…especially on this occasion. I mean…how many times have you heard someone say, “I want this song played at my funeral.”

Then it dawned on me—Cyndi should DJ her own damn life celebration! And thankfully, she left a very detailed Facebook roadmap for me to follow with a fantastic soundtrack for me to discover.

After meticulously crawling Cyndi’s Facebook feed over the course of a week, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cyndi possessed a mastery of philosophy that could not be taught in any institution of higher learning. Like many, her observations were drawn from the school of hard knocks. But they were no less insightful or impactful.

No single observation she ever made was earth shattering, but taken as a whole, they shifted my orbit even further toward patience, kindness, and gratitude. She was most assuredly a folk philosopher of the highest order.

As I back-walked Cyndi’s entire Facebook feed, I traced her musical history. When I encountered a song she had posted, I added it to a playlist. 66 songs later, I have exactly what we all need to hear tonight: Cyndi’s Musical Wisdom

The playlist is one that only Cyndi could’ve created. And, in true Cyndi fashion, she didn’t just post links to songs. Each song came with a bit of her unique folk philosophy, and I wanted to preserve that. So, I loaded her sermonettes into the lyrics tag. As each tune plays, if you tap the screen, the wisdom that originally accompanied it will appear. Some of her sermonettes could get a tad long-winded, so I did do a bit of editing.

Scrolling through someone’s entire Facebook feed is to watch their life flash before your eyes. It’s a trippy trip. After my sojourn, I know the following things to be true…

Family was paramount. Y’all are all over the place in her life. She cherished each and every one of you to the moon and beyond. She was your biggest fan and loudest cheerleader. When it came to family, she was the rock of Gibraltar, she never waivered.

Friends were her lifeline, her oxygen, her jam. Friends were her touchstone for sanity, solace, and joy. She treasured her friendships, and we treasured her. And as I gazed at her life through the lens of a friend, it was obvious that Jodie is the Thelma to her Louise. To have a friendship like that is rare and precious and glorious.

Cyndi was one of the great eternal optimists of all time—God bless for that! There aren’t many around these days…

Finally, as the music guy, I took just two liberties.

First, Old Dominion was one of Cyndi and Jodie’s favorite bands. I asked Jodie to contribute a special Old Dominion tune; she obliged. It’s slotted just behind the lid lifter.

Second, I wanted the first song to be utterly apropos. Thankfully, the Eli Young Band had the good sense to craft such a ditty. As we all gather here in one of her favorite places on earth, a beach song only made sense. And this particular beach song only makes all the sense in the world.

In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of the sage herself. I fashioned one of her recent Facebook posts into a poem of sorts. And, it works surprisingly well. In fact, it’s the vision of her I have right now as she joins us in celebration…

And so I sit,
in a bungee chair that I borrowed from my son,
losing circulation in my legs,
with a cardboard coffee table before me,
drinking wine,
and watching 2020,
I couldn’t be happier.

— Cyndi

© 2021 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Acid-Washed Flashback Series: Her Name Was Rosie; She Could Clean the Hell Out of a Home

WARNING: what you are about to read is real. It was actually published a long time ago on a platform far, far away. It comes from an epoch when I had much more ego than experience, much more swagger than savvy, much more hubris than humility. That said, I believe this essay retains at least some redemptive qualities. Hopefully, you’ll uncover a nugget (or three) of insight, humor, or wisdom you can pocket and carry with you on your journey. Other than cleaning up any blatant grammar boo-boos, it’s presented for you in its original gory, umm…I mean glory. Cheers!

This essay entered the cyberverse on 2/22/2010 at 1:54 PM. Reader discretion is advised.

Over the period that spans this past year, I have been on an amazing emotional, and to a lesser extent, intellectual journey. My understanding of my own emotions and feelings has been greatly enhanced. I have embraced an incredible opportunity to grow and evolve. And although the process has not always been enjoyable, the outcomes hold immense value.

During the less enjoyable times, I often drew upon my own strengths, attributes, and philosophies to survive intellectually, emotionally, and physically. As a fairly complex individual, I have a number of attributes that I would consider strengths. But there is a singular foundational strength upon which all of my attributal infrastructure is built. It does not have a name, as it is a strength that I uniquely understand. It can best be described as a combination of the following:
• an unquenchable drive to succeed
• an unwavering belief that success is immanent
• an unparalleled capacity to out work anyone standing between me and success

My mother often asks from where these attributes emanated. She feels that neither she, nor my father exhibited these traits nearly to the degree that I do. And these traits don’t generally manifest themselves organically—not to this degree, anyway.

When I really examine this question, I always find myself going back to the same time, same place, same experience and same person: Rosie, our cleaning lady and caregiver when I was young.

I feel like the time I spent in Rosie’s presence was a period from about four to six years old. Rosie cleaned our home. She also watched us on many evenings until my mother or father were done with work and able to pick us up for the evening. I was able to observe her in action at both in my own home as well as hers.

To an obviously impressionable young boy, Rosie seemed like a true super hero. I am not sure if this is a retrospective take, or if I actually understood it at the time, but Rosie exuded a sense of supreme dominance. Not in the classic sense, but in the sense that she dominated whatever task with which she was occupied. The best way to explain it is as follows: when Rosie cleaned our home, I can’t help but feel like our home felt totally and thoroughly cleaned. She unleashed cleanliness on our home like a well-trained S.W.A.T. team storms into a dangerous situation and restores order, except she was a one-woman operation, flanked by no one.

I vividly recall watching her move through our home and efficiently executing each small task that was a building block to the larger task that eventually lead to the ultimate completion of the overall task: a clean home–a really fucking clean home! She executed each task with the skill and grace of a Julliard-trained ballerina coupled with the force and thoroughness of a world-champion heavy-weight prize fighter. Even at the age of four, I could sit back and appreciate this woman’s ability to clean the hell out of a home.

This stuck with me, and I later developed it into the series of aforementioned attributes. I always considered Rosie the inspiration of these attributes. The task she used to unknowingly model these attributes, cleaning a home, may not have been profound on the surface. But the way she executed this task was extremely profound and meaningful to the four-year-old watching from the family room sofa.

In addition to providing me a blueprint that I would later apply to nearly every task, duty, or challenge I would encounter in my life, Rosie taught me life lesson one evening that would eventually become one of my foundational philosophies.

Rosie ofen provided dinner for my brother and I at her home. Not surprisingly, Rosie made meals that were straight from the USDA food pyramid. I do not ever recall a single meal that did not include a vegetable. One evening, Rosie provided cooked beats as the vegetable. At five years old, I was not a fan; I remember mentioning this to Rosie. She listened to my concern about the viability of beets as actual food source, and put this spin on it: (paraphrasing) “If you don’t like beets, just eat them first. That way you will have the rest of your meal to enjoy without having to worry about the beets.”

This seemingly simple piece of wisdom would eventually become one of my core philosophies. To simplify it greatly, it was the: business-before-pleasure axiom. But whether intentional or not, it was much more profound than that. Rosie provided me a strategy that I would use countless times in my life to de-emphasize the non-pleasurable aspects and emphasize the pleasurable ones. In that tiny snippet of advice was a life-long strategy for maximization of happiness.

Each of those strategies that Rosie gave to me is amazing in its own right. But again, whether intentional or not, they just happen to compliment each other and produce a most amazing synergistic effect. You see if you apply hard work and drive to the non-pleasurable tasks in life, you can actually derive an almost perverse pleasure that comes with exerting your will over the task itself and dominating it (so to speak). And once all of the non-pleasurable tasks have been convincingly executed, the resulting satisfaction intensifies the sweetness of the pleasurable ones.

Now if that is not a strategy for fulfillment, I am not sure what is?

Thanks Rosie for your wisdom, your example, your gifs…the blueprints you handed me many years ago, have always been cherished and are heavily utilized on a daily basis. They have provided me the means to a rather extraordinary life.

© 2010 – ∞ B. Charles Donley