Overcoming Sins of the Past

Anyone who meets me more than once knows I am a rabid Liverpool fan. Even if they do not quite understand what that means. I live in America so most of my cohorts have no idea what support for a team looks like in Europe. We do get our fanatical fans in our sports. It’s not the same.

To be clear, I am a Liverpool supporter. I am going to talk about Leeds United. Then I probably won’t do it again. Until Liverpool next plays them. Unless they beat Liverpool. Then I will kick on as if the game never happened.

As Jurgen Klopp says “football is the most important of the least important things.”

I love that. For me, the beautiful game gives me hope, pulls joy from despair, and shows a path for life that I have never been able to put words to. It is no more and much more than a bunch of players kicking a ball about, everything and nothing at all at the same time. It shows what is possible when we can work together for a common goal. Even if the goal seems unlikely, even after doing a lot of things wrong.

In Liverpool’s first game of the 2020-2021 Premier League season, they faced Leeds United, a newly promoted team from the Champions League. Ultimately, Liverpool won 4-3 in a scrappy match riddled with Liverpool errors and saved by a Mo Salah hat trick, made possible by two Leeds penalties. 

Much was made of Leeds United being promoted back into the Premier League after a 16-year absence. They had once been great. They had once won the league. The press is enamored of the tale, the great vanquished team coming back at last. Overcoming the sins of the past.

Back when I first fell in love with Liverpool in the mid 1980s, I don’t remember Leeds United at all. I do remember them in the late nineties and early 2000s, a team that seemed to be burdened with scandal after scandal.

I don’t remember details and timing, just the shadows of events. Two Leeds players were charged with assault of an Asian student, causing life-threatening injuries to him. The Leeds United management borrowed a large sum of money against the hope that he could pay it back with proceeds from European nights in Champions League football only not to qualify for Europe. This brought financial ruin to the club. On a night in Istanbul, two of their supporters were stabbed to death in a riot. Relegation, despite a streak of success, seemed inevitable. How could they overcome all that?

I was more worried about how Liverpool would overcome their being “knocked off their perch” by the damnable Manchester United under Sir Alec Ferguson. Liverpool had their own demons to overcome. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 weighted heavy on the team. Some went so far as to blame us supporters for what could not have been our fault. It was rough and heartbreaking. It hurt the club. Our mentality no doubt suffered for the loss of lives on that horrific day.

Liverpool went through their own penance through a series of mismanagement and poor decisions. Thirty years. It took us thirty years to win the league again after being legendary for decades. So Leeds down in the lower leagues was not even on my radar. I did not think they could overcome the sins of their past. I was not certain Liverpool could either, but I never worried they would be relegated. I had hopes that Everton might be…ok, ok, I digress.

Sixteen years in the lower leagues and here Leeds United are again. Giving Liverpool, the reigning champions, a proper match. We all have our sins of the past to overcome. Sometimes it takes a few hours to put your ship right. Sometimes it takes sixteen years. Or thirty years. Or a life time.

While I have never assaulted anyone contrary to reputation or been caught in a riot or crushed in a stampede, I have bet financial stability against future success and lost. I have let my demons off their leash and nearly been devoured for letting them lash out at me. I have hurt others by my own inaction or caught in my own pain.

My body and soul have suffered for making poor decisions that I knew were risky or plain stupid, decisions made in despair. I fell into the trap of blaming a cruel world and my mental illness for my shortcomings. This never works. I have power over my own life .

No matter our circumstances, no matter what others would have us believe, we all have power over our own lives. And we can all find absolution and strive toward our best selves. Truth be told, most of us will never get there. But the point is not the ends but the journey to get there. The journey is a beautiful game. A dance that never ends.

There is power in acknowledging that, perhaps, we have not always done what is right for ourselves or others. And forgive ourselves. And each other. Nothing is more powerful than true forgiveness. It is an easy thing to write. A terribly difficult thing to do.

Strength, mercy, kindness, and humility are essential elements of renewal and always the hardest to bring out of ourselves. Invisible demons never quit their assault on us, lying and tearing us down. It takes hard work to beat the world back and push yourself toward your potential. Without exception, all individuals have a gift to bring to this life, a light in the darkness, or at least, to discover what hides in the darkness and create from it. Kick on.  

And support Liverpool so that you will never walk alone in the wicked storms of this life.

Unfinished

I prefer to write by hand. This is from my very early days. I was 7 years old taking Communion classes, and writing short stories in the little notebook I was given for taking notes regarding my upcoming commitment to the church. Something I was totally uninterested in. I believed and still believe in God. And Angels. And Demons. And the eternal struggle between creation and oppression. I had no damn use for religion. It seems oppressive and antithetical to creation. That was all already there. Yes, many of the nuns at the Catholic school I attended wished to burn me at the stake even when I was very small. They let the other children torment me instead. Bullying the odd and unwanted was not frowned upon in my youth but encouraged.

While my mother dug her fist in between my shoulder blades to get me to sit up and Father Lopez droned on and on about the Catechism, I wrote a story about a small Canadian lynx named Cog that was not the right kind of big cat for the jungle he found himself in. Black panthers and spotted leopards told Cog that he was not even on the right continent. He should leave or they would hurt him.

It was not a bad tale considering my young age. Cog wished to be a full-maned lion much the way I wished to be a boy instead of a girl. Being a girl was shit especially in the religious context. I didn’t even like apples and I sure as Hell would never have taken one from a snake. All that told me is that stories are powerful instruments. Blame the girl for everything so entire civilizations for thousands of years can force them into dresses and subservience and forever tell the female to shut up and look pretty. Ridiculous.

Cog, who was a great hunter but all alone, had heard lions were kings of the jungle and had great prides for company where the girl lions could hunt better than the males. Now, that was Cog’s kind of girls. Off to the jungle he went. At seven, a lynx sneaking on a plane was a natural thing. So he gets to Africa only to be rejected by the other big cats and found his only friend to be a crocodile, Biter (which I spelled Bitter- the irony of it all) that no one else liked. I cried a little when I read it, realizing that at seven, I already felt like a total alien in the world in which I found myself. 

I discovered the old notebook in which Cog lived in this old trunk piled high with notebooks in which I had written stories from age seven through my mid-forties. Trunk novels. Literally. I could hear Brandon Sanderson telling his audience at some fantasy convention I had attended that trunk novels needed to stay in the trunk. They were meant to be your learning books, teaching you the craft of writing. 

I suppose that is how I felt about them. And most of them were unfinished. Some were truly awful. A sappy romance I wrote in high school embarrassed me so badly, I am considering burning it before anyone can find it after my death.  Nine finished stories – none that struck me as my best work.  Twenty-seven unfinished books, some just ideas scribbled down in three or four paragraphs describing beginning, conflict, and resolution, almost like ideas for writing assignments from my university days. Some were a character looking for a story. I did that a lot in my writing. I feel that way myself, a character in need of a story.

The Pandemic lead me to the darkest places in my mind as I looked through all this paper which contained so much of my pain, hope, torment, and dreams of a better world. My overwhelming feeling of failure and opportunities lost about destroyed me as the angel that tries so hard to save me whispered his old refrain.

 There is no such thing as a failure who keeps trying. 

I pulled the twenty best of the books out, purchased twenty new notebooks and began fiddling about with them. I will try to finish them before I finish my life. Maybe a lynx can’t be a lion, but the little cat can still be a fine hunter. And I can still be a decent writer. Even if the publishing world would prefer panthers, leopards, and lions. 

Pug Corner – Frankie and Social Distancing

FAA406AB-4FEB-411B-B0D4-795B80C80813Frankie is confused. Pleased but really confused. Her daily routine is turned upside down and now she has to think of other activities to bark about.

The human is home ALL the time. That never happens. Frankie cannot properly nap in the morning after walk and breakfast. The human is there, chattering in ways that have nothing to do with treats and tummy rubs.

Walks. They are strange. Frankie loves visiting the dog 2D1097A5-80DA-4969-BA35-EAAE2CD6AFBEpark and getting pets and love from all the people there. And now the human will not go to the dog park. When we see Jaspar, the world’s greatest French Bulldog, Frankie cannot go near him. Why?

The human says social distancing. Germs are about. What in the world is a germ? Is it like a cat? Whatever it is, it makes the human sad. She cries sometimes for no reason at all. She does not watch her favorite game with the Liverpool thing that makes her dance and sing. Frankie never thought to miss that.

Frankie does not know what social distancing means and does not, will never believe that being alone all the time can be good for dogs or bipeds. Germs be damned.

1942B05B-8264-4EBC-8935-F5F2EA23F5AEEspecially Frankie’s human who does not get enough love and play as it is.

How is Frankie going to teach the human how to interact with other dogs and humans, teach it the value of the pack if the human refuses all pack behavior? Just a little longer, the human says. It is not forever. The only time a pug understands is forever so what is happening?

It is a mystery. At least the human is here and feeding Frankie every day. There is still an eternity to save my human.

An Ancient Tome

I wrote a paper on JRR Tolkien for an independent study while in school in London thirty years ago. Time is beating the crap out of me, no doubt. So I wanted to travel to Oxford to have look at a few original sources kept in the University libraries.

One of my professors proudly supplied me with a pass. However, I did not realize there were limitations to the pass. Much to the horror of the librarians, I was drawn to a restricted section full of ancient tomes. Most were locked behind glass. That should have been a hint.

There was, among those moldy old books, one left unintended written in a script and language I could not decipher. On impulse, I picked it up thus earning my lifetime banishment from that library.

It was totally worth it, despite the possible apocalyptic horror it might have unleashed. Oopsie.

In the  moment I touched that book, I felt a surge of energy pulse through me. Possibly  brought on by the horror of the ruddy security guard sputtering at me. I prefer to believe that electrified pulse came from the book itself, the book wanting to impart its contents to someone, anyone.

All books are magic. I have no clue what was in the book I came across, be it spells of a lost power or possibly a transcription of some church records. I never could find out. My escort, the one that unceremoniously threw me out of the library into the rain, only lectured me on how rude Americans could be and would hear no excuses from me.

I only had my imagination to go by. I think the script was Gaelic of some kind. It possibly came from a monastary but I don’t even know how old the book might have been. I did not have enough time to examine the vellum. Might it have been crafted of human skin? There was a time… but such parchment would not hold ink for so long. Well, unless there was some evil enchantment at work. Definitely a possibility.

My imagination crafted that old restricted book into a grimoire, a spell book for the darkest of sorcerers. And so filled my nights with horrors for years after, some demon force chasing me across time and space.

Now, I seek a way to defeat the dark magic unleashed on me by that ancient tome, to tame or banish the demons that rose with its powers. Sadly, books of miracles, are so rare. Well, I never could find one equal to the demons that haunt me so I decided I would write one, an Idyll. I am running out of time. I can’t hold off those demons  much longer.

I do apologize if my jaunt into the restricted section of the library ultimately leads to a zombie apocalypse. Awkward.

Mind the Gap

London 057Last night I dreamed I returned to the United Kingdom. I always meant to go back there, to live there for a time once more as I did when I was at University.

The last time I visited, I took my  fourteen year old daughter. That was thirteen years ago. We enjoyed such an adventure. There was no plan. We traipsed around England, mostly staying in London, exploring freely.

London had changed a bit since my school days, but not so much as to lose that ambience of long endurance and that incredible air of fable. Time still seemed in long supply, and I believed I would return again. I did not factor in the world going quite so utterly mad.

london night lights bridge

My dream revealed a withered and dying United Kingdom, a divided and broken land, its culture and people utterly vanquished.  South Kensington, the place I had lived as a student, was lined with crucified bodies, heads on spikes. Masked men wearing  black robes patrolled the streets, heavily armed. In my dream, they turned to carrion birds to feed on the ashes of the land they conquered. It was horrifying. Perhaps, a symptom of playing too many video games and reading too much dystopian fantasy.

I woke up weeping for its demise more than I would for my country of birth. I rolled out of bed in the night’s darkest hours before dawn and immediately took to my computer to seek plane reservations that I might return there before my visions could come to fruition.

I believed I was awake in a bright morning to find my reservations well in place. I packed and gathered my passport and arrived in London. No, I had not awaken from my nightmare. The UK was still there, but it felt dead, like a movie set more than the real place.  I told myself it was the hour of the day, and entered the tube station at Piccadilly Circus.

People packed into the platform and that gave me comfort. Here they all were, citizens of London, waiting for their train. The train came and true to nature, the people queued up to enter as a mechanized and polite voice reminded them.

“Mind the gap.”

No one did. By the time I boarded the train, all of those people disappeared into the gap which for me was a simple step and for them, an unscalable chasm. Then I awoke to my life once more, and I wrote this blog post. Let this only be a nightmare. Please, world, mind the gap.