Monday, November 22, 2010

Life's Robulous Rebus


The sky is fuchsia with sunset. We marvel at the clouds. I look over at him. His eyes are filled with tears.

"The best guide in life is strength,” said Swami Vivekananda. “Discard everything that weakens you, have nothing to do with it.” Instead, as you evaluate each person and situation that comes before you, ask yourself: “Will this feed my vitality or will it not?"

I’ve always believed in the power of reinvention; a theory that none of us is ever so trapped we can’t stand up and make our lives anew. If you’ve got itchy feet, a loss of hope, or are just fed up with the humdrum hootchie-koo of daily life, get a copy of Finnegans Wake and a Greyhound bus ticket and call me in the morning.

But fear breeds paralysis. Case studies (still under observation):

The woman slumped in her barstool, looking too young to already be so old. A glass of vodka sat in front of her. “I miss him so much,” she said. Her haunted face crumpled. Where was her bus ticket?

Or the man who in confidence conveyed how trapped he feels; how he hates his life but feels powerless to change it. Where’s his outlaw bible?

"Phall if you but will," James Joyce tells us, "rise you must.” 

“Can’t you feel this?” he asks, pulling me back from all this thinking.

“Of course I can.” My belly burns. My whole body is alive. Every cell is singing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Ultimate Outlaw


Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.
Tom Robbins

I went back to school in 2005 to earn a master’s degree in journalism. One of the reasons behind it was to be in a boot camp-style setting where my ass would be kicked all over the proverbial court. I wanted the challenge good classes give; with teachers who wouldn’t let me off the hook, classmates who critiqued everything I said and did, and assignments that challenged me to analyze my growth and position on any number of topics.

The experience isn’t much different from entering a relationship. You know there’s going to be a mirror held up to you at every bend in the road. A good partner won’t let you off the hook, will question your positions, and challenge you to analyze your growth. You know there will be days when your partner is simply “not in the mood”, cranky, insulting, or downright tough to be around. And ditto for you. No one in the world sees those secret parts of yourself you’re so good at hiding—no one, that is, except the person you promise to love so well. You can slip nothing by the goalie in a relationship—the microscope is on, and you’re the little bacteria swimming in the illuminated Petri dish.

Dating is a whole different ballgame from a friend who asks so little of you, or an acquaintance who, if annoyed or offended or bothered, can simply walk away and forget your exchange.

A relationship forces accountability in all the areas we find most uncomfortable to examine. And yet in spite of all this discomfort and ugliness, each of us is all too eager to hop aboard when Mr. or Mrs. Right arrives. We sign up even as we know this might not work. And as we warn each other—“guys can’t stand this about me” or “I’m no good for you” or “I know you’re going to break my heart”—we grow ever closer, ever more vulnerable, ever more intertwined until we wonder:

What could there have possibly been before all of this?

My dad played college basketball. He wasn’t a star, but he practiced with some of the best who went on to be pro. He said during all those games spent on the bench in college, he hoped that his time practicing with these greats on this defensive exercise, or that dribbling drill, had somehow helped to push them where they went. Maybe this was his contribution, he figured: not to have been the best, but to have been the one who pushed the others who would go on to become giants.

Are relationships about getting somewhere specific with our partners? Or could it be another idea, about pushing each other past his or her limits so that our partner-in-crime (for a time)'s best self can form? And what if we get there? What if our partners take us to that edge, but then go away? Are we better? Are they? Is there a “better” in a scenario like this? Can we be pushed to that new, untouched place, and still manage to hold on to the person who helped us find it?

Tommy Robbins says, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” And maybe that’s true. Maybe we meet people who so excite us, we rely on that excitement to fill our hearts and minds indefinitely. And in doing so, we get lazy and forget to create that excitement, that magic, every day. We do things without thinking and end up hurting the person we most want to protect. Or worse, we do hurtful things as a way to get out of a situation we no longer find magical.

Did I get lazy? Did you? Where in the world did all this get so lost in translation, when all the same feelings are still swirling around with those butterflies in my belly? The things I learn sometimes make my belly ache in such a different way than all those damned butterflies. But even as we all suffer along and drag our bodies through the warzone, I go back to my grad school decision. And then I remember that I know so much more than I used to know. And that maybe, just maybe, these lessons of mine (and yours) are actually clues to create that perfect love I sense so well but still fumble over anytime I try to grasp it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Redwood Happenings: Sept. 15, 2010

By Nicole Caldwell

[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, Sept. 15, 2010]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Redwood Happenings: Sept. 1, 2010

By Nicole Caldwell

[Originally Published in the Thousand Islands Sun, Sept. 1, 2010]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Redwood Happenings: Aug. 18

By Nicole Caldwell

Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun Aug. 18, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Redwood Happenings: Aug. 11

By Nicole Caldwell

Originally Published in the Thousand Islands Sun Aug. 11, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Love Letter, Part 2

I loved you. And my love, I think, was stronger than to be quite extinct within me yet. But let it not distress you any longer—I would not have you feel the least regret.


I loved you bare of hope and of expression, by turns with jealousy and shyness sore. I loved you with such purity, such passion; as may God grant you to be loved once more.
-Pushkin

Time here is like an old lady in the ground.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Redwood Happenings: July 28

By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Redwood Happenings: July 13

By Nicole Caldwell






















[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, July 13, 2010]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love Letter

The little old men at the Redwood Tavern agree: the Winchester Model 12 is the greatest shotgun ever made.

When the cows come home, pigs fly, Hell freezes over, and the music dies, you can bet there will be a handful of old coots parked in rocking chairs on front porches holding their Winchester Model 12s across their laps. These guns are going to be Redwood’s ticket out of the apocalypse, I’m told: Oil spills in the Gulf, terrorist attacks, alien invasions, plagues—you bring it, the Winchester Model 12 will smite it.

The Model 12 is a direct descendant of Winchester’s Gun that Won the West, they tell me. That intimidating history, drawn from a beautiful and god-forsaken time of manifest destiny that carved trails of tears through what would later become a flurry of golden highways, strip malls, and Taco Bells, gave the Model 12 its grit.

Winchester Model 12’s tenacious 1912 design was something firearm enthusiasts had never seen before. And you better believe that while only available in a 20 gauge (perfection has no need for flexibility), the Model 12 would fast become the first internal hammer pump-action shotgun success story.

The United States Army scooped up 20,000 Model 12 trench guns for World War I; and 80,000 were bought by the Marine Corps, Air Forces, and Navy for World War II. In fact, almost 2 million Winchester Model 12s made their way into the hands of soldiers, housewives, hunters, and Jonny Q. Publics before the model was discontinued in 1963.

This is the kind of gun you take into battle. It’s the kind of gun you reach for after waking up in the middle of the night when something goes bump. This baby is the Cadillac of cannons; the Winfrey of weaponry; the Rolls Royce of revolvers. That Winchester Model 12 is one hell of a shotgun.

Tell the preacher to suspend all service—that gun and I are going places. Wedding veils and open roads and deep soul-searching on the backbone of the US of A with my Winchester Model 12. How-eee, the tingle of tactical perfection and love-falling. Winchester Model 12, you must be the one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Redwood Happenings: May 26

By Nicole Caldwell




































[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, May 26, 2010]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Redwood Happenings: April 28

By Nicole Caldwell

[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, April 28, 2010]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Redwood Happenings: March 17

By Nicole Caldwell





































[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, March 17, 2010]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Redwood Happenings: March 10


[Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun, March 10, 2010]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Four Days of Valentine

Late afternoon. Garth Brooks comes on the jukebox.
"Please sing!" The woman coos to her husband. "Please?"
Charlie puts his Coors Light down on the bar and takes a deep breath.

Evening. Duncan stops his truck in front of a locked gate, puts it in park, and opens his driver's-side door. The light inside the truck comes on and he looks at me. "I can tell you're intelligent because you have dark, twinkly eyes," he says. "Intelligent people always have dark, twinkly eyes. My aunt told me that, because I have 'em too." He closes the door and walks smiling over to the gate with his keys.

My eyes are in fact pale: green and blue with gold flecks. The color of water polluted with gasoline.

The weekend. Sitting at a table in a VFW hall watching senior citizens dance to a blues band. The old cling to each other for dear life, holding each other up. I am in awe. Nothing compares to the intimacy of an ancient couple dancing in a deep embrace, keeping time with the music, ensuring the other doesn't disappear. Fred pulls me from the trance. "This is like 'Night of the Living Dead' meets 'Blues Brothers!'" he whispers loudly. I nod and write this down so I can remember it later.

Morning. I move closer to the man sleeping next to me and put my head on his chest. "I love you," I say. He doesn't answer. The back of my throat burns.

Charlie is still singing. "I could have missed the pain," he belts out in a magnificent baritone, "but I would have missed the chance." The other patrons have fallen silent, staring into their beers.

Redwood Firemen Host Successful Fishing Derby

[Originally printed in the Thousand Islands Sun, Feb. 10, 2010]