Remembering Silver Hill…My Magnolia

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The woods are lonely and empty there now, but in my mind there is a place which will always remain as it once was. A house on a hill surrounded by forest and filled with laughter and generations and love. My grandparents called it Silver Hill.

In the spring and summer the air of Upstate New York has a sweetness to it. As if the maple trees and rocks, the flowers and the sun breathe new hope into the land itself. Little things take me back. The smell of fresh-cut hay, the clink of ice in a glass of tea on a hot day, the aroma of pipe smoke, the sight of an old orange tractor.

For me, Silver Hill was magic. It was a place of safety and refuge, a constant in a childhood rife with upheaval. My folks moved many times, and I attended about twenty schools, but Silver Hill remained a beacon of hope and stability when things got dark and mean. I remember riding the lawn mower with my Grandfather when I was about four or five, and later being allowed to mow the whole yard myself, a thing I enjoyed. It’s where I learned to shoot, love the woods. I recall reading an entire series of Piers Anthony books over about a week, perched in a comfortable nook of a towering tree, surrounded by twittering birds, the wind whispering through the leaves, and the branches rocking me gently.

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There were family reunions and birthday parties during the warm months, and I’d roam the woods and the yard with my cousins, all of us with skinned knees and dungarees. Catching frogs and tadpoles down at the pond, always on the lookout for a snake or Bigfoot, who was rumored to inhabit the area, and whom I was fairly certain I’d seen at least once. Building forts of increasing complexity. The adults would join in games of softball, and football, and there was this wonderful togetherness. That’s how I remember it, and that’s the truth which remains.

We ate blackberry pies, hot-dogs from the charcoal grill, and stacks of steaming pancakes from the griddle, my Grandmother making them as big as we wanted. Eating was a kind of celebration.

In the fall there was a bittersweet, fleeting explosion of color, as the woods came alive in red and yellow and every breath held the promise of the coming snow, a sharp, tingling sensation, a singing feeling in my soul.

Winter meant vast snowbanks, crackling fires, and Christmas. The aunts and uncles and cousins would migrate to Silver Hill, and we’d eat turkey and stuffing and tear into presents, savoring each one. We opened them one at a time, and it was a joyful thing, anticipation and wonder all wrapped together. We built igloos and had snowball fights, epic battles when the wind was cold and the snow was deep, knowing a warm fire, hot chocolate, and a slice of pie waited inside.

Silver Hill became a part of me, and looking back I realize that it’s because of the people, my family, my blood, and the memories which live there for all of us. We’re spread out all over the country now, but Silver Hill, and those black and white and faded picture still recall.What I remember most is love, unconditional and true.

Before every meal, my Grandfather would lead us in a short prayer, the same one every time,and it is etched indelibly into my heart.

“Lord we thank you for this food, and for thy many blessings.

We pray you will bless this food to our use and us to thy purpose.

Amen.”

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Friends, Followers and Vanity

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Why the “Duck Face?” What IS that? The woman who wants to be a girl, the girl who wants to be a woman, both of them holding an iphone at arm’s length. Or it could be an absurd man-child with an over-abundance of love for both self and tight shorts, all of them with the lips protruding in a way that conjures a platypus on crack.

Who is it that finds these creatures suddenly intriguing, as though an uninteresting, average person has miraculously morphed into something more and greater, something to be “liked,” and “followed,” and “commented” upon. I don’t understand it even a little bit, but the phenomenon is inescapable.

I could go on a rant about the objectification of women, and while I do think that’s a part of this trend, I think it goes deeper, and in some ways is more insidious. It’s harmful, any way we slice it. People crave connection and validation, and do stupid things to satisfy that innate thirst. I’m an author, so there’s a certain irony there. I’m trying to do it with words, not pictures, and while I’d like to believe it’s more meaningful that way, perhaps it’s not.

Next to war, social media is the most unsocial thing mankind has invented. We are invested in documenting life without living it, more concerned with the appearance of happiness than the experience of joy, showing memories rather than making them. It’s a collective sickness of the soul.

We want to matter. To make a difference, and believe our short time on this rock is something other than nasty, brutish and short; rather than make it so, we try to convince others we are something we are not, and hope that we can sell ourselves in the process, even if it’s a fleeting illusion. When we look back on the time we’ve squandered in this manner, we’ll no doubt see we’ve been deluded fools.

The things that matter in the moment are often the things that matter the most, and when the time has slipped away, there’s no getting it back, no matter how many pictures we took. Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment, and let the moment be.

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Friends and Sharks

It’s late and Springsteen is playing in my sanctum and I’m thinking about friends. About what friendship means to me. I thank God for my friends, I thank them, and I wish I’d been a better friend all along, to all of them. Friends are precious, and I’m blessed to have some.

Friends make you better, even if it’s better at being worse. A true friend will do both things, over the years. That’s how it is. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends like that, and I’ve been a bad influence and a good one, a hellion and a saint, a healer and a divider. My friends have been that too, and that’s good.

We know many people, but have few friends. We have plastic smiles and rainbow relationships which are real in the way of whipped cream, and equally as fulfilling. We all know the difference in our hearts, and miss it when we settle for less.
My friends are few, and I’m all right with that. I’d like to be a better friend, having more to give than I take.

Friends are honest when it hurts, even if it hurts them. Even when honesty is something which pierces a lie most terrible and devouring. There is a certain loyalty in that.

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An old friend is someone who is there for you, when you need them. I’ve found that often this doesn’t mean they’re actually around or that I even talk to them. They’re with me in spirit, and their memory speaks wisdom to me, words I need to hear, a voice in my mind like my own conscience, but separate. Sometimes, though, you need a friend to physically pull your ass out of whatever trouble you’ve gotten yourself into.
I’ve had quite a few near-death experiences with one particular old friend of mine, and here’s one. We were SCUBA diving down in the keys. Now, I’m an experienced diver and a strong swimmer, but when things go wrong under water, they tend to go very wrong, very fast. We were spearfishing on a coral reef, and at first we stayed together, but wound up getting separated, each of us chasing fish all over the reef. There is a kind of hyper-focus that happens when you’re after a nice grouper, the thrill of the hunt and the idea of what that fish is going to taste like that afternoon when you pull the boat up to the restaurant and it gets blackened and served with the lobster also in the cooler. An epic meal, a perfect end to a glorious day. An ice cold Red-Stripe, conch-fritters, the sunset on the water, you get the picture…
I was down about a hundred feet, pushing the limits of my air. Visibility had been pretty good, but the current grew stronger and the water got progressively more cloudy. The thing is, I’d speared a nice fish, maybe a 20 pounder, and he’d twisted off the spear. The fish was bleeding, and he was certain to die, and I hated that. So I kept pursuing him, him swimming sideways and thrashing about with blood coming out of him, ringing the dinner bell.
I like the idea of sharks. Diving on the reef, you know they’re around, and sometimes you catch a shadowy glimpse of a torpedo shape gliding through the murk at the edges of your vision. It makes the dive special and memorable when that happens, and there is a sense of being lowered on the food chain and being a part of nature in a way that is impossible in the world of Starbucks and paved paradise. I get alarmed when they start getting overly curious, though. I’ve had sharks and barracuda steal a fish I’ve speared, and that’s an uncomfortable experience. Blood in the water and feeding frenzies and what-not.
This magnificent grouper decided his best bet was to hole up beneath a car-sized brain-coral. I bled air from my BC and put my belly on the sand and peered into the darkness. I could see the blood trailing out, but I couldn’t see the fish. I stuck my arm into the hole (dumb) with the spear gun extended, and wound up nailing the fish with the loaded gun. I dragged him out from under the hole, feeling pretty pleased with myself. My mask was leaking and salt water burned my eyes. My air was critical. I began my ascent.
I should have let the fish go in the first place, because at 100 feet down, I knew I had to make safety stops to avoid getting the bends. When I saw the Great Hammerhead cruise past, then circle, I was afraid. He was about fourteen feet long, and thick, passing close enough that I could see his teeth. I’d never seen one while diving before, only from the safety of a boat. Hammerheads eat people from time to time. Graceful, deadly, moving with effortless, predatory intent.
I’m not one prone to panic. I’ve faced some pretty grim situations where people were trying to kill me with guns or knives. This time though, I started to freak out. I couldn’t think clearly, and even remembering it now, I have a blurry feeling of terror in me. I couldn’t just shoot to the surface because I’d die. I had to pace my ascent from the depths, rising at the same leisurely speed as my bubbles. And I had two safety stops looming ahead, where I’d be forced to hang there in the water. I had about 100 psi left in my tank, so if there wasn’t any sort of reserve in there, and probably even if there was, I was in trouble.I let the line out on the spear gun so that the speared fish dangled about twenty feet below me. It was mostly dead, still bleeding. A reef shark showed up to enjoy the show, but it was the hammerhead and my lack of air that worried me the most.

I heard the engine turn on the boat, twice. My friend telling me to get my dumb ass to the surface. I waited at the first safety stop, and it got hard to pull air. I was at the end of the tank. I could see the boat, a shadow against the sun above me. I was using more air than I should have because I was fighting the current, drifting now, away from the boat, still maintaining my depth. There was a splash.
My friend, deciding that I’d been down too long, and seeing the damn big assed shark, jumped into the ocean. He swam down, and we used the extra regulator, a thing called an octopus, to get to the surface, the big shark giving us the evil eye the whole time.

We pulled into Whale Harbor Marina that evening and ate a platter of grouper, lobster, and conch fritters. It was the best meal I’ve ever had.
That’s a good friend.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.amazon.com/Perseid-Collapse-Sunshine-Patriots-Novella-ebook/dp/B00T41JBYM/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The Last Thing I’ll Ever See

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Her face was the last thing John saw there in that hospital bed with the beeping sounds and sad thin sheets. Her eyes were the placid blue of the reef in the afternoon, a kind of wistful hope shining from her while she held his hand at the end. Her hair was close cropped and grey and her oval face lined with worry and years and the love of a man she’d walked through hell and back with.

John’s eyes remained open, and he saw her for who she was, for who she had always been, and he perceived this not with his eyes but with his soul, floating, unfettered now and able to walk through a door to yesterday, lingering above each memory, tasting the truth of each moment as though for the first time, savoring the fleeting preciousness in a way he wished he had before.

A tumble of long dark hair falling over her shoulders the first night they’d met so long ago, sultry and whispering, her skin smooth and pale in the night, an eager vulnerability about her which seemed to fill a  deep need in John, a missing piece he hadn’t known existed until he met her. The rush of falling in love, the wedding down in the Keys beside the ocean, when she put on his ring and life stretched out before them full of possibility.

He saw their first child born, her lying on the table of this very hospital, on a different floor, a happy place of life and rebirth. Her face shimmering with sweat and the tears in her eyes when John placed the infant against her breast. He saw her on the beach, the waves surging while she held a small child’s hand, giggling and laughing, the sun bright and warm and good.

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The journey darkened then, and John found himself drifting through a murk he would rather not face, a certain truth which makes a man hurt. He saw her anguished tears and heard her sobs and felt a deep pain emanating from her wounded spirit. There was a bitter taste to that time, to those memories which wrapped around each other until they became years interspersed with moments of light, but which were not well lit, and there was a heaviness in that time, and the darkness had a kind of weight. There were demons there, and they were mean and bent upon destruction.

He heard the angry accusations, the shouting and the denials and felt a loneliness creeping cold into his bones, for it was in both her and him back then, and now it felt worse than it did at the time. Perhaps because it was done and there are things a man can’t take back even though he wishes he could, and sometimes it’s years and that’s a hard thing to face, there at the end. There was an eroding of the soul, a depletion of spirit which caused her to retreat into herself, and neither of them knew it until it was almost too late.

The journey was not yet finished.

There was rebirth and renewal, and he saw her shedding the weight she’d gained over the course of four children and a decade and she was emerging again like a rose which has lain dormant through the cold hard winter, only to blossom once more under the kiss of the warm spring sun. She laughed and sang and danced and looked upon him with eyes bright again. Her canvas was fulll of color and swirls of crazy dreams and she found a truth and validation in her art because it was meaningful and good and true and there was healing in it.

Her childish nature radiated from her, not in a petulant way, but in the way of wonder and glory, and she grew, becoming herself at last, transforming into the woman she’d always wanted to be because she was finally discovering who that woman was. He watched her gaze in awe upon the streets of Florence, a glass of red wine in one hand and her head tilted back to embrace the gentle sun. He felt the wind rushing at his face, top down, her singing beside him as they crested the Golden Gate Bridge, driving without a destination in mind for the journey then was the purpose, the little things and shining moments of glory. The years were happy and tinged with a sort of golden light and they went by too fast.

Her face was the last thing John saw, and that was how it should be.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

A Life, Well Written…Heroes, Villians, Lies and Truth. One Draft.

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I used to scoff at regrets, probably because they hadn’t yet accumulated enough mass. I was confidant and convinced, in the way young men are, that regrets are for for fools. I believed I could fight my way through life without the deep wounds and scars born of mistakes, and I charged with unswerving abandon and careless faith and speed straight into middle age. The truth hurts when it comes crashing. I’m an author, but I haven’t written my own life the way I should have, the way I would if I were a character in one of my own books.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,”
Charles Dickens opens David Copperfield with that poetry, my favorite first sentence in literature.  Not only would I like to write like that, I’d like to succeed in living that great commission. Heroes fall and fail and triumph in the end because they learn from their mistakes, because they are able to feel the sting of regret and overcome great obstacles and great odds. There is always adversity, the thing is to defeat it.

I write heroes in my books that would despise me if they knew me, because they’re better, these characters and constructs who are more brave and good than I am. I’m just a writer, not a hero.  I’ve been writing and dreaming and lost in words and acting as though I had an editor for my life. Someone to excise the mistakes, cut the fat, correct the regrets. I’ve got just one draft, though, here and now, which is my life here on this earth. No auto correct, no edits, no way to change the character arc or tweak the ending. One draft, all the way through, is what I’ve got, and if it sucks, then it does. It’s a lowsy story.

I think there’s a bit more to it, though, than that. I’m far from figuring it out, and I’ve got my scars and regrets. I’m writing this interactive video game, where the characters make choices that impact the ending, and I think the universe is like that. Sometimes there are no good endings, no matter what, not here in this mean world. Mostly, though there are endings which could be satisfying when we, the actors in the play, the characters in the story of our lives, listen to the wrong things. I know I do.

Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”   I’m an author, but I haven’t been the author of my fate, not in the way I’d like to believe I’ve been. I certainly haven’t kept my eyes where they were supposed to be looking. One draft, one chance to get it right, and my choices make a difference, and I’m still hoping that my life will be written well, both by me and THE author.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425937096&sr=8-1&keywords=sean+t+smith

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Don’t hold your breath unless you’re under water, because while you’re waiting for the next thing, life is drowning you and all you end up doing is choking for air.

It’s the quiet that defines a man, not moments of fleeting wonder and raucous triumph, for the real glory lives in the little things we overlook and forget, the mundane and true. It’s in the Sunday sigh of a woman in love while the rain comes down outside and the moan of the wind and the lazy smiles and wrinkled sheets. Walks in the woods when the world is still and the air is sharp and right and the leaves are turning with bittersweet autumn, death and renewal and the promise of spring, possessed of a magnificence all its own.

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The glory in life is found in the simple things. Changing diapers at two in the morning, dancing around the living room with your baby to sooth him back to sleep, walks to the bus stop at dawn, tying shoes and bed-time songs. The laughter over silly things and inside jokes, late-night trips to the hospital.There is glory there, There was. We often miss it along the way, for our eyes are on the wrong things, and then we ache for it when we remember to remember.

We’re constantly bombarded by images of success, and what it means to be happy. It’s the bigger house, the newer car, the promotion, the vacation, the next thing. We live in a world of instant gratification which seems largely bereft of true happiness and contentment. Our technology is miraculous and gives us the ability to talk to friends around the world with a few clicks, yet we are lonely, for the cell phones and ipads, video games and social media which provide this so called “connectivity” lead to a disconnect with our souls. It’s a hollow feeling.

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It’s hard for Christians, who are exhorted to be “in” this world but not “of” it, for the lessons Jesus taught go completely against what the world continues to tell us. Christians are supposed to surrender to be victorious, lose in order to win, give to receive joy. It’s hard to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus when the world comes crashing in, howling and loud, tempting and insidious.

The lasting, true glory is there, though, in a relationship with the Creator, and in those mundane moments, if we listen, he is whispering to us. I admit I’ve been holding my breath my whole life. It’s time to breathe.

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America’s Second Civil War

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A storm is building on the horizon, one which threatens to smash this great country. As the nation becomes increasingly divided and the level of rhetoric reaches new, jarringly painful levels, a thing which once was unthinkable  is now a real possibility. The United States faces very real threats from an increasingly pugnacious Russia, a surging China, and the insane ISIS movement, yet the greatest threat may well be from within.

Last week, former Senator Ron Paul, father and mentor of leading Presidential candidate Rand Paul said this:

“I would like to start off by talking about the subject and the subject is secession and, uh, nullification, the breaking up of government, and the good news is it’s gonna happen. It’s happening,”

Good news? What? The first Civil War killed more than 650,000 Americans. More American boys died at Antietam in one day than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Ron Paul is not alone in his thinking.

In Texas, which has the world’s 15th largest economy, a petition to secede from the Union several years ago garnered 60,000 signatures. Texas Governor Rick Perry said “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” adding, “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” Governor Perry later attempted to clarify his remarks, stating that he never mentioned the word “secession.”

Last April in Wisconsin, the state’s Republican party voted on a resolution which would give the state to secede from the union; it was opposed by Governor Walker, who has his eyes on the White House. The fact that so many lawmakers were even considering this possibility is chilling.

The country itself seems to be broken. Our federal government does not function in the way it was designed to do, for compromise is the essence of democracy. This Republic, with all it’s brilliant checks and balances, breaks down when the political parties refuse to compromise. The founding fathers were very conscious of the danger of tyranny by the minority or majority. Congress isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. The executive branch has increased its authority by using executive orders to circumvent congress, and the nation finds itself on the brink of disaster every time a budget issue comes up. Right now, it’s Homeland Security, and House Speaker Boehner is blowing kisses at reporters.

The polarization of the nation is insidious and potentially lethal. For some reason, both parties have become ensconced in their positions, and have convinced the general populace that to be a Republican, one must think one way and that to be a Democrat, another set of opposing beliefs is the gospel. The media pours gasoline on this inferno of lunacy, and helps frame the debate in the most divisive way possible until there is no reasoned discussion, only howls of rage and pain on both sides. When people only hear one side of the story, whether or not it’s true and balanced, eventually we accept it as reality. Politics and morality are not so simple, the talking heads only want us to believe that.

We, the people are allowing others to define our beliefs for us, rather than thinking for our selves. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The sheep are happier to themselves than under the care of the wolves.” We have become a nation of sheep, and the wolves are hungry.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

I find problems with both parties, which is why I don’t vote a straight ticket, and why I wish I had more choices, more moderates to chose from. I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment, a strong military, and less government intrusion. But I think regulating big business is a good idea, though and have no desire to return to the 1800s, when robber-barons ran amuck, when labor laws, environmental and anti-trust laws did not exist. To me, less government intrusion also means that a woman should be able to choose what to do with her body, and gay people should be allowed to marry. It doesn’t mean I agree with those choices, but that the government has no right to decide for them. That’s what limited government means. There is a big dichotomy there for the GOP.

I’m dreading the next election cycle, which is certain to break records with the money spent on television and radio ads, and which will be the nastiest Presidential election in history. I consider myself an Independent, and I’ll weigh my choices between the lesser of two evils carefully. I talk politics with my friends on both sides of the isle all day long and sometimes they convince me I’ve missed something, or that I’ve viewed a specific issue wrong, and I’ll agree that they’re right over a beer. That’s what’s missing in the country now, I think, on a large scale. Our politicians and the media machines which drive this nation are intent upon taking us off a cliff, firmly believing that there is only one right way. The American People are better than that, smarter than that.

So what will the next Civil War look like? be on the lookout for my coming novel, The Tears of Abraham. In the meantime, check out SUNSHINE PATRIOTS, a  prepper-themed novella about liberty and freedom under siege.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Perseid-Collapse-Series-Sunshine-ebook/dp/B00T41JBYM

adding, “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”