Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

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Bare Lilac Branches

Bare lilac branchesIt feels, when I turn out the lights behind the recliner, I am giving up minutes of sacred time in my day. Surely not the only sacred time — I’d be a non-observing, non-engaged fool to say that. But those sacred minutes, the ones I’ve had with coffee and eye glasses and my books, while everyone else sleeps, a quiet in the house not present otherwise. So, unless there is a particular call to hurry off into the day — and twice a week I drive my son early to where he needs to be — I wonder to myself why I don’t stretch out the recliner solitude, dawn lighting the morning out the living room windows, for every possible moment? Until I hear the sounds of waking, movement elsewhere in the house, bringing down the checkered flag on silence.

Bare lilac branches
Illuminated by a reading lamp
Through the winter window,
Seen out a pantry pane,
An otherwise dark morning world
Stand present
Even in this wind.
They wait for more.
The budding of opportunity,
To improve on last year’s

My best guess, simply, is because it’s time. I see myself rise from the chair, walk to the kitchen and rinse out the mug, come back and switch off the electric light — and I don’t intervene. I’m ready. Now I walk down the basement stairs to the old Cushman kitchen table — hauled so lovingly back and forth all those miles, all these years, wrapped on occasion in mover’s blankets — take a seat at the table on one of four straight back chairs I bought used at a church rummage sale upon my move to Portland nine years ago, and come here, where I come every morning, to the waiting notebook silent and still on the table which I open and upon taking the blue medium pen, write three pages. I do this every single morning, I have since May of 2011 when I stopped formal work, thereby leading me to believe that the notebook calls up to me, something like “It’s time.”

Rare, among the triad of pages, is there a profound word to be found — that’s not me. I’ll guess the act of the writing, the ritual, is enough, another action of sacred living. Even with the small sound of feet passing over the floor above me. Even with the now empty recliner.

Bare lilac branches
They remind me of me.
Out the pantry pane they appear
But there is that glimmering
In the night.

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Ask For Help


There are ehelpsignight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Ask For Help”.

Way, way back in the day, just before the mid eighties when I began hanging around with people who had given up alcohol and drugs, someone offered me this suggestion: ask for help. I could have been moaning about one of 70 things then, but whatever the subject, the response was, “ask for help”.

You might be thinking, how is this idea of asking for help going to take up more than 25 words, nevermind an entire blog. You need help, you ask for help. Duh. What’s the problem? May we please move on to something more worthy of a lengthy discussion than this? Say, picking the names for hurricanes? Well, choosing “Iris” and Klaus” and “Lenny” would in fact be an interesting topic. But for now, this story is about the process of asking for help. Beyond the opening of one’s mouth and saying “May I please have some help here?”

Back in the mid eighties we used to joke that the telephone weighed 10,000 pounds. It was that hard to pick up. Especially when it was going to be used for – yes, that’s right – asking for help. Think of the last time you were struggling with something, anything, and the thought flashed through your mind to call someone for advice, for suggestions, for help – even just to hear you out. Did you do it? Do you do it every time? Some of the time? Every once in a while? Now try to imagine that you are a self-centered, got it all figured out, don’t need anyone’s advice thank you very much, dramatically inferiority-complexed alcoholic loner. You are struggling, you are angry, you are isolated, you are frustrated and maybe frightened, and you are tilting toward a drink, and someone says to you – for the 25th time this month – “ask for help. Call someone up. A problem shared is a problem halved. Just do it.”

Of course if you never were that frustrated, self-centered, feeling lower than whale crap alcoholic it is not likely you can imagine yourself as one. In fact, you can’t. That’s one reason alcoholics hang around with other alcoholics. There is a frame of reference there. (Though, in fact, alcoholics tend to suffer from a sense of terminal uniqueness, and so the feeling that you get where I am coming from happens only after a while.) The point being that if you come to the party with baggage, and that baggage includes a feeling of less than (at best) or self-loathing, it is not easy to ask for help. It just isn’t.

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Old Pine Trail — Magic On A Path Less Taken – Writing 101

Assigned writing 101 — Day two.

My two best friends – Bob Zimmerman and Dr. Doug Martin — first took me to the Point Reyes National Seashore sometime back in the mid eighties. We were on a drive up from Berkeley, just showing Massachusetts me around, up to the Russian River, over to the coast at Jenner, then down the coast highway to Point Reyes. We drove all the way out to the lighthouse – the weather changing along the way from sunny and beautiful to windy, cloudy, and scary – and walked around out there a little while. Doug, with polio, did his walking in his wheelchair. After a while we drove back past the dairy farms that cover the peninsula and back to the city.

Both of those friends are gone now, having left the planet seriously diminished in their absence. I miss them. But I took the wonder of that day trip and have made a number of journeys back out to Point Reyes, both while on vacations visiting Bob and while living in the East Bay for a year and half in 2006/2007, when I was the Director of an adolescent treatment program in San Francisco. I have driven north out of Oakland and over the Richmond Bridge many times, stopping for a sandwich at  Safeway along the way to stick in my backpack at the Bear Valley parking lot and begin a day hike up the Bear Valley trail to the Divide Meadow, and beyond toward the sea.

This little story – honoring a place – could easily focus on the Divide Meadow (that is the enclosed photo) or Arch Rock at the Pacific. They are spectacular, spiritual, fully engaging spots. But one day, after resting on aIMG_0064 bench above the meadow, I noticed a sign in back of the bathrooms there, and when I went over to check it out I discovered the Old Pine Trail. And I took it. It goes up for a ways, twists through a small meadow, then up again until it becomes a long, rolling walk about six feet across, between unending stands of Douglas Firs that tower above on both sides. Eventually the trail dead ends into the Sky Trail, take a left toward the ocean, take a right toward Mount Wittenberg.

So much for the park pamphlete-like brochure. The first time I walked the length of the Old Pine trail I was absolutely knocked out with the beauty and awe and reverence I felt. I took a left at the end that day – and most of the other times I went back – and that becomes a 12 mile hike from the parking lot and back there again. The Old Pine Trail has no pines along the way, just amazingly tall and ‘just there’ douglas firs. Rarely there is a break that allows a look toward the rolling ridges to the east, and just before the end of the trail the hint of the Pacific northwest through the trees. I cannot say how many times I have walked that trail, five or six or seven, and in all those times have only seen three or four other people. Talk about a best kept secret. A blue, no green, highway.  To be there alone, and alone, is a wonder. Words like grace and dignity and gratitude say a little about the experience.

On the Sky Trail toward the ocean you walk through one eco-system after another, a kind of time travel all in the same place. Once, coming down from Mount Wittenberg a large group of loud hikers pushed me up an unknown path seeking quiet again, and I came upon a herd of deer truly amazing – brown, white, spotted, large, small. Standing quietly up ahead through the burning off morning haze. I would not have seen them if there wasn’t noise to escape. And, in fact, I would not have seen them or the eco-systems or all the other wonders from the Sky Trail if I had not, almost by accident, found and taken the Old Pine Trail.

It was another New England guy who once wrote about two paths:  “I took the one less traveled by.” I was lucky. Because that is what I did. And it did make a difference.