Steve Lester


I knew that you loved me since I knew what love was. You always took great care of me, showed interest, were available, warm, firm and encouraging. And I could tell that you were great parents as soon as I got to the age that my peers started complaining about their parents. I rarely had anything to add to those conversations. I loved you and respected you too, but I was of course ignorant of just how lopsided our relationship was.

Two months ago,  when Margo was born, this deep, strong glow of love and devotion gripped me, and I thought, “Oh my God, Mom and Dad felt like this about me!” It’s been a major shock to and reorganization of my emotional system, that all this time you have had this in your hearts for me. It’s been on my mind during every interaction with you since then.

It’s a sad, almost tragic, part of human life that children have to be ignorant of the intensity of their parent’s love. I suppose it might be too much to bear for us as children, especially if it came along with the knowledge of how much it takes to provide that safe and safe-feeling life. But we stay ignorant into adulthood until we have children of our own, long after we could handle that knowledge, long after we need it, really, to understand who we are and where we come from.

So almost forty-five years of ignorance precedes this letter.  Sorry about that! But mostly, thank you. I learned how to love from you, since the day I was born. Thanks for how deeply and effortlessly I love my daughter!

Nathen

Fam of 3

Dad, Mom & me, 1971. Photo by Stan Zarakov

FullSizeRender (12)

Me & Margo, 2016. Photo by Reanna Alder

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Family friend Robert Spoeker died last week.  I knew him to be an intelligent, witty, and very gentle man. I’ll always appreciate the friendship he showed my dad, and I imagine as the years go by I’ll primarily remember him by how he lived, but right now I’m thinking mostly about how he died. He decided it was time, stopped eating, and spent his last few days at home in his own bed, with my dad and a hospice nurse keeping watch. By all accounts he was peaceful and clear about what he wanted throughout. No doctors, no hospital, no emergency. I didn’t know we could still die like that, and I’m moved each time I remember.  I hope, when it is my time, that I can be as graceful.

Robert in 2011, far right

Here’s how my dad described it:

Robert made a very classy transition. His housekeeper called me Wednesday, saying he was refusing food and wouldn’t/couldn’t get out of bed. She was freaked and wanted to call 911. Robert and I had had the conversation about this, and I told her to sit tight. When I got over, I could see that he had started the transition. I questioned him about his wishes once again (actually several times), and he said he was fine as he was. He wouldn’t take any food and little water, and was very definite about his wishes.
 
Over the course of the next several days several family members came over to say goodbye. My youngest son’s fiancee is an ER nurse, and when she saw him, she took his vital signs (with his permission) and he was normal. She said that even if we sent him to ER, they would just give him some tests and discharge him. 
 
Over the next day, I read Sar Bachan poetry to him. I had never read it before, I just found the book on his shelf. It’s beauty really struck me. That, and the Master’s photo, seemed to brighten up his lucid moments quite a bit. Finally, he asked me to stop reading, as if he was too busy inside to be bothered even with Sar Bachan, or any other external communication. After that, he seemed to be aware of me, but was non-communicative. 
 
On Saturday, we called a friend who was a hospice nurse. I didn’t know what to do when the time came. She was a neighbor/friend, and was very sympathetic. She came up to his house on her day off unnoficially, and looked at him, and said that he had only a day or 2 left. We went over to the closed hospice office in a windstorm and signed him up (he had years ago given me power of attourney to make healthcare decisions when he was not able). That was very good luck because they didn’t interfere with him at all, but took care of the aftermath beautifully. They even sent over a bag of morphine for him on Saturday night, which, of course, I didn’t give to him  because he was managing his process perfectly well, with no complaints (I did think about taking some myself- but didn’t). I went to sleep Saturday night on the couch at 12:30. He was breathing a bit heavily and sighing when he breathed out. I woke up very alert at 6:30 SundayAM, went in, and he was gone. He looked very much at peace.
 
I am humbled to have been with him and witnessed it all.
 
stev0

 

This is a long post, so first the short version. In the last year: I started working full time and am adjusting to that. I’m glad to be working towards my MFT licensure, but uncomfortable about how it pushes my relationships and other projects onto the back burner. My marriage gets better and better, despite this. The company I work for goes out of business so I get part of the summer off, and I get the exact same job (family therapist for US Marines & their families) with a new company.

And for the year ahead: I plan to continue this work, taking good care of myself, dance with Reanna every night, as promised to my friend, Tilke, in her “How to be a Real Artist” workshop, get in best shape in 5 years, and learn how to treat myself and Reanna really really well while working full time.

October: I started my year out at Farm & Wilderness, VT, staffing and teaching a really fun psychology project at Not Back to School Camp. As is traditional, I got really sick, but this time it was from a waitress in Rutland, not someone at NBTSC. I recuperated while visiting Ethan & Susannah, also in Vermont. Back in Joshua Tree, I started working out again (SERIOUS style), planted my first winter garden, fixed some electrical and plumbing problems in my trailer, and started setting up a private practice. In the process of hiring a supervisor, I found out that in California, unlike in Oregon, I cannot do my internship in a private practice. So I started looking for work in a local clinic.

Looking out over Woodward Reservoir from my cabin at Farm & Wilderness

Ethan, cataloging NBTSC lost & found in his library

The famous Quodlibetarian tub

Reanna

Reanna at Playa Del Rey

Ollie, a year ago

Ollie & Pap

Gabe, Damian & Maya on the Hwy 62 Art Tour

Trailer at sunset, looking south

November: I move into a new computer, archive my years of audio journal entries, and learn Sketchup while applying for and getting a job at Morongo Basin Mental Health: providing free, confidential therapy for US Marines, veterans, and their families. In what would become a series of small-town coincidences, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in decades worked there, saw my name on the interview list and sat in on my interview, interjecting stuff like, “Oh, yeah, good answer!” Nice way to interview. The manager of the military program assured me that the our contract was solid for at least two years. That’s about how long I need to get my hours for licensure, so the job sounded good–no chance of having to ditch my clients like I had to in grad school! I spent the rest of the month getting in as much time with Reanna and my family before starting full time work.

Rainbow over the Bartlet Mts

Maya & Ollie in hammock

Ollie helps Nana Honey cook

Me & Reanna

December:  My 93 year old Grandpa Bob gets really sick, and I get really sick taking care of him. I was pretty sure he was going to die. He had pneumonia and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in his life. It took me weeks to fully recover. He eventually recovered, too, but I’m not sure he’ll ever fully recover. He’s been on antibiotics off and on ever since and is progressively less mobile. It’s got me thinking a lot about dying–how I can support the people I love when they start having a hard time taking care of themselves, and how I want to die when my time comes.

I start at MBMH, reading 40 hours a week of protocols. I have Christmas with family in Joshua Tree. My brother Damian starts a weekly evening with family, listening to an integral Christianity lecture and meditation that turns out to be a presentation of integral theory to Christians, rather than Christianity to integral thinkers, but valuable nonetheless.

Reanna & Christina, Xmas

Reanna & Maya, Xmas

Ely, Christina, Pap, Ben, Rebeca, Xmas

Gabe, Ely, Ollie, Christina, Xmas

Reanna, ukulele, heater

Ollie, bundled up

January: I get my first paid vacation ever–one week off, fully paid by MBMH. Weird, pretty nice. I write my first attempt at a comprehensive political statement. Reanna and I start a three-month experiment with a strict “paleo” diet, which mostly means we cut out sugar and grains from our diet. The theory is that human adaptation to grains and refined anything is shallow at best. I also start cooking Mexican food (the paleo-friendly recipes) from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. I love it. And Reanna loves eating it. I start learning to play Reanna’s ukulele. I play and sing “Amazing Grace” most nights for a month. Fun!

I’m working full time, which I’ve never done. It’s not my favorite schedule. I had to let go of most of my projects. I started building a solar batch water heater in the fall, for example, that is still not finished. The schedule has simplified my life quite a bit. Work all day, spend the evening with Reanna. I gained more respect for my friends who’ve been working full time for decades and still manage to write some music or read books. I’m ramping into a caseload, though, and am seeing seven clients a week by the end of the month.

My endurance training is going great by this point. Mid month I got my heart rate up to 179 bpm without hurting myself. Very exciting.

Smiley and Gallant visit

Reanna in our clean, cold kitchen

Dinner’s almost ready. (Photo by Reanna.)

Grandpa Bob turns 94

Me in therapist costume, with Ollie. (Photo by Reanna.)

February: Full time work continues. I get trained in the Trauma Resiliency Model, which I find very cool and useful. I re-up the trademark on Abandon Ship. I feel sad that I can’t write music with my brothers right now, but have plenty of optimistic plans to do so… Reanna starts designing our future house, another exciting project that I have to watch from the sidelines. I love watching her get super deep into a topic like this, though. She is now the resident expert in passive-solar-optimized-very-small-house design. We start car shopping, too. We need to be independently mobile in Joshua Tree.

Trench. Hose feeding trailer finally to be buried.

Reanna & treehouse near the Mexican border

Ollie, Damian

March: I’m up to 16 clients at MBMH and I’m fighting for mastery of the intense paperwork load. The clinical work is going great. My supervisor is good, I am fully engaged by my clients, and I get to see a good variety of folks–kids, adults, families, couples. The paperwork is fairly unpleasant, though. Mental health providers that get government funding spend a huge amount of time and energy creating and maintaining a paper trail for their work. These clinics get paid based on the work they claim to have done and then various agencies can audit their files and take that money back if a box wasn’t checked or a T wasn’t crossed. I spend my first very late day at work in March, trying to catch up on paperwork. Reanna is not happy.

Highlights: A great lecture by Bruce Perry, planting my first spring/summer garden, endurance training going great (I work out during my lunches at MBMH), meeting the Transition Joshua Tree folks. And Reanna. Reanna is wonderful.

Lowlights: My truck fails smog and I begin what becomes an expensive debacle trying to get it to pass.  I start having sync problems with my Mac that I am still dealing with as I write. I start working on our taxes on weekends. Reanna is Canadian and that makes our taxes super complicated and somehow even though we hired a professional we ended up owing big fines.

Abandon Ship cover art, for the TM folks. Art by Tilke.

Damian & Ollie in old billy goat pen, future garden

Me, just having sunk the garden beds. (Photo by Reanna)

Reanna planting pepper starts

Ollie

Ollie & Reanna take the trash out

Ollie & Reanna rest in the hammock

April: I find out that Morongo Basin Mental Health has decided to go out of business after more than 40 years, at the end of June. That’s quite a shock and less for me than for the many decade-plus employees I work with. At home, our three months of paleo is up and I feel fine, as I have on just about every diet I’ve tried, but it clearly had not solved any of the problems we’d been tracking for the experiment. And I am sick in bed for a week for a third time this year. Reanna’s parents arrive for a month long visit. I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like, but we get in some fun events (like the Morongo Basin Conservation Association’s “Desertwise Landscape Tour” and Transition Joshua Tree’s Water Catchment Workshop), good talks, good swimming.  I get trained in sand-tray therapy by my supervisor, Richard Gray, which I find quite useful.

Reanna preps cholla buds for dinner

Family dinner at Damian & Maya’s (Damian with Bugzooka)

Doug & Kathryn up San Jacinto

May: We get a great little car, a gift from Reanna’s parents. It gets 38 mpg unless we use the AC.  At work, emotions are high and rumors are flying around. I try to avoid it as much as possible. My coworkers are mostly looking for work with great intensity. I decide that I will chill instead, concentrate on my clients, and do what I can to get my job back with whatever company picks up the military contract in the summer.  Meanwhile,  something is eating my garden. My weekends and after work time is often spent critter-proofing.

The highlight of the month by far is meeting my new nephew, Julian.

Julian in sling

Ollie in work gloves

First scorpion of a scorpion-rich year

June: I’m at 21 clients at the beginning of my last month at MBMH. The management has had me continue taking new clients but I’m starting to get nervous about it. It’s starting to look like my clients will have a significant lapse in services, and it pisses me off. I write people in charge at the county and local journalists but no-one can say how long it will take to get the military program back up and running. I know I’m fine. I can look forward to a full season working at NBTSC if things go badly. It sucks, though, that my clients are just getting dumped. It’s screwed up. I just have to set them up as best I can for the lapse and do the tons of paperwork to close their charts. Meanwhile, my co-worker, Jackie, introduces me to Candy Crush, which starts sucking up the cracks in my schedule.

Highlights: Jonathan & Ayako’s wedding in Idaho. Motorcycle safety class with Reanna. And being married to Reanna, of course.

Living room pano: Ely, Christina, Julian, Ben, Rebeca visit

Ben & Julian

North end pano from on top of Reanna’s sewing RV

Ayako & Jonathan, getting married

July: I’m unemployed again, but within two weeks I get interviewed by Pacific Clinics, the company who got the military contract that I’d been working for at MBMH. It looks like I’ll get the job based on the reputation I’d made for myself in that position. That feels good! It means I’ll miss most of NBTSC this year, too, for the first time in 14 years.

Reanna leaves for OR to do prep work for NBTSC and I delete Candy Crush from my phone so I can get some things done: install AC in our trailer, create an outside pantry, build a greywater cistern, make a front step for the trailer, get my motorcycle license, and a few other things. Satisfying. Then I fly up to OR to work the Camp Latgawa session of NBTSC.

Reanna hangs our laundry while I goof off with the camera

Cistern in progress

Julian & me

August: Finish at NBTSC (wonderful, as usual), and spend a few short days in Eugene at an NBTSC leadership summit, then back to Joshua Tree for my last week of unemployment. I completed some last-minute landscaping and plumbing projects, built a dry toilet and installed a weather station, then started training at Pacific Clinics in Arcadia.

At the end of August, Reanna got back from her travels, and we started shutting down all lights and electronics at 8pm and just hanging out until going to bed. This was lovely. We usually laid in the hammock outside, talking and looking at stars. The desert summer evenings are really, really nice. Especially with Reanna.

My advisee group, NBTSC Camp Latgawa

Ely & Julian before dinner

Reanna & Ollie, downtown Joshua Tree

September: I start making contact with clients and by the end of the month I’m back up to 7 clients. This is exciting, and it’s nice to be working with some of my old co-workers from MBMH, and the new crew at Pacific Clinics is an entertaining bunch. Working full time again limits what I can do in terms of projects, but I manage to put a new roof on the old goat pen/the new outside pantry, go visit Quail Springs permaculture farm, and start building a new composter with my 2-year-old nephew, Ollie.

At the end of the month, I have my first birthday at home in many years. Usually I’m at camp. It’s nice. My family threw me a little party and I’m glad to be here, even though I miss my people at Farm & Wilderness.

Yes, Ollie wants to help build the composter!

Rain Event, 29 Palms

With Reanna & ocotillo, on my 42nd birthday.

2011 Cohort (I love these people!) by Hillary Nadeau (I'm at the top right, hatless)

Jeff, Deanna, Christian, (Faculty) In Regalia, photographer unknown

Post-Graduation With Reanna's Family, Dad, & Robert, by Aly

Post-Graduation With Reanna's Family, Aly & Robert, by Steve Lester

Faked Post-Graduation Shot With Pikes, Including Grandpa Bob

Goofy Faked Graduation Photo With Pikes

Sealing the Deal by Dunking in the Willamette, by Steve Lester

It is my dad’s birthday today and I was lucky enough to spend it with him in Joshua Tree. One of the nice things about growing up is that I get to appreciate my parents more and more. Today I have been thinking about some things that I appreciate about my dad.

I appreciate having always had such a solid masculine presence in my life. My dad figured out a way to work from home. This was partly, I think, because he could never tolerate having a boss, but it was also so he could be near me, my brothers, and my mom while he made our living. Unlike so many other kids, I got to see what my dad did for work. I could hang out with him while he worked. I watched him be creative, flexible, intelligent, persistent, and diligent. I watched him charm his clients. I saw him take his work seriously. And he was available. It has been rare in my life to not be able to talk with my dad whenever I needed support.

On top of that, he is very affectionate, fun, funny, and he is a great dancer. I love him very much. Happy birthday, Dad!

With My Dad, 1974

 

With My Dad, June 13, 2011

I am leaving Eugene in the morning for Joshua Tree to see my first nephew, Oliver Lee. I am very excited. Here are three of my favorite photos of him so far:

Oliver Lee by Steve Lester

Oliver Lee and Maya, by Reanna

Oliver Lee and Damian, by Maya (I think)

My dad bought me my first Rubik’s Cube for my 9th birthday, in 1980. I tried to solve it most days for months with nothing like success. I never gave up, but I probably would have eventually, as the method I had come up with, solving one side and then trying to solve adjacent sides, would never work. I had not grasped the logic of the puzzle, that the center pieces never unscramble, so that there is a preordained, final resting place for every piece of the cube, and that you have to solve the pieces, not just the stickers. Without those insights, Rubik’s Cubes are maddening. You solve one sticker and mess up another.

One morning I woke up to see my solved cube sitting on top of a copy of James Nourse’ The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube. That solved cube is still such a vivid memory for me–magic! It turned out that my dad had bought the book for me and then stayed up all night, deciphering its codes and solving the cube. That gave him his fill of cubing–I never saw him touch it again–but I went through the book over and over, learning the method, eventually memorizing enough of it to reliably solve the cube. By mid-1982 I could solve it in just over 3 minutes.

It turns out that while I was doing my 3-minute solves, there were already national speed-cubing competitions. The world record solve at that time was 22.95 seconds, held by a 16-year-old kid in Los Angeles. I did not meet anyone else who could solve one until I met Greg Alkire in 1985. He had actually come up with his own method–a feat of reasoning that is to this day far beyond me. My genius, if you can call it that, is more in the realm of persistence than reasoning.

I bought a new cube in 2007 with no premeditation, and without having played with one for at least 20 years. I saw a display in a department store and thought it would be fun. I started watching people do these super fast solves on YouTube, and soon realized that Nourse’ “simple method” was actually very complicated, that lubricating my cube made everything easier, and that it was much faster (and cooler looking) to use my fingers instead of my wrists to make the moves.

I have been in grad school, so no time for real practice, plus my 39-year-old knuckles start to hurt a bit if I work too long, but I am down to averaging just over a minute in my solves, using Badmephisto‘s beginner method. I am also using F2L, which is (slightly) short for “first two layers,” meaning you solve two layers of the cube at the same time. Here is my most recent average of ten solves on cubetimer.com:

It has been slow progress, but very entertaining and challenging. As Badmephisto says, solving the cube is easy, but solving it quickly is very difficult. It’s this intense mixture of pattern recognition, hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, and memory. In his great little book, Mastery, Leonard says you have to “love the plateau.” With cubing, I do. I go slowly. I practice looking and thinking ahead. I practice keeping track of where the important pieces are when they are out of sight.

I was slightly tempted to put up a video of myself doing one of these solves, but became too embarrassed. I can love my plateau, but I don’t yet love you seeing my plateau. Speedcubing is like dancing, that way. If you can’t do it, you think anyone who can is amazing. If you can and you watch an intermediate-level dancer or cuber, all you see are the problems. All I see when I watch myself dance is the awkwardness and the neck-jut. When I watch myself cube all I see is how long it takes me to find pieces that I am looking for. And I’m a solid intermediate Lindy Hopper, but still a beginning cuber. I think you have to be doing 40-second-average solves to qualify as intermediate.

Here’s the current world record solve of 6.24 seconds:

Here’s the current world record for a blindfolded solve, at 30.90 seconds:

If you are interested in learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube, I recommend buying a good cube here right off the bat (they  don’t cost much more than a crappy one from a department store), and learning Badmephisto’s beginning method (here for excellent video tutorials), which is both easier and will cause fewer problems than the method that comes in a new cube package when you eventually ramp up to more sophisticated methods.

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