To Catch a Tarantula

We had a 10-gallon empty aquarium in the garage that my daughter wanted to do something with, so I added sand, aquarium rock, and seashells.  I thought it would be a good idea to have around when we caught insects and small animals that she wanted to observe before setting them free again.

The next day I was brushing down the walls of the swimming pool and saw something clutching the tile just above water level.  It was a lizard that sort of looked like a snake without the slithery tongue, so I scooped it up with the net and dropped it into the tank.   The snake-lizard was lively at first, scaling the glass walls, but we gave it a few crickets from our snow leopard’s stash, which calmed it down considerably.

The very next day, Olivia took a break from filming a stop motion video to hold the lizard who we now called, Lucy.  So she picked her up and held her firmly between two clenched hands.   But unfortunately, Olivia mistook tameness for relaxation. 

The moment Olivia relaxed her grip, Lucy slipped right out of Olivia’s hand and made a run for it.   She landed on top of the cage, scampered to the edge, and stopped.   Lucy  looked back at Olivia, nodded her head.  And when Olivia motioned to reach it, Lucy plunged over the edge. Gone forever.

Freedom was inevitable for Lucy anyway, so it was no big deal.  I’m not crazy about keeping animal life captive for an extended period of time anyway.   It always ends up in death, and I don’t like blood on my hands–not even black widow juice.   Olivia, she likes to observe her captive’s life completely, yet she forgets about them, loses interest, which usually means a shorter lifespan. In any case, Lucy ended up being small game compared to our next captive.  

Last night, Olivia and I went for a swim.  We were in the hot tub warming up and decided it was time to go inside.  Olivia was first out, and after taking two steps, she screamed and fell back into the hot tub.

“TARANTULA! Oh my god, a tarantula!” She screamed, continuing in this way about seven more times loud enough to inform many of our neighbors.  

This is ridiculous, I thought, and yet with heart pounding, Olivia in hysterics, my eyes squinting.  I proceeded with caution.  I wasn’t wearing my glasses.   

It looked big, about the size of Olivia’s hand, and the poor creature was probably paralyzed by the girl-human’s histrionics.  There was only enough early evening light left to make out its form.  I had to get closer.  I remembered when I was growing up the classic black and white film, Tarantula.   I flanked the creature on its left, circled with caution, afraid something might shoot out of it–bristles, saliva, a sledge-hammer.   

There was no question.  It was a tarantula all right, a black one with bristles all over it.    I later read in Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States written by R.J. Adams, in late fall male tarantulas often roam the landscape in search of a female. 

“After reaching adulthood, a male spider weaves a small sheet of silk known as a sperm web, on which he deposits a drop of semen.  He then dips the tips of his palps into the semen and draws it into the emboli, which are syringe-like structures used to transfer sperm to the female.  His palps now “charged,” the male leaves the safety of his web or burrow, pursuing females by following the pheromones wafting off their webs…  During mating, the male transfers sperm either into the females’s gonopore or into her epigynum, where the sperm is stored in the spermathecae until she is ready to lay her eggs.  The sperm is released and the eggs are fertilized only when they are being deposited into the egg sacs”(10).

The empty aquarium could not have come at a better time.  My wife went for a flashlight to get a better look and I went to the garage to find something to catch it with.  I grabbed an empty box, when suddenly appeared Lucy, our snake-lizard.  She was staring up at me.  

“No offense, little one, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry.” I said, tearing off a box lid and ran out the side door.

So there I was bare-footed, box in one hand, card board lid in the other, trying to lift the tarantula, 4-inches away from my hand, into a cardboard box with nothing but cardboard lid. 

Meanwhile, the flashlight operator who is lacking the correct skills for the job, mind you, is causing the tarantula to move in and out of darkness.   I couldn’t tell if the tarantula went into the box or onto my foot.  

The girls were in hysterics, and I also started making strange noises, something that might have come from one of the Three Stooges, the chills riding my back.

Once in the box, my next task was to slide the tarantula out of the rectangular box and into a round two-gallon bucket.  But glimpsing the tarantula in the dancing light, I could see it was now upside down, clutching it with apparent ease.   

In retrospect, it must have looked completely idiotic, knock-knock-knocking the side of the box, but the last thing I wanted to do was fracture its exoskeleton.    

Finally my wife chimed in, “Why don’t you just put it in the aquarium instead of the bucket?” 

Right, yes.  Square peg-square hole.   Straight into the aquarium.  Skip a step.  Lose the panic.  That’s right.  Into the aquarium.  Straight away.

Sometimes stress has a way of rendering rational thought ineffective.   

So holding the box with two hands and far enough away from my face, I ran straight for the garage.  I angled the box into the wide open aquarium and coaxed the tarantula out with a few gentle taps on one end of the box. 

Finally, Charlie, the Tarantula, released his grip and slid onto the soft white sand with a gentle thud.  It was all right, its two front legs stretching out, scenting its surroundings. It was going to be fine.  It was alive.  And I was relieved.

Olivia was euphoric.  What a find!  Something that had come directly from nature. 

For the conservationists out there, you’ll be happy to know we managed to keep Charlie alive for the next two weeks, and he ate very well on a steady supply of crickets with plenty of water always.

After seeing Olivia lose interest in Charlie, visiting him less and less, I began the arduous task of convincing her that it was best for Charlie to get back into the wild and find his female, and perhaps live happily ever after or be killed in the process.

Needless to say, it was much easier letting him go into a nearby ravine than catching him the first time.  I still remember those chills.

By the way, we haven’t heard anything from Lucy.

On Control

Amazing spirit. Thank you, Susan for your words, wisdom, and vision.

The Death Project

It seems every other obituary these days starts with “lost her battle with cancer” or some similar phrasing. So much of our culture’s response to cancer is framed in terms of battle. The message is that if you are one of the unlucky 38.5% of people to get cancer in your lifetime, you’re supposed to do everything you can to fight it. This is probably the appropriate response for most cancer diagnoses, many of which can be cured (some quite easily, even) or at least survived for many good years. Accordingly, much of the cancer advice that is routinely dispensed is about the right attitude to bring to that battle. I’ve heard many stories of people who made some change in attitude or approach to life and went into spontaneous remission, even without treatment. These are good stories, and I am enormously pleased for a couple of people I know…

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Is It Time To Neutralize the Net

So everyone seems to be up in arms about Net Neutrality which, as I have come to understand it, would allow cable companies to charge more for content that is currently free and allow them the right to slow down connections.  All of this in the name of progress and innovation.

The same freedoms we’ve allowed Google by agreeing to its terms and conditions would also be granted to the cable companies, algorithms managing content and advertisements.   Now the U.S. has allowed cable companies that same right without even allowing us to agree to the changes ourselves.

Have we reached a crossroads?  Has the internet become too much of a burden?

Perhaps, it’s the silver lining we’ve all been waiting for.  Email.  Facebook.  Twitter.  News Feeds.   Burble, Gurble, &  It may not exist yet, but you never know.  

When I was growing up, my mother and father spent maybe 10 minutes a day listening to the president’s accomplishments on the evening news.  That was it.  Today, every single time the man burps, there’s another tweet.  

Connectedness has gone too far.  TMI; that is, too much information has reached another level.

Back then it was objective reporting.  Just the facts ma’am.  None of this subjective stuff, when everyone has to put in their ten cents worth of opinion, while the next hour begins yet another train of gray suits and intelligent women all in the latest styles saying nearly the exact same thing that was said an hour earlier but dressed in a different hairstyle.  

It’s absurd.   

Absurd is a word that not only wealthy elitists say in order to sound intelligent–that’s absurd–but a word that describes a condition or state of being attributed to a noun; a theatrical movement, a political outcome, a train of thought.  

A quick Google search tells me absurd (adj.) means wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.

We often misuse the word absurd like we misuse the word awesome.  

There is no question, we live in absurd times when we rely on television to give us some semblance of reality, when people starving in Yemen and the slow pan on the boy with the swollen stomach makes us change the channel.  Too much information.   I wonder how many of us had a good night’s sleep while he lie there comatose in the cold night air of the desert.   

Few of us, I’ll bet.  

And I’m sure many of us may have even changed the channel because we weren’t in the right state of mind to deal with such images at the moment.  Instead we changed the channel until we stopped on the bank commercial showing the handsome couple hiking up mountainous terrain, reaching the top in an embrace and smiling that perfect toothy smile.  

Now we are happy again.  It’s absurd.

A friend of mine once sat across from a homeless man and watched him for two hours.  He wanted to know if he could still feel compassion for another human being because he had a feeling he wasn’t responding properly to the horrible atrocities with compassion anymore.  He needed to know real feelings again.  He felt as if he was asleep despite the fact that he was conscious every minute of the day.

Are we addicted to the messages coming from a distant Elsewhere? 

Or is it simply time to disconnect?  

Action: 101 Things to Cure Boredom and Depression

When I first started teaching at the high school level in 2001, many of us in the English department became acquainted with a man named Godfreid Holdamen.  Mr. Holdamen was the kind of English teacher who taught against the grain and defied much of the methods being taught in the teaching programs.  He was a person whose mission in life it seemed was to show students who dared walk into his classroom that everything they had ever learned was rubbish.

His classroom walls were covered in posters of artwork, displayed there not for the purpose of showing us his interests like a teenager hangs a Pink Floyd poster on his bedroom wall, but posters of serious art and photography that provoked thinking.   He treated these classroom walls, even the ceiling, as a symbol of the inner workings of the human psyche.   There wasn’t a blank space on any square foot without some visual representation or ounce of symbolism.   These walls offered up a labyrinth of possibilities.

To illustrate Mr. Holdamen’s approach to teaching, there was an an old tree stump upon which was a collection of maybe 4 or 5 black and yellow Cliff Notes books and through them all an ax had been driven into them perhaps three inches deep.   Holdamen taught us it wasn’t about getting to the correct answer in analyzing works of literature.  It was about discovering some connection to our own lives and therefore unlocking some puzzle piece that would inevitably lead us to our destinies.

Did you notice I include myself among those under his tutelage?

If I can be so presumptuous to speak for him, it seemed to the outsider that his dream as a teacher was for the student who crossed the threshold of his classroom door to begin her own hero’s journey by delving deeply into her own soul and leave his classroom with a different perspective of herself and the world around her.   His curriculum centered around accepting the call to adventure and taking the dive–this was imperative.   For the hero willing to take on the call meant taking on one’s fears.

There’s no question, Mr. Holdamen was an inspiring teacher, but not everyone was willing to answer his call.  There was one young man he could not reach.   Perhaps the boy didn’t get much sleep or he was nurturing a video game addiction that kept him up throughout the night, but as soon as the boy walked into the classroom and hit the desk, he fell asleep.  Mr. Holdamen never gave up.  Out came 6 sheets of 12 x 18 white construction paper and he went to work.

The next morning the boy slugged into class, plopped himself into his desk seat, and soon enough, he fell asleep as usual.  It was as if he was moving from one bed and into another, except the journey was longer.  Plop like a wet towel.

The boy hadn’t noticed any changes in the classroom like the others who had discussed the changes at length before first bell.  They thought it clever like everything else in Mr. Holdamen’s room and yet another example of his attempts to reach kids on a deeper level.

When the boy opened his eyes from his morning siesta, he saw the six sheets of construction paper stretched across 3 ceiling tile with fat blue and yellow letters that read:







The story of this young man has stayed with me for a long time, and having worked with teenagers for the past 15 years, I have come to know many students, both male and female, just like him.

“I’m bored,” they say.

Adults often discount lethargy in teenagers as an overabundance of hormones working inside them.   And this is largely true, but it doesn’t work this way in all kids.   Some teenagers appear happy most of the time, well-adjusted most of the time, and socially adept almost all of the time.  So what is it they are doing to combat the doldrums of boredom and maintain such a great balanced life?  How can students avoid becoming the young man in the story?

The answer to the question is really quite simple.

Do something.

There is no question, most of us have suffered from boredom at one point or another in our lives.  If we are bored enough, we may even suffer from depression.  While we may believe depression is a condition that is happening to us as the wrong chemicals are being released into our bodies causing us to feel badly, it is often us who precipitate the action which would allow for the release of the right chemical to flow through our bodies so we feel better about our condition.  In short, we do have the ability to snap out of boredom and depression if we want to.  Simply put, by doing something.

Create.  Do anything that will give you a sense of purpose.:  go ride a bike and smell the sweet cut grass, draw a picture of a place you would like to visit someday, exercise as if you’re training for the Olympics, write a sonnet, go for a walk, breath, create a list of goals.  Anything, but so something.

Steve Chandler has recently become one of my favorite people in the world.  He’s a life coach, he’s written over 40 books, and he’s a celebrated public speaker and corporate trainer who delivers relationship and motivational workshops throughout the U.S. and Canada.  I just got this information off the back of his book, Reinventing Yourself.

In many of Steve Chandler’s books, he tells us that if we are struggling with depression or feeling bored with life one of the best cures is action.  Thomas Jefferson told us something similar when he said, “Do you want to know who you are?  Don’t ask.  Just act!  Action will delineate and define you.”

So if you really want to feel better, or you are feeling bogged down about something, then you need to take action.

Get up!

In order to battle depression, we need to first find the inspiration and willpower within us to get up.  We may believe inspiration come from without, from some motivational speaker, but it really comes from within every one of us.  Messages inspire, this is true.  But the willingness to be inspired comes from within each and every one of us.

Within the word inspire is the Latin root, spirare, which means tobreathe.  This is the same root found in the word spirit.  If the spirit within me is none other than breathe, then who is it that breathes within me, but spirit?  No one else breathes for me.  I do that.  Spirit is the driving force necessary to will us out of bed every morning, and if we don’t wake up like Mr. Holdamen’s student, we will hear not one message.

My daughter used to tell me, “Dad, I’m boring.”

Funny, huh?  Dad, I’m boring.  She was learning the nuances of language at the time and eventually figured out the correct form, but she was also speaking a truth.

The inability to entertain herself was hers and hers alone.    She wanted to be entertained, she wanted life to take itself on and be exciting, she wanted above all to find a joy and love and laugh her way silly into that good night.  But it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to entertain her.  The responsibility to entertain her resides in her own ability to tap into the breath within and fan her own flame.  This has been our biggest challenge as parents–to offer her enough options to find what interests her and what treasures in life she truly values as worthy of spending a sincere amount of time.

There is no question Youtube and the iPad offer hours and hours of entertainment, but I think you would agree, after a while, even the iPad doesn’t necessarily cure the Boredom Syndrome.   When devices are overused, technology helps to create it.

Human beings have urge inside of us, a flame that burns within.  Sometimes that flame is small like a candle flame, and sometimes it rages like a bonfire.  This flame is ours and ours alone.   We nurse it daily, fan it to keep its embers burning and alive.  Maybe that’s why exercise wakes us up, puts us in better spirits, helps us find the truth in an issue we are wrestling with.  After all, oxygen keeps a fire alive, doesn’t it.

When we feel bored we have forgotten about the flame within us.  We have neglected the flame.  We have allowed ourselves to become complacent with our spirits by ignoring the flame and allowed it to simmer, to flicker, moments away from sending a thin plume of grey smoke into the cold damp air.

Boredom, however, is the perfect opportunity to fan the flame within us.  The moment you begin to feel the need to sigh in desperation, you have created a moment of possibility.

Steve Chandler, in his bookThe Story of You advises people who face problems to overwhelm the problem with action.  A person who procrastinates daily like me to write a book or story that has been brewing in the mind needs to take a week off, turn the phone off, or unplug your Internet Service Provider.  Likewise, if you think you have a problem like boredom burdening you, then overwhelm the problem, become inappropriate with the problem, overwhelm the problem as if it was a bully on the school yard and you want nothing more than to knock boredom out of the park.  Boredom after all is really only a perception, an idea in your mind.  It isn’t a real thing, but an insignificant thought that you can own or leave behind by changing your thought process.

So what sorts of things can a person do to make boredom go away.  To stick with our extended metaphor of the flame within us, the best thing a person like yourself can do is to blow onto the flame.


That’s right, breath!

Exercise can give you a sense of renewal, automatically turning negative thoughts into positive ones.  Exercise can help you feel alive once again.  So get moving! Get outside or stay inside and exercise!

Not good enough?  No problem, here’s a link that lists 101 Non-Electric Things For Kids To Do When They’re Bored.  One of my favorites is number 18.   If this list doesn’t suit you, do a google search, there’s plenty out there.

By doing something with your body, you help bring your mind and spirit together as one.  You will begin to think of some of the things you may have been neglecting in your life, some of the relationships you need to cultivate or nurture.  You may even begin to think about some of your problems–which again are only perceptions of the mind–and let them go!

I do not mean to suggest depression is not a real dis-ease in our society.  There are people out there in the world who suffer from a serious chemical imbalance and truly need the help of a psychologist or medical professional.   However, I do believe that we can climb ourselves out of the rabbit hole of depression by willing a purpose into our lives.

The fact remains, a person who lays down will not get up if I tell her to get up.  A person will only get up if she is willing to get up herself.  Willingness comes from inspiration, and the will to do something–to act–comes from within each and every one of us.