Friday, September 30, 2016

No such luck.

Last week I took our beloved five year old on her first daddy-daughter-double-date with a new friend she made from riding the bus. We dads did our best to not kill ourselves as we shook off the rust on our skates while we simultaneously tried to teach our kiddos how to not kill themselves also. The fear of falling that I have at thirty five as a man with a full time job, wife, and child surprises even me. While years ago joining the mosh-pit at shows was deemed reserved for only the most inspired of moments, falling off my wheels onto slick concrete littered with multi-colored-disco-ball reflections, seasoned speed-racers, and other bumbling parents with their first-timers raised my fear of getting injured to a whole new level. But we survived and ended our night with a jaunt to Red Robin. Burgers, manufactured Americana wall-bling, and photo-time with a plastic Lady Liberty was a nice end to a first of many Dx4 nights to come.  I arrived at the car to find someone in the parking lot had noticeably hit my car, smashing the tail light and severely denting the bumper. Fucking great. Fighting my learned helplessness, I checked the wind-shield, hoping for an apology note with contact info. No such luck.

Last Monday we watched two candidates for President of the Unites States each make a semblance of a case for why they're the better candidate. I watched in disbelief at how the more polarizing candidate claimed superior intelligence because he's managed to pay virtually zero federal taxes while building a multi-national, multi-million dollar company. This supposed champion of the working class, the guy who's saying 'everything that everyone is thinking,' admitted on the most watched presidential debate of all time that he's proud he doesn't pay into the system that his primary constituency of voters feel they're being screwed by. He's exempt, because he's 'smarter.' This disconnect is unfathomable, yet here we are. I'm no economist, no insider, no business-man at all, but from what I gather by steadily watching the sources that be, in order to run a business that has verified hundreds of millions of dollars, you must be a bit inclined toward sociopathy. Sociopathy is generally linked to a lack of empathy for the feelings or needs of others, which seems integral to most stories of wild and sustained success in Capitalism. On occasion my dad likes to remind us of the Ray Kroc quote: "If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth."  The idea that a 'good business person' should naturally be a leader of the free-world just seems like faulty nuts-and-bolts logic; a bad idea on principle because the owner's bottom line will always be his or her bottom line. In regard to Trump, as Rachel Martin's story, The Making of Clinton and Trump, tells it: "His father would tell his sons you're killers and you're kings and they were supposed to rise up in life as killers and kings and nothing was quite good enough." How could we expect compassion for those less fortunate after seventy years of living in the opposite direction?

Earlier in the year I did a series on my band's record, Mere Mortals, the opening track on the record is called 'Capsized.' Inspired by the photo of the Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who washed ashore in Turkey, the song explores the idea of luck and privilege to be born to whom, in what time, and where I've been born. A line that still circulates in my head is: "I could've been raised knowing nothing but war, trafficked in a world we abhor..." To think, to imagine, as documentaries have shown me, that there are still people who prosper from enslaving and selling human beings to other human beings. I can only wonder about the desperation it must take to treat others so horribly.
The skeptic and optimist in me hopes that somehow they're doing this against their will, that somehow their survival instinct has been so triggered that they know-not-what-they-do. (Or is it simply biology? Are some people just more comfortable thinking of their own welfare over others'? I'll let you know what Andrew Solomon says about the criminal mind in Far From The Tree when I get to that chapter.)

We waited on making the insurance claim for the smashed tail-light and bumper, knowing that we were a month behind on payment. The day after the incident, I paid what I owed, making sure we were back on track. I consulted multiple friends about how they'd deal with the claim, admitting that detail - that we were behind a payment and may not have been insured when the H & R happened. We were encouraged to embrace the white lie by all who heard our story, fudge the timeline a hair, concede that the insurance company was sort of an enemy that deserved to pay out once in a while, that we deserved the break. A week and a half passed. Friday I made the claim. My wife and I had decided that to tell anything but the truth felt yucky. I was transferred a few times, eventually told the claim was filed and to await a claim-rep's call. Surely enough, he looked at the timeline, the date of the incident, and caught the red flag. Our insurance was suspended at the time of the smashing and our claim was denied. On the phone I managed not to say I considered lying, or express how ridiculously angry I was. I thought of Forrest Gump on his run, and said to the rep: "I guess this is why the phrase 'Shit happens' exists" and cordially said 'goodbye.' What case can I make when I know I was in the wrong? I'm sure there are fights I could try to fight, and I'm not telling you this for that sort of advice. I was wrong, but still stood for what is right by being truthful, right?

I'm not big on pride, not when I can regularly see my friend Kenny's photos of refugees lost at sea. So we'll pay into the system, and we'll pay to make our car pretty again, and we'll swallow our pride, and be thankful we're inclined to try and do right, even if it doesn't always feel right.

(image stolen from here.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Would it kill you to trust?

Today we sent our one and only child off to kindergarten for the first day of school. As the budding socialite she is, when given the option, she opted to ride the bus. I imagine her little brain waves lighting up at the opportunity to have more time with other kids, because seven hours at school simply isn't enough. She already made a couple friends a few weeks ago at orientation, one who uses a wheelchair. We pumped our fists when we heard this! We're now the proud parents of a kid who's not afraid of complications or differences. For now at least. She's in the beautiful stage of childhood where literally anyone she meets is a potential new friend. Her classroom is racially diverse in a way that mine never was as well. Mere exposure to other colors and creeds should go a ways for her. This beautiful innocence coupled with a teacher who settled our misgivings upon meeting her should also go a long ways. Though we didn't actively lobby for her as our teacher, my wife claims she willed it to happen . . . if you believe in that sort of thing. Our beloved came home all smiles, smiles that didn't last for long as she became irritable in her sheer exhaustion.

We're attempting to turn over a new leaf. Become more organized and more disciplined. More inclined to play games and less inclined to turn on the TV. Our time with her is now cut down to just over three and a half hours a day since she leaves at 7:31 am, arrives home at 3:45 pm and goes to bed at 7:00 pm sharp-ish. That's a huge change. The school warned us it will take about two solid weeks for her to adjust to the schedule. We're now entrusting her education and much of her socialization to a group of adults who aren't us, and more over a group of kids who aren't ours. We're conceding to the expectations of the system. A system both extremely familiar and completely foreign.

When we toured her school they took us to the library and proceeded to explain all of the sweet IPad programs they have. They mentioned the books, but only really in passing. That darned Dewey Decimal System I had a hard time learning might as well have been a figment of my imagination. But the tour also outlined their detailed system of how they help children express their emotions safely and appropriately, and in a public discourse model so others can watch the struggles and successes of this expression. We were floored. I'm nearly thirty six and still learning how to express my emotions accurately and constructively. My wife has memories of sitting in a corner almost an entire day as punishment for expressing emotions in a way a teacher deemed inappropriate. Our fears of over-exposure to technologies melted away when we learned of the focus on connection to feelings and self expression.

Today we enacted a few of our goals: we sat for dinner at the dinner table, we played Crazy Eights together, we did bath time at night. Knowing our beloved is already experiencing more change than she's ever had in her entire life we tried to employ as much grace as we could. This is our new life. From the moment she was born other parents have told us how quickly time passes, and now we're feeling and fearing it in a way that wasn't quite clear before. We're conceding to allow the world to teach her in ways we haven't before. We're giving up control in ways we haven't before. And so we crawl into the belly of the beast not quite sure what new thoughts and ideas she might come home with, hoping we have the words to help her understand, hoping to understand ourselves better in the process.

(Ps. My soundtrack to this writing is Low's 'Curtain hits the Cast' and as I wrote the paragraph above a line from "Lust" jumped out: "would it kill you to trust?" You can hear that here.)

(Image stolen from here.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mere Mortals: Other Worldly.

So this is it, the final installation of my series about our record "Mere Mortals." Hopefully these writings have done what I've hoped they'd do, not the exact thing I feared in starting this in the first place. Namely, to share insights and stories without removing whatever impact you might have come to on your own without these entries. But I guess the people who are interested in reading more will read more. So I'm letting myself off the hook, all spoilers avoided, lickety split.

Track Eleven: Other Worldly.

I've thought so long and hard, convinced another night staring at the stars will reveal the answers you won't impart. A sea of lights and colors my eyes have parceled in the dark, where there was nothing before, another world appears. A world where minds incline toward introspection, wills consider confession, and hearts feel the pain of their foolish decisions. Can you see me in the darkness? Can you feel my arms reaching for you? Can you imagine the world I dream of? Without this dream I feel like I'm slipping into a black hole. Without your love I can't escape its pull. Will you be my guide? Will you throw me your rope? I'm right here. Will you help my light survive and instill in me hope? Where are you? I no longer want you to hide. I want your presence to abide. Please let your tongue be untied and your words fill the sky. I need so much more than you're willing to give. But I'm right here, free of fear. Appear before my eyes, consider, incline, feel my heart, my mind. Whenever you're ready, so am I. I'm right here. Whenever you're ready, so am I. I'm right here.

As we neared the end of the musical writing process I found I had to write about five more songs lyrically in a short time to make it to the studio prepared. I suddenly felt anxiety about whether I was ready for this. The weight of writing ten songs was mounting. So I started foraging for material, even asking friends if they had subject matter worth investigating. Other Worldly is the result of a conversation with a friend who said he'd always wanted to write a song about the relationship he wish he had with his father. He gave me his blessing to delve into his feelings of longing, to echo the sentiments in a previous song, for what should be or could've been.

I've been thinking lately about how exactly to find peace in not being someone I think I'm supposed to be. Whether it be brain chemistry, my body's hormone concoction, my "nature," or my "nurture," I'm just now coming to accept that I am not capable of being anyone other than myself. No one is anyone other than him or herself. It sounds so stupidly obvious writing it out. But somehow it rarely feels obvious because of the complicated nature of relationships.

I regularly marvel at the ability of others to obsess over one topic that interests them and single-mindedly consume every facet of it. I marvel at the faithful who come hell or high-water maintain their faith, unshaken by the perils and ugliness of life. I marvel at those who have somehow come to understand that the perils and ugliness they're committing are necessary or even good for those they're committing them against. I marvel at those who commit atrocities and feel no need to spin or justify their decisions. And I marvel at those who live within a regular state of happiness. I think it can be said for most of us, whether the world we're in thinks the same or not, we are doing what we think is best and right for us. Of course how we come to these conclusions, well, I marvel at that too. I am none of these, for better obviously, or worse.

Last week I was telling my wife that I desperately hope I maintain a clear picture of who we are right now, as thirty-five year old parents relating to a four year old daughter, so that when or if she asks us why we did what we did I can say: I love you, please forgive me, this is who we were and what we thought in our limited knowledge was best then. I've been told no parents can escape the wrath of their children questioning their decisions, so I'm trying to footnote my struggles, my thoughts, my concerns so that I have something to say if that time comes.

The voice in this song is yearning to hear something call back to him from the darkness. A reason, an explanation, a connection. The voice is bearing all, knowing it may be fruitless, but saying the words because the words need to be said. It is hoping for some sort of humble why to step forward. It wants the footnotes to the decisions made that created the need for another world where the voice is given its due diligence. The voice wants to be loved, the most innate of all desires, and don't we all deserve that?

(Image stolen from here.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mere Mortals: Collapse.

You know the deal...but if you don't, read this thing here for background on these ramblings. 

Track Ten: Collapse.

I can touch your skin and feel the passing of time. I can stare into your eyes and see you in your prime. I can listen to your stories and hear the struggle of your climb. The weight of the world on your shoulders and still you moved mountains. A god among men, no quandary you couldn't amend. We thought you'd live forever, that you'd carry us into the sunset. We hoped you'd bury us as ash and dust. I’ll never forget that trembling voice that stripped away all illusions. Eternity’s time and pressure exacted in one foul measure. The earth opened up and swallowed my world whole. Will you see me passing time? Will you know me in my prime? Can you help me find the courage, the courage to climb? We thought you'd live forever. We hoped you'd bury us, we hoped you'd bury us as ash and dust. You may be gone but you're no mere mortal in my mind.

It was a regular morning: Stocking products on the shelf, yucking it up with coworkers, drinking too much coffee and scrounging for something that would resemble breakfast. The phone rang. This early in the morning it's usually someone calling in sick. Over the intercom I heard: "Angela, you have a phone call on line one." My heart sunk. If it were a phone call for Ben I would've assumed it was his wife asking him to bring home boneless chicken, or whatever the fuck she calls the store to ask him to bring home, rather than texting him like the rest of us do in 2016. But it wasn't for Ben, it was for Angela. She answered. Her response stopped all of us in our tracks. Something was very wrong. Unsure I was the right person to approach her, I opened the office door to find her on the floor with her head in her hands. Her body trembling, she told me her dad had died.

Not three days prior she'd told me her dad was the sort of man who, still, even in his seventies, worked the farm sun-up to sun-down, ate eggs, bacon, and buttermilk everyday and had a clean bill of health. She jokingly said something along the lines of "I'm pretty sure he'll outlive me."

The past few days I've been tumbling down a nihilistic rabbit hole. Sunday we watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, now I won't give anything away, but perhaps if you saw it you'll catch my drift. I came away from it imagining a God-like view of humanity, where everyone who has lived, is living, and will live are all scurrying around at the same time, overlapping each other, microscopic dots on a sprawling map fluttering about. Back in my Theology studying days in college we talked about God being outside of time, that everything in the universe is happening at the same time and God knows all the results. This idea of God existing outside of time, our understanding of time that is, is also mashed up with some other ideas relating to God's omnipotence (all-knowing-ness), immutability (un-changeable-ness), and probably a few other large words implying larger ideas in order to have everything make sense with all the other things theologians "know" about God...which for me makes no sense at all. In this God's-eye-view I've been imagining I can't escape a sense of futility. All of us dots, scurrying to find fulfillment, or purpose. Trampling to make our mark, or being trampled bearing the marks of others. Our time, place, and brain-wirings dictating what sort of lives we may be able to lead until life leaves us. Some of us a blip on the radar so quick it hardly registers.

Then some of us, perhaps the luckiest of us, live well and long enough to experience a genuine sense of love. A dot not on some cosmic radar, but on the hearts and minds of some of whom we cross paths with. Some of us leave an impression so dense that our departure rips holes in those who loved us. Perhaps the luckiest of us leave such a mark that even the friends of those who loved us feel inspired to write songs and spend time wondering about our lives. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to transcend our time and be perceived as no mere mortal in someone's mind. 

(Names above changed for reasons you already understand. Image stolen from here.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mere Mortals: Preparing the Way.

Thank you for clicking on this! As I've done before, but can't escape the need to do again, here is a link to the introduction to this series if you'd like some background. 

Track Nine: Preparing the Way

Tonight the soil is cold, the dew is thick. The roots set to remove, unready for uprooting. If I didn't know any better I'd swear this place can't be real. So much growth amidst so much decay. I've seen too many black coats gather in another's name. I've watched tears make mud and heads bow in shame. You're not to blame. You're not to blame. You're not to blame. What am I even doing here? Walking amongst the ghosts, working my hands to the bone, hoping to conceal my regrets in a mausoleum all their own. Who will tell me I'm not to blame? Is there deliverance from this shame? The fog approaches me, it asks I breathe deeply, to fill my cup and drift away. It's not quite winter yet, but I can't shake this chill. Bottoms up I drift away. I never learned how to grieve. The pain I feel leaves me nothing in which to believe. Am I not to blame? Is there no refuge from shame? I'll mourn with you as I prepare the way.

Earlier this week our precious four year old saw her first dead body. Don't worry, she didn't stumble on it like they did in Boyz 'n' the Hood, it was a well-maintained and professionally cared for body of a great uncle she never knew. Which is partly why I was less afraid of it being traumatizing in any way. Loved ones suggested we not let her see him for fear of well...trauma. My wife and I agreed that these situations are possibly more about how we present them than anything else. Though I'll admit my feelings might have been significantly different had it been someone we knew intimately, or someone she knew well. Uncle Randy was known and loved, the eulogy spoke of his boundless love and ability to treat everyone he met as equally important. Stories were shared about how much he gave of himself, how he made it his mission to make all those around him feel special, and how he never had an unkind word to share. In closing the Pastor read something I imagine is somewhat common at funerals, a beautiful essay written about a fictional father whose asked by his kids what he would say at his own funeral. I don't remember all of it, but there was a heavy theme of 'please remember me at my best and forget my worst.' The way he was spoken of it seemed Randy had no worst in him. He was given a military burial, rifles fired, flag folded, it was methodical and beautiful.

The voice in Preparing the Way is the only song on our record that came purely from my imagination. The working title in the writing process was "Gravedigger," something about the riffs just have a gloom about them that was new and different for us. So almost as a creative writing endeavor I tried to run with a story about an actual Gravedigger. The machines nearby at Randy's burial site were a testimony to the need for strength and efficiency in running a graveyard. My imagining of the Gravedigger here is more in line with images I saw on Deadwood: one man digging by hand all night, preparing the way for another out of some idea of responsibility, wracked with his own reasons for choosing this profession, this seclusion. There have been moments, few, but plural none the less, where I've felt I deserved to be secluded. Alone with my thoughts, my demons, my shame. Alone to wrestle with who I am and who I am not. 

The Gravedigger in this song wonders how he got to where he is but also firmly knows that he deserves to be there. He's waiting for relief, waiting for an epiphany, waiting for a sign he can return to the life he once knew. While he can't forget his worst, he's pining for someone to remember his best. But until he finds what he's looking for he'll continue to prepare the way for others who've found one form of deliverance.

Hearing all that was said about Uncle Randy, I can't help but feel if half of those words are applied to me after my time has expired, I'll be a lucky man. In one way or another I think all of us have a piece of the Gravedigger in us. Wondering if we're loved, if we're capable of loving. When I introduced this song last week for the first time I tried to encapsulate it with this: It's extremely hard to love others the way they deserve, sometimes it's even harder to love ourselves the way we deserve. 

And so we peer through the fog, looking for growth, we wash the dirt from our hands with the grass's dew as we wonder about grand ideas of refuge and deliverance amidst all this decay.

(image stolen from here...)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mere Mortals: Gutted.

So, here we are, the home stretch. The eighth track on the record. If you've stumbled onto this for the first time and would like some background on this series, check this out. If you're returning to read my latest babblings on things I think are important but probably aren't, thank you. 

Track Eight: Gutted.

I used to be a man of faith. I used to have faith in man. I used to believe I had a purpose and time would reveal its plan. In St. Louis reading 'Catcher in the Rye' I conceded to the persevering "why?" Disregarding what my gut told me was best, I up and followed romance to the West. On the ferry only red before my eyes, heart in pieces with no comfort from the skies. At the harbor fresh epiphanies arrest, a new life a new love coalesce. And now how do I reconcile the man I was to the man I am now? "Faith" and "purpose," just words - that I can't escape.

I can still feel the crisp fall air and dew on the picnic table trying to soak my sleeves. Though I had a stack of books and writing pads, I mostly just stared into the haze, wondering where I'd went wrong. So much had changed so quickly. A romance dissolved in a single, fevered, phone call. A dream dashed, a future abandoned. So much of me had been wrapped up in ideas of what was supposed to be. As I look back on it, it may be this moment of disillusion that showed me just how easily I'd had it in life; A romantic betrayal had been the worst experience of my life. 

After a regretfully public display of mourning, dramatic song lyrics addressed to the not-so-ambiguous "you" on Myspace included, I moved away again, and moved on. I tried to focus on myself in positive ways, rigorously combatting the self-blame I was inclined toward. I mastered push-ups for the first time. I rode my bike far and long, late into the night and early morning. I read books and debated faiths. I figured out how to laugh again. I guarded my heart. Then, after nearly a year, I met her. Well, met her again. What started out as a merely a place to stay while visiting the Big Apple turned into my future. A new love then, and now my life. 

I've written about faith and purpose quite a bit over the course of this blog. I have no new thoughts on these just yet. However, I can say this heartache changed my feelings about them. Until this happened, life had pretty much left me unchallenged. I had prior experiences that caused heartache and suggested doubt, but this upended things for me. It gave me a new, raw wound that for the first time couldn't seem to be healed with hugs from Mom and Dad, inspirational cliches, or nuggets of wisdom plucked from sacred books. It's been over ten years and I still dream about some of the events that damaged my heart. Up until this happened, faith in the great, 'too-wild-to-be-made-up' story, seemed feasible; to believe without seeing, without feeling was feasible, it was all I had ever known. This faith gave life to the idea of a grand sense of purpose, a God-given purpose. But the faith I'd been born into gave me no more comfort than the friends who told me "time heals all things." The purpose I was told god had for me never felt real, never felt true. What helped me was meeting others who were open and forthright with their thoughts, feelings, and doubts about life. What helped was truly acknowledging this thorn, this nagging whisper, this persevering "why," and realizing that indulging it didn't mean the end of the world.

I've had the hardest time writing this piece because it seems trivial to say that a lover's betrayal made me lose my faith. That's the simplest way to interpret this situation, but of course it's more complicated than that. It did help me see through a new lens. Having the wool pulled over my eyes so brazenly helped me lift veils I'd been I'd been giving weight to for longer than I wish I had. While I fear it hardened my heart in certain ways that ten years later I'm still massaging, it gave way to a more authentic version of myself; A self that became comfortable living without conclusions. But of course I'm still haunted by the wants of a neat, tidy narrative that allows me to feel individually special in all of the world's existence. But I find living and letting live more rewarding, though my mind struggles to allow that every day. The ghosts of former know-it-all belief systems rattle their shackles through my mind. And so I live now, trying to find comfort in questions without answers, loving what is here before me, knowing that it will all leave me, and I it, sooner than I think.

(Image stolen from here, the title of the song comes from a Deadwood quote by Cy Tolliver, the character pictured.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mere Mortals: Colosseum.

This is the start of the Side B portion of "Mere Mortals." If you're stumbling upon this for the first time and would like to know what in the heck this series is about, I'll refer you to my introduction from track one

Track Seven: Colosseum.

"All you want is to hear my voice, and how could you not? As long as your ears have heard I've been singing my songs of hope and woe. The sacred harmonies of reformation and regret, weaving my story into your bones. Weaving my story into your soul, you cry out, and how could you not? But I need a moment, just a moment to breathe, because today I can't find the man you love, and I'm armed to the teeth. All you want is to hear my voice, my body reacts like I have no choice. My best intentions possessed. Love resisting arrest. Wisdom held hostage at my own behest. There's no cover from the storm. Tears concealed in the rain, you pray for the end. As the clouds part and words return, we whisper 'goodnight.*' Let us slip into silent night where blades retract and no flames alight, now doused in silence while dreams abound until with the dawn solace resounds. **“The sun sets on the war, the day breaks and everything is new.'"

(*written by Greg Bennick, a guest contribution.)
(**Borrowed from 'Winning a Battle, Losing a War' by Kings of Convenience.)

A few nights ago our beloved four-and-a-half year old (she insists the 'half' must be included...) was having a hard night. She was stuck. We were stuck. It's hard to admit, especially because I may be a contributing factor, but she may have an anger problem, and her angry reactions make us all spin into a cycle. A cycle we're aware of even when deep in the throes and reacting in all the ways we know we shouldn't be reacting. My wife and I were stuck. Exhausted of all the reasonable solutions we could conjure, I felt like I was at the end of my rope. Something needed to change and we couldn't figure out what it was. Then, literally out of the sky fell a strobing zap of lightning followed by a game-winning strike in god's bowling alley. Her anger changed to fear. Her precious little brain was instantaneously reformed with a new concern. She suddenly needed to have us close again. Though it rained all night, that was the only boom of thunder we heard. As hoped for, she awoke requiring her mandatory 'family hug,' all smiles, like the anger and fear had never happened.

Colosseum, as opposed to "Coliseum," has won out as the preferred spelling to reference the Roman structure we all know mostly through movie depictions. The violence, the gore, the twisted form of entertainment that seems so barbaric to our sensibilities now, is gone. All that stands is a testament to what was. A testament to newer and kinder ways. A testament to our ability to forsake behaviors and ideas that no longer suit our understanding of how to treat each other. We still see variations of this barbarism in other parts of culture around the world, but not there, not in that place. 

The words of this song pay homage to my need to acknowledge weakness and struggle to find better ways when what I'm inclined toward simply isn't working. It asks me to retract blades when my mind and body seek to maim, to re-possess intentions when they're lost in the clouds, and allow love and wisdom to arrest when I've tried to turn them into history. It implores me to let the sun set on my wars so I can have a chance to renew.

(Image stolen from: