Thursday, December 4, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year.

Since August I've been growing my beard. Not because it contrasts beautifully with my high and tight 50s swooper of a haircut (that I've also decided to let grow for a while), or because I had an afternoon of vintage-y, hands-on-wood-splitting-labor at Grandmother's house last summer, or because I've started investigating various bourbons, or any other reasons that make me seem like I'm in a Hipster 101 class, but because I hope to dress as Santa Claus in a couple weeks. Yes, Santa Claus. I'm not trying to be Santa, so much as pay homage to the coolest dude with the sweetest profession during the most wonderful time of year. So I'll spray my beard white and wear a lot of red, maybe wear a red floppy hat. I've already played out in my mind what I'll say to our beloved or any other child that's showing signs of confusion or wonder when they see me: "I'm not Santa, but Santa is SO COOL that I wanted to try and look like him this year!" We'll see how that goes over.

If you've known me for any amount of time, you'll know I LOVE Christmas! I have a tattoo to prove it. By mid-November this year I had December pretty booked up with Holiday-sy events that just tickle my fancy! This year we have A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and White Christmas all showing at the Redford Theatre, Wild Lights at the Zoo, Noel Night, Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, a trip to Frankenmuth and Bronners, along with 3 family Christmas gatherings. Not to mention a Secret Santa exchange at work, White Elephant exchange with family, and maybe a friend-party if I can find the right victim to host! If you weren't's the most wonderful time of the year!

I had a friend say to me the other day, "Whitfield, I know you love Christmas, but I've never asked you why you love Christmas so much?" My quick and simple answer was, "it makes me feel like a kid again."

In the liner notes for a song called Separation Anxiety on my band's demo five years ago I wrote:
This is an ode to the hearty sense of freedom and individuality most of us experience as children. Usually somewhere in adolescence we relinquish our imagination and naivete as we're told to take life more seriously. I'm convinced that most of us will spend much of our adult life trying to repossess the sense of wonder and joy we once had as children.
The other day a friend told me he's thinking of rejoining the church. He grew up Catholic. I asked him why and he said something along the lines of: I don't know, I just grew up in the church, I miss being a part of something, feeling like I belong to something bigger than me...and even though I hated going as a kid I feel like going now. I replied with a "fair enough." I fully understand and honor wanting something simply because it reminds me of childhood. (I have a tattoo and blog posts to prove it.) As we talked I asked him all the pertinent questions about his feelings around faith and beliefs around god. He confessed he's not sure he believes in a god, but feels its possible there is something out there. I tend to be less wondrous than he these days...about this something anyways.

As you may know, I grew up in the church, the son of a pastor. Christmas, while fun, and beautiful, and exciting, always had a focus, an origin, a reason more important than the human mind can fully comprehend. The birth of redemption. The bridge, born of a virgin, for man to now access God. But none of that feels reasonable to me anymore. And so I'm left with all the other things we indulged in...the bells, whistles, and everything more tangible.

Why do I love Christmas so much if my adult understanding of it is so far removed from the weight and emotionalism that was applied to it in my upbringing? Was "the reason for the season" clearly applied to it or was it smothered by the blasted secularization of the season? Can children even remotely comprehend we're 'celebrating the birth of the savior of humanity?' Should that idea even be presented to them? How can that message even hope to contend with presents, lights, Santa and all the other things that naturally capture the imagination of children?

We are the sum of our experiences.

Of course we are more than that too. Nature and Nurture weaving a fucked-up web of confusion. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have positive associations with the Christmas season that outweigh the negative associations. And my positive associations are powerful enough to outweigh my appeals to reason, inclinations against capitalism, and doubt of traditionalism. I know full well there are plenty of reasons to hate Christmas. Most of my friends are quite quick to tell me them. Just watching commercials the week before Thanksgiving should be enough to make a misanthrope out of most of us.

But still, it remains. The excitement stays with me. And now I get to rejoice within our beloved's 3 year old version of it! And I get to hope that the sum of her experiences with us will stick with her in the best, most exciting of ways. Hopefully you'll feel some of it too.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Last summer I had a conversation with friends about a documentary, which I haven't seen, that evidently makes a case that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, or a deviation which may be out of the control of those affected. My buddy who watched it said the documentarians made it known they believe acting on these impulses is unequivocally wrong, but the goal was to understand the inclination, or orientation if it is one, better. Being that two of us were fathers in the conversation, I couldn't help but ask my friend, whom I consider a roll-model of a father, what he'd do if he were to discover one of his beloveds had been sexually abused? His response was visceral, raw: "I'd fucking kill the person." It was a glimpse into a primitive version of him we only see once in a blue moon. As he realized what he said, he immediately disclaimed that he knows violence is the opposite of what he's been actively trying to teach his family and the opposite of his faith's hope.

Not even a day later, this showed up everywhere. My heart feels heavy for everyone involved.

While my upbringing created a moral compass that taught me forgiveness is the higher of roads and nobler of choices, the display of humanity's inclination toward destruction and selfishness we see throughout history, and every day, evokes feelings of futility and Nihilism ("vee believe in nussing Lebowski, nussing") which asks me to challenge whether forgiveness is truly the voice of reason that humans should aspire to, or that echos beyond our graves. But even as my mind doubts the power of forgiveness, seeing the images of the offender in the link above turns my stomach. I'm pretty sure most fathers would have the same reaction this father did. But looking at the aftermath, vengeance also feels wrong.

I often get stuck in the Facebook-thread-web where one post leads to reading comments, which leads to reading profiles, which takes me far, far away from everything that is more important in life. One of the rabbit-holes I often plummet down is the "people you may know" stream. Having lost track of basically everyone I grew up with I can't help but scroll through the names and faces of potential "friends" once or twice removed from my present life. The ghosts of lives past create an inescapable curiosity about who is out there that once mattered. But last week a former boyfriend of my wife was proposed as a person I may know. Facebook was hoping we'd be friends. Now I don't know this person, but I know about this person. The things I know make me grit my teeth and clench my fists. The pain he caused is a permanent fixture in our relationship, an old wound still superficial enough it's capable of being snagged every once in a while. But like she approaches everything in life, with dignity and grace, Candy has allowed his actions to reflect poorly of him, not her. I know the way my imagination can run wild wondering what might've been had I seen things as clearly as I can see them now; wishing wisdom had prevented this or that from happening. But she's ascended beyond his decisions to make her own. She's forgiven herself for being duped, for trusting the wrong person. She's forgiven herself, which allows her to move forward.

As we continued to discuss whether forgiveness is the decision that echos longest, my buddy, after back-pedaling on his rage response, mentioned the 2006 attack on an Amish school in Pennsylvania. I hadn't heard of this, for whatever reason, but you can read about it here. Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32 years old, took hostages from a one-room schoolhouse, shot 10 girls, ages 6-13, killing five of them execution style, then committed suicide. The heinous violence sounds like an old-hat story now as since then, from 2006-2013, there have been 115 school shootings, the deadliest taking place in 2007 at Virginia Tech with 33 victims. What set Roberts' attack apart was the outpouring of forgiveness and mercy by the Amish community toward Roberts' family, from the Wikipedia page:

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man."[15] Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."[16] Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."[15]A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.[17] Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him.[18]The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.[19] About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral,[18] and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.[20]

Maya Angelou once said "Bitterness is like a cancer, it eats upon the host..." Is forgiveness the key to self-liberation from pain? What does forgiveness look like in situations like the above without a belief system which declares divine judgement is balancing the scales for actions taken in life? Is the Amish response the kind that all us should aspire to? Certainly the family Roberts left behind, who were just as mortified by his actions, benefited from forgiveness. What about when the perpetrator is still alive and well and has yet to meet any sort of judgment, let alone a divine judgement?

No answers, only questions. And that's okay.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The key.

August 10th, 1999. My buddy Josh sat on a curb, drunkenly apologizing to my buddies and I for having to babysit him and some other classmates as they defiantly ran down the street to another party. That night I declared I was Straight Edge. A couple weeks ago, August 10th, 2014, would've been my proper 15th anniversary.

The grande torchbearers of the Straight Edge movement, Earth Crisis, in 'The Discipline' said "the key to self-liberation is abstinence from the destructive escapism of intoxication." The song is permanently stuck in my head with the first few painfully wailed words encapsulating the rest of the song: "Straight Edge, the discipline, the key to self-liberation..."

In my thirties I've probably struggled more with what I believe than ever before. By design we believe in youth what we're told to believe. It's a trust we put in our elders, a hope that they show us the way, the truth, and the light, as they see it. College solidified what, or who, I aligned myself against; who I decided I was not. My twenties mostly served to reinforce and refine those alignments. Marriage, fatherhood, and family ties, have seemed to chip away at these ideas and ideals; re-configuring priorities and challenging me to be more honest with who I am.

What is self-liberation? What is the key to self-liberation?

Last fall we went camping in The Sleeping Bear Dunes with most of my wife's family. It was our second trip to the same grounds. The babies from the year prior were now officially toddlers. We novice parents were a little more seasoned. Our ability to weather storms, figuratively and literally (we already had the 30-foot tarp raised in the trees in case of rain), was much greater. Hell, I even had my own hatchet to throw at the tossing-tree with the other badass boys this time around. It was with bundled babies chasing their shadows, sticky s'mored hands, and toasting fleece-socked toes up on the eight-foot-round fire pit wall that I thought, "why not have a drink with my family in this perfect scenery?" It was in this moment that I no longer felt liberated by my choice to abstain. But it wasn't time just yet.

I'm not sure what the key to self-liberation is, but perhaps a piece of it is embracing the ability to choose what is well and best for oneself moment by moment. Perhaps it's maintaining a consciousness of others' decisions and the effects that follow that have lead to the best and worst in life. Perhaps it's living in recognition of my own feelings more accurately.

As of last month, fifteen years and a whole lot of rootbeers later, I've bid adieu' to a chapter in my life I'm quite proud of. And now, instead of raising my fist to this noble idea, I'll raise a glass to those dear and near, and to the on-going quest to find the key, or keys, to unlocking self-liberation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Raining. Pouring.

Seven months into the year and I've already heard of more hardships among people I know than perhaps I've heard my whole life. A friend lost two brothers and her mother within 13 months, another, after losing her first baby moments after birth, lost her second child in a miscarriage, another lost his wife of 40 years, another, a father of two, was diagnosed with terminal lung and brain cancer, and last weekend a friend lost her husband and the father of her toddler. It keeps piling up.

Last Thursday Candy was outside spray-painting picture frames to display some of her photos. Our darling daughter was tooling around in our driveway playing with sidewalk chalk. I was inside taking a moment on the couch when I heard a giant cracking sound coupled with a scream I'd never heard before, followed by a crash. I tried to react as fast as I could, but like a cartoon character revving up for a race, my socked-feet pedaled like they were on ice, leaving the rug rippled behind me. When I got out the side door Candy was clutching our beloved. A dead tree-limb on our neighbors lot had fallen onto his house then tumbled onto the hood of our car in the driveway. The car was a foot in front of our gate, our daughter was a foot behind the gate. In tears, Candy tried to explain the sinking feeling she had when she heard the initial crack and saw the shadows above her shift. We caravanned inside, sat down, holding each other, we thanked our lucky stars that the limb crushed our car, not our child. I never want to hear a scream like that again.

In these moments we're forced to contemplate what we'd do if the unthinkable happened. Who would we become? How would we continue to live? And yet, people do it every day. They adapt, against their will, to living with new realities, and without the sight, sound, smell and feel of their beloveds.

Part of me wants to turn this into a railing against anyone who tries to comfort those left behind with classical notions that their loved ones are in a better place, or they're at peace now, or any of the other things people like to say when they want to make sense of the senseless. But this is not that time.

I have no wisdom to share. I have no experience to aid. I have no words to comfort.

But god-dammit I'm thinking about you all. And wishing you didn't have to deal with any of it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I can still hear the echoes...

A couple months ago an article was published about a tattoo shop in Grand Rapids newly residing in a former hotel that is thought to be a Prohibition-era drop off point. Before the article dropped I had a behind-the-scenes look because my brother-in-law's girlfriend, Stephanie, tattoos at the shop and they were renovating the space together. After finding a secret room filled with vintage-y items they knew this new space was special, but beyond that, having been there mostly by themselves they had to confront a more grim reality about the space: that it's haunted. Strange sounds, smells, temperature changes, and even visions of other-worldly residents have been frequent. Stephanie has at times even felt a sense of dread, like the presence in the room wanted to harm her. Both she and my in-law are reasonable skeptics, neither of whom carry faiths that guide them toward or away from believing in after-lifes, purgatorys, or spiritual limbos. They're not bullshitters. They have no agendas. They're just trying to explain their experiences. Which is why hearing their first-hand accounts is all the more potent.

Last month we visited the shop to see all the renovations. Upon entering, three of the four of us said they felt "something." I felt nothing. After foolishly voicing this I was challenged to spend some time in the basement by myself, which I quickly declined. Though I don't really believe in supernatural things like this, the experiences of others can be quite convincing. I'm open to the possibility of the supernatural, but I'm more amazed by the vibrancy of my imagination and am fully aware it is filled with all sorts of terrible things extracted from fictional and non-fictional outlets. (It was late college before I was able to not look over my shoulder for Michael Myers while climbing the stairs of the parsonage.) Would I have experienced something in the basement? I was too chicken to put it to the test.

I can still hear the echos..."the greatest trick the devil can play is to convince us he doesn't exist."

In the last ten years I've pretty much whittled away the idea of a literal Devil. Every day people hurt people in such ways that it's easy to feel like there must be some divine-being orchestrating the terror. It's the only way to make sense of the pain we're capable of causing each other, especially when the pain is so heinous that it's beyond reason. The idea that my seemingly rational deduction, that humans are the lone culprits in the world's suffering, could be the magnum-opus lie of a master-deceiver chills me to my bones. This seed was planted in such a way that it's grown stems beyond it's purpose. It's the seed of doubt, of myself.

In my early teens my dad recounted an evening in which he came home late, and upon entering the bedroom he felt the presence of evil in the corner of the room. My mom sleeping in the bed while this presence awaited him, he conjured his nerve and with 'the power of Christ compelling,' shooed it away. Sounds like he could've been on the cusp of some real Exorcist shit. I imagine an experience like that wouldn't change in his mind over time, but memories are funny. I called him the other night to see if he remembered it, or if his understanding of it changed in any significant way. It hadn't. He remembers it just fine, but hadn't thought of it until I brought it up.

The movie, The Sixth Sense, touches on childrens' ability to sense the supernatural better than adults can. Once in a while I'll catch our precious baby girl talking to someone who isn't there. Most times it's obvious she's just talking to talk. I know imaginary friends are a thing, hell, we even watch Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends with her here and there. I feel confident I can tell when she's just being silly or kid-ly, but there are a handful of times since she's been talking, when it's felt different. Like the one time she was yelling, "NO! You go away!", at the corner of our bedroom. It was probably just Buzz, the cat, whom she was yelling at and I couldn't see, but my imagination coupled with the fact that a former owner died here in the house doesn't help. Of course I automatically rationalize that it must've been the cat. It's always the cat in horror movies, at least in the false-scare scenes.

I was talking with a coworker the other day who was quite open about being a paranoid guy. I tried to talk him into using the word "prepare-anoid" to better describe himself. He wasn't having it. He doesn't believe the boogey-man is out to get him, or even the man neccesarily, but he fears the possibility of these things and potential harm in general. He said he doesn't believe in the supernatural, ghosts, what-have-you, but still said, "I'm definitely not going out of my way to mess with that stuff." Part of me thinks it would be bad-ass to go all Leiutenant Dan on it all: "It's time for a showdown! You and Me! I'm right here!" But I learned humility, thankfully. And I listened to Operation Ivy years ago and the words "All I know is that I don't know nothin'" still rattle around a good bit.

Since I've entered my thirties I've made a concerted effort not to fret about things that are outside of my control or don't directly affect me. I can't tell if it's wisdom acquired or futility realized. I've just wasted so much energy getting wrapped up in what others are doing, saying, thinking, or feeling. See The Reformer for thoughts on this. But perhaps this effort is why these witnesses peak my imagination and inspire piloerection (sounds dirty...but it's not...), but do not ultimately affect the way I live or think about about things I can't explain. All I can do is listen to the haunted tattoo slingers, Christ compelling Fathers, and precious-little-baby-cakes-of-wheat-who-yell-at-corners of the world and live and let live...and hope that Michael Myers is not actually behind me right now waiting to pin me to a wall with his big knife.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

And our new road was paved.

Great Reversals had just played our second show in our friend Dana's basement. Afterward we went to a newer film-house spot, The Burton, to see the modern blaxploitation spoof: Black Dynamite! As the opening credits rolled and I'm yucking it up with the dudes, my pocket vibrated with a text, a picture from Candice. I open the phone to see a positive pregnancy test with a giant "OMG!" attached to the image. Holy Shit! I disconnected from the gang, and we talked. It's real. The movie no longer seemed important.

December 26th, 2009, in the basement of a repurposed middle school, my life changed with the delivery of one digital photo.

About two weeks later we miscarried. It was a whirlwind of beginnings and ends to so many worlds our minds had created in that small window. She, of course, took the brunt of the blow. From those we foolishly told too early came waves of support. The bodies familiar with our loss came out of the woodworks. We hadn't known how common our grief was until we were in the same boat. We were not alone. It had only been 2 weeks of awareness, but it took it's toll. It was 3 months before we could think about trying again.

Trying didn't come easy. A fear of the whirlwind hindered our ability to be care-free about it. Once we were comfortable with those intentions, it was slow going. The first round had come within one whimsical moment where we agreed on the spot we'd take the risk. Now that our minds had intentions, our bodies couldn't seem to get on board. And so we tried, and tried, to no avail. For our second anniversary I organized a surprise stay at a B & B downtown with dinner in Mexican-town and a trip to the DIA. Within this weekend we had both independently come to the conclusion that there would be no more trying. And like a goddamn cliche' that I still resent to this day, that night the seed was sewn that would again create new worlds in our minds and lives. This time we waited the recommended twelve weeks before telling anyone. We made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas without cracking. Obsessively watching the hands on the clock's face, we waited for the doctor-ensured safe-zone. We had faith that if we could make it to three months everything would be fine and there'd be no more pain until labor. Luckily, we were right.

And our new road was paved. The ones who'd turn into Mamoo and Papa returned to snowy Michigan, from adventures out West, to help prepare our household. The hand-me-downs started pouring in. Trips to second-hand stores became regimented. The stuff accumulated, paraded as necessity, we'd eventually learn we wouldn't need much at all. Candy's body was changing, but not quickly enough, which she found frustrating. But when it did there was no denying she had more than a pot-belly under her shirt. At nearly nine months we went camping with friends in South Haven. In a tent, we slept on a borrowed air mattress with a bum-seal. By that point Candy had developed what I called her torpedo belly. She looked like a fit, regular gal from behind, but the moment she turned it was terribly evident she had an alien within, defying gravity as it pointed the way on her behalf.  Children on the beach laughed and stared when they saw her bikini-revealed belly, it was spectacular!

We were due Thursday, August 11, 2011. Saturday, August 13, the adventure began. We had woken early to attend a farmer's market, meeting both sides of family, we ate pizza and hoped for the excitement to come quickly. That evening, the labor-signal they always show in movies made it's mess and we headed to the birthing center. We arrived to find my best friend and his wife in labor one room away. It was destiny. While I dealt with paperwork, Candice heard their delivery on the other side of the wall. Hoping for a girl, a cacophony of laughter and disbelief came as they realized they had yet another boy. On our side, it seemed we jumped the gun. Upon assessment of minimal dilation and spaced-out contractions, we were sent home with orders to have a bath and a glass of wine. Just as things settled, the chaos began. Candy couldn't keep anything down, the contractions and back pain hit her, inspiring a wail I'll never forget. I felt helpless. We called our Doula and the birthing center and piled back in the car. I drove too quickly, clutching the wheel. It was like a familiar dream, living in the re-runs of sitcoms portraying the very same scene.  It was 3 a.m.

Everything was slow going. Back labor runs in the family, and so it reared it's ugly head, relentlessly staring us down. Heating-pads, baths, back massages, water-shots, yoga poses, sipping juices and broths, the "baby-friendly" playlist on the ipod, and nervous inquiry our Doula, and Midwife, made up the entire next day. Candy was dehydrated and unable to eat or sleep. It was the perfect combination of factors to drain her completely. She was given a sleeping aid that helped her sleep for about an hour, waking within a dream where she forgot she was pregnant. She was given an I-V to hydrate. I felt guilty for wanting to sleep. She selflessly assured me it was fine.  11 p.m. Sunday night, after a manual dilation and intentional breaking of waters, it was determined we needed to transfer to the other side. We had hoped to do it all the old-fashioned way, but the alien within was being stubborn.

Pitocin is the devil. We had done everything up to this point to maintain natural methods for delivery, but there was concern now. It was not in our plan to use any drugs for anything, but it became a necessity. She made it through two rounds of contractions without an Epidural, it was grueling. My wife is a bad ass! Dehydrated, famished, and exhausted, it was time to give up a bit of control. The Epidural had to be installed twice. Just as the I-V, Pitocin drip, catheter, and fetal heart-rate monitor had been as well because that is how this had to go. There were no breaks cut. As the fetal-heart-rate was causing concern, bless her heart, my wife, numb from the gut down, wired like the Matrix's harvested humans, graciously turned herself onto all fours in order create space for this precious baby. To no avail. It was time, the final step, the final concession. A Caesarean was necessary.

7am, Monday, August, 15, 2014. As they prepped my beloved, I suited to be by her side. This was the first time we were apart. I entered the operating room, Candy and I locked teary eyes. The last two years had led to this moment. I peeked over the curtain, I couldn't help myself. On pins and needles, we waited, to hear something, anything, to tell us he or she was now with us. Eyes blurred with tears and joy I looked up to penis....NO PENIS! IT'S A GIRL! The whole time we had felt it was a boy. But that doesn't matter at all, nothing in this moment matters except the cries of our beautiful baby girl! Arms tied on the cross of her Papoose board, precious baby girl was draped, bare skin to bare skin, on the bosom of her mother. The same body and grace within which she grew, now experienced in the harsh world. And, Frances Jane, your mother and I wept, tears we may never weep again. Tears that if bottled, might heal all the wrongs in the world.

There is no hell, Mother, that you will not walk through for her. No sacrifice you will not make. And so we celebrate you, with flowers, and special breakfasts, and preparing ways so you don't have to. And with this, the story I've said I'd write someday. Hopefully I painted the right picture. I love you. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do not knock.

Sophomore year of college I discovered a book called Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. Robbins was heir to the Baskin-Robbins chain, but before he took the reigns, he wanted to see where BR's dairy came from first hand. He discovered the grim realities of factory farming and decided to forsake the family business. His stories immediately inspired me to change my dietary leanings and delve into the world of animal rights literature, philosophy, and activism. I wrote several papers on animal rights for classes, printed up essays I'd found and shared them with others, left pamphlets at cafes around town, even protested (gently and respectfully) a fur shop and rodeo. The strangest part of this expedition was the opposition I found in the Christian community I was a part of. I was on a campus that declared Jesus the Prince of Peace, but any time I even mentioned I had recently gone vegetarian/vegan I was hit with waves of confrontation. I had found a new way of living that meshed perfectly with the ideas of the figure-head of my faith, but those around me just wouldn't have the same epiphany I had.

When we had the sweet-baby-cake-O'-wheat a few years ago, we had issues with solicitors knocking on our door and throwing wrenches in our newly-found routines. After visiting a friend down the street, we stole her idea and put a colorful sign on the door that said:

 Please, no soliciting. Sleeping baby inside. If we do not already know you, DO NOT KNOCK.

Last summer that sign wore thin and fell off. Luckily, our picture window lends me a heads-up so I can see them coming. Though I feel like a jerk about it because our baby is older now, I've taken to just not answering the door. They usually leave a pamphlet rubber-banded to our door explaining how I need their cable services, lawn-care services, meat-delivery services, or church services, etc. More often than not, it's a local church trying to gather a constituency. This struck a conversation with a neighbor, she said, and I'm paraphrasing: If they truly believe we'll be condemned to eternal torment in Hell if we don't embrace their belief, I guess I respect that they're reaching out and trying to save our souls. I just don't want to be interrupted by strangers, no matter their agenda.

As I found all this AR literature I was also making a case to present to other believers that the animal-concern was also a faith-concern. Aside from what I deemed ethical responsibilities to "do justice and love mercy," I remember talking to my dad on the phone about the story in Genesis where god gives man the freedom to eat animals after the fall, the story every voice of opposition would site. The point I argued was this:
After the fall, Eden's paradise was no longer an option, so god allowed humanity to kill after they'd turned their backs on innocence, it was a concession, not god's ideal. And if we're to be praying for life here to be "on earth as it is in Heaven," surely Heaven is god's ideal and free from concessions. Thus, if "the lion will lay with the lamb," how can we willingly take up the knife here, but pray for the opposite? Isn't that prayer hoping to re-establish Eden?
It's a solid argument, and one that opened him up to vegetarianism as a faith-based way of life. Two points for the boy! But even though I felt completely comfortable arguing this to other believers, even my father, the Minister, arguing my faith itself to non-believers always left me feeling inadequate.

My Genesis argument (stolen from greater thinkers) exists in the theoretical realm. I would never have tried to convince someone who didn't believe in the Genesis story in the first place that any of this was a legitimate reason to consider vegetarianism. Believers have already accepted the Eden story, whether as allegory or literal, and the fall of man is ever-present at the pulpit. But for me the very reason to find this argument and transmit it was inspired by tangible and unequivocal evidence about animal practices. However, the need to save souls from eternal condemnation draws inspiration from a few passages, and one very colorful (and terrifying) final chapter, in one very disputed book. What allows people, with only their faith in the stories of an ancient book, to feel comfortable claiming they know what happens to everyone's souls after death? The other extraneous reasons aside (the way, the truth, the life, etc.), this is the brass-tacks reason why people are knocking on my door and leaving flyers inviting me to their church barbecue next Sunday. It's in the book.

Last week, a few days before Easter, an elderly customer approached me at work, this was our exchange:

Lady: Oh there's Aaron!
Me: (thinking: do I know you?) Hi there!
Lady: That's such a good biblical name! 
Me: (thinking: oh noooo...) It is? 
Lady: You didn't know that? 
Me: No, I did. 
Lady: I belong to a nice church, would you like to come with me Sunday for Easter?
Me: No thanks.
Lady: Well, that's disappointing....

After a final greeting, smiling through my teeth, I professionally turned my cheek. No matter how condescending I perceive her to be, she's simply trying to reach out, the only way she knows how. Several deep breaths later, I let it go, because it doesn't matter. She has her views, I have mine.

No matter how clear the evidence is, people want to accept information on their own terms. Whether it's the effects of our cultural-dietary-habits, or the knockers' offer of eternal paradise, no one wants to be interrupted by someone else's agenda. I toned down my rhetoric years ago, partly from dissolution, but mostly because I see the grey areas in life a little more every day, allowing the Golden Rule to be my rule of thumb.

Change and inspiration must come naturally through relationships that are unfettered by agendas. Though I think my motives from once-upon-a-time were righteous, my methods were innately wall-building. It seems clear that no one wants to be cajoled, argued, persuaded, pushed, reasoned, or guilted into a different point of view, even if it's smothered in bbq-sauce. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

By the power of Greyskull...

A few nights ago I watched an episode of TED Talks: Life Hack, hosted by Amy Cuddy, entitled "Your body language shapes who you are." The gist of it, warning: spoiler alert, Cuddy says her research shows that not only can your mindset affect your body language, but you can trick your mindset by changing your body language. They found positive and negative changes in brain-controlled-body-chemistry based on "powerful" and "powerless" body language. She argued that as little as 2 minutes of "power-posing" can trick your mind into being more confident in stressful situations. Fascinating stuff right? At a friend's house for dinner last night I joked with Candy asking her if I looked powerful as I sat sprawled in a chair, legs slung open, and hands cradled behind my head? She responded with: "uh, you look kinda yucky." Had I sat that way for 2 minutes though, I may have convinced myself to be more powerful in the conversation that followed. In conclusion, Cuddy put a twist on "Fake it til' you make it" changing it to "Fake it til' you become it!" She scientifically proved that simple changes in how we hold ourselves can make big differences in how we see ourselves AND how others see us.

I've never been much of a powerful-sort of person. I like to joke that my sister is the Alpha-Male of our family. Perhaps it's simply my chemical make-up. Amy Cuddy explained that higher Testosterone levels tend to create the need-to-succeed, while low Cortisol levels allow for easy stress management.  If high testosterone levels and low cortisol levels are found in powerful-leader-sorts, maybe I'm somewhere in the middle on both. Or perhaps it's the examples before me: my father tending towards diplomacy and compromise, my mother assertive, or even aggressive at times, and I just lean towards the former. Or maybe it's passages like "the meek shall inherit the earth" that resonated with me early on. Probably a combination of these, and then some, as it usually is.

I can count on one hand the amount of times I've felt powerful.

I hate that word: powerful. It has so many negative connotations in my mind, as I'd imagine it does to most left-leaning thinkers. It's been ruined by those who abuse it. Power-hungry, Power-tripping, Power-mongering...okay the last one I haven't actually heard, but it's a feasible extension of the others. They all make me think of Skeletor. But if I subtract those feelings I have around the abuse of power I can see it more clearly as the feeling that comes with standing firm in what you believe is right. What is right is subjective of course, but the feeling that comes with boldly representing it can still exist even if you're in the wrong.

Maybe a week after it opened, my dad and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I was hesitant about seeing it as a new release because I generally hate crowds at theaters and was worried a crowd would ruin my final experience of the final installment of Chris Nolan's grande Bat-dream. Low and behold, the previews run and 4 aisles ahead and 10 chairs to my right, a woman sits with her cellphone outstretched, with maximum screen brightness, like she's far-sighted and the miniscule words on her device are only readable at arm's eyes can't not see it. But it's only the previews. My heart has faith that surely, surely, this woman will put her phone away and partake with us in the most important movie of 2012. She doesn't. We're on an airplane meeting Bane for the first time and I'm rage-sweating over this illumination in my periphery. (Why I care so much is something I'm working on, but I'm sure you can relate.) I lean over and tell Dad: "I'll be right back." In my calmest tone, I say to the woman: "Your phone is making it hard to watch this movie. I'd really appreciate it if you put it away." Trembling, I walked back to my seat. After a moment, she put it away! I suddenly felt the air conditioning applying itself to my skin, and, with the exception of the way Bane's voice was mixed, enjoyed the rest of the movie! When that phone was out of sight, I wanted to raise my magical sword and yell:


It's a rare moment when a confrontation allows me to speak my mind clearly. Granted, I had practiced what I was going to say probably ten times before approaching that woman, but still. Usually I intend to speak my truth, but the stress of the situation makes me bobble words and stumble making my case. And then I daydream about how sweet it would've been if I had just said this-or-that. I've spoken before of the need to be or feel right. I wonder if this feeling of power comes to most of us only when we believe our stance is righteous? Do those who seem power-hungry believe their attempts are righteous? Could this be the difference between making some of us lions and some lambs? At what point does one choose to become Skeletor over He-Man? This is delving near the topic of good and evil, which is way bigger than I could ever handle. 

My old MySpace account used to have the quote, self-written, (yes, I quote myself sometimes): "live and let live while keeping your spine in tact." All power-poses aside, I am hungry for those moments when my spine feels forged of steel. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Reformer.

My Uncle works at a community center that serves the homeless. He's a retired minister (as was his father and my father) and is given the opportunity to teach classes on various interests. The past few times I've seen him he's talked most about his class on The Enneagram. The what? The Enneagram. (, check it.) It's a personality test that assesses a dominant personality-type that describes how we see the world, or really, react to the world. The test is accompanied by a logo that resembles a sweet-super-hero-emblem-looking-pentagram with 9 points on its star; The 9 points represent these dominant personality types: The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, The Peacemaker, The Reformer, and The Challenger.

The Enneagram system believes that we are born with a dominant personality type which is determined by "inborn temperament" and "pre-natal factors." As the system explains, we all have various pieces of each of the 9 types, but one is always dominant, and this dominant type does not change. If it's determined I'm a Helper I cannot suddenly be a Challenger, even though I may start feeling more like the description of The Challenger.

As my Aunt and Uncle were discussing their types my Uncle said: "I generally feel like I'm doing things the best way and want everyone else to do them my way too." I can't remember positively, but based on the description below, I think he's The Reformer.

The Reformer: Reformers are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.

Something clicked: This is exactly the way I think!

Fatherhood has been a strange journey toward finding methods that work for me when Candice is not around. Our household is Mommy-centric by design. Candy bravely accepted the havoc that pregnancy wreaked upon her body and spent 30 hours in the labyrinth of labor as Franny begrudgingly required us to surgically-extract her. She's willingly given her time and body, since day one, so Franny can eat, sleep, and cuddle as she needs to. I do my best to hold her hand and support her so she can do these things and still keep her sanity. I take an immense amount of pride in the times when I'm able to keep Franny engaged enough that she forgets Candy is gone. But when Mommy returns and does something differently than I have, or think I would-have, that pride turns me into a scum-bag who creates the air of "I told you so." Really supportive Aaron, really supportive. And how easily I forget the incalculable amounts of times when my wonderful wife saves the day by doing exactly what our baby needs at the exact time she needs it, evading all complications.

A question weaseling its way into my mind: What are the potential reasons that influence why people make the decisions they make?

If there is one thing that my folks are good at complaining about, it's other drivers. Without her being in the car I still hear my mom's classic "Get it rollin' Duuuude!" every time someone is unaware that the light turned green. It's become a household favorite for us as I imitate it with a vibrato-warble in the "Duuuude!" Makes me laugh every time! A buddy of mine once told me he read a study where a survey concluded that something like 93% of drivers think they're better at driving than everyone else. Nowadays, I think righteous-road-rage is a little more understandable as the youngsters text and Facebook their ways to-and-fro while their knees hold the wheel. But I'm guessing, for as mad as we get at those obvious hazards, most of the time people are probably just distracted for the moment: lost in thought, or conversation, or a story on NPR. Innocent reasons.

A few months ago I had a run-in with a coworker, whom I actually love dearly, about something that was left in his way. He had a decently narrow path to traverse and someone placed something in the way, preventing him to get by. Rather than move it to wherever he'd deem a better spot and carry on, he proceeded to berate the theoretical "moron" who made the decision to leave the obstacle where they did. I was having a short-on-patience kind of day, and this was the straw that broke me. I tore into him for what I saw as his sheer arrogance at thinking someone intentionally tried to screw him over. With vitriol, I sarcastically spewed forth: "Yeah, of course, if everyone did everything the way you do it everything would run perfectly!" There's no way anyone could have had any other reason to put that there than to fuck-you-up right?!?" After I was done raging, I explained why I got so riled up, and asked his forgiveness. He obliged.

Really, the source of this explosion was the mirror my buddy was pointing at me. He was saying things that I hate, but I used to be right there, damning "culprits" for being "morons who are doing everything wrong." In the past couple years I've worked hard to embrace what should be obvious: people think and do things differently than I do. This inclination towards judgement is a demon I wrestle with regularly.

The grace within the Enneagram system is that it explains no personality type is inherently positive or negative, and none of them are better than others, they just are. They have strengths and weaknesses, room for growth, and each hopes to present opportunities for introspection about how we think and react. I've not taken the test, who knows, maybe The Reformer wouldn't encapsulate me after all. But the mere title of it, The Reformer, struck a cord, for good and for bad.

If I am to be a reformer, let it be me who is the subject of the reformation.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Red is red.

In college I learned about Jurgen Habermas' concept of the lifeworld. As I remember it, the lifeworld is the sum of everything we've learned in life, from birth to the present, about how the world works. It is a universe which encompasses what can be deemed objective-truth, mostly things we understand but do not have to think about, because they are just given. It is the overarching context that all of us draw from as conscious human beings. While it's acknowledged there are universal aspects of the lifeworld, Habermas was interested in how personal lifeworlds could be infiltrated by information which would set them apart from other cultures. The more I read the more complicated the concept seems to get, and Wikipedia is weaving a web that is trying to entangle me beyond my scope. So we have this knowledge-universe, which, upon preliminary examination, may seem obvious; things like red is red, or food is necessary to live, or everyone eventually dies. Children tend to ask about these in the 'Why?' stage and we do our best to explain, realizing that until that moment, we hadn't really thought about it for a while either...they're just truths that we've come to accept.

I've opened a larger box than I intended to, but what I'm trying to wrap my mind around is that, for as much effort as I put into trying to understand why I am who I am, and what my lifeworld has determined as given, I'm baffled by the possibility that I also have an unconscious existence that could be influencing me in ways I'm unaware of, or at least locking away some of the answers I seek. The aspects of our shared lifeworld can be analyzed and theorized up and down by those who find that to be their passion, but my unconscious mind is a mystery even to me.

Though it didn't originate with him, Freud popularized the idea of the the unconscious mind. By his estimation it is a repository of collected experiences and memories, specific to individuals, that manifest themselves in dreams, thoughts which seem to have no origin, and skills that take no thought to perform, i.e. riding a bike (once learned that is.) He might assert that Jason Bourne was able to kick-so-much-ass-without-knowing-why because of his unconscious retention. His ability to act, after the name of my old Karate Dojo, was "Mushin," Japanese for "no mind." But, obvious, super-hero-like abilities (and analogies) aside, what in the heck role does my unconscious mind play in my daily life?

From the browsing I've done re-familiarizing myself with it, researchers widely agree that we cannot access unconsciousness through introspection. And because of this, I find the possibility that memories and experiences could be locked away, without an obvious key, disconcerting. In my darkest days, when I'm feeling the most doubtful that I'm doing things right in life, it'd be nice to take a stroll through fields of forgotten memories that might impart new opportunities for insight. But for now, as I've been, I will keep trying to see things as clearly as I can...then ask why I see them that way, then I'll go to sleep, because that shit is tiring.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adventure Time.

Candice, Franny, and I recently went to Florida to visit my snow-birding parents. They tow a trailer down with a giant conversion van, which Dad and I affectionately refer to as "The Red Ram of Death," and stay in a park a mile from the beach in Melbourne. As all of us Michiganders know, they avoided one hell of a pummeling winter this year. The moment we walked out of the Sanford-Orlando airport the humidity healed our dry-cracked hands and coiled Franny's curls into a majestic pasty-white-girl afro. My folks graciously stayed with friends and gave us their trailer so we wouldn't have to get a hotel. In this humble abode we both got caught up in day-dreaming about living in smaller scale and having a more fluid arrangement that would allow us to move as the winds of inspiration whisper suggestions to us. Like we do when we play out the "what would you do if you won the lotto?" scenario we started thinking about how we could live without the sandbags of adulthood responsibility feeling so crushingly heavy and how we can live...with more adventure!

I've always reveled in little adventures: tornado warnings, power-outages, snow storms, heat waves, you know...things outside our control that people generally like to complain about. To this day I'm totally bummed I lived in St. Louis during the Great North-Eastern Black Out of 2003. My buddy tells me he never felt closer to his neighbors than in that little 3 day stretch when everyone was outside grilling food together and living in the sun. This probably explains why I moved around so much too.

In 2006 Candice's mom and her boyfriend sold their house, bought an RV, and drove out to the sunny West to live off the land a bit and sell their hand-made jewelry and other home-made goods at any market that would have them. After time in Arizona, they settled in several spots in California, and eventually ended up as Camp Hosts at Lime Kiln State Park within Big Sur on the Coast of central Cali where we were able to visit them. The park was closed to the public at the time because of forest fires nearby so they had the grounds mostly to themselves. We got to stay with them in their camper while they tended to things and shoo'd away people trying to enter the closed park. I'll never forget the views from the cliff overlooking the ocean-side or the romantic afternoon picnic Candy and I had on it. I'll never forget the sea-sickening, spaghetti-noodle-winding Highway-1 and its giant rock-stabilizing nets covering the mountainside, protecting us from being smashed. Or the cold nights when the space-heater wasn't enough to keep the windows in the camper from dripping their condensation on we stowaways in the loft. Or the GIANT cheddar cheese block we ate leftover from a conference on the grounds. They were living their dream, but it wasn't easy. More often than not, they were living day to day as well, the same way we are, just in smaller confines with fresher air and crashing waves nearby.

Last week as we mentally mapped out what we could change to find more adventure, a question dawned on me: Is adventure simply glorified adversity?

I live a pretty comfortable life now. The hunting aspect of my early 20s is long gone. Though I'm not sure I could put it into words succinctly, I've found who I am. I've found the person I want to live beside and grow old with. Together we've created the most adorable darling daughter the world has ever seen (wink, wink). We have a piece of clay we're molding into home. The two of us have secure avenues for work and a whole host of friends and family whom we love and love us. By most peoples' standards we're "living the dream." But there's a lingering feeling that we could be doing and experiencing more.

Surrounded by retirees down south I wondered what it must be like to spend 30+ years building a life filled with all the things mentioned above just to bid all of it adieu and coast into those golden years building a new sense of home. Why does our culture that tell us to keep our noses to the grind-stone so we can prepare for adventures in the future? Why not adventure here, why not now!?!? Cue various punk songs!

But instead of smashing the system or fighting the man I'm considering donating more to my 401K, like a big boy, for the future. In the meantime we'll keep dreaming about taking-this-show-on-the-road and making-a-go-of-it, and other nice phrases that imply adventure. I think we have the goods to do it, but do we have the courage? Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Training Wheels.

This morning while on my way to fetch cat food and pay the water bill I caught most of Diane Rhem's interview with pianist Simone Dinnerstein. Dinnerstein is an accomplished pianist and writer who has taken to teaching children music using Bach as inspiration, she calls it "Bach-packing." One of the bits that stood out most for me was her explanation of how to create separate "voices" with the left and right hand on the piano, taking two different songs essentially and weaving them together to make a cohesive piece. The way she teaches children this idea is to ask half her classroom sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a loop and the other half sings Row, Row, Row your Boat. As a relative dumb-dumb on how music really works, it's was as surprising to me as it was to these kids hearing how well the combo works. One of the callers during the interview joked about how he couldn't convince his hands to play different tunes which is why he now plays the saxophone. It's a riveting interview and you can check it out here. She explains that everyone has a dominant hand and teaching even seasoned adults how to bolster their secondary hand can expose a vulnerability that can be devastating to morale'.

When I was in third grade or so my folks realized I had some balance issues. I guess it stemmed from my inability to figure out how to ride a bicycle without training-wheels. While most of my neighborhood peers had it down several years before, I couldn't get it. This, paired with poor grades and a distractibility in the classroom at school, worried them. As fate would have it, a business called Sensory Systems Integration was renting the basement classrooms of our church during the week. I don't remember much about the technical side of their practice, but they ran all sorts of exciting tests on me trying to figure out where my brain was having its complications. I remember getting messy playing in shaving cream, sifting through a giant box of dried beans for pennies I was allowed to keep, pulling myself through obstacle courses on a little wheeled-block, looking at Rorschach test images, and swinging in a chair hanging in the center of the room. Along with christmas ornaments and other prominent knickknacks from my childhood, a few years ago my folks bequeathed the "Occupational Therapy Evaluation of Sensory Integration" official test results from 1988. It summarized my issues in cold, calculating language, that sort of hurts to read now, ultimately assessing I had a mild learning disability. But all I remember from that time is the fun I had trying to make my body do and feel things.

After this assessment, an occupational therapy plan was approved and the therapies I mention above took place, to get my mind syncing more with my body. I remember enjoying the hell out of therapy! Play in shaving cream? Sounds great! Every time I see it I envy the dude who jumps into a pool of caramel in some candy bar commercial on TV, sounds like a hoot! I think therapy lasted for 6 months or so and was discontinued in the summer after the therapists saw the progress they wanted to see.

Since first grade I had been playing "Dad's Club Softball" as well. Given my sensory complications...I had a pretty hard time with various facets of the game. Namely, all of them. In the spring of third grade, amidst the therapies, it was suggested I try playing softball left handed. My mom and sister were lefties and though I seemed to favor my right side, writing was the only advantage it concretely had, so it didn't seem like too much from left-field to try it. (you like that? left field...left come on!)
And so, as I had with my sister's jeans in the past (what, we were about the same size and it was the 80s), I borrowed her left-handed glove mid-season just to see how it'd feel. I don't remember much about the first game as a lefty up until the final inning. The opposing team was at bat with 2 outs, they were down 3 runs, and the big kid known for big hits was at bat, one giant hit and the game was over.
Like they did with all the scrubs in DCSB, I was in the outfield, right-field specifically. As Casey came to bat (probably not his name, but might should've been) all of us scrubs crapped our pants. Low and behold he hits a humdinger right in my direction, the game is over because, what, I'm going to catch it? Right. And wouldn't you know it, my skinny, lacking-in-musculature-according-to-the-test-results, right arm with a newly acquired left-hander glove worn for the first time, MADE THE CATCH! I didn't hear it, but my dad recounts the story with him yelling from the bleachers: "THAT'S MY BOY!!!" And for the first time my teammates pat me on the back for something.

Hearing Simone Dinnerstein playing Bach's "inventions and sinfonias" with battling "voices" tit-for-tatting each other on the piano in perfect harmony blows my mind. Imagine the synapses that must be happening in the brain to get the body to do such things! I can only dream of playing an instrument that well. As well, I can only dream of having the ambition to try and play an instrument that well. But that's another topic for another day. I feel like a pretty self-aware person, but I still wonder if these sensory issues play out in ways I'm unaware. Their spectre haunted me for a moment my first semester in college when I flunked a Psych. 101 test. Graciously, my folks talked me into using a tutor and I got past it. These days I tend to see it as a lack of effort and improper understanding of consequences, but that may be some denial on my part. I got through the rest of school just fine after that and hit my best stride in my last year. Perhaps I just needed to feel failure. Luckily, through it all, I'm a pretty sweet bike-rider and whenever the topic of ambidexterity comes up, I'm able to say "well, i'm not properly ambidextrous, but I play baseball and anything with swinging left handed" followed by my best Goofy "Ah-Hilllt" laugh. Who knows where I'd be or what I'd be doing without that shaving-cream...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Canvasing time and space..."

I can still see it so clearly, 2 words written permanently into my mind on the blackboard in the basement: Chronos and Kairos. My dad had given a lesson at "children's time" that previous Sunday about these words. Chronos is Greek for time and implied simply the time that passes around a clock. But Kairos, Kairos is the meat here. It loosely translates to the times of our lives and this is the word that made Dad grin and well-up just explaining it to us. All of the experiences that we deem major-life-moments are Kairos.

In lyric-writing I've repeatedly used, or alluded to, the phrase "time and space." It's even become a stupid little quip I utter when someone is reminiscing: "time and space, man...time and space." It's those moments when the mind's eye can picture perfectly who we were, who we were with, where we were, and what we were there for. Kairos exists in the sites, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of the time and space we're in.

In 2003 I moved from Grand Rapids to St. Louis, Missouri, simply because I could. I scored a job and moved with one car-load into a studio apartment in The Loop. I was a Teacher-Assistant at a school for "adjudicated youths" (court ordered because of bad behavior) in a "secure" facility (magnets locked all the doors), and we had padded rooms to hold kids when they'd violently act out. Before the school year started I was trained on how to properly restrain and physically disable kids when they posed a threat to themselves or others. I don't want to say they could smell my fear, but certainly they could sense my naivete. My love of extreme music, vegan-straight-edge lifestyle, and general unfamiliarity with all things pop-culture baffled them, which should've given me some sort of advantage, but really just made me feel disconnected from their world. As the lone, young white guy on staff I was often a focal point of ranting and raving when these children lost control and tumbled down their behavioral rabbit-holes. One particular time, I remember being encircled by staff who were trying to talk this older kid down as he spit his rage at me. As he called me every name in the book and threatened me up and down, I had to sit in silence in order to prevent escalation. It was demoralizing, but I was patted on the back for doing the right thing in that moment. But I think that was a turning point where I realized I didn't want to be a Teacher-Assistant much longer. During the summer program we received notice that that boy died in a car crash fleeing police. And I have a pit in my stomach because I can't remember his name.

It was a grueling experience that I cut short to follow greener pastures after a year, but boy do I remember so much of that year: the ring from my first Nokia cell phone, the florescent gas station light across the street that never went off, the sounds and smells of rush-hour traffic clogging up the intersection at Skinker and Delmar, the sound of coffee beans grinding at Meshuggah's coffee shop, the excitement I felt browsing used CDs in Vintage Vinyl record store, the taste of apple-cinnamon pop-tarts - specially delivered to our room because they were vegan, the vision of 6-feet-200-pound Lavon sleeping on his desk immediately upon arrival every day, Tremaine covering up some mischief in his devious smile with beaming braces, sweet Josh's poor acne covered nose (he was my favorite), Ms. Kim standing in the doorway beckoning a student in her ever-so-Delores-Umbridge sort of way, tossing frisbees at shattering-against-the-wall speed after school with Coach in the gym, seeing The Passion of the Christ in the theater and quickly regretting that choice, discovering the Vietnamese market sold "mock-duck" and making my version of tuna-fish out of it, being sonically-floored by Modern Life is War at the Lemp Arts Space, napping after work and waking up at midnight to realize I just had to go back to sleep, running through the adult playground they call the City Museum, staring up at the great Arch in downtown, and I could go on...and on. These moments are so clear in my mind.

One of the major focuses of the program at the school was good decision making; trying to get the kids to think about what they were doing as they were doing it and convincing them to choose a better behavior. It sounds like TV crime shows, but we'd often say "you don't have to do this," unfortunately, most of the time it was too late. The behavioral pattern was already in play and they'd already determined there was no turning back. I was 23 and felt out of step with the world, and most days, at least at work, I felt the shiver of survival in some way or another. My stint in St. Louis was a minuscule blip on my life's radar, but it was such a vital time.

I often wonder within moments if they'll be something I remember in years to come? Will they be as visceral as 2003? Will they turn out to be Kairos? And then I immediately scold myself for not allowing myself to be in that moment. The phrase itself, "the times of our lives," just sounds whimsical and makes me want to drift into memory-dreamscapes where all the light and fluffy things jump out and hug me. But without adversity perhaps those things wouldn't be as memorable. As I canvas the time and space of the "times of my life," luckily, for the most part, feelings of gratitude outweigh my sense of hardship. From the time Dad explained it to me I always felt Kairos celebrated the positive things in life, that must've been his natural take of it, thankfully, it rings true for me too.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Memories begetting memories.

Yesterday at work, zoning out while stocking frozen foods, as the satellite radio was pumping out Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine" I started to wonder whether my coworker, who's in charge of ordering the frozen foods, had intentionally decided to start flipping the fish over to show the bottom-side label? Either he decided it was a good idea and is trying to enforce his preference, or it was just a naturally occurring thing that he conceded to because controlling what 80 other people do when they stock your section is a lesson in futility. The latter seemed more reasonable, having been the head-honcho in frozen prior, I knew this lesson well.

Either way, this pondering and my skepticism inspired Public Enemy's hit "Can't Truss' It!" to jump into my head.  My friend Scott and I used this song along with Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" in a mock radio show we had to put together in Music class in 7th grade. Imagining that music classroom I was immediately reminded of walking into it having just spilled chocolate milk on the crotch area of my white sweatpants at lunch time. I guess in 1991 it was okay to wear white sweatpants to school? Of course I remembered my embarrassment walking into that classroom, but could not remember exactly how the milk fiasco went down. In fact, I couldn't remember the cafeteria, where it took place, at all. I created a mental map of the school's hallways but couldn't remember the goddamn cafeteria, until suddenly, I had a vision of being punched in the arm just outside of the cafeteria!

As I remembered this I actually said "ha!" aloud, which turned several eyes in my direction. Middle school boys seemed to be absolutely enthralled by punching each other in the arms. I saw bouts where boys would just go back and forth trying to see how much they could take - a show of strength, tolerance, or something...something I lacked. I don't know if it was my elongated, gangly muscles, a simple lack thereof, or what, but every time someone hit me in the arm they'd hit the sweet spot that made me just want to cry. Candice sometimes hits me for fun and her knuckles (which I like to call "knife-knuckles," really, you have to see them) are like heat-seeking missiles to the crying spot. This made me think of a high-school buddy who reveled in the game Bloody-Knuckles. Easily the stupidest game I've ever been coaxed into playing. He was the best, two hits from him and most people were done, I think one made me call it quits. He and I are no longer friends. That bums me out.

Not a day passes where I don't wonder "why on earth did that pop into my mind?" Sometimes it makes perfect sense, like the above, a streamlined flow of one thought leading to memories begetting memories. Most times I have no clue.

I've thought about keeping a notebook on hand to write down the memories that come to me during the day, but then I don't. And then I wonder if writing them down would ruin the natural flow of the memories that would come, almost like manipulating my thoughts to conjure memories...but then, what if even thinking about this thought process changes things. And yet again, futility sets in.

I fear that these memories, the good, bad, random, ugly, will someday be lost. My father has a line that I'm pretty sure developed once my sister and I were out of the house, he says: "I'd forgotten that." We recount stories...and he inevitably says "I'd forgotten that," which is a bummer, especially when it seems like something I could never forget. It makes me wonder what memories are randomly shooting into his head. I think about asking him if he'll write down memories he has of his childhood, or his 20s, or the few years of marriage before my sister and I came along, or my toddler years, but then I don't. And that naturally leads me to think I should be documenting my time here too, especially while Franny is so young, so I can avoid saying "I'd forgotten that" in the future, but then I don't.

With a family history of dementia looming in the back of my mind, I wonder what I'll have to deal with as my parents progress into true senior-citizenship. What if they lose who they are? What if that's in my future too? I suppose for now it's best to keep asking these questions.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A vow of holy silence.

At work I joke a good bit about our roles as "Section Leaders." It's a typical retail scenario: we bring in product according to projected sales based on a percentage increase compared to previous sales...blah blah blah. It's all very technical, and not, at the same time. Essentially, I try to fill shelves, have extras to keep shelves full when they sell down, and push sales by having the right products in abundance. So when things sell better than expected and our shelves look cruddy, I like to say "it's a tough racket this whole 'predicting the future' thing." It's a good one, people love it.

As the parent of a 2 year old, I feel like I actually can predict the future sometimes. I make sure the cup of juice is in the center of the table...otherwise it will end up spilled on the floor. I put the cookies in the cupboard after a late night binge...otherwise they will be obsessed over when seen first thing in the morning. I put the safety on the that one's a joke! But you get the picture. There's a language that cause-and-effect speaks and parenthood allows you to decipher it in a way that perhaps nothing else can. Not just because getting juice stains out of the carpet is a pain-in-the-neck, but because consoling a child who's hurt herself doing something you could have prevented feels rotten.

The other day I was talking with a friend about her teenage daughter and the complications that have followed since that simple term teenager was applied. She was lamenting the paralysis she's felt watching her daughter make choices she doesn't see as best for her, but knowing any advice or consultation might be ill-received simply because she's Mom. Attempting every day to convey her availability, she patiently waits to be invited into the emotional whirlwind guiding her beloved's decisions; hoping to rejoice when they allow compassion and justice to prevail, console when they do not, or simply hold when these triumph but still break her baby's heart.

What happens when the person dearest to us asks for our silence when we can so clearly see the future of their decisions?

Years ago I brought a girl home to meet my parents over Christmas. I was clearly smitten with this girl and had just months prior uprooted my life and moved across the country to be near her. Convinced she was the one, I wanted my family to meet-the-hell-out-of-her and prepare for our inevitable future together. As young romances often turn out, she ended up breaking my heart and pulling tears out of me in a way I never thought possible. After I was able to function like a regular person again my parents confessed they immediately felt something was off about her, like she was hiding something. My sister felt it too. And as I learned, she was hiding something. Last night I called my folks to see if they remembered these early feelings and whether or not they wished they'd said something to try and help me avoid the heartache that eventually followed. My mom said she and Dad agreed they'd honor my freedom to choose who to love, regardless of their reservations. And so they held me when I chose the very path they'd suspected might hurt me.

Two years and five months into parenthood I can't begin to imagine holding my tongue when I see danger down the road. Likewise, I can't quite imagine the sorrow that must come with wiping away tears when that danger proves harmful. Luckily, I have plenty of time to listen to those before me who've survived their vows of holy silence.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do you miss those things?

When I started thinking about doing this I wasn't sure how comfortable I'd be with actually putting it out there for others to read. Writing has always had a therapeutic quality for me, and part of me wondered if others would care or 'get it' (see 'Prelude' for conclusions I guess I came to...) or I worried about whether others reading might hinder my ability to write as the truest version of myself. (What is a true version of ones self? For future entries.) Another concern in using this avenue was that IF others found interest and wanted to engage in a back-n-forth about some of these things would I have time and wear-with-all to do that? Well, sort of.  So, Lily, here's a bit of a reply...hoping to respond to your question.

You said: "I occasionally lament my lack of spirituality; I envy the anchor, the path that God provides (do you miss those things?). But I can't convince myself to believe."

Last summer my dad came over to help finish painting the exterior of our house. We had lunch, I served him food he usually wouldn't cook himself, and he enjoyed it. Then he said something, something I'll never forget: "Son your mom and I were talking the other day about something you'll probably not want to hear; We feel that you won't find your niche' in your career and feel satisfied as an individual until you come back to the faith." Before you want to vilify my dad for this, that, and the other, know that besides this mis-step, he's always been extremely understanding and compassionate toward my doubts and ultimate renouncement of the faith. It must be hard to show grace as your son walks away as an adult from the belief system you've spent your whole life cultivating and believe IS the way, truth, and life.

Without expounding upon my reply, I can basically sum up my response with these words that I'll probably drive into the ground well before I should: Dad, it's much more complicated than simply returning to the faith.

Though I hated being unable to have sleep-overs on Saturday nights, I generally loved being a Pastor's kid. My dad was a bona-fied small scale rock star! He stood in front of 60-100 people every Sunday and shared his peace and wisdom about every issue applicable from the Word of God. Sometimes he pounded his fists for emphasis. Sometimes he glanced intensely at his audience over his glasses when he needed us to zero in on exactly what was at stake in his words. (This look still makes me shutter today because it's the same look I received when he needed me to know exactly what was at stake in his words.) Often he would tear up because the Word is about suffering and judgement, compassion and sacrifice, life and death. Not easy topics to bring new light to week after week and year after year. He sang solos in a high tenor on holidays. He greeted and got to know everyone who came through his doors.

On top of it, I had ultra-perfumed, grandmother figures kissing me at every turn, hand shakes from distinguished elderly gentlemen with wise eyes that reflected the joys that lay ahead for me as I grow up, and sprawling families hugging generously and welcoming me as one of their own. Both my parents sang in the choir, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in heart. The holiday crescendo to Christmas...forget about it! Of course a major role in why I get so pumped for the holidays. This was my life every Sunday and then some.

But amidst all of this, as the trust of youth began to shed itself, I started to realize that though I loved all these aspects of the community of faith, the reason to have faith no longer seemed real or made sense to me.

Do I miss it all? I miss the sense of belonging. I miss the idea of life having a purpose beyond the here and now. I miss the emotional vitality that faith seemed to provide.

But most of all, I really miss the sense of wonder that comes with youth. Youth is what really gives these ideas wings. How people transition into adulthood and maintain faith as their compass doesn't quite make sense to me. For me the foundation starts to crumble with what seem like the simplest of questions. Everything that once seemed true and right, even the absurdities that believing requires, all stem from the trust I put in those around me as a child. Were any of these ideas presented to me as an adult without the experience of my first 33 years I think there's no way I would even consider them as possibilities.

(If I were able to be an anthropologist I'd love to interview people who were raised without any semblance of faith and chose to believe in adulthood, I'm sure their stories would be worth telling.)

The only mantra I try to hold onto is a chorus I wrote that seems like ancient history in the life of my band:

Seek joy while breathing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Champion of Reason.

In the past couple months two people I love dearly have made wild, sweeping generalizations or accusations that have nearly put me in a violent state of mind. I won't get into what exactly the statements were, while I was inclined to then, now is not the time for debate. Within this debate, a question offered by the offending party, a reasonable question amidst the myriad of convoluted, un-evidenced, and downright stubborn rationales being defended, has stuck with me:

"Why do you need to change my mind?"

No matter how badly I would like to sit and scour for evidence and craft the perfect argument to bring forth grande epiphanies and be crowned the champion of reason, this question seems more important.

What is it about existence that beckons for us to prove ourselves right?

Could it be our nature? A biological inclination to outwit the competition? Is it an ingrained notion that being seen as right ultimately lends itself to the survival of our clan? What happens when these killer instincts show themselves to our kin and we turn on the ones we're supposed to be protecting?

Or can we point the finger at the nurturing village that raised us? Is it the result of not being acknowledged enough in our most vulnerable moments of development? Is it a reaction to the cruel world of popular kids and teachers who laughed at our best guesses? Or is it simply a moment in time when we need a triumph amidst so many tragedies?

Whatever the answer, or perfect hybrid of answers, the indirect answer to all these inquiries is grace.

This word comes naturally to me because it's in the language I was raised with. If that word is not familiar, let me elaborate. Grace implies mercy, it is a bestowing-upon and giving-away-of without pretense of personal gain. It is altruistic, if we can claim that anything we do is that.

Earlier I was listening to an audio track of a conversation between the members of a band called Between Earth and Sky ( about their songs. One of the members claimed that no matter how hard we try to impress that what we apply meaning to is important and worthwhile, after the people we know die, none of it will have mattered.  Even hundreds of years from now, he said, if somehow our existence extended beyond our grave to influence other generations, time will show that it never mattered. Even figures who have withstood millennia because time will keep moving beyond humanity. A rather bleak mentality, but one that resonates with me.

Why do I need to change your mind? I don't know, I just do. For Justice, For Reason, For Pride. For Sanity. None of which are reason enough to warrant the kind of frustration that bubbles inside.

The grace in this instance that I was unable to conjure would've been to simply say 'thank you for all you do, I love you.'

The same person who inspired this inquiry also once notoriously advised I not "sweat the petty stuff" but "pet the sweaty stuff," know that I'm trying.


This is the first of hopefully many posts where I share my thoughts on things. I'm going to leave it about as vague as I can because who knows where this thing will go? I certainly don't, but there are many moments littering mundane days where I think "I should write about this!", but then I don't. Sometimes because the idea is fleeting and life is busy, but more often because I remind myself I'm not important enough to share my thoughts nor would anyone like to read them. When everywhere we go we're bombarded with the thoughts and intentions of those who deem themselves all too important, I've decided it's often best to stay quiet. I've prided myself on my humility when surrounded by the airings of those who think they have the answers (how about that sentence?!?), but ultimately, it's just hard to feel like sharing matters.

I was born into 'the faith' as the son of an American Baptist minister. I know, BAPTIST! Well, to be fair, ABs try to distinguish themselves as progressives, meaning that they believe the 'word' to be true and truly inspired by God but not to be taken literally in every passage. While in doctrine they may be considered conservative I never felt, in our household at least, that it was a practice of conservatism. This is me trying to massage any knee-jerk reactions to the word Baptist.

One of the ideas my parents tried to ingrain in me was that 'God cares about me so much that even the hairs on my head are numbered.' There's a passage somewhere that refers to that, but I can't remember where. Unfortunately, this was paired with an idea that, from perhaps the first time pondering it at a young age, felt much more reasonable: 'There is nothing new under the sun.' We've all heard that expression before. It probably doesn't originate from Proverbs, but that's where I discovered it. It was touted in college here and there as inspiration to think 'outside the box' or....something.

As my faith waned, the former inclination was easily outweighed by the latter. And so, somehow, through a myriad of influences and realizations since, I've cultivated a real sense of futility about who I am and where I'm going in life. And of course, this affects my sense of whether my thoughts are worthy of sharing.

But, I've decided to write, regardless of what may be judged worthwhile by myself or others. And though I may find nothing new, hopefully the sun shines brightly enough to remind me, no matter how much wisdom I may think I've obtained: It's complicated.