Saturday, November 19, 2016

Every voice remains alive...

Last weekend my band, Great Reversals, was lucky enough to jump on the road for five days with our new friend Greg Bennick. In Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boonton, Columbus, and Detroit we played our seven song set of what's lately been called "passionate hardcore" music and he, a professional public speaker and philanthropist, gave a forty minute spoken-word set about our relationships to power and authority. That is, of course, the bare bones description of it. After about two days I delightfully started calling Greg "the responder" because of how much he felt pulled to social media to combat those responding in favor of our new President-Elect and those who felt comfortable dragging those conversations into the sewer by spewing hate-filled comments against individuals he holds near and dear. Our new reality, this President-Elect reality, dominated our conversations for the weekend. At every turn it seemed there was something new to learn about and discuss. The Day-One twitter feed testimonials of violence and threats minorities were experiencing, the account of middle-schoolers three miles up the road from my home chanting "build that wall" in their lunchroom, the appointment of Steve Bannon, the Breitbart News platform provider for the "alt-right," (a newer term for white nationalism) as the President-Elect's chief White House strategist, the list goes on. Feeling emboldened from our conversations, I even argued a bit on a friend's Facebook post against someone who was convinced these post-election accounts of aggression and intimidation had nothing to do with the election results. Yes, hate has always existed, I get that...but now, the same way I've felt from our conversations in the van, hate is also emboldened.

We've never been much of a political band. Given my inabilities to retain and recall information quickly, as a front man I've never felt that I can take a stand in any direction and then articulate that case well enough. And as you may probably already guess, I'm pretty sure things are more complicated than we'd like to admit. To brazenly call all Trump supporters racist misogynists is to simplify things more than they can be simplified. Though the point Greg made several times in his speeches, a vote for Trump declared a comfort with the racism and misogyny in his campaign, just as a vote for Clinton declared a comfort with the hawkishness, secretiveness, and elite friendliness presented in hers. But we're no longer debating the differences between them. It's a moot point to bring up anything about her. All of us must turn our eyes to the winner and be relentless in our requirement he uphold the unalienable rights of all people, beliefs, and creeds, whether we individually agree with them or not.

But things have changed.

Today my liberal-leaning dad told me he's just started listening to National Public Radio. To which I said: "Duh, about time Pops!" We discussed how it seems NPR leans left topically but is pretty centered on presentation. Two days ago NPR reporter, Kelly Mcevers, interviewed Richard Spencer, a figure-head for the White Nationalist movement that now has a legitimized voice in the White House due to its ties to the above mentioned Bannon. You can read the transcript for yourself, or listen to it, but prepare yourself to be upset at the very least. Arguably this man's ideas about different races being naturally opposed to each other and his hopes for a racially segregated America are part of a slippery slope that leads to the brash nationalist-separatist ideas of the Third Reich. He was gleeful his way of thinking is now out in the open, available to sway public opinion, to shape minds looking for a scapegoat for their plight. Delving into these ideas has created a backlash from NPR listeners who claim even investigating these ideas is "normalizing hate speech." But as Spencer himself put it: "We're not going away." What do we as empathic thinkers do with this? What role does empathy play when the subject seems devoid of compassion for those the subject sees as different?

How can we think of empathizing with this ugliness when hearing testimonies like Amy's, a trans-gender young lady afraid to travel beyond her liberal safe-zone of Seattle? How can we reach across the aisle when stories like Peter's, who in a decade of living in South Philly never once thought about his safety until two days into this new reality, come out? What do we do when spray painted swasticas show up in a public park named after a Jewish musician? What about when a noose is found in the boys bathroom at the same school three miles up the road from us where last week hispanic children were brought to tears by kids who chanted a slogan that came directly from the mouth of our President-Elect?

This is our new reality. Not that hate or racism or discrimination is new, but that it is now embodied in the platform of the highest ranking position in, arguably, the world.

Tomorrow me and my family will march with likely over a thousand people in a peaceful show of solidarity here in Ferndale, Michigan. I've shied away from this in the past. But now is not the time for shyness. There's an oft thrown around lyric by the great New York City band, Indecision, that says: "For those I love I will sacrifice." I fear too many of us may soon have to seriously consider what it means to love and what it means to sacrifice.

And if you didn't get enough links in this post, here are a couple more that Greg runs himself, also worth your while:

(photo stolen from here.)

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:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mere Mortals: Dead of Winter/The Stairwell.

This is the fifth and sixth installments of this "Mere Mortals" series, you can read what this series is about in my first post here.

Track Five: Dead of Winter

I sit here alone clutching these flowers, choking on their sweetness, just to remind myself of the pain in beauty. It's summer outside, the dead of winter in my heart. The kids have grown and moved on but the nest has always felt empty. I feel so old. My life's energy spent trying to understand why you never loved me. Did you do the best you could with what you had? Revered with eyes to the sky and Heaven's wisdom on your sleeve, but blind to me. Your words burrowed under my skin, trauma tempered into an armor I can't shed. The weight of your way, the weight of your truth, the weight of your light crushing all that I am. Spare your rod, spoil me just once. Did you do the best you could with what you had? I want so badly to release this sword, this fucking heirloom you gifted me. Take back this heirloom, I've already impaled too many I love with it. You've been gone so long but I can't loosen my grip. At war with the world and I'm afraid I'm winning.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend who's just started with her husband to try and get pregnant. I can't remember if she inquired or if I was just ready to spill my guts on something I'd been thinking about, but I told her one of the most complicated parts of parenthood for me is sacrificing my preferences on a daily basis to try and put our beloved's first. For the most part I think I create a pretty good balance, but every so often whatever maturity or wisdom I've acquired post-adolescence flies right out the window and I turn into a sulking, wordless, tantrum-throwing baby. It's usually over something completely benign like the realization I've not seen a single one of the Best Picture Oscar-nominated movies that everyone and their mother is talking about. As I'm having these spats I'm also completely aware I'm acting like my four year old when she's in her most four-year-old-ness, which just compounds my guilt over being a giant baby, but despite this awareness I can't seem to escape the feelings that come along. And so my beautiful wife tells me to go see the stupid movie I'm tantrumizing (yup, that's a word, I just created it) over, and some sort of balance is restored. It's these moments especially that make me wonder yet again: Am I doing the best I can with what I have?

In talking with others about how exactly we come to parent the way we do I get the sense that there is a natural dichotomy that exists. As a friend put it, there needs to be an acknowledgment that for many of us our parents did do the best they could with what they had and that they also didn't do it well enough. Most would agree that how we address parenting is basically the sum of the experiences we have from our parents mixed with the reactions we have to what we didn't like to experience as sons or daughters. It's the subconscious learning system met with the conscious resistance we present in trying to carve our own paths. It's forgiveness marred by enmity. No matter how strongly I want to critique the example woven into my bones, my mind must try to acknowledge that as I am the sum of my temperament and experiences, so too are my mother and father the sums of their temperaments and experiences. So too were their parents and so on. 

I've believed for some time that self-awareness is a luxury of privilege and comfort. As I think about how I react to the world around me, or how others react, I try to remind myself that we're all just using the tools we've been given. If we were to look at all the ways we react to things as an arsenal and try to visualize what that arsenal would look like, each of us would have a variety of devices that take precedence over the others. Some of the tools would be sharp, some dull, some completely broken, some might be merely drafts of what should be. In many ways our environments dictate which reactions become comfortable to us and which get pushed aside and rendered useless. Not that I want to sound like a broken record, but again I feel lucky I've benefitted from a model that taught me to attempt gentleness, seek justice, and love mercy. And it's not just a belief system or an idea presented but a tangible example of choices made and explained to perpetuate their function. Many are not afforded this luxury. Many have to fight every day against the model they were taught, lest they lose what they love in life. And many of us, even with nurtured tools, regularly have to re-calibrate the reactions we'd like to have versus the ones we are fleeing.

This song hopes to empathize with the undertaking that gaining self-awareness is. It longs for love. It longs for mercy. It longs for a better example of how to live in these things and let go of the heirlooms handed down that make us forget we are loved.

Track Six: The Stairwell

Audio Sample: "Okay I'm saying a few words, what do you want me to say? [Indistinct answer.] Good. I love you very much. More than words can say!"

Musically this is an interlude, a rest between Side A and Side B of the record. The audio clip comes from a DVD my parents gave me a few Easters ago entitled "Whitfield Family Videos: 1981-83." The interaction captured has nearly no visuals to it. From what I can gather my dad was tinkering with the sound quality of the video camera and wanted to see if it would catch audio from upstairs and asked my mother for help with this. Over the course of watching the intermittent clips mostly documenting myself and my sister as little tikes, my mother appears only a few times, appearing camera shy. Each scene feels classic, she seems completely un-enthused by my dad's playfulness while there's work to be done. And then, out of nowhere, comes this gem of tenderness. I literally skipped over it the first time because of all the dead space between clips, but it feels like a precious window in time. A window into a moment where there were no kids to worry about, no work to be done, nothing to tend to; Nothing but two parents enjoying a moment of discovery and togetherness. That saying, loving us "more than words can say" permeated my childhood, both Mom and Dad saying it regularly. Whatever complications have come with sifting through everything mentioned above, these words remain present, a tenderness cutting through all other noise. When I discovered the clip I knew we had to use it. When I heard it put into the song for the first time my heart nearly exploded. I know it won't carry the weight for you that it does for me. But if you get even one iota of what I've felt from it, it was worth it. 

(Image stolen from

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mere Mortals: Take This Life.

Once again I'll refer you to this post if you have no idea what this series is about. This is the fourth installment.

Track Four: Take This Life.

Before there was even a chance I could see your face. A whole life projected through my eyes, in my mind, a story worth living at a lumbering pace. What do we do now? How can we live now? I'm still bleeding but my hospice must depart. What is home when I've lost my heart? Fiction fills holes in my tattered and torn soul, I can't let it go simply because your absence makes it so. I know life is pain, but let me believe in these lies, let me defend perfection in my mind. What do we do now? How can we live now? I'm still bleeding and my hospice must depart. What is home when I've lost my heart? Hold me, hit me, thank me, scold me. I can't see what I've done wrong. Please don't ask me to move on. Please don't ask me to move on. Please forgive me.

Just before Christmas, 2010, myself and the band guys went to the now defunct Burton Theatre in Detroit to see Black Dynamite, a "blaxploitation" spoof. "Black-comedies" (African-American comedies...not to be confused with dark-content-comedies) are about the only sort of movies we can convince our drummer to spend his time viewing, so we went with bells on knowing he'd be super jolly to see this. As the previews started I received a picture-text from my wife of a positive pregnancy test on ye' old flip-phone. We hadn't been trying, but we hadn't been not-trying, regardless it was still a surprise! I called her and we gushed over the phone for a bit. New worlds and futures opened right up before us. Two weeks later she experienced some discomfort and bleeding, we went to the doctor to investigate. Surely enough, our suspicions were true, she had miscarried. It is amazing how quickly we can build visions of the future in our minds and emotionally attach to those ideas. In an instant, we were right back to 'normal,' but with a giant vacancy in our minds, and so we mourned what could've been. 

Nearly four years ago my wife, Candice, took a job with a company that photographs newborns in local hospitals. Primarily she provides photos of precious, squishy, wrinkly little babies in baskets, but more regularly than we wish, she's asked to perform "demise" shoots for parents who've lost their baby through complications. With no real script to follow or procedures on how to handle these instances, she approaches parents with her own understanding of their loss, and with a natural grace she captures beautiful images of their child. Then hours, or days if they're lucky, parents have to return home with their vacancy. In the grande scheme of things, we had it easy. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to go a full nine months only to say to 'goodbye' upon delivery. 

We have a beautiful four and a half year old little girl now. Her conception was wrought with fear and reaching the safe zone of twelve weeks was grueling. We continually hushed ourselves when we'd start talking about the future, uncertain that future would come. But with time, and a lot of knocking-on-wood, it came. It is hard when dealing in such uncertainties not to blame oneself for doing something wrong. It is hard to accept that sometimes there are no reasons for such loss. Even though our kid is alive and well, we still blame ourselves for any complications she has. Did we take enough vitamins when she was in the womb? Are we setting appropriate boundaries? Are we encouraging the behaviors we like to see enough? Are we doing what is best for her? Are we unconsciously repeating habits we hate? Are we failing her? Are we forgiving her trespasses? Will she forgive ours? ARE WE FAILING HER? I've been reassured by parents I love that the fact we are asking such questions means we're probably doing better than we give ourselves credit for. But the fear instilled, and the self-blame instilled from the child we lost, prior to her, still rears its ugly head.

This song stands with those who've lost, in an instant, their ideas of what the future looks like and the grief that comes with having to let go of what could have been.

(If you'd like to read more about the sort of work photographers are doing for those experiencing this sort of loss, this is a great article.)

(photo stolen from Pinterest.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mere Mortals: Swallowing Sand.

As I did with the second installation of this series, I'll again refer you to this entry so you know what in sam-hell I'm babbling about with this third portion. 

Track Three: Swallowing Sand.

I can't explain to you how fucking scared I am of being right. With my own eyes I've seen horror perched in the corner beckoning my soul. With my own ears I've heard the whispers of the lost, wishing they’d only listened to me. The clerics are weak, the scholars blind, no one will seal your fate, no man, nor mind. Believe with me and we can be free. I need this relief. Together we’ll dismember clocks and burn the calendars, smash the hourglass and scatter Time’s sands. We’ll walk into the sunrise hand in hand. We’ll walk into the sunrise hand in hand. Deep down you must feel some of what I feel. My blood is yours, you must somewhere inside know this is real. I can't lose you. Believe with me and we can be free. I can't lose you, believe with me.

As I've surpassed ten years now at my job, I've seen many faces come and go. Whether it be coworkers, managers, or simply customers, I've seen a lot of faces, and I've seen a lot of changes. I'm not the kind of person who is out to meet new friends at every turn, but sometimes customers stand out just enough to warrant a genuinely warm greeting and inquiry into their life every time I see them. Jane (not her real name for reasons you already know) is one of them. She complimented my organizational qualities during our interaction and said she sought me out because my, what I would call OCD-ness, impressed her. One day she asked me if I was a church-going man, I told her I'm not. She explained that she got a "sense" I was, and I was only one of a few she got that "sense" about at our store. Hearing something like this is always strange to me. I suppose I might hold myself in a manner that echoes my upbringing, or that perhaps in some sort of pseudo-clairvoyant way, she got a "sense" I was of her tribe. I get that in theory. I have "senses" about people here and there, which I then quickly scold myself for having because what do I really know about this stranger? Judging books by their cover is a dangerous practice...but the gut is also wise at times. Over time she started to ask me questions about whether I'd experienced anything supernatural lately, an itch, or a inclination, because she'd been praying for me. I always chuckle and say: "not yet." 

Soon after she developed a comfort with me, perhaps because of my temperament, or perhaps because she needed an aspiringly patient ear, she explained her daughter is dying. Not only is her daughter's complication untreatable, but she's also a non-believer in the afterlife her mother ascribes to. She is not 'of the faith.' Which means Jane will, in a matter of time, lose her daughter physically and metaphysically. I now try to keep conversation light, but can't un-know the things I do about her faith and her daughter, so I ask how she is. Nothing is ever better. Nothing is ever easier. But she still has faith that it will get better, that it will get easier. 

Years ago, when I was still in college, my grandfather passed away. I was still a faithful guy, but becoming skeptical of certain aspects of Christianity. Mainly, that everything had an answer and a reason. I remember, as we were gathered for a family dinner amidst the funeral arranging, my mother saying something along the lines of "I'm just happy to know he's in a better place." In my arrogance, I challenged my grieving mother as to whether that was true. It was an ugly utterance and a miserable time to voice such sentiments. I still beat myself up for it. The idea in those moments that the person you just lost is no longer with you and that you'll never see them again in any capacity is an unbearable thought, surely even to those without belief in an afterlife.

The weight of believing your beloved, the fruit of your womb, your one and only child will leave this world prematurely and be banned from the heaven you aspire to, perhaps even condemned to the very opposite, must be crushing. While I don't share Jane's faith, I feel with her, I imagine the impending loss she's coming to terms with, I mourn with her. In my own way I pray her faith moves mountains and she receives the miracle she's waiting for. I hope Time's sands will scatter and she never has to let go or say "goodbye."

(photo stolen from: 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mere Mortals: Mouths to Feed.

So I don't come out of the gates with some reading that makes zero sense to you, you can gather the context of this series of posts here. If you already know where I'm going with this, read on...

Track Two: Mouths to Feed.

Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? As the winter is closing in my pace adjusts against the wind, racing toward the setting sun, my past I can't outrun. It's hard to watch you live in love. If only you knew my loss, could learn of loss. I once found pleasure in the smell of fire, broke bread with old friends who'd always inspire, sat long and contemplated desire, but I've made my bed. I chased my demons into the darkness only to find a home in hell. Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? Will you see the me I used to be? Youth is wasted on the young. If only I could go back to that moment and hold my tongue. Catch the butterfly long enough to breathe its beauty, then crush its wings. Then perhaps you wouldn't have to feel anything. Just a smile and a nod without pity's encroach. Please feel nothing, for I am not of this world, I am this world.

In the few years after the housing crash of 2008, NPR was chock full of heartstring-plucking stories that regularly focused on what might be characterized as "regular people" who in one fell swoop lost everything and wound up becoming the previously unthinkable: homeless. Hard working middle-classers were losing their jobs left and right and consequently losing their homes too. These stories put a scent in the air, so thick it was almost visible, that reminded us "regular folk with stable jobs" to give thanks for what we had. I'd hear customers regularly say things like: "hey, just be thankful you have a job," or "you've got some job security here, people will always have to buy food!" There was a palpable sense of fear and it was hard not to succumb to it. Creative endeavors for many of us were trumped by clinging to our steady paychecks and workplace provided healthcare plans. Too many had lost too much for us to take these for granted. For the first time the lines were blurred, any one of us could wind up homeless. 

I've never known hard times. I'm lucky that way I guess. But I do know the struggle of not knowing what to say or how to actually help those who are chronically in need. It is paralyzing at times. My good will over-ridden by my fear of being a sucker. I imagine most well-intentioned benefiters of luck have experienced at one time or another a situation where they thought there was a real chance they were helping someone, only to see the same person the following week, saying the same lines, with zero recollection they gave you that very line barely a week ago. 

Last week while driving we passed someone holding a sign that said: "Shelters full, any help appreciated." I looked at my wife and just asked, "how CAN we help?" Social media has done a pretty good job at providing information of where you can refer someone who needs shelter for the night. I even screen-capped the info on my phone, in case. But when the help that is instituted isn't enough, what do we do then? I wondered if our couch would be helpful. I wondered if giving more coats or blankets would be helpful. I thought about Eugene again and his relationship with my father. I thought about Julia. I tried to imagine what either of them might say if given the chance. 

This song is an attempt at empathy. It's about trying to wrap my head around the chain of events that can lead to and perpetuate homelessness. It's an attempt at trying to see individuals. It's an attempt at letting go of the experiences that have hardened my heart to those in need. It's about opening the discussion about how I or We CAN actually help. It's about trying to become a better steward of humanity. 

(Timothy Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus" photo stolen from this article.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mere Mortals: Capsized.

I've been on a hiatus. Having not posted since August makes me a little warm under the collar, like I'm letting someone down. Not that there is any expectation I keep this thing up, but having had a decent run so far with the little expectations I put on myself in the first place, a little shame creeps in when I re-browse my past posts then look at the date today and realize it's been five months since I've said anything on here. Though my absence was for a good reason. My band, Great Reversals, did, for us anyway, the unthinkable! We wrote and recorded an eleven song record! Prior to this the most we could muster was five songs at a time, those were the first five songs we wrote. Every release since has been in the two to four song range, all of which took a long time to write and release. An LP was unthinkable, but the riffs kept coming. We went from five or six songs kicking around to a solid eleven in a year! Hell, we even wrote a twelfth song in the studio for another split release! We're on fire! Writing lyrics for all these songs was a task, but they're all mine. Besides some edits and rearranges here and there every song on the record is my words. I know there are a billion bands putting out a billion records and a billion lyricists writing a billion songs and I'm just one more on the heap, but I'm proud none the less. Our previous releases have been pretty lyrically collaborative, so while I've felt proud of those, I haven't felt as much pride as I do in this one. 

We've decided to allow the songs and lyrics on the record to speak for themselves for this release. What that means is that in the past I've written explanations in the liner notes for each song, it's a pretty traditional thing to do in hardcore bands who value their message or ideas as much as they value their music. There's heavy debate at times about whether this adds to or takes away from the art aspect of the project. There is certainly value in allowing the listener/reader to take from the songs what they will without guidance. We've been inclined in the opposite direction in the past, understanding that this aggressive music is a peculiar form of expression and that poetry, which is what I think most lyricists are shooting for, can leave many in the dark if the idea behind the poetry gets muddied in the delivery. I mean, "you can't even understand what they're saying!" More than anything this tradition may be rooted in trying to persuade our moms and dads that we are actually saying something of value. So here we are at what I'd call a happy medium. The record itself won't have any notes about the songs, save a small essay about the general concept of the record. But I've decided I'll do a series here to jump-start the year by expounding on each song one at a time. Perhaps you have no interest in what the band is doing, I get that, but at least I'll be able to show you what I've been working on.

The record is titled: MERE MORTALS. I'll explain that choice at the end of the series. 

Track One: Capsized

I could've been born from pain. I could've been conceived in hate. I could’ve been created with a craving in my veins. Consider me lucky, in a cold and callous world, consider me lucky. I could've been raised knowing nothing but war, trafficked in a world we abhor, or forced from home only to wash lifelessly ashore. For all that could've been I still sleep through days and squander nights too insecure to take the reigns or aspire to great heights. Painfully aware that everything I cling to will be torn away. One single moment, it could all end. In one single moment it will all end. All the could've-beens will be no more. There will be no alternate realities to explore. I'm lucky to have known so little woe, but can't escape the shame of the world’s pain that I'm lucky enough to ignore. In one single moment it will all end.

While I've written before (specifically here) about feeling lucky to have grown up where, when, and with whom I did, the words for this song came out of seeing the Syrian refugee boy, Aylan Kurdi, who washed ashore in Turkey last September after his family attempted to sail to the Greek Island of Kos. Abdullah Kurdi, the surviving father of the boy, lost his two sons and wife in this single trip. Listen to his testimony:

"The Turk [smuggler] jumped into the sea, then a wave came and flipped us over. I grabbed my sons and wife and we held onto the boat," Mr. Kurdi said, speaking slowly in Arabic and struggling at times for words.
"We stayed like that for an hour, then the first [son] died and I left him so I can help the other, then the second died, so I left him as well to help his mom and I found her dead. ... What do I do. ... I spent three hours waiting for the coast guard to come. The life jackets we were wearing were all fake. ...
"My wife is my world and I have nothing, by God. I don't even think of getting married again or having more kids. ... I am choking, I cannot breathe. They died in my arms."
A few weeks ago my wife and I had a discussion with my folks about the state of our faith and thoughts on faith in general. I did my best to explain that I can't wrap my mind around the idea of 'blessings.' If I were to try and summarize my parents' faith, from what they've reiterated over the years and stated again in this conversation, it would boil down to a sense of feeling God's blessings through their faith. In their experience, and they've experienced many hard times as well, God has provided time and again what they've needed to live the life they've wanted to live. My only rebuttal to that is that while they are lucky enough to feel that, people all over the world, many living in faith as well to their god or one by another name, are suffering losses we can only imagine, praying to be able to live the life they'd like to live. What about Abdullah Kurdi? Can you imagine what he's feeling? What about Aylan Kurdi? A child, the least of these? Where is his blessing? 

Last week a friend and I were talking faith, she mentioned that in travels she's met people who seemingly have the least to be thankful for but have the largest faith. Is it possible that faith is simply being genuinely grateful for what you DO have? Is that where the idea of blessings comes from?

While some may call it a blessing, the fact that I'm able to sit here writing lyrics and writing essays that are too long about what my lyrics are trying to say in the bloggosphere, is sheer, utter, stupid luck. I know I need to be more grateful for it, and really, I need to do more with it to help those less lucky. For I could've been born from pain, or hate, or born with an addiction feeding through my veins. I could've been born in a land that only knows war, trafficked into slavery, or, like Aylan Kurdi, lived three years just to wash lifelessly ashore. But instead I sit here wondering about my place in the world, in the comfort of my warm home, with my beautiful wife and child, asleep in their beds, knowing that at any moment something could upend all of this comfort, but likely wont for some time. Consider me lucky.

(Turkish shoreline image stolen from