Friday, November 10, 2017

I just breathed in everything around me.

I suppose I'm getting to the point where I may have said what I can say about most things and continuing to say things will get into redundant territory. However, it has been quite a while since I posted, so here are some reflections perhaps worth sharing:

-In regards to "To What End," my last post, strangely, shortly thereafter I decided it seemed like a good idea to cycle to Chicago to play a show with my band. 300 miles in three days was the plan. It came from a moment of nostalgia looking through photos in the basement while organizing things. Seeing photos of myself in my young twenties when I was full of idealism and song lyrics like "power to the pedal, ride your bikes, GO!" perpetually swirling in my head, I was svelt and the future's imagined grandiosity was well ahead of me. Still, I proposed it to my wife, and she agreed, even after I explained I'd need a lot of new equipment for that sort of ride in late fall. I won't bore you with too many details but I'll give you this highlight. Day two, after realizing we weren't going to make the Muskegon Ferry in time like planned, we finally arrived on the Musketawa Trail between Grand Rapids and Muskegon, a paved trail of about fourteen miles where the two others in my group decided it was time to lower the intensity and all go our own pace and meet at the end. This portion of the ride was my kind of territory. The other two being stronger climbers, I thrive on flat surfaces and love to increase the RPMs and get as much out of the lesser resistance as I can. The trail was as #puremichigan as it gets, surrounded by open pastures periodically intermingled with tunnels of trees, the changing colors of fall, free from the feeling of responsibility to my guys, I just breathed in everything around me. I took some video, 'facetimed' my family to show them what I was seeing, connected my feeling of freedom within ride to those I love who're wishing me the best. We reached the end of that stint and I felt more revitalized than any other moment on the trip. Because of timeline complications we ended up with 243 miles for the trip instead of 300, opting for a train from Kenosha, WI into Chicago, which was just fine. We're calling it 250.

-Our beloved is now in the first grade. She's smarter, wittier, and more forthright with her words than ever. She says "Dad, I love you!" several times a day, which melts my heart every time. She's developing an awareness of others' opinions or thoughts about her, which I know is inevitable, but also a saddening reality. A couple weeks ago we were in Meijer buying Halloween candy and upon check-out she spotted Sandy, the mechanical pony, all kids can ride on for a mere penny. As the ride started she realized it was moving incredibly slowly and asked why that was so. I explained that Sandy needs to be tame enough for kids much smaller than her and that she's now been on bona fide roller coasters, so Sandy must seem a little simple these days. She continued, but I watched her scan the crowd nearby, seeing who, if anyone, was watching her. She whispered to me: "Dad, I feel embarrassed." As my heart broke internally, I tried to reassure her that she can have whatever sort of fun she wants with Sandy, regardless of what anyone else might think. She cordially accepted a second ride from the stack of pennies intentionally left behind by others for future riders, such a sweet gesture when sweetness itself feels so left behind sometimes. But I can see her blissful and innocent sense of freedom changing, something she'll likely deal with the rest of her life, as most of us do.

-I'm finding myself having a harder and harder time relating to people whose belief systems attempt to speak in universals about all people when it seems so obvious to me that they're really just expressing their own experience; their experience, which is the result of countless factors that gave them the belief system in the first place. And at the same time, I realize my beliefs about this, come from my experiences which have formed my outlook, which I'm then proposing as a universal understanding of sorts. Is a position of uncertainty also a position of certainty? How do we let go of these belief systems long enough to just be with others?

-As of this morning it is officially Low season. We awoke to a sunny, nineteen degree, crisp morning. The furnace is officially running regularly, the holidays are on their way. The soundtrack can and will now be primarily Low albums for the rest of winter. As always, I suggest starting with the album that roped me in for life, Curtain hits the Cast, it's hauntingly beautiful.

While I've been less active with this blog lately, know that I hope you're well, and as always, thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

To what end?

In a recent episode of House of Cards (no spoilers, don't worry) we get to follow a group of Elites discussing their legacies. There are technological advances made through an app that logs facial expressions, records vocal nuances, and processes thought patterns suggesting that even after death it can recreate a version of the deceased. There's even mention of the classic Sci-Fi idea of cryogenic freezing for a potential future when we've conquered death and disease. I'm reminded of a Norm MacDonald bit where he talks about politicians who can't commit to abolishing death:
"That's why I can't get behind politicians, you know, because they're always like 'Our biggest problem today is unemployment!' And I'm like 'what about gettin' old and sick and dying???' And they usher me out the back way."
As of late I've been trying to watch my diet. That's an expression I'd have to explain to our beloved, "watch my diet." We have some friends who've adopted the Keto Diet, a high fat, low carb, low sugar diet, sort of a reincarnated version of Atkins with a slightly different focus. I heard from Gary Taubes on Waking Up with Sam Harris (I know, yes, another Waking Up reference) about how there is no true consensus in the science community about what exactly we should be eating, but through his investigative journalism he's found that sugar and carbs are arguably what has lead to the obesity epidemic in America and suggests avoiding excess of these. So, having put on a few more pounds since my metabolism finally slowed down and 'my legs are no longer hollow,' I'm watching my diet by cutting out some of these things, but to what end? To be some physically better version of myself? To feel better about the way I look? To feel like I might be staving off death a little longer?

I ask these because I'm often hit with waves of indifference about what role we serve as individuals here on the earth. I have friends who have a range of restrictions or expectations they put on themselves for varying reasons: Vegans, Straight-edgers, gym enthusiasts, power lifters, Paleo-dieters, runners, teetotalers, all to varying degrees of extremism. But if obesity, disease, mental illness, inclination toward addiction, or other such obvious obstacles are not already part of your biology, why abstain so severely? Why prepare so intensely? To what end? If death is completely unable to predict, why is it so crucial to live devoid of certain experiences? Why spend so much time working toward something so temporary as being in the 'best shape of my life?' Is this desire simply another form of brain chemistry satisfaction?

There are plenty of obvious answers as to why so many of us toil over how to treat our bodies. The first and most obvious is to maintain quality of life before death, oh, and also our innate need to flee the Reaper's sickle for as long as possible! (Hopefully you heard that in Norm's intonation.) Trust me, I know why. But I can't help but feel this is elementary logic. It's so integral to the way we treat our time here that questioning it seems futile. Of course there are plenty of other reasons not to partake in parts of our consumption-culture, most of them stem from beliefs. Beliefs have become more and more. . . complicated in my mind. Primarily because systems of belief force us to be at odds with those around us, especially if any sort of ideals slip into our belief systems. It's inescapable. One thing that therapy laid out pretty concretely for me is that I live in the world of 'should.' If everything taken in is filtered through a lens of what should be then experiences rarely measure up. So my goal is to aspire to be someone who takes everything at face value and allows the information received to be just that, new information. Should is an illusion. We can only champion what is, and maybe push what is to be slightly more compassionate today than it was yesterday. But there I go feeling inclined toward creating standards which may not be attainable.

We live our lives trying, like all others before us, to understand the world and our purpose here, influenced by innumerable stimuli, hoping to gain a little clarity into our nature and our nurture. Some of us damn near come out of the womb knowing what to do with ourselves, others of us live our entire lives devoid of that confidence. We live and die with our beliefs. Some of us will live long and prosperously with literally zero effort to do so. Others will die grueling deaths after toiling their entire lives to be free of this possibility. But since the end is nigh, I'm with Norm, we should get on solving that whole 'getting old and sick and dying' thing.

(Image stolen from here.)

(PS. ~ Other questions I can't escape: Is legacy only pondered by the power addicted or those who believe in an afterlife? What if we die and the only thing people have to say about us is that we believed in some things? What if our beliefs do nothing to create action? What if we believe we are to love our neighbor as ourselves but never learned how to love? Do beliefs become hollow if we're unable to create anything from them?)

Friday, April 21, 2017


Lately I've been thinking about words that were presented to me as a child that now in adulthood sound strange. Words that made perfect sense within the context of my innocent and boundless imagination. They were more than words, they were life, they were routine, they were home. A few weeks ago a friend posted a picture of her kids in the kitchen with the caption: "Sunday morning cleaning, baking, and worshipping." Reading and saying it aloud several times make the word look and sound strange. A quick dictionary search gave me a better worded definition than I could muster: reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.

Growing up worship was relegated mostly to Sunday mornings at my father's church and it had a very formal expression chock full of systems and traditions. Worship was pipe organs, hymnals, Bibles, and welcoming envelopes. It was words recited in unison, closed eyed prayers, and the passing of plates. It was silent collective reflection on our shortcomings, the impact of our words, the impact of our thoughts. It was the active imagining of what sort of pain and suffering Jesus endured on our behalf. But it was also the smell of Ms. Wilder's perfume, Mr. Zaidi's firm handshake, Roger's peculiar smell and his laugh that tried to make everything he said sound like a joke. It was seeing my dad, the Pastor, in front of everyone weaving words and illuminating 'The Word' the best he could. It was Mom's choir robe and knowing eye watching to make sure I was where I needed to be. It was my grey dress shoes that clicked and clacked through the hallway, the blaring red of poinsettias at Christmas, and the smell of lilies at Easter. As hopefully you can tell, Sunday morning worship as a child is a whole world of sensory stimulation, much of which has almost nothing to do with 'reverent honor and homage paid to God.' It's the lifeworld of childhood that we simply absorb, it is the normal we grow within.

Now as an adult I question much of that world, perhaps sometimes to a detrimental degree I admit. It's a rabbit hole that once both feet are committed is impossible to keep from tumbling deeper into. In the punk cultured music I've listened to for most of my life now there runs a common theme, 'no gods, no masters.' While it sounds harsh and anarchic, the goal from there is to analyze who we give control over to. Be it a something or a someone, what or whom do we relinquish our minds and bodies to? What is the normal we inhabit that is at odds with those around us? What is the normal we're taught that puts us at odds with ourselves?

I was listening to a conversation between Sam Harris and Dan Carlin on Harris' podcast in which they discussed America's inclination to police countries that seem to be oppressing their people through anti-liberal (as they put it) ideologies. North Korea was discussed and they both wondered what it would look like if Kim Jong-un were to suddenly relinquish control and hold a free and open election. Would the people vote against the regime or would the brain-washing (here, and here, just in case) imposed by generations of Kims be too potent to break? Similarly, Harris and Carlin discuss anti-liberal ideologies in Islamic countries. Carlin recounts a time when he spoke against the wearing of burkas and received an email from a Western living Muslim woman who explained that where she was raised the girls are taught burkas are a right of passage and the Western idea that it is an imposition to them simply doesn't register. Of course many of us, if not most of us, here in the States automatically equate this kind of conservatism with oppression, but for many, it is simply their normal.

My feelings around normality in regards to worship started breaking down just after college. Too many questions without answers, or too many answers that stretched too far to answer their question. So I take the beauty in my childhood memories of Sunday morning worship and sift out the murkiness that came to light as I experienced more of life and became more aware of the world's ideas about life.

I once asked a friend if he felt that sharing his faith with his children was indoctrination. He replied that all of parenting, for better or worse, is indoctrination, and so sharing his faith is sharing his viewpoint on life. I can't argue with that. Another friend echoed this in a way as she explained that introducing faith-ideas to children is similar to peeling an onion. The five year old version of faith we present is different than the seven year old version, which is different than the ten year old version, and ultimately very different from the full and ongoing attempt at understanding it in adulthood.

In this moment I'm reminded of the phrase "they did the best they could with what they had." Follow me here for a second. . . I'm wondering if, given the conclusion (for now) I've come to as an adult (that the faith I was raised in doesn't ring true to my current, horribly complicated understanding of what can be true), if it would've been better not to be exposed to it as the way, truth, and light, in the first place, particularly in its simplified and beautiful five year old version? Is it right to paint the sun-shiny five year old picture of "yes, Jesus loves me" when what eventually follows are the deep waters of Apocrypha, Common Grace, Predetermination, Compatibilism, Immutability, Omniscience, and other high concept Theological terms that Theologians still debate found here, oh and lest we forget, Hell.

Also, we have to consider the murky history of human attempts to understand the world and how these attempts factored into the perpetuation of some ideas and the quelling of others. Can faith even be proposed without this human muddiness? Detractors would say absolutely not, while the faithful might say all that can be overlooked to find the heart of the message; but the heart of the message is arguably debatable given the human element instrumental in passing along what we perceive to be the heart of the message. Is that a Catch-22?

All of this leads me to a standstill with how I communicate to my beloved five year old how to think and live, indoctrinating her with my understanding of the world intentionally and unintentionally. Hopefully some day she can sift through the murkiness of my reservations around ways, truths, and lights, and hold onto the beauty and simplicity that is hopefully her eventual understanding of her five year old world. After all, we're only doing the best we can with what we have.

(image stolen from here)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

An ounce of prevention...

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to play four shows with my band, Great Reversals. Two shows in Indiana, two in Illinois. All four were accompanied by our friends in Hollow Earth, who play crushing, sci-fi-centered heavy music, and Greg Bennick, who did spoken word sets. After the first two shows I found my voice to be quite blown out. I sing for the band, but it's hardly singing, I'm actually doing mean things to my vocal chords. While I've never had the opportunity to test them for longevity like a longer tour would give me, over the nearly eight years we've been a band I've learned I don't have the kind of vocal chords that can be punished for long periods of time or with regularity. Thus, after two shows I had to do some serious digging to figure out how I could make it through the next two. Luckily, Greg does similarly terrible things to his vocal chords when he yells, and has a backlog of voice complications and has subsequently learned therapeutic methods for healing and preserving his voice for performances. He became my Sensei. Silence, extreme hydration, and as he put it "suckin' down" steam were his keys to preservation. So for the second half of our run I was 'silent man,' all communications were through text notes, with a couple hand scribbles for good measure.

With time I've become more acutely aware of how closely linked my sense of identity is to my physical capabilities.

The entirety of my youth was centered around physical activities: Dad's Club Softball, Karate for a decade, high school and college Swimming, non-stop pick-up Basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, Ping-Pong, bike rides between cities and across the state, Triathlons, basically, if it was a physical game I was going to be a solid contender. But it wasn't always this way. As first grader it became apparent I was having some balance and coordination issues when I lagged far behind my peers in learning how to ride a bicycle. My parents took me to a pair of Occupational Therapists for assessment. They determined my brain needed some coaching to better command my body. So for a year I went to their offices once a week and played in shaving cream, manually pulled myself around on a wheeled platform, traversed obstacle courses, dug through dried beans to find pennies I could keep, and generally had my body stimulated in strategic ways to help my brain make better connections. It was weird, but fun...but weird. I remember making it to the top of a ramp after severely struggling to pull myself up on the wheelie-thing and feeling overjoyed that I was able to do it. Shortly after completing the program I jumped on a bike and never looked back.

About five years ago I started experiencing severe pain in both of my heels. Being what I thought was a still spry new dad, not far off the tails of a pre-parenthood Triathlon, I didn't deal with it as quickly as maybe I should have. It got to the point where I could hardly finish a day of work. Eventually I saw a Podiatrist who diagnosed heel spurs. After some wraps, injections, and pricey custom orthotics I've been able to work since without pain. But the entire life I built being the 'sure I can play that' guy had to be entirely reconsidered. Running and jumping were no longer an option. Triathlons were out, and Duathlons that subtract the running instead of swimming don't exist as far as I know. I don't do anything that could awaken the pain I felt in that year where I was naively convinced I just needed a new pair of shoes. I fear that pain. That pain made me feel incapable. That pain makes me want to disown the physical confidences I used to have. That pain has forced me to reconsider what my future looks like. And yet I know I could be doing more. My friend informed me of an old adage that says 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Why are we so comfortable being comfortable? Knowing the specter of what could come I should be perpetually fighting off the impending pain, but I don't. I deal with it as it comes.

The first words I uttered when we started our set on day three came shrieking and cackling out of my throat in the worst possible way. By the second song things were settling in, I realized I sounded like myself, a weaker version, but myself none the less. After the set Greg gave me a hug and showed me a picture he took and said: "this is a man with a voice." He could tell those opening moments sent doubtful shudders through me, but watched as I found my footing and a bit more comfort as the songs went on. The fourth night really solidified that the methods employed were paying off. Though I could hardly muster enough voice to greet our hosts, my set felt strong. I wasn't only a man with a voice, but felt like a man with voice and purpose.

It's nearly impossible not to gauge our own success or failure by the success or failure of others. Especially when so much of our culture teaches us that competition is healthy and natural; teaches us our value comes in how we can be better than those around us. At the same time the notion that each of us is completely unique in all the world is true, but never feels good enough. My identity does not lie in what I can do, I know this, but watching those around me do things I wish I could do slings me back into some primordial competitive brain function that defies logic and maturity. My identity does not lie in being able to yell nights on end and still have a functioning voice, some people can do that and I cannot.

How can I let go of that cannot? How can I help myself see the bigger picture when pain or inability wants to narrow my scope? How can I turn this desirous magnifying glass around and see more of who I am and champion that?

I implied in my last post that feelings are what inspire change. Is there a more motivating feeling than pain? Does anything inspire us to gain more than loss? By this logic I should be in training, training my voice, training my body in what it can do, actively healing my heels, but for whatever reason I seem to have a short memory once pain is removed. Tomorrow or the next day when my voice is full, the strain of today will try to be forgotten; and it won't be until I accidentally step on an acorn barefoot in the backyard for the meager comfort I've attained to come howling out of me.

("natural steam" image stolen from here.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Worthy Aspirations.

Well, we survived the holidays, at home and at work. At work I'm responsible for ordering all the cold produce. The holiday season is a big deal for grocers, we project record numbers and with luck, often surpass our hopes. This was my first holiday at the helm and boy did we move a lot of your traditional holiday fixins. I was prepared. I stared long and hard at last years sales numbers, we had enough and not too much. But no one mentioned anything about the weekend following Thanksgiving. Given that no one said anything about it I assumed we'd have meager sales and anything leftover from the holiday would carry me a ways. Not so. The following Sunday was a whopper! I came in Monday morning to nearly completely empty shelves, my gut sank. All week I played catch up.

I've noticed is there is one crucial factor in the ordering that helps me refill the shelves quickly: shame.

The first two days I waited for our delivery to come in and, after stocking it, then did my best to 'predict the future' (as I like to call it) based on what is there and what is not. This is the typical procedure. However, I quickly realized that I would come in the next day only to find empty shelves. The following two days I came in to see empty shelves yet again and immediately started amending my numbers, first thing, while those shelves were still bare, while that shame of failure was still present, breathing down my neck and tapping into a lifetime of feeling like I don't measure up. I'm being a little dramatic, after all, it's just groceries. But still, I take pride in what I do, I care. Perhaps it was only a matter of time and my slight increasing of the numbers just needed some days to even out, but at the moment I'm convinced that if I had attacked the numbers those first couple days while the empty shelves wept right in front of me, I'd have turned the section around much quicker.

Change only comes when it's motivated by experiences that create feelings.

There's that saying, which a quick google search says George Santayana coined: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What I'm wondering is if we are condemned to repeat the past because we cannot possibly feel what those who experienced that past felt?

Recently we've seen the surge of a belief system that used to be kept in the shadows and basements of our culture. Namely, the "Alt-Right" movement, more accurately known as white supremacy, publicly represented by Richard Spencer. I wrote about Spencer in my last post when he'd stated his separatist agenda in a National Public Radio interview, shortly after that he made headlines as the keynote speaker in a much condemned white supremacist gathering at a Maggiano's restaurant in Washington D.C. where reporters caught footage of him and others Nazi-saluting and shouting "Hail Trump." How is this possible? Grand stage, front page, white-fucking-supremacy is not just rearing its ugly head, but trumpeting its presence. (Yes I see the pun in there, but I'm trying to take a higher road.) Well, there are many answers I'm sure, perhaps one of which is that those who experienced and defended our country against arguably the vilest expression of fascism the world has seen are mostly dead. In 2013, 600 World War II vets were dying every day. Last summer the great Elie Weasel died, which shed light on the estimate that barely 100,000 Jewish holocaust survivors live today. Those who lived through the nightmare of what fascism can become are nearly gone. Seventy five years after the atrocities of the Holocaust, how can my generation or my child's generation feel that pain? Reading, listening, discussing, sure, these help, but the evolution of these separatist, or as Spencer calls them, "Identitarian," ideas are keeping up with the times for swaths of people who can sparsely feel the damage they have caused.

When our kiddo was born in 2011 we had mixed feelings on vaccines. My wife and I, if I remember correctly, both agreed they needed to happen, but the pressure of the timeline was menacing. Being new parents inclined to feel our kid was more of a special snowflake than every other child who'd ever existed, we gingerly dipped our toes into vaccinating. DTaP, for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis, was the first administered. We knew the common rule given by our general practitioner was that when a kid is sick, the way to tell it's more serious is when it affects their behavior. We'd dealt with some sicknesses, freaking out at every inconsistency as new parents do, but she'd never seemed different before, until this vaccine was in her system. After two days she was back to being herself as we knew her, but it scared us for a moment. We've heard horror stories. My best friend has an autistic and cognitively impaired child whom he and his wife believe took a severe and irreparable downturn after a round of vaccines. But the science in general doesn't show evidence that vaccines and autism are related. In early 2011, eight months before our beloved was born, articles were popping up explaining Andrew Wakefield's original paper linking the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) to autism was now considered fraudulent. But the fear still resonated. Knowing and feeling the sting of what could be, even if it could now be broadly considered un-linked to its cause, allowed our trepidation to preside.

Last night I was asked why I'm vegetarian. In my sophomore year of college I read John Robbins' Diet for a New America, which is his first hand account of what the animal industry looked like. As an impressionable twenty year old the picture he painted grabbed me, and still seventeen years later gives me enough reason to stay vegetarian. Once upon a time I was zealous and impassioned about the topic to a fault. I gave speeches, pamphleted, protested, debated in public places, generally spent a lot of energy alienating people for their dietary habits. I have a general feeling of embarrassment thinking about those days, mostly because age has dulled my fervor and need to have everyone be as I am. Adulthood since has focused on introspection and pulling away from an outward voice that puts me at odds with those around me who believe differently. As I explained my reasons last night I found myself instinctively falling back into some of the language I used to champion, and it felt strange.

How do feelings evolve with age? What allows some feelings to persevere and others to leave? How do we reconcile feelings with cognitive reasoning? Can we truly feel what others have felt? Is empathy actually what we need to develop compassion for others? What does history say about history repeating itself? What past did the Jonestown followers fear they'd repeat? As I ponder these sort of questions with you the only North Star I have to fall back on, words woven into my bones, 'do justice and love mercy.' I might add, 'seek evidence' as well, but I've been listening to a lot of 'Waking Up' with Sam Harris podcasts lately.

Worthy aspirations.

(image stolen from here.)