Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Old Baby — November 7, 2019

Old Baby

Yesterday was my day off and I want to tell you about an awfully strange special I watched on Netflix. I love stand up comedy, always have, so that category often draws my attention. Maria Bamford, quirky and super-weird, is one of my favorites, and I found a special from 2017 called Old Baby. Now, technically, it was a stand-up routine, but it was delivered to different audiences in awkward, surprising places. It began with her performing in front of a mirror, alone. Then, in front of 4 people on a city bench. Then 1 guy on a couch. Then in a small crowded library room, a dinner party type-setting, a bowling alley, and you get the point. It was jarring and very uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing. She wasn’t interacting with the audience, simply sharing her routine as if she were on a stage in front (which she was, in the last vignette.)

15 minutes in, I was so disturbed by the format, I moved to turn it off, which is exactly what I did with the first one I picked, a Nikki Glazer special called Bangin.’ She began her show with a graphic 15 minute (at least) talk on a sexual act that broke the ONLY rule of comedy: be funny! I am with you for any and all topics, virtually unoffendable, UNLESS it is not funny. In that case, I am out. There are too many awesome things to do and experience. Like Old Baby.

The biggest difference in 15 or 20 year old me and 44 year old me is that I would have loudly proclaimed her special unwatchable. If you liked it, then I would judge you as embarrassingly wrong (only half jokingly.) Now, I’ve mellowed quite a bit and am capable of seeing that it’s possible, if unlikely, that even if I don’t like it, someone else might. So, if Nikki Glazer is your deal, I suppose that’s cool. She is not mine.

Anyway, I didn’t turn Old Baby off. You see, I want art that makes me uncomfortable, that moves me, that has edges that would keep, say, my wife, away. I’m writing other posts about honesty and music and I hate Mariah Carey’s song ‘Emotions’ because it’s built to be so innocuous, so bland and safe, that it would sell a bazillion copies, which of course it did. I sometimes forget that I want honesty and innovation, want to be challenged, want more than mass-produced efficiency.

Old Baby was perfect. It might not have been the best stand-up routine I have ever seen, might not have even been her best. But here’s the thing, after Old Baby I put on (for the millionth time) Richard Pryor’s 1979 concert, which probably IS the best stand-up routine ever, and laughed out loud over and over and over. But the artist/work I have been thinking and talking about from the second it ended, and now posting about, is the genius of Maria Bamford and her 2017 special Old Baby, and that’s the point.

Smells Like Real Life — November 5, 2019

Smells Like Real Life

Around the same time, also in 1991, a band from Seattle called Nirvana released an album that would change everything in music, fashion and culture as a whole. This album would also give me a space (even if it was only in my head and heart) and in doing so, make me not as much of a weirdo, not as much of a misfit.

While we were all trying to be perfect – and what I mean is that while we were all trying to show everyone we were perfect – here was a band and a singer who looked like we all felt. The music did, too. We were insecure and inadequate in a land of make believe and that made so many of us so angry. We were desperately searching for meaning and purpose (there just had to be more than hair spray and insincerity holding us together, didn’t there?) and not only were we not getting answers, our questions were being ignored.

Now. The song. The drums perfectly sounded like doors being kicked down, which of course, they were. Then, the voice of Kurt Cobain mumbled: “Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend. She’s over-bored and self-assured.” Hello, hello, hello, how low. Then, our worlds collectively fell apart (or together) at the chorus: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.”

We might talk about “here we are now, entertain us” as the anthem for a generation, and generations to come, but it’s that “stupid and contagious” line that broke my heart. You know when someone says something and you think, “how did they know?”

How could a guy in the Pacific Northwest know who I was and exactly what I was going through? He couldn’t, and that meant there were more like me, disaffected, lost, lonely, and that was unbelievably comforting. There were more like me, I wasn’t alone.

The song destroys all pretense and perfectly sums up the ache in us all and ends… wait’ll you hear this… “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.” Whatever, nevermind!!!! Awesome. It’s angry, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, honest, cutting, and hilarious. It is overwhelmingly real.

People began dressing differently, doing (or not doing) their hair, speaking truth, showing their wounds and scars. We started to think about confessing that no, things might not be ok.

3 years later, in April of 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Sigh.

But the world had changed, he shined a light into our souls and exposed us. The images and facades were hollow, the emperor had no clothes. So now what? We could start to find the clothes that did. We could be whatever we wanted, whatever we actually were. So who was I in 1991? Nobody knew. I sure didn’t. I had spent so long being what you wanted me to be that I hardly noticed who I truly was.

I didn’t know how or where to find out – only that it was absolutely necessary. One thing I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t find anything in Mariah Carey videos. Or the church.

Emotions — November 1, 2019

Emotions

I gave a talk at a youth group near Gettysburg last Saturday. The church is fairly conservative (although it could be said that, to me, maybe every church is fairly conservative) and there was a very good chance that I would not play well there. I shared the message for their Sunday service several years ago and have not yet been invited back. The looks on the congregants faces told me as much, so the fact that I was not yet invited back was far less surprising than that I was for their youth group.

I was because I have very good friends who either persuaded everyone else who (hopefully) had forgotten the past or hidden my visit from them altogether. I didn’t ask which one.

My very good friend asked me to come and speak about music and faith. I said yes, of course, then asked “um, what kind of music?” Because the kind of talk I would give on Christian music might not be what she had in mind. And actually, what music I consider to be Christian might not be everyone’s, and we should probably know what definition we’re using to avoid the kind of misunderstandings I enjoy. She said whatever I wanted, and I asked her to pretty please repeat that. And she did. So, I said yes again.

Now, I think it would be fun to explore those songs and ideas here, in a short series based on that talk, called “It’s a Cold and It’s a Broken Hallelujah.”

The songs are: “Emotions,” by Mariah Carey. (So you know and can follow along as intended, we played the videos – easily found in a Google search. For this one, however, I offered to simply play the song because there was “a significant cleavage issue.” And there is.) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Help Is On The Way,” by Rise Against. (This one is the only one that the video is absolutely necessary.) And “Hallelujah,” the cover version by Jeff Buckley.

“Emotions” was a gigantic hit record in 1991. It was all of the words that begin with P: polished, produced, perfect. What an unbelievable showcase for that extraordinary instrument of hers, right?!! She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. The video is exactly like the song, glossy and refined, as if a team of marketers created it in a laboratory for maximum exposure and sales figures.

The problem is that it’s called “Emotions,” and I don’t feel any at all. Except that she’s awesome, I suppose.

Pretending is the other P word that comes to mind with something like this. It’s like an advertisement for LIFE, or at least the life other people are living, that I could be living if only I…whatever. It brings to mind – and the reason I play it in discussions of spirituality – gauzy pictures of Christians with perfect teeth and plastic smiles. This was the perspective I had of people of faith for the first half of my life. To me, they all looked like Joel Osteen book jackets, all smiles and manicured nails. My life wasn’t all smiles and manicured nails. In fact, no life I knew was all smiles. Sometimes, there were tears and dirt and darkness and hairs wildly out of place.

When you’re upset and the wheels are falling off, a Christian, with their cliches and cheery platitudes and “God’s plan,” is often the very last person you’d like to see. The carefully crafted images of rounded edges and masks they wear usually just amplify their uncomfortability and insecurity.

Everything is fine, and if it’s not, shhh, we’ll just hide that behind the closet door and hope it goes away.

Phony (another ‘P!!’) That is what “Emotions” means to me.

I understand that this is not the most positive way to start a conversation, but it gets better. It has to.

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell — October 31, 2019

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell

I’m trying to add a rest day to my life. It’s an interesting thing, when I left my job to work from home, I also left a life neatly segmented into work/rest and on/off. My initial fear was that a childish impulse for laziness (my childish bend towards laziness, in fact) would rule and I would get nothing at all done. This fear was unfounded and instead, it’s opposite proved to be the real concern. Without the structure of time “on,” punching a time clock to be at work there could be no “off,” no rest, and that rest became the most damaging casualty of the move. Even when I wasn’t actively working on something, when I wasn’t productive, I was considering what I would do. Or worse, what I should be doing. That ‘should’ provided a wide-open door for the voices whispering the lies that have plagued me forever, convincing me that any time not working was idle, wasted, that I had not changed and my poor work ethic was letting everyone down, that I was a disappointment.

Those voices are the absolute worst. We can talk about them more another time. What I want to talk about is the next step I’m taking on the journey towards health (all kinds; physical, emotional, spiritual, etc) and ultimately, peace.

So. Now I try to take a day off – No work, nothing to do with church or pastoral duties. Initially, I wasn’t going to go the gym, but as it turns out, I like that, it’s filling to me and allows me to eat a little more;)  Anyway, 2 weeks ago was the first and we talked about that here. I watched The Hateful 8 and started a book, Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Then, last week, I didn’t intentionally choose a film, so I ended up unintentionally staring at half-hour sitcoms and reality tv and not opening the Hornby book until the evening. I’m not one of those condescending snobs…well, actually I am, but not about mindless tv. I see their purpose and think the phrase “guilty pleasure” is ridiculous. We all like what we like and sometimes those things are food and sometimes they’re leeches, sucking our energy and motivation. The very same things can be positive and negative, depending on the day and moment.

On the Hateful 8 day, I was refreshed and bright. even though I didn’t too much like the movie, I was inspired by it’s scope and artistry. The following week, I was drained and depressed. The things we put into our body (into our eyes and ears and souls as well as our mouths) and when we put them in matter more than we recognize. And no one can tell us what and when. It takes attention/intention and a desire to live the kind of lives for which we have been created. That’s not easy and the hardest part is that it takes a long inward journey and willingness to meet ourselves in dark places, hold hands and lead us back into the light.

This week, I watched an ESPN documentary called Chuck & Tito, about 2 mixed martial arts fighters, and finished Funny Girl. I also watched the People’s Court. They were all awesome, (especially Funny Girl), you should find and experience all of them. And today, I feel like a million bucks.

It’s as if these works of art rub up against us and can either erode, wearing us down into hollow-eyed shells over time, or they can provide the impetus for growth, fulfillment and new life. It’s just up to us to decide which one it’ll be.

 

 

Fighting — October 22, 2019

Fighting

I am sitting at my dining room table. This is unusual because I usually sit in the living room in a super-soft and cozy reclining chair that was given to me. I’m here because we have a fish tank in here, so I’m facing that direction watching the colors of the light fade into one other, wanting to write this post but having NO IDEA what to write. Incidentally, there aren’t any fish in this tank. Just 2 snails.

Staring at the tank, through the water, I can see a 4×6 index card I have on my mirror. I have 2. 1 has a quote from a Mark Steele book, Half-Life/Die Already I think: “I don’t know what’s coming. But I know it will not be too much.” The one I’m interested in today has a Bible verse, Nehemiah 4:14 (I mistakenly wrote 5:14): “Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your friends, your family, and your homes.” On my mind this morning – and last night as I lay awake, unable to sleep – is the fight I had with my boys and it’s consequences.

I don’t care what the fight was about, to tell you the truth, except to remember that they lost their video games for 2 days (!!??!!) and to follow through on that ban.

What happened afterwards is what I care about. I live my life in such a way that, if you and I have a disagreement, no matter how heated it may get, when it’s over, it’s over. You see, when I was growing up, I had a dad who would withhold himself from me in anger and/or disappointment. There would be days and weeks where he would silently ignore me until he didn’t, and then we could go back to normal. It was crushing and never failed to thoroughly break my heart. So, in all of my other relationships, I promised that we would never so carelessly waste precious moments like that. Early in our marriage, Angel and I would argue and she would attempt to escape to…well, who knows why she would try to escape? Possibly to stop the escalating tension and gather thoughts, a count-to-10 situation. But what I do know is that those attempts would be unsuccessful. Because my dad did this kind of thing and we are waaaaay too important to miss. We are such valuable gifts. He was, too, (especially to me), but I didn’t have a say then. Now I do. So we would fight and then the fights would be over and we could hold each other’s hands and give each other smooches again.

Yesterday, the boys got in trouble and, minutes later, I wanted to show something to Samuel. Whatever it was was cool and interesting, I’m sure, but that something was also to display that we were still in love. It has recently been pointed out to me that I stand in certain places and move in certain ways as to initiate physical contact. Probably, that’s true. AND HE MOVED AWAY FROM ME, just an inch or 2, just enough so we were not touching.

He was mad or sulking or whatever and wanted to wound me, and he did. But at what cost? I’ve been teaching one thing their whole lives; that we do not withhold ourselves from others to manipulate or control. Well, 2 things; that we can argue and that’s ok – our love is unconditional.

Now, I’m mad and sulking and whatever. Mostly sad. I’ve failed as a parent blah blah blah. That my dad is gone and I miss him like crazy, and now my boys and I are going to miss each other forever. You know how these thoughts pile up, like a terrible avalanche of sadness and loss.

And here’s Nehemiah. What does it mean to fight for my friends, my family, and my home? Sigh. I guess it means to take my tears and wounded-ness and plow through his rebellion. Because he’s 14 and I’m right – this is not always the case, but in this one, it FOR SURE is. We are waaaaay too important, and some things are worth fighting for. I may have to chase him around like I did (and sometimes do) with my wife, but this story is going to end with big bear hugs and a tidal wave of smooches on his cheeks that he only pretends to hate.

I didn’t know what it meant to fight for my dad and those sweet moments that were gone too soon, but maybe in fighting for these, now, we are all fighting to reclaim those, too.

Hornby and Q.T. — October 17, 2019

Hornby and Q.T.

It’s easy to forget how much I love to read. And watch films. And write. All sorts of things, really. For some reason, I am often unwilling to make the time and energy commitment they require, but when I do – like today – I remember who I am, who I’d like to be, what I like to do.

There is a forgotten place called a library that lends actual, physical books FOR FREE and 3 weeks ago I borrowed one called Funny Girl, written by Nick Hornby. He wrote a book I’ve read a hundred times called High Fidelity that is My Very Favorite Book In The Whole World (narrowly edging Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut). And for 3 weeks, Funny Girl sat on a shelf in my dining room staring at me quietly judging, wondering why I hadn’t yet picked her up. Today, it’s pouring rain and I’ve decided to treat me a little better and take 1 day a week where I do no work (at least I try) and today is day 1, so I opened this book and began a new life.

I love to read, especially books written by Nick Hornby.

I also love Quentin Tarantino films. Today was also a day I curled up under an blanket and watched a movie I had been wanting to see, The Hateful Eight. I have 2 children who do not watch Rated-R movies, so that means I rarely watch Rated-R movies. Instead, we usually watch superhero movies – I love those, too, and have no problems watching them over and over – but I discovered years ago that I like movies where people wear regular clothes (not necessarily tights and capes) talk a lot and nothing much really has to happen for me to care. They used to be called ‘Independent’ films, and maybe they still are. Either way, I don’t make the time to see them.

I watched Hateful 8 because I love Tarantino films, or at least I think I do. I LOVED Pulp Fiction more than I can say, Kill Bill vol. 2 and Reservoir Dogs nearly as much, but most everything else has been, honestly, pretty disappointing. Hateful 8 was ok. The acting was great, the dialogue was, too, as expected. Maybe I don’t love Tarantino movies, maybe I just love 3 of them.

But whether I liked it or not seems besides the point. The point is that these 2 small-ish acts acted as mirrors, and the person I saw was familiar and awfully welcome. Great art (or not-so-great art or even bad art) is completely inspiring, shows me a world where anything is possible – where I am possible.

I do so much absently, passively. Hateful 8 wasn’t great, but it was anything but background noise. It demanded my attention, my engagement, my presence. When I get a moment, I usually choose a mindless sitcom or reality show to check out for a minute, which turns into 2 or 3, leaving me glassy-eyed and stuck. Of course, this is not a rant against the evils of sitcoms or reality tv, but at least for me, they do not give life, never encourage me to grow or evolve.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” While I can binge watch my days away, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I could read instead. Or watch something that asks something of me. Do something that gives life instead of takes.

Today is a very good day, maybe I could have more of these.

My Speedo — September 25, 2019

My Speedo

This is going to be a very personal, difficult post to write…but I’m going to write it anyway. Maybe I’m just like ‘the kids’ today, where all of life is meant to be online, where it didn’t happen if it’s not on social media. It’s a logical extension of a movement that truly began in Madonna’s illuminating (and completely insufferable) documentary Truth or Dare, where Warren Beatty says, after Madonna refuses to talk to her doctor off-camera: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Or maybe I just want to be honest with my life. If I’m going to write a blog where we relate authentically, why would I hold such a meaningful piece of me back? (I want it to be that 2nd one. I don’t want to be Madonna or a Kardashian, so let’s all just agree and say it’s the 2nd and go from there, ok?)  

I started in the sand at Rehoboth beach: As I lay here in my Speedo, I remember all of the time I spent fully dressed – self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d wear t-shirts in community pools, lakes, oceans…if I’d even go at all. Usually, I would lie about some made-up excuse and decline invitations. My body wasn’t perfect, lumpy where it should be flat and flat where it should have curves. [Who was it that decided what my body “should” look like? Who knows?]

How many times? How much did I miss?

I wouldn’t dig holes and make castles with my boys – something they absolutely LOVE to do (again, who knows why? The point is, they do) – because of how I would fold and my skin would roll. So they dug alone, and I watched from under layers of clothes and the chair extended enough to not scrunch my belly too much, sweaty and uncomfortable.

And for what? Why why why why why?????

Because THEY might think…um, what might they think?

That I wasn’t a professional athlete, bodybuilder or Abercrombie & Fitch model? That they might think I was just a person who is a child of the Living God, who leads a full life, loves his wife and children, works, writes, reads, eats great meals, likes jeans with a little stretch, and has no idea what his body fat percentage is or what his biceps measure?  

That’s ok, because that’s precisely what I am. (Except for the biceps measurement – I know that.)

How much time and energy have I spent distracted, wishing I were someone else, with someone else’s waistline or skin or paycheck or wit or whatever, while another beautiful moment of my life passed right on by. The number on a scale or letter(s) on a shirt taking precedence to the people and the places around me. What a crushing tragedy!

How much of my life have I not been present?

I’m finishing on my sofa in Cleona: So. I’ve been coming along with this, finding some deliverance from the stern body image monster whispering in my ear, until Angel decides to post a few pictures on Facebook. She shows me first, because she’s kind and respectful and the sweetest  woman this planet has ever known, and there it is…In the middle of a handful of perfectly lovely photos, there I am in, kind of sideways, more than kind of unflattering. You know how you sometimes see a picture of you and you ask, “do I really look like that?” The answer is always yes, and unflattering or not, this one is me, too. I wanted to un-check the box, but instead I handed her phone back and smiled, “They’re great!” Because they really, really are.

And I guess it’s small insignificant acts like those that are the things that really change us. We step out one tiny step further than we’ve ever gone, then there’s a brand new line waaaaay up there that’s scary and intimidating and we think, ok, we did this, but could never do THAT. Then we do, except it’s now just a small step because we’ve taken 100 microscopic tiptoes before this. Then another. And another.

And before we know it, this is our life and there we are, living it.