Love With A Capital L

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

California Son — April 25, 2019

California Son

I’m not a child, I understand that writers don’t wait for inspiration. They write. However, in the last several weeks, I’ve been undisciplined and lazy, spending too much time watching tv and feeling like I must have some kind of disease or disorder. (I wonder if there is some kind of causality (or at the very least, a connection between the 2…))

So. Today I will write. And it feels very good, like an ice bath or batting practice.

I heard ‘Suedehead’ for the first time in my sister’s car when I was 14 years old, an insecure, depressed misfit without a clue, and when I did, a crack appeared in the darkness and a seismic heart-shift occurred. For the first time in a long time, something made sense. The space around me felt safe and warm, like I was home, that I belonged somewhere (even if it was imagined in a voice on a cassette tape.)

All of my spare time was focused on him, searching out old albums, books, interviews, bootlegs, b-sides, videos, live recordings, anything I could get my hands on. There was a week where I agonized over a decision to drop over $90 I didn’t really have on the cd single for ‘Suedehead’ because it had a track I hadn’t heard and couldn’t find elsewhere: ‘I Know Very Well How I Got My Name.’ I didn’t do it, but if I had, the song was absolutely worth it.

Anyway.

I’m now 43 years old and don’t feel quite the same way – is it even possible to feel as deeply about art as an adult as we did as teenagers? I still circle release dates on calendars, still love awesome things with an irrational love, still think Morrissey is THE GREATEST.

A new covers album called California Son comes out next month and I will not be buying it. Sure, there will be moments where I put it in a virtual shopping cart and listen to segments on iTunes and entire tracks on YouTube, but I will stand strong.

As you know, there is a disgusting practice in pop culture (following the slimy trail of technology companies) re-releasing “special editions” with “extra tracks” or “all new material.” Books are re-packaged, sometimes with new titles, always new covers, and a fresh chapter or 2. Albums are called “Deluxe” have live, acoustic and/or demo versions. Films have a “Director’s Cut” or “Bonus footage.” These things are all designed to fleece those suckers who have already bought inferior versions and have to upgrade. It is now high art, this method of separating us from our money.

Morrissey used to write songs of disdain about this very thing! (See Paint A Vulgar Picture, and Get Off The Stage) As he himself said, “Oh, the sickening greed.”

I have countless copies of the same album. I am the target market. It only recently stopped, with the Low In High School deluxe edition (a sub-par offering, as originally released, but I still would love to hear the tacked-on, what-I-would-assume-to-be filler…maybe someday…)

So. I suppose this is my small revolution, my insignificant rage against this sleazy machine. I want all Morrissey albums to sell a gazillion copies, all radio stations to play nothing but old Smiths records, but I can’t do it anymore. I am trying to, as the Bible says, no longer “conform to the pattern of the world,” especially when those patterns make me feel like an utter imbecile. This is a toxic relationship, I can see that now. So this is goodbye. It’s not you, it’s m… No, no, wait, it IS you. “But you could have said no, if you wanted to. You could have walked away, couldn’t you?”

 

catfish — March 7, 2019

catfish

Today on MTV, Catfish in on. If you are unfamiliar, Catfish is a terrific show where people who think they’ve found true love online discover, with the help of host Nev Schulman, that the objects of their affections are not at all the people they believe them to be. It’s pretty great tv, where the drama is in the search to find the actual person, then the reveal and subsequent confrontation, and finally the tears and broken heart resolution. Who knows what all is real? (Only children still believe that reality tv is, in fact, reality. It’s more of a ‘based on a true story’ situation, probably.) But there is an undercurrent that is very real, that is too easily missed as we watch shows, detached and judgmental – the judgment either taking the form of sympathy for the fished or disgust for the fisher.

It’s interesting how quickly we can dismiss the Bible as outdated and irrelevant, stories about ‘they’ and ‘them’ and not ‘we’ or ‘us.’ It is much the same with programs like this. The lines that separate us are nowhere near as defined as each of us like to think, and the more we can dismantle these structures and erase those lines, then there is the chance for understanding and genuine connection.

It’s not surprising that we draw these lines of comparison and condescension, it’s all part of the foundation of Catfish. The people who are fishing, deceiving those on the other end of the screen, are creating images of themselves. They are actors on a stage pretending to be someone else, someone they are not, to gain acceptance and belonging. And I watch, pretending to not be just like them, pretending that we are very different. Now, I have never used your pictures or lied my face off to waste years of someone’s life, but I have a loooooong history of image-building. I have been what’s called a pleaser, trying desperately to fit what I think you want, to be cool, smart, funny, mean, trendy, or whatever.

I shake my head and say, ‘these people.’ But like so much, there is no ‘these people,’ there is only ‘me,’ only ‘us,’ and the weight of the show is in the mirror it uses to shows us how unsatisfied we are being who we are. I need better jeans, a better job, a better car, more money, clearer skin, bigger biceps and a smaller spare tire, to find fulfillment, peace, happiness, peace.

Who am I? is The Question that is always looming, just beyond fake plastic filtered smiles and sunshine instagram posts. Not everyone’s food (or workout or pants or marriage) looks that perfect all the time.

Ok, so I am a catfish in all kinds of ways. But I am the catfished in more (and the truth is, everybody is.) I do all of these things, contort myself into more desirable positions, for the same reason everyone has ever done, since the beginning of time – for that beautiful bond, for a hand to hold, for love. That’s why the unbearably naive victims on the show believe EVERYTHING, because they are willing to close their eyes and cross their fingers in the hope that this time it might be true, that they might not be alone. Of course, the paradox is that as long as we wear masks, we’ll never find the authentic relationship for which we are wearing the masks in the first place. But we have to wear the masks because we’re all so busy trapped in ‘us’/’them’ theology, and this catch 22 rolls over and flattens us all.

But yesterday is not today and today is not tomorrow. Just because we have always done it this way doesn’t mean we will continue. It is not just what it is. The revolution starts when we say it does.

 

 

Slippery When Wet — February 16, 2019

Slippery When Wet

My favorite Christmas present this year, and maybe ever, is a poster my wife bought for me called 100 Albums Scratch Off Bucket List. The poster has 100 squares, covered in silver like convenience store lottery tickets, for 100 great albums, and as you listen to them, you scratch the silver away to reveal a clever cartoony depiction of the spirit of the cover art.

Today I’m listening to Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi (but surely you already knew who recorded the classic Slippery When Wet.) Right now, it’s track 3 – ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ (and probably you already knew what track 3 was, too.) It’s my 21st favorite song of all time. (‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ by the Smiths, is #1, ‘I Can’t Help Myself,’ by Gene, is 2, ‘Half A Person,’ also by the Smiths, is 3, and ‘Good Enough,’ by Sarah McLachlan is 4. Incidentally, ‘I Remember You,’ by Skid Row, is #7.) You probably don’t remember how good ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ is, maybe you’re unfairly judging it by the lack of the ‘g’ in Livin’ or the hairstyles & tight pants, now that you’re older and Bon Jovi stopped being considered awesome after the New Jersey album. You’re wrong, though. But it’s ok, we all bought that then. It’s time to move past that, now, make our own paths, write our own stories. This is as good a place as any to start.

(Wanted Dead Or Alive is on now. So much better than you remember. I promise.)

I’ve heard so many of these albums, but I’m listening to them all again before I can scratch them off. I started with the Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I missed it the first time around, disregarding them as just one of a million poor copies of the Strokes. I was wrong, it’s a terrific record.

Jon sings, in ‘Without Love,’ “I see my life, some things I took for granted.” I wonder what else I missed, what else I took for granted because of my misguided convictions. Because of my snobby elitist judgmentalism. Because of my blindness. I guess I’m not talking about Slippery When Wet or the Arctic Monkeys anymore (well, maybe just a little.) It’s the kisses, hands, conversations, moments I may not have given the attention they deserved that can haunt me. Wrapped up in busy-ness, anxious about what had been or what would be, worried about what I looked like or the image I was projecting. Do you know I used to wear a shirt to the beach, too self-conscious of a few extra pounds to exhale? Can you imagine?

(I just discovered that it’s impossible to type while ‘Never Say Goodbye’ plays.)

I don’t want to miss anything, but I know I will, because I’ll forget. And when I do, it’s nice to have someone walking with me to point things out, to tell me to breathe and sing out loud and dig in the sand with my shirt off. And sometimes, she will buy THE COOLEST POSTER EVER to remind me.

 

How It Ends — January 31, 2019

How It Ends

So, my friends, here is how it ends:

First, I am a little unfamiliar with spoiler rules for books. Are books the same as movies or TV shows? Because some of them have spoilers that never expire – like The Sixth Sense. This book was written in 2014, how long do I have to wait? Well, I’m going to ruin this book for you. 6 pages from the end, a sentence begins, “At the bookseller’s funeral…” and it was exactly as devastating as you think it was.

I sent this text to my wife, earlier, BEFORE I got to that sentence, “I’m going to be in our room crying over this book…I won’t meet you at the door” because we meet each other at the door every single time we leave or return.

It’s interesting to know how much to share with people, right? You probably had a picture of me in your head and maybe that picture didn’t include me crying in bed over a book, but that’s apparently who I am.

Then, last night, we watched the Incredibles 2 (because it’s amazing and it was also the sort of dangerous cold that makes watching movies under blankets the only thing to do.) Pixar movies include short films that, theatrically, run before the feature and are sometimes as good as the main course. The one packaged with Incredibles 2 is called Bao… sigh.

It’s about 5 minutes of honest, heart-breaking perfection.

As the credits ran, my son asked me, “what happened?” because I was wiping heavy tears from my eyes. He asked me to explain and I tried, I really did, but it was about children and them growing and entering new seasons and being thankful for those new seasons while mourning the ones that are passing/have passed and how wonderful they were and how sometimes it’s hard to do that in a healthy way and and and

So.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, as I overshare, is that my heart is in perfect working order. I cried like crazy over the A.J. Fikry book and Bao because they were gorgeous, and there isn’t quite enough of that – I’m glad I’m not so calloused as to not recognize what a heart is supposed to do or feel. Mine is soft and mushy, it jumps for joy and is often painfully wounded, it celebrates and mourns easily. In other words, this beautiful heart works just fine, thanks.

 

Storied Life — January 23, 2019

Storied Life

I have this very good friend, who may or may not be named Laura Chickson, who buys me books every Christmas. They’re books I’ve never heard of and when I open them, I ask, “Do I love it?” And she, who is peaceful and easy, just sweetly nods.

Last year, my gift was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, and I am halfway through and I am already dreading the moment it will end. (Yes, of course, I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to read it.) It’s about this guy who owns a bookstore and finds a small child left in his shop, and the back cover says, “an unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.” This sort of phrase is catnip to me. The idea that our yesterday doesn’t define us and that today can be different is inspiring and hopeful, keeps me looking up and moving forward. And turning pages.

I love turning pages, books and the simple act of reading. I miss book stores. Like everyone else, buying books online is easy and quick and I appreciate the “people who bought this also bought…” but something has been lost. I miss record stores more than I can express. Tuesdays used to be the day for new releases, and I played hooky more Tuesdays than I’d care to admit. And I’d trade “people who bought this” for Joe at Record Connection, who said, “since you love Morrissey so much, you really need to have this Smoking Popes disc.” The album was Born To Quit, and he was so right. He had a band called the Neverminds and they were just as good as you’d hope they would be.

So. I miss record stores. I miss small grocery stores named after the owner. Not WalMart named after Sam Walton, more like Phares’s in Adamstown, named after Phares Harting. I miss real people talking and knowing what you like and what you are like. About 10 years ago, a co-worker invited me to a men’s group at a local mega-church, and I told him that I had already been invited by another co-worker (they must’ve thought I needed it badly, which I did), and neither had any idea they attended the same church.

But we live in a place where many small fish are being swallowed up by few gigantic sharks. And that’s ok, I guess, but only sometimes. The day I realized I had to quit my job at the Wall (an extinct local record store), a customer came in and asked me, “what do I want?” and I told him, in the snobby judgmental way I loved, “no question. Norah Jones, man.” And I showed it to him – debut Come Away With Me – then said, “but you’ll want to but it at the WalMart.” It was 18.99 at the Wall, and 9.99 down the street. I like record stores, but I like paying less, too. Maybe if I knew it meant we’d have no more Joe’s at Record Connection, I’d have paid a bit more. Sigh.

Anyway. This book is amazing, perfectly paced and each word in the right place. (As I write that, the same could be said about my friend Laura.) I’ll be sure and tell you how it ends.

 

 

Memento — January 20, 2019

Memento

There was a great (GREAT) movie in 2000 called Memento, in which the protagonist Leonard searches to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Standard thriller plot, except he has no memory at all, leaving notes all over his body, all over everything.

Now. There is a very interesting discussion to be had on the philosophical idea the film’s title is taken, Memento Mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remember death,’ or ‘remember that you will die.’ We’re not going to have that discussion.

Instead, the discussion we’re going to have is about Lady Gaga. I have been a pretty serious fan since ‘Paparazzi,’ a song so good it forced me to re-evaluate the 2 earlier singles. The problem I have with Lady Gaga is that I am afflicted with much the same issue as Leonard. Every Gaga song is without question THE BEST LADY GAGA SONG!! If ‘Hair’ is playing, it’s the Gaga masterpiece, until ‘Bad Kids’ or ‘Alejandro’ or ‘Monster’ or ‘John Wayne’ or ‘Angel Down’ or ‘Summerboy’ is playing. The truth is that her finest moment is ‘Bad Romance,’ but I just don’t remember just how fine a moment it is until it’s on.

I read the Bible, and one of the narratives is how the people of Israel get themselves in a mess, God rescues them, and they celebrate, promise to follow Him, and forget, thus beginning the circle anew. It’s terribly frustrating and impossible to read without the thought of, “seriously, again?” It’s like Mr. Incredible’s quote on saving the world, “Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess ! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!” Why don’t they just pay attention?!!? Do we really have to keep running the same story on a continuous loop forever?

To which the answer is, apparently, yes.

I sigh, shake my head and mumble about ‘these people,’ while I make the same mistakes over and over, step into the same traps, fall into the same holes, continue to think ‘Manicure’ is better than ‘Bad Romance.’

We all have a little bit (or a lot) of this Leonard, forgetting really important details of our lives.  I know Lady Gaga songs aren’t the ‘really important details of our lives,’ but you get the point. We certainly aren’t bound by our pasts, but there is value in where we’ve come from, who we were, how we have grown, overcome, transcended, value in celebrating the times we were rescued. All of it provides the context for living and where we will go and who we will be. I suppose we all need more notes and tattoos as reminders.

My boy just walked into this room where I am writing, sat on the edge of the couch and expressed some remarkably insightful thoughts about Marvel characters. I hope I don’t forget this moment – it’s just perfect. (What’s not is how he’s going to get himself into trouble in 15 minutes, but for now…perfect)

There’s no special, clever ending here, just the same thing. I want to be present to every second. That’s mostly what the idea of Memento Mori is about – we are going to die, so we should enjoy each moment as if it’s the last, and then, we will really live. (Maybe we are going to talk about this now.) This is from a site called The Daily Stoic: “Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, a car can hit you in an intersection and drive your teeth back into your skull. That’s it. It could all be over. Today, tomorrow, someday soon.”

This purpose, priority, meaning, urgency, all of it is so overwhelming in its beauty. It’s called presence, right? Being present to my life, and never taking any of it (the what, where, why, how and especially the who) for granted. And remember, because I don’t want to have to keep relearning it every day.

 

 

Youth Sports — January 9, 2019

Youth Sports

The subtitle for this post is “An Argument for the Abolition of Competitive Youth Sports,” because I can’t think of any reason for this dinosaur to continue to exist, infecting generation after generation. 

[Full disclosure; I grew up playing baseball, from the time I was 8 through college, now my children play, and I’ve coached them in each of the sports they’ve tried. I am a sports guy. I love all sports (playing and watching and especially talking about) – except maybe soccer – and competition. I can make arguments all day long for the important values and lessons sports teach. My kids are athletic – good at most sports, very good at others. 1 is easy going and less driven, the other is ultra-competitive – I was a maniac, winning or losing on the field set the tone for everything else in my life. There, now that’s out of the way.]

The entire system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt, from the inside out. The one that stands in its place is a monster that has grown hideously disfigured. Of course, as it usually goes, the monster is me, is us. 

Sports do teach ‘important values and lessons,’ but the vast majority of lessons the adults (including me) teach are important, they’re just negative ones. We teach selfish ambition, pettiness and ugly vindictiveness, not class and character. I could tell stories forever, detailing the experiences I’ve had, the venomous words directed at me, the rage-filled stares and glares dripping with hatred focused on me. Oh, the phone calls!!! 

But instead, I’ll just apologize and ask forgiveness for the many times I’ve spoken quickly & harshly. The many times I’ve made decisions about the ability and (much worse!!) character of children that were 6 or 8 or 10, based on commitment and effort – as if who we are at 6 is who we will be at 26 or 46. The number too high to count of times I’ve thought only of the final score at the expense of the lives that had been entrusted to me to care for. I am unbelievably sorry for the damage I’ve inflicted, the friendships I’ve broken, the moments I’ve lost to disordered priorities.

The positives that kids learn can just as easily be learned a few years later, at 13 or 14. Self-esteem? If we are getting our worth and value from a game played every Sunday, Heaven help us all. Friendships? Again, if our teammates a few hours a week are our only relationships, maybe we need the push elsewhere. Physical activity? Seriously – we all need to go outside and breathe a bit more, kick a ball or play catch. Competition? Maybe that can wait. Maybe we don’t need to start to learn comparison and winning and losing until our personalities are a bit more developed, our character a little more solid, our worth a bit more sculpted. 

Maybe our kids don’t need to see the grown-ups behaving like animals because of ‘them’ and their playing time. The coaches are always wrong, right? They always are playing the wrong people, making the wrong decisions, buffoons, trained circus animals riding tricycles in circles. The coaches “don’t know the game,” and the officials are much much worse. From the sideline, the politics of the team, league, and universe have all conspired to keep their kid, my kid from achieving his/her true potential. Obviously, this has absolutely nothing to do with the player and absolutely everything to do with me.

The kids we’re so concerned with hear and see us arguing, screaming and fighting with each other – where are the ‘values and lessons’ in that??

So, I have an idea. There is such beauty in sports, in the artistic expression of athleticism, in the introduction of perseverance, the development of skill and coordination. We can keep sports, keep the practices, the instruction, the camaraderie, just eliminate the games. With the absence of victory and defeat and starters and substitutes that aren’t getting enough playing time, it would only be about kids and the game. I know, I know, how would we display our pride and vanity? I’m sure we would discover ways to do it, (cage wrestling or gladiatorial combat, perhaps), but maybe no longer at the expense of each other’s kids.