Love With A Capital L

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

Shirkers — April 29, 2021

Shirkers

“There are movers. There are shakers. And there are shirkers.” That’s the very catchy tag line for the Sandi Tan documentary Shirkers that I watched today.

This is a different circumstance because all of the many colored blocks that populate the calendar on my phone had to be erased, leaving me with oodles of free time. Free time that has been suggested/issued/commanded by the PA Department of Health. In the DoH phone call to check on my symptoms (none) and/or exposure (constant), they kindly asked me if I would be complying with the quarantine order and I thought that was a nice gesture. I guess they can’t make me, per se, but I do love you a lot, so I’m on lockdown.

(I don’t want to talk about COVID or quarantine guidelines & regulations. Also, because everyone is home, I can’t talk about Father Yod and the Source Family doc I began that is inappropriate for young viewers. Soon, soon.)

Now. Shirkers. It’s a pretty great documentary but I don’t think I would’ve liked the movie it’s based on at all. The film is from Singapore and at least 5 times too art school pretentious for me.

Mostly, we have our imaginations squeezed out of us by the time we make it to middle school, replaced with standardized tests and the overwhelming stress of future success hanging in the form of grade point averages. We have “what could be” beaten into “it is what it is,” “why not” into just “not.” Shirkers was founded on the idea that something new is not only possible, but here in their heads screaming to be expressed.

I don’t care if I would’ve liked the film. I want to live in a world where art exists that I find horrible or offensive, because that means I cold love it, too. You can’t love the middle of the road. You can’t love white bread. I value the risks of dreaming of a new day, where yesterday isn’t necessarily today. It might be, but it’s up to us to decide if it will be. If we sand off all the edges, all we’re left with is circles rolling in and out of our souls and lives, never making an impact.

Bad art (I’m not saying Shirkers was bad art. The truth is that I don’t know, nobody knows, some charlatan stole and trashed the audio files) is essential to forward motion. The line between compete unwatchability and the best thing you’ve ever seen is thin and blurry at best, invisible at worst. I’d like to totally ignore that line and listen to the creative impulse in each of our heads & hearts and follow that, instead. Of course, maybe it’s destined for the rubbish heap, but what if it’s not? As it says on so many inspirational plates and blocks of wood, “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

A Robbery — April 15, 2021

A Robbery

2 days ago I started a limited documentary series on Netflix called This Is A Robbery about a never-solved art heist. Every time I see the word heist now, I involuntarily think of the time heist from Avengers Endgame. (for this reason, I’m going to use the word as much as I can) This doc is not like Endgame. The other thing is that we know from the opening moments that the 1991 heist hasn’t been solved. The Angel can’t stand things like that, with no resolution. I don’t mind because so much of life doesn’t have nice tidy endings and we have to be ok with strings left untied.

The interesting thing about this series (and this heist) for me, was an outrage far outweighing the mild annoyance I feel at garden variety heists of institutions like banks or corporations.

A personal robbery is a different animal altogether. Taking another’s anything violently rips away any safety and security previously felt. It’s a deeply personal, psychological violation that can, and often does, haunt forever.

Obviously, I understand that there are human beings and trauma involved in banks and corporations, I’m just telling you that the sadness I felt when these one-of-a-kind paintings and artifacts were stolen and never recovered was far deeper than the loss of a 100 dollar bill. Or a zillion 100 dollar bills.

It felt like the violation was one of humanity, of culture, of society, of beauty, of creativity. Like the heist was picking the pocket of the Divine. This feeling was unavoidable to me as the filmmakers showed 1 particular painting over and over: Rembrandt’s The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee.

It’s a cool Bible story of God’s peace in the middle of an overwhelming storm. I’ve always loved the story and I like it even more now. The painting is stunning, and now no one will ever see the original again.

That’s horrible for a lot of reasons. When Rembrandt’s talent and passion (gifted from that same Christ) to craft this work of art (inspired by that same Christ) and loved by so many people (created in that same Christ) was lifted, so were all of those blessings. For God so loved us all that He gave us that masterpiece, through that artist. Art, especially great art, is a window of the Garden of Eden, where the first humans were made from love in the wildly creative image of God. Work like this shows us our intention and possibility, which is written into our souls. Work like this teaches us to dream, to imagine, to hope. Work like this shows us the beauty inherent in each of us in ways that a green piece of paper cannot.

That beauty is of course still there, heist or not. It’s just heartbreaking that a magnificent illustration of it was callously cut from frames and is now left to rot in some warehouse where it can no longer bear witness to our own striking brilliance.

Kong — April 8, 2021

Kong

Last weekend I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong.

First thing to know about me, while you might think it’s just the kind of movie I’d like, it’s not. There are roughly 2,500 movies in existence with King Kong and/or Godzilla in the title, I haven’t liked one. This wasn’t an exception. My sons loved it, so I said I did, too. I want them to like mostly everything, to not become one of those insufferable snobs who thinks it’s cool to hate. I used to be that guy. I’d tell them (and anyone else who would listen to me self-righteously pontificate) about dialogue and plot holes and blah blah blah and they’d feel silly for loving it and who wins in that? No one. I don’t believe in “guilty pleasures,” either. We can like anything we like and there’s absolutely no guilt in that. Unless it’s that song “Watermelon Sugar,” by that boy that I think used to be in One Direction. Anything else, have fun, man. Life is heavy a lot of the time, if monsters pro wrestling each other is your deal, this is your movie, enjoy!!!

That’s my review of the movie itself, but I’m writing this to tell you how much I LOVED going to the theater to see Godzilla vs Kong. I was overjoyed to buy tickets and popcorn and sit in a mostly empty deafening theater with other actual flesh-and-blood human beings having an experience together.

COVID stole a lot of things from us, and to take them back inch by inch is wonderfully satisfying. Our friends have been on screens and telephones, hugs are virtual, smiles have been obscured by masks. Theaters have been closed. There has been so much loss in these past 13 months, a monster movie in the theater is hardly the most important, but sometimes it’s the little things we might consider trivial at another time that perfectly capture the pain or the hope in any situation.

One time a flood destroyed my home and all of my things and that was horrible, but it was months later when I had a wedding to attend and realized I didn’t have dress socks that broke me into a million pieces. I wept loudly, bitterly in my truck along the highway. Dress socks were hardly the most valuable thing we lost, but as symbols go, it was priceless.

Godzilla and Kong ushered in a new mindset for me, for us, that pointed to a reality outside of quarantines and pandemics. It illuminated a hope that we would be together again, that we would connect, that we would hold each other’s hands in our own, that we would be human again.

And as far as experiences go, I can’t imagine one better than Godzilla vs Kong.

Last Blockbuster — April 2, 2021

Last Blockbuster

I’ve been so nostalgic lately. Many of the documentaries I’ve watched and are now recommended for me by whatever AI algorithm know this well. Shopping malls, toy stores, 80’s movies and tv shows populate all of my home screens. The latest was The Last Blockbuster, a tidy history lesson on the rise and subsequent fall of video stores. There’s just 1 Blockbuster left in existence, teetering on the edge of extinction.

Now, why would anybody go to a physical store to rent a movie anymore? Maybe a better question is, why would anybody go to a physical store for anything anymore?

I do think there’s an answer for this better question. But first…

There was a record store in my town that I went to at the very least once a week. It was regularly busted for illegal drug sales, but that’s not why I went. I was/am not an illegal drug guy, except for that one time. I went for the records which turned into cassettes which turned into compact discs (of which we said on more than 100 occasions, “how could there be a new format that’s better than this??”) This one day I walked through the door, bell ringing, and the record store guy Joe (who incidentally fronted a local band that was super cool) stopped me 2 steps inside and said he had a disc for me. I asked what it was and he didn’t tell me, just said it was for me. I paid and left immediately.

Exactly like romantic set-ups, you can find out a lot about yourself by how others see you. If you had set me up with the Angel, I would know you see me as the perfect man, handsome and awesome in every way;) Conversely, if you had arranged a blind date for me with a mountain troll, I would figure you see me in a light that isn’t quite so complimentary.

How did this fellow see me? What was this album that was “for me” and would I see it the same way? It was the Smoking Popes Born To Quit and it remains one of my favorite records of all time.

It’s entirely possible the algorithm would have recommended Born To Quit, but the algorithm isn’t the singer in a band. The algorithm doesn’t know my sister or what I look like, doesn’t know that I shave my head, love kisses, hugs and Three’s Company, like you do. The truth is, it doesn’t care, either. It only cares if I buy something or if I can be used as a product to sell to advertisers.

Blockbuster and malls have something Amazon don’t, and can’t: Joe the lead singer of the Neverminds. And me – I was a record store guy, too, and a very very good one. It doesn’t have a bench outside where I would skip my college classes and sit anxiously until they’d open the steel gate and FINALLY let me in on New Release Tuesday. It doesn’t have another person standing in front of the Smiths section for me to talk to. It doesn’t have anyone to talk to, ever.

Sure, they’re not perfect. Record store guys aren’t all Joe, sometimes they’re awful and mean and don’t have the slightest clue what they’re talking about. Sometimes the mall isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes the movie you want isn’t there, sometimes the store is closed, sometimes late fees, sometimes sometimes sometimes. Of course they’re not perfect, but neither am I. You know, these retail stores are a lot like people; messy, temperamental, quirky. They aren’t ever exactly what we expect. But maybe it’s the imperfections, the individuality, the personality, the heart, that make them so great. Just like us.

Us Against You — February 11, 2021

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.

In Working Order — February 1, 2021

In Working Order

Throughout the months of COVID isolation, like so many others, we have been swimming in screens. We binge watched the entire The Office and fell hopelessly in love with Jim and Pam. All 23 MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies, even The Incredible Hulk, which almost nobody watches. Now, we’re moving slowly through the Star Wars saga, including the extras like Solo and The Mandalorian. Our commitment to wholeness required us to suffer through the prequels, disappointing then and only marginally less so now. I do love the new ones, especially The Last Jedi. It’s actually my favorite of the films.

As you know, I’m reading, too. I read another Fredrik Backman novella called “And Every Day The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.” This tiny gem is set inside the head of a man who is suffering from dementia, and losing his memories. Every day the way home to himself and his memories gets longer and longer. Obviously, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s the sort of ache that we need to have form time to time to keep our hearts soft and in working order.

I shouldn’t have read it, not now. You see, there is an unreasonable amount of death and suffering in the circles around me. I could write forever about any of them, but this is the one I will. A man lost his wife, a lovely woman, to cancer a few days ago.

I took him some bread and a card yesterday morning, half hoping he wouldn’t answer the door. (I know that sounds awful, but you know just what I mean.) He didn’t so I left it at the door and left. As I drove away, he passed me in his car. There are certain moments in your life where you see who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming. Usually these transformations happen so slowly we don’t notice. But sometimes we are able to see clearly. I wanted to keep driving. He didn’t see me, I could’ve let my card and bread be enough. I wanted to keep driving even as I was making a u-turn in the street to chase him.

He pulled into his driveway and I followed. We hugged each other, he talked, and when I could stand it no more, we both cried in the front yard.

Some things hit you harder than others. I think I know why this one leveled me the way it did. It was that it was his wife. In the book, he speaks to his deceased wife in his fading mind. And as I sat in that sadness, tears soaking my cheeks, I realized that every love story is our love story. Every lovely wife is my lovely wife. Art is of course about it’s creator but it’s also about everyone else.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader matter because fathers and sons matter, specifically, your father, your son, my dad, my son. My dad wasn’t an evil oppressor of galaxies, but we did have issues where I might have wanted him to be something other than what he was, I might have wanted him to see me as who I was, rather than trying to make me into what he wanted, or seduce me to the dark side of the force. As these things tell us a new story, they’re also reading the story of us to us in language we can understand.

My friend and his wife weren’t art, they were real life and real death. But what’s the difference, really? We’re all telling stories with our lives, finding connections in the dark, noticing hidden relationships, and it is in discovering the things that tie us together that real life truly becomes artwork.

Trash — January 28, 2021

Trash

I read a book early this week. I’m not sure I’ll give you the name because it was absolutely awful and I try not to make this a space where I tear anything down. Maybe I will.

It was written by an author I love, who wrote one of my Top 3 books of all time which was made into my favorite movie. I’ve read much of his other work and loved most of that, too. This book I found in the bargain section back when bookstores were still a thing for $5.97. I was pretty ecstatic because once, my house was swallowed by a flood where I lost everything I owned, including the books.

Not the books! I collected lots of different genres. Different translations of the Bible, some very old and with stunning old famous paintings of the stories (like Daniel in the lions den, the sermon on the mount, and David & Goliath.) They were the sort that you would keep forever and pass down through generations. I have 2 now, one a large print that I received as a gift this Christmas. I also had everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote that I could find. You can tell a lot about yourself and the journey you’re on (and if it’s the journey you think you’re on) by the books you read 10 years ago and now, similar to a map or the Kevin Bacon degrees of separation.

This $5.97 discovery sat on a shelf for years. After finishing Bear Town, Us Against You (its sequel) hadn’t yet arrived, so now was a perfect time for this treasure. I devoured it hungrily and, when I was finished, asked the same question I always do when I finish: What was that? It’s asked in various tones and sometimes in different words. Now what do I do with this thing that is now a part of me? I sat, then I walked through the house and to the kitchen, where I threw this book right into the trash.

I don’t think I’d ever done that before. I’d usually take it to the library or a thrift shop to donate or put it on my shelf, but this one is different. I don’t want anyone else to read it, ever.

Maybe putting it in the trash was wrong. It doesn’t feel that good. It feels like I’ve been disrespectful of the time & effort, of his talent and discipline, of his craft, of his creativity, carelessly casting it aside into the garbage heap of history.

You know why I didn’t like it? A major theme of his work is connection. The characters are misfits in a culture that regards them as less than human. They are alone, isolated, lonely, weird, sometimes schizophrenic, and take wildly drastic measures to find others to break those categories and create new tribes or families. Obviously I find beauty in that. Obviously. I am weird, too, often depressed & lonely, looking for connection and belonging.

This book, though, was the inverse. In the beginning, characters were together, in relationships, and the plot separated them. It was super sad. Everybody lost everything and everyone that mattered to them. I expected a shift at the end where we realized how far off track we had gotten, but there was no shift. No redemption. I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need a sliver of hope that all is not lost.

Now that I write that last paragraph, I can see why I had such a visceral reaction. The country I live in is isolated and alone, divided, and I keep waiting for the shift where we all see how far off track we’ve gotten, but there’s just more hate and rage and space between us.

I guess I threw it away because I simply can’t abide a hopeless narrative, either here in real life or on the page, and I don’t want you to, either.

New Years Day — January 1, 2021

New Years Day

This morning, 5 seconds ago, I finished the Britt-Marie book by Fredrik Backman that I was telling you about. It was amazing. It’s interesting what gets you to where you are.

A great friend gave A Man Called Ove to me for Christmas and it took me over a year to read it. Then years later, I bought My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry at the beach because I didn’t adequately plan. I bought it with Adjustment Day by Chuck Pahlaniuk, which I immediately started. My Grandmother waited months for me and then it broke my heart in every wonderful way. Then I got The Deal Of A Lifetime and Britt-Marie Was Here from the library. (I’ll buy both of them today.) The titles are perfect and the covers are better. It’s interesting how superficial some things are, but they open the doors that need opening.

The first characteristic I noticed about my wife was her smile. Then her legs and the shape of her, like a guitar. She is the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, then and now. Her fonts and cover were excellent. But fonts and covers and clever titles only go so far.

These books are full of depth and soul, and so is she. To say that The Angel is the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, then and now, is a little offensive, like only seeing one small tree in a forest as big as the ocean. She is an ocean of everything lovely, a few things that are not lovely (because she is after all a human being), and the small tree that is her cover.

It’s New Years Day and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I waited to work out until I finished Britt-Marie Was Here. It makes me feel that this year could be anything. That’s the same way I feel when she walks down the stairs everyday. Like I, we, all of us, are possible.

All is still quiet on New Years Day. She’s in this room in her pajamas on the couch. I am thankful. Content. Happy. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Less The Rock and More Lobot — December 16, 2020

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

A Bad Review — December 11, 2020

A Bad Review

I posted quite a while ago on a book I read called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved it more than I can tell you, though I tried in the post. I will always try.

So. I finished another book by Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I stayed up too late several nights ago to finish it and was exhausted all the next day. That day was heavy and my heart was soft, hammered into mush from the book. (I told you about that day – the post on that is called “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” in case you wanted to read that, too.)

I bought 4 copies today to give as gifts. Maybe I’ll buy more, but 4 was a good enough start.

The story is about a girl, 7 year-old Elsa, and her Granny, who dies and leaves a treasure hunt of sorts behind for Elsa. There are people and dogs and fairy tales, it’s funny and sad, about death but more about life. The characters are odd (I would say “delightfully odd” if I were a critic. I’m not. I’m just a man in a chair who writes for a blog that few read. If you’re reading this, you’re part of a select club. Thank you. But maybe a critic is just a person in a chair, too. Anyway.) The characters are odd and not all are very likable.

Not everybody is likable in real life, either. And those that are to me aren’t to everyone. I think my neighbors are probably the only people I know who it would be impossible not to like.

But what makes me not at all like a critic is what I’m about to do now. I don’t want to talk about the book any more. I thought I wanted to talk about the story and how it felt when I was surprised by the characters. As it turns out, I don’t.

Last night, I read another Backman book, called The Deal of a Lifetime. It is also, to borrow a phrase from Dave Eggers, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. This one is short and devastating. I won’t talk about this one, either.

The best thing about art, these books in particular today, is how they are an invitation into the parts of ourselves that are usually roped off, back rooms where nobody goes. Real life is so much more about brushing teeth and alarm clocks than themes, narratives, depth and connection, but they’re all there if we only take the time and attention to recognize them. They’re all there barely under the surface, asking to be unearthed. We hide them because of their uncomfortable complexity, but they are ultimately the things that make life so wonderful. My tears were a cleansing, an offering in gratitude that we are here and we are now. In such tremendous gratitude that we are alive.