Love With A Capital L

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

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.

Ariana Grande — September 4, 2019

Ariana Grande

A looooooong time ago in what only feels like a distant galaxy, MTV played music videos. The Buggles and their beautiful warning, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was the first of many, a doorway to a surprising new world of possibility. “Thriller,” “Take On Me,” and “Buddy Holly” were the best high concept short films, and shone brightly among the mindless concert footage and tour clips. Now, there are no videos. There is Catfish, Ridiculousness, Challenge, Teen Mom, and the unholy sequels of the Hills and Jersey Shore. Maybe there’s more, who knows? The only music is the 8 seconds in and out of break and to soundtrack long pensive drives.

I loved music videos and I’m really sorry they’re nearly extinct. Only nearly, because I can still see an hour of them every day on the Planet Fitness corporate channel on the informational (time, temperature, local advertisements, promotions, etc) tv’s.

Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” though fairly old, is still on a pretty tight rotation, which means I see it 3 or 4 times a week. The song isn’t great but it’s not terrible – better now that I know most of the words and can sing along.

“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles. Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble. Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines. Buy myself all of my favorite things (yeah)…My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah). I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah)”

I recognize that there’s something absurd about a man like me singing these words, but just because I have no idea what it means to have a neck that is flossin’ or a gloss that is ‘poppin’ doesn’t mean mine isn’t, right?

Anyway. (What’s next isn’t new or earth-shattering, but it is worthy of our attention and lament.)

MTV was invented as a vehicle to move product – like a big, shiny bulletin board of advertisements. The difference (and I can’t pinpoint when it happened…probably Madonna, I suppose) is that the product was the music: albums, singles, t-shirts, concert tickets, posters. Now, Ariana Grande’s songs (we can’t even talk about albums, NOBODY but me buys albums anymore) are not the point at all. As far as I can tell, the video for “7 Rings” is an ad for an internet porn site. It’s not a commercial for a song, it’s a commercial for only 1 aspect of Ariana Grande, her sexuality.

I’m not here to say what she’s doing is wrong, or why she’s doing them is wrong (or even if there’s even such a thing as right & wrong in pop superstardom.) She’s an adult. What I am here to say is that I believe that Ariana Grande is a smart, strong, funny, unbelievably talented woman, a daughter, sister, who has opinions on politics and spirituality, who loves her parents, grandparents, is loyal and generous to the friends she had before she was famous, still mourns the breakup of her marriage, laughs too loudly sometimes  and in places she might not talk about openly is insecure and feels totally inadequate. I believe these things about her because I believe these things about everyone.

When she is reduced (as she is in the video) to only the 1 part of herself that is deemed important to people like me and you, it minimizes her AND it minimizes us – as if we are only capable of the most obvious, least nuanced understanding of another human being. No one is just one thing. We are each the most wonderful mosaics. When we categorize another based on just one part of their humanity – whether it is race, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, whether they are left-handed, or whether or not they are ‘hot’  – it wrongly implies that that isolated superficial label is all we are. As I watched “7 Rings,” I wondered if/when she is no longer what music executives brand ‘sexy,’ will her talent still be valuable? Would she still be beautiful?

I mostly like to listen to songwriters and read magazines and bios and liner notes because I’ve always care about who is making the music; who they are, where they come from and what they are all about. They are more than pictures, more than notes, more than songs and certainly more than genitalia.

I know, it’s probably an old-fashioned notion and there probably isn’t much room to bring this up without being branded something or other. And maybe I am that something or other. Maybe. But I am absolutely, positively much more.

 

 

 

 

Trolls — August 23, 2019

Trolls

My 2 sons and I saw the movie Trolls Tuesday morning at the local theater. Now, I recognize that Trolls is not the most masculine movie – sort of makes Frozen look like Raging Bull – but there we were, just 3 guys deep in the story of Princess Polly and Justin Timberlake. JT says in the movie that his grandma says he has the voice of an angel and as it turns out, she was fantastically right. In the emotional climax, he sings the awesome Cyndi Lauper ballad True Colors. My heart stopped and I wept – not because I cry at everything, I do, but this time it was because that was the ONLY response. It was an uplifting fairy tale of the power of happiness and friendship full of great (if a bit inconsequential) songs and pastel colors.

As we walked out of the darkness, we agreed. It was fine.

Now, to discuss Trolls is to actually discuss Toy Story. Not 4, which is in theaters now, but the first time we saw Woody and Buzz, when the landscape shifted and Trolls would never be good enough again.

Before 1995, kids movies were paper thin, superficial, helpless princesses and as subtle and nuanced as a falling anvil. The parents took their children and waited for the end credits to roll. That is, until Pixar introduced us to full, complex characters who had journeys that mirrored our own. Since then, instead of pandering to children with parents held hostage, our minds and hearts are now engaged the same way live-action films could, but rarely do. Think about the first 15 minutes of Up, Bing Bong and Sadness in Inside Out, and every second of Wall-E. They embrace our souls as we are immersed into computer-generated worlds that are more authentic, more true, than photographs of our own.

Trolls, pre-1995, is pretty great. Now it’s simply ok. Fine. We may sing the songs again (except for that steaming piece of garbage, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” That one will not be welcome in my house) but we won’t remember the names or the plot. It’s just not good enough anymore.

An assignment in a college 20th Century world class required us to write some sort of essay. I don’t remember what the actual topic was because I didn’t follow the directions at all. I wrote my own paper on, I think, a talk given by Henry Rollins. As the professor, John Synodinos (a beautiful man who was perfectly suited to be an educator), passed our graded papers back to us, he held mine up and said, “This one,” and paused. I expected to be eviscerated for my rebellion, but he lit up and said, “His name is Chad Slabach, remember that name. He is a writer.”

I will never forget that day, that feeling. It was the first time I was actually seen in school. It was a fresh word, spoken to a young man full of “potential” (is there a more hurtful label??) who didn’t “apply” himself. I was never good enough of what everyone wanted me to be, always disappointing. I was nice. Fine.

John Synodinos held my fractured psyche in his hands and spoke a different truth. With his acceptance and affirmation, opened my eyes, and the lies I believed about myself would never be good enough anymore. My life was fundamentally changed.

Could it be that I was more than just fine? Maybe I needed less acquiescence and more expectation. Less shuffling and more soaring.

There are moments where the walls we’ve constructed that limit us are exposed and we start to believe that what we’ve settled for is beneath us, right? It’s not like we cross a threshold and crawl out of a cocoon completely new, the old habits die hard, never quietly. Trolls still gets green-lit and a gigantic budget, but we begin to see that those old clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I see that familiar look in someone’s eyes, I pray for that Synodinos moment for them, pray that I can be one who can help to give it to them. I pray for that crack in the old paradigm that will bring the whole thing crashing down and the imagination that has lain dormant for so long can escape.

Hm. Actually, now that I think about it, Branch (JT) is a prisoner of his own perceived narrative that keeps him gray, grouchy, and small. He needs his own Synodinos (Princess Poppy) to show him the way out, that there IS a way out… Well, maybe Trolls is better than I thought.

Steven Patrick Morrissey — June 26, 2019

Steven Patrick Morrissey

Late last week, my sister tagged me in a Facebook post that advertised a Morrissey concert near Philadelphia, roughly an hour from my house.

She tagged me because her my brother-in-law would never go, he can’t stand Morrissey, hates his voice like fingernails on a chalkboard. He’s wrong, and it calls into question every other opinion he holds. She also tagged me because Morrissey has been my favorite singer since I was 13. You know how, when people are asked what they listen to, they usually think for a minute and say, “oh, well, everything really?” Or pause when they’re asked what they’re favorite song is? I never pause, because I don’t have to think. I say, “Morrissey/the Smiths” (the Smiths are the Very Important Band Morrissey fronted for a time in the ‘80’s) or “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” as if I’ve been waiting for someone to ask. Then they either nod, impressed, or confess that they have no idea who Morrissey is. 

It is no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. I’ve had a 30 year relationship with him and the songs/albums that have provided the soundtrack for EVERY SINGLE significant moment of my life; celebrations, heartbreaks, joy, pain, times when I was broken and times when I was whole. I listened to Louder Than Bombs (‘Unloveable’ on repeat) on my way home from an ex-girlfriend’s apartment after we had separated. I listened to Bona Drag on my way to and from my high school graduation. I knocked off school every time a new album was released – in fact, when World Peace Is None Of Your Business was released in 2014, I woke up at 3am to download it so I could have it for the gym at 4 and work later that day. If CDs and New Release days were still a thing, I imagine I would’ve knocked off of work that day, too. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” was my wedding song, played right in the middle of the ceremony, for all of us to hear about “double-decker bus” crashes and the pleasure and privilege of dying “by your side.” 

In the book High Fidelity, Rob asks if we find the music or if the music finds us – if the songs change us or we are the kind of people who can be changed by the songs. It probably doesn’t matter if I was hypersensitive and dramatic and that’s why Morrissey appealed to me so deeply, or if his lyrics/voice led me to be hypersensitive and dramatic. I am hypersensitive and dramatic and I love him like he’s a member of my family, and if I were to ever meet him, I would thank him for being who he was to me.

I almost met him once. He was playing a show at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia and I got there at 8am to stand in line so I could press myself against the stage for the show. Around 5-ish, I think, there was rumor that he was there, but there had been many such rumors during that day, and the line was looong by then and I couldn’t trust its validity. Of course, he was there and signed everything as he spoke with the fans who found him… 

I saw him twice in concert. The first was the Electric Factory show when I was 18 and the second was with my special lady (and first son, who was safely tucked inside her stomach, listening and I imagine thoroughly enjoying himself and judging us to be The Coolest Parents in America.)     

We use the word love for everything. I love my car, these shorts, pizza, my sister, and my nephew Nathan who just graduated from high school (who incidentally, sadly agrees with his dad about Morrissey), but I don’t love them all the same. If I were to list the things I love, Morrissey would be above ALL things that aren’t people. I love him more than pizza and baseball (both in the top 10) combined, no matter how many regrettable things he says or how many shameless cash-grab greatest hit/b-side collections/deluxe editions he releases. I don’t like the new album, but at this point, it’s irrelevant. He’s family, and I don’t like or agree with everything every person I love does or says. That’s part of growing up. In college, too many relationships ended because they didn’t like Morrissey enough. I’m different now.

I don’t care anymore if you like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ though I suspect if you don’t understand why I do, you may not like me that much. 

I’m not going to the Morrissey show with my sister, even if he was playing in the high school in my town, because I don’t go to shows anymore period. It is no longer my scene. (Well, maybe I would go if it was in the high school in my town…) And I’m not buying the new California Son album – bad covers albums aren’t my scene anymore, either. 

The music found me when I was 13 through a family I worked with at the PA Renaissance Faire from the Philippines (one was named Mark, another named Jay and another was a gorgeous girl who had what looked like a stencil of a leaf on her tongue), and I’m a different person now. I’ve seen so many things come and go, graduated high school and college (twice), fell in love with Jesus, got married, buried my dad, had 2 children. So, so many changes, but one thing that never changes is Morrissey. 

I have no idea why I wrote this. There’s really no point, but I guess love letters don’t really have to have a point. The love IS the point. 

So Trish, thanks for asking, but I think I’ll pass.       

Watches — May 3, 2019

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

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.