Love With A Capital L

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

Best Of Me — January 11, 2023

Best Of Me

You already know what kind of films I like, but those are not the films that the Angel watches. To paraphrase something I read somewhere, if our cultural interests met at a party, they would not get along, would probably get into some sort of violent exchange. She likes love stories, of the rom-com genre, with or without the com. It’s the rom that stirs her. There was a time when her tastes would have been a dealbreaker, thankfully that time has past. Nick Hornby said maybe it doesn’t matter what you like, but what you are like, and that’s absolutely true.

Anyway, she’s quite sick lately, and yesterday we watched a movie called Best Of Me, based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. I didn’t really like it, but I like her very very much, so we watched it and cried together at the end.

This post is a little uncomfortable to write. You see, for most of my life, I have subscribed to the idea that great art comes from heartbreak. That nothing worthwhile comes from happiness or satisfaction. Blood On The Tracks, the Smiths, heartbreak, loss, painful revelation; those things are deep and heavy, authentic and honest. Losing My Religion was awesome, Shiny Happy People sucked.

In my line of work, I mostly deal with steaming heaps of relationship wreckage. I walk alongside and hold hands with broken hearts and spirits, that’s what I do and if I could compartmentalize or not invest so much of me, it wouldn’t hurt so much. But I can’t. I am a carrier, so every now and again, I fall apart out loud. (I recognize that’s not the most macho thing to say, maybe I’m not the most macho man. Whatever.) I see emotions, I feel energy every time I want into a room. You don’t have to tell me, I know. And that is who I am, and I’d have it no other way – I walk in & stay.

And I also often pretend that I am not deliriously happy, joyful, grateful and content in my home. These dumb tapes in my head that tell me those are shallow and superficial, there since junior high, squeal and hiss. But those tapes/beliefs are hopelessly defective. I talk, write, think so much about presence, not missing anything, living honest lives. That usually means the lows, because of our tendency to hide them, shoving them in the closets of our public Insta-image, lying that “everything is fine, great, couldn’t be better.” But it works both ways. To only give voice to the painful bass notes is equally disingenuous and leaves no room for the melody.

I looked at my wife through red, watery eyes and felt 2 distinct realities. A, I love this Angel as we are, and will for the rest of my life. We are full and totally recognize the blessings we have inexplicably been given. And 2, so many do not. So many live lives of sadness, emptiness, and meaninglessness. I have been in both spaces, probably more often in the second. But neither is superficial, neither is more valid or genuine than the other. Why would I not easily give voice to everything, ups, downs, celebrations, tears, Pulp Fiction AND Best of Me?

Great art comes from truth, and truth is found everywhere, if we only have eyes to see and the courage to be vulnerable in what we see and experience. Lives of presence and weight require 2 hands (to hold seemingly conflicting emotions/realities) and soft hearts that work exactly the way they’re designed. We rise and fall, dance and crumble, laugh and wail, honestly, without judgment or outdated, misguided valuations, and we do this all together.

And I suppose Shiny Happy People isn’t that bad.

A Christmas Life — December 27, 2022

A Christmas Life

I am the pastor of a small church in town. You might not know this because this space (lovewithacapitall.com) has been a separate room where I can talk about Morrissey (mostly) and other art and artists I like. At least as separate as I can be. The things we discuss here, we also discuss there – After all, I do write it, and the best, most authentic art comes from the most authentic parts of us. If I were to pretend I didn’t love Morrissey songs and Fight Club and superheroes, that would be to abandon certain important, meaningful parts of me. How can we connect on any sort of deep level while one of us is hiding or holding parts of him/her-self back and pretending to be something else,something we think the other wants us to be? Dishonesty and image making drive me insane. So, there (in the church virtual room), these cultural touchpoints relate explicitly to God and the complicated journey of faith. Here, not necessarily as explicitly, but they do relate.

Anyway, this particular faith community began in my living room, when the church to which I belonged closed its doors. That means I speak every Sunday, and each talk should probably contain one point the people who give their most valuable possession, their time, can use, just in case they don’t hear anything else. It’s shocking, but the truth is that not everyone present is hanging on each word I say. Gasp! On Saturday night, Christmas Eve, this ‘takeaway’ was that we don’t only celebrate Christmas once a year, but that we live Christmas lives.

What does that mean? What does a Christmas life look like? Maybe I should’ve given a bit more thought to that, it sounded like a pretty good phrase at the time, and maybe I did an adequate job at conveying the idea. Often times, we are having conversations in our heads & hearts, and very little has to be said to affect us in profound ways. For instance, let’s say you were feeling that you wanted to learn to play the guitar, then a character in the book you’re reading is a guitar player, then you’re listening to Howard Stern and he’s interviewing Slash, and then you come to a church service and I happen to be talking about Abraham and Campbell’s Heroes’ Journey and say, “Maybe you’re thinking of taking a new step…” And that’s all it takes. I don’t have to be eloquent or clear at all, it’s enough and your spirit and what I call God will do the rest.

I know a Christmas life doesn’t mean we spend money like wild animals buying things we don’t need and don’t really want in the first place, things we have to return or exchange. It doesn’t mean we buy landscaping and put it inside (though I guess it could mean that for you). It doesn’t mean we gain weight as if we’re preparing to hibernate for months (like I do). It doesn’t mean we make habits of superficial small talk with distant relatives (unless we actually care for them and the talk gets bigger and less superficial.)

It’s always easier to define what we are not, or who we don’t want to be, or what we don’t want to do, than it is to say Yes. But negative postures don’t change our lives. Wanting to not become my dad never got me closer to who I wanted to become, to who Chad was once the block of stone had been chipped away. What would it reveal? I wouldn’t be a groundhog or 10 million other things, but what would I be underneath it all? That’s the coolest thing about opening your eyes, what you’ll see.

So, here’s what I came up with. A Christmas life is one of imagination. It takes a very open mind that dreams to consider a story of a God coming as a baby to a 13 year old girl in a barn, and what it could all mean. It takes imagination to hope for something new, for a fresh word. A Christmas life hopes. We hope for more than we see, that I can be more, that you can be more, that it isn’t what it is, that we’re not simply what we’ve always been, that we can change our world. A Christmas life is relational. We ask, listen, think the best, hold each other, kiss, put our phones down and pay attention to the fantastic blessings in front of us. We have more friends than “friends.” Mostly a Christmas life loves. We love our people, our animals, our neighborhoods, our country, our planet. But we do not love these things at the expense of other neighborhoods, countries, or planets. We love those, too. We are awake and aware, looking for people to love and ways to love them that they understand and receive. A Christmas life does not miss sacred moments, and a Christmas life realizes that they are all sacred moments if we are intentionally present.

I wonder if all of that came across in my message. Who knows? I wonder if all of that comes across in my life. I think, to that thought, what a Christmas life would say is, “if it didn’t yesterday, it sure will today.”

(One more thing. You know, I know almost nothing about promotion or reaching more eyes for this blog. And what I do know, I shy away from, for several reasons. But it’s going to be a new year. Promotion doesn’t have to be to feed my ego and/or brag about numbers, it could totally be about connection and circles that overlap.So, I would love to know you’re there, so maybe we could dream together and talk about what A Christmas Life means to you, and maybe we could do what we can to usher in a new world. Just a thought.)

The Joy of Christmas — December 19, 2022

The Joy of Christmas

Another documentary I watched during my brief bout with COVID was Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed. There might be quite a bit to say about the betrayal & greed parts, his shady business partners, but I have almost no interest in saying them. I’ll write next time about Ghislaine Maxwell, and similarly, I won’t spend a great deal of time detailing her many crimes, legal and otherwise.

Bob Ross was a painter on TV, teaching us all to be painters. I didn’t paint at all. I’d say it’s because I have next to no talent with a brush, Bob Ross would disagree. He believed we all could paint, and while you watched his Joy of Painting (a necessary addition to the “Joy of” craze of the time, along with the Joy of Sex and of Cooking), you would, too.

He made it look easy. So easy, in fact, that we’d all buy canvases and palettes and give it a whirl. I guess most of those who are truly gifted at anything make their talent look accessible. Slash is the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and during his solos, I distinctly remember thinking that I could totally shred like that. I can play the guitar a little bit, but not like Slash. It turns out that it’s much harder than it looks. Especially so with Bob Ross. His landscapes seemed to require almost nothing to create, as if they were already there, only needing someone (anyone) to sweep away the outer layer and reveal them.

What Bob Ross wanted to do, more than anything, is to bring some beauty into the world. Or open our eyes to the beauty that already exists that we are all too distracted or busy or self-obsessed or broken or asleep to notice.

Christmas Day is Sunday.

[My youngest son loves Christmas music. I don’t know how it happened, the music that happens in this house is usually my choice and I NEVER listen to Christmas music. But he thinks the month of December is for carols and covers of old Christmas songs. As it turns out, he’s right and over the past few years has converted me. Yesterday I made a playlist of my favorites like Oi To The World and Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) and especially Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). I have 13 versions of the latter on this playlist, and that seems just right.]

Too distracted or busy or self-obsessed or broken or asleep is as good a way as any to describe us all during the season. I’d also add too wrapped up in our to-do, to-buy lists. It’s over-commercialized and crass in it’s excess. But because a word has been hi-jacked doesn’t mean it can’t be reclaimed.

The lights on my neighbors house are lovely, my tree is awesome. We play music and sing along loudly as we decorate this house with ornaments and nativity sets and cards from close friends. We buy gifts for each other that none of us need because we want to express in this tiny, arbitrary way how much we care for them. And we really, really do. The Baby Please Come Home version by U2 is overwhelming. The whole season is built on The Baby That Changed Everything, and not Amazon, which is too easy to forget. But just because a holiday has been hi-jacked doesn’t mean it can’t be reclaimed, right?

So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll spend the time together, you and me, sharing our stories and our hearts, making the moments as significant and awesome as we are. Bob Ross was right, his idea was to create beauty with paint, but I was struck by the fact that his real artwork was his life and spirit. And so it is with us. We can wake up and create whatever we want, let’s just make it as spectacular is it should be, as that Baby deserves.

Into Darkness — December 11, 2022

Into Darkness

I have the COVID. It’s nothing serious, just a cold, really. Though I’m feeling better, my chest remains tight and probably will for the next few days & weeks. I’m violating my own HIPAA rights to tell you this because the week on the couch has allowed me to watch too much tv, and you know, tv for me usually means documentaries, and the way I feel about these docs ends up in words here.

I watched some of Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness, on Netflix, about a serial killer (or serial killers) in New York in the ‘70’s and beyond. David Berkowitz is widely regarded as the only “Son of Sam,” but there’s evidence to suggest that there are many more, centered around a satanic cult and a church called The Process. It’s super creepy and disturbing and I do not recommend it at all.

I said it was about serial killings, but it’s not entirely. It’s more about a guy named Maury Terry, a journalist who got wrapped up and dragged underwater by this case and obsessively chasing unexplored leads to the truth. Did he find that truth? Who knows? I guess he’s probably right, (that it was more than 1 person), but at what cost? You could probably count his life as another one taken by the Son(s) of Sam.

I also said I watched “some” of it. I used to be someone who, once I started something (book, album, movie, etc) would have to finish it. I no longer feel that way. When the doc turned down the dark paths of the occult, animal sacrifice, and snuff films, I skipped episodes 2 & 3, and watched the last.

If you eat nothing but Oreos, you will feel heavy, lethargic, and sick. In much the same way, the media we listen to and watch will affect our soul and spirit. This is good and bad. If we listen to positive messages, we begin to feel hopeful and optimistic. If we watch documentaries on the Son of Sam, we start to feel like there are bugs crawling under our skin and we can see the world outside through darkened lenses. This guy, Maury Terry, devoted his entire life to this quest, and I couldn’t take 4 hours before I needed to cleanse my mind.

Of course, we say it has no effect, but that’s like saying marketing and advertising have no effect. Those ridiculous beliefs come from a place of dangerous arrogance and lead to the McDonald’s drive-through eating McRib sandwiches without ever wondering why. The why is because what goes in matters. If pornography is something I enjoy, isn’t it likely the way I see sex and women will reflect those images? How about if I make a point to follow the “upworthy” Instagram page, a sort of a news site for beautiful things, might that change how I see the people around me?

What do we listen to? Watch? What do we eat? All of these things matter. Will we descend into darkness or keep our heads up in the clouds? This decision isn’t a magical way to avoid pain or sadness or depression or anything. Those things happen, they’re an integral part of life, we can’t wish them away. But we do get to choose how to interpret them. We get to pick the lenses through which we see the world.

We can skip 2 episodes or we can read the article and skip it all. We can turn it off and go outside. What feeds us? What inspires us? Maybe we could do more of those things. Maybe this kind of documentary does inspire some of us. The point is that we are intentional about it, that we are awake to the energy swirling around, and inside, of us and that we begin to pay attention to just how much of a say we actually get. And maybe, just for today, we spend a little less time descending and a few minutes more looking up?

Church on a Thursday — November 22, 2022

Church on a Thursday

Last night I took my son Samuel to see his first live music show. 2 artists (American Authors and the unfortunately named Phillip Phillips) in the Midtown Arts Center in the state capital. Adding to the excitement of the adventure, there wasn’t any parking and the building was barely marked and so easily missed that we weren’t entirely sure we had arrived even as we were walking inside.

So, we go in and sit and wait for the doors to the concert area to open, watching people and talking like friends. It is a beautiful under-acknowledged gift to actually like your children. Of course, we love them, we sort of have to. Also of course, there are times they drive us craazy. But to like them? That is an unguaranteed, unexpected, overwhelming blessing that is not to be overlooked.

American Authors opened – they were the reason we went, he feels like he discovered them and loves them like they’re pretty much his secret – and were terrific. He even got his picture taken with them that I’ll show you when I see you. But they played this one song, Deep Water, that is providing the thread that stitched us all, the entire night, this entire season of our lives, together, and is sliding seamlessly into the narrative of our communities (at church, work, school, towns & cities.)

Before I give you the lyrics, there’s a story in the Bible where the prophet Elijah is fleeing an evil king and queen and ends up hiding in a cave. He thinks he’s alone, but it’s there that he is ministered to by God – definitely not alone. Elijah is scared and complains that he’s being chased, and why is he being chased, what is going on, why why why, and that he’s the only one left. God answers the way God usually answers, without answering any of Elijah’s questions, BUT what He does is tell Elijah that there are more just like him and where to find them. God knows what we so easily forget; we don’t need answers, we just need someone to hold our hand. We just need someone to walk alongside. We just need someone to listen, to care, and to love (and who will love us.)

Now, Deep Water – the singer-songwriter referenced some heavy struggles (the deep water of the title) and his gratitude for the people who willingly waded into that water, sometimes to rescue, other times just to tread the same water in which he was treading.

“Please, tell me I won’t wash away. When it pulls me under, Will you make me stronger? Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? Take me farther, give me one day longer Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water? When I’m sinking like a stone, At least I know I’m not alone.”

It’s not a superficial pretending that there isn’t water, or that the water isn’t deep, or that he wasn’t sinking like a stone. There was, it was, and he was. It’s not the need to fix that overflows from our fearful uncomfortability of this deep water. It’s only presence, sensitive to the times where we can “tell [him he] won’t wash away,” “make [him] stronger,” to “be [his] breath,” or to simply be in the water when he’s “sinking like a stone.”

This is our call.

I looked through watery eyes at my son who is, and will be again, in deep water. Just like the rest of us in that room and in every room. I pray that he has a tribe who will hold him up and be his breath, and that he can become the kind of person who will be theirs.

The most beautiful thing about a concert is that we are all there, we are all now, connected by the purity of our shared love. Life can be hard and we can think we are very, very different, but in the dark, on a Thursday night, affirming the creative spark that has been generously given by our Creator, we were all human, nothing more and nothing less.

Then, Phil Phil performed his biggest hit, Home, with these lyrics: “Hold on to me as we go, As we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along, Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home. Settle down, it’ll all be clear. Don’t pay no mind to the demons, They fill you with fear. The trouble, it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”

Well, this is just great, now I’m writing through watery eyes as I think about him again, about those who I have held onto as we go, who have been my breath, who found me when I was lost, about you. I know I’m not alone, you have all made this place my home.

The thing that gives me the most hope is my love pyramid scheme dream. If we can do this for each other, and we have, and we will continue, eventually we can all know we’re not alone and that we are all extravagantly loved.

Alternative Conclusions — November 16, 2022

Alternative Conclusions

Michael J Fox has been married to Tracy Pollan for 34 years. I remember her on Family Ties. I’m happy they’re still married. It’s always impressive when 2 people can stay in relationship for long periods of time, especially in one as close as a marriage. There are many, many reasons a couple wouldn’t make it, would become a statistic, and only one they would, so whenever I see it, I am encouraged in my own marriage and it gives me hope for all of us.

What I mean by that second one – hope for all of us – is that it’s obviously a boom time for division in this country, in this culture, where any disagreement or difference becomes a crack that soon evolves into a huge chasm that will separate us forever. So how does Alex P Keaton and a co-worker build a marriage that lasts, through kids, new jobs, and now Parkinson’s disease?

By most accounts, he’s a good person, but good people have bad moments, days, seasons, years. I imagine a debilitating disease like his, where his body no longer listens and behaves, easily feeds more and more of the bad – annoyance, anger, frustration, everything running the spectrum of human emotion. I’m pretty hard to live with without a good excuse, just because. So how? What’s the secret?

In a People magazine (remember magazines??) article, Tracy Pollan says, “We assume the best.”

You know how a somebody sends you a text and, even as you are reading it, you’ve given it a tone and ascribed a complete story to his/her motivation? It’s almost never a soft tone or great story. Or someone is walking your direction and you tighten up a little bit, expecting aggression, so the slightest action, however innocuous, becomes evidence to your fear-based hypothesis.

I’ve been working this out in my soul for months (maybe the years and years since my twenties), if you’ve read this space lately, you know about my hyper-focus on perspective. Yesterday I was invited to a ‘clergy’ breakfast at the local high school (I said I would go before I could talk myself out of it) and wasn’t looking forward. Religious people make me uncomfortable. The stories of what I would experience ran rampant through my head – not one of them positive. I was irritated before I even had an opportunity to be irritated.

So I turned up the CD (remember cds??) in my car – Madonna (remember Madonna??), ‘Like A Prayer’ on repeat, I love when she sings “just like a dream, you are not what you seem,” and sing along as loud as I can – and remembered. The Bible seems to have the word remember as a sort of refrain, there are things we do to remember. We remember because it usually leads to a perspective shift and eventually gratitude. Like, “This time was horrible, I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I did, and now when I remember that, I can probably weather today, too.” I happen to see the ‘how I made it’ as a gift and something for which to be thankful, so I lift my eyes and take another step.

Just because religious people have historically made me uncomfortable, maybe they won’t today. I am not who I was, and maybe they aren’t either. The meeting was good, for the record, but maybe it wouldn’t have been if I continued in the same old footprints. I wonder how many times we tell the same stories in the same tones that only lead down dark paths in our souls, leaving no room for alternative conclusions.

If we assume the best of each other, is it possible that we might find those alternative conclusions are actually not conclusions at all, but beginnings of conversation, understanding, and relationships? Maybe and maybe not, but it can’t be worse.

Stone Etchings — October 28, 2022

Stone Etchings

I’ve been thinking lately. The world around us has been crazy. I recognize that election cycles bring this sort of angry division to the forefront, but it certainly isn’t solely in and political discourse and nasty advertisements. It’s on Facebook and highways and in grocery stores and schools, Tuesday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Nowhere is exempt from this rage-filled polarization, seeping into the culture and transforming it into it’s own image.

Or is it?

Of course I see the mean posts, condescending looks, the (physical, emotional, spiritual) violence. How could I miss them? But they remain exceptions. I mostly find people to be kind, gracious, smart, funny, and generous.

Once I read that negative experiences print on our souls immediately, positive experiences take much longer to make an impact. This is why you can get 900 hearts or thumbs up and forget them, and 1 mean face emoji and wonder why for the rest of the day, week, year. That 1 mean face seems to weigh significantly more than 900 hearts.

Is that why the 1 person that cut us off on the road today stings in our brain while the rest of the relatively capable, conscientious drivers (99.99%) are unnoticed? Or the umpire’s 1 bad call trumps the 200 good ones?

I am not saying that the bad calls or dangerous risky drivers are unimportant. I’m not saying hateful posts are not problematic, or that the horrible incidents of violence should be ignored. They are symptoms of a broken world, of which we are all a part. We act out of our insecurities and fear just the same as the people that lead the news, and they all must be studied and addressed, all must be given their proper, loving attention.

What I think I am saying is that those heartbreaking incidents don’t have to steal our hope or drive us into despair. That person’s cutting remark isn’t proof that people are all awful. True, that person might be (or they might not be, they might be overwhelmed or tired or depressed or anything), but it isn’t a judgment on everyone.

My idea is that we probably get what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for fantastic songs, we’ll find them. Or smiles or empathy or help or respect or love. People hold doors open, let you go first, say hi, and are willing to spot your bench press.

The songs that suck are still there (Coldplay’s will, sadly, always exist;) but they don’t have to occupy as much of us and color as much of our outlook as we usually let them. Some marriages will still end in divorce, but lots and lots of marriages are inspiring and fulfilling. Some days it rains and the weather forecasters are shockingly wrong, and those errors stick out in our minds, but they are right waaaay more often, probably 352 days of the year.

It’s not that the good moments don’t print, it’s just that they take longer. The key is to give them that time. When someone says your shoes are nice, maybe we don’t shrug it off or tell them they’re wrong (like we so regularly do), maybe we just say “thanks,” and take a breath and appreciate our shoes and the person with the compliment with whom we should spend more time. Or look at the heart reaction on the picture of your dinner, think about the person who sent it, and count to 15. Or 100. However long it takes. Take the time to feel the softness of the skin on someone’s hand when you hold it, or the sweetness of their lips in a kiss. We all know there’s no one to vote for, but we get to vote – do we ever take the time to acknowledge how extraordinary that is?

It’s the difference between entitlement and gratitude, I suppose, and we won’t always get on the right side of that divide, but usually all it takes is some attention to the beautiful things to regain perspective. To look up and around. My son is going to have a high school “Senior Night” at the football game tonight, and if you listen carefully, wherever you are, you might hear my heart break. But I will be there, fully present. I have been there, truly been there, every day of his life so far, and I have thoroughly enjoyed those days. And yes, it’s sad that he’s not my baby boy anymore, but he’s not my baby boy anymore and that is no small gift. I will hold this moment tonight with 2 hands, I’ll cry and I’ll laugh, mourn and celebrate, and give it all the time it needs to etch into me in stone.

HOCO 2022 — October 10, 2022

HOCO 2022

My oldest son, in his senior year, went to his first Homecoming dance. I’m not convinced he would have, but as luck would have it, he was approached to escort one of the ladies on the homecoming court. She was quite lovely, so of course he said yes, and then proceeded to ask her to the dance.

If you’re not aware, asking a young woman to this dance is a PRODUCTION. Gone are the days when, after several weeks of battle with the fear of humiliating rejection, you would take a deep breath and ask, “do you wanna go to the homecoming dance with me?” And then wait what seemed like months for the answer. The same familiar fear of embarrassment remains, but now, the young man must create an adequately clever sign (somehow appearing light-hearted AND committed) and venture to the girl’s house to pop the question.

Anyway, she said yes, they both looked gorgeous, went (as friends, as far as I know) and had a wonderful time. That’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the story of 2 other boys that I do not know. (The Angel & I were permitted to attend the dance – much to my boy’s horror – for pictures as the court and their escorts were announced.)

The first boy was very tall and very thin. He was dancing with his date, a girl, in a shockingly intimate fashion. (I recognize that I sometimes sound like everyone’s parents, old, old, old. I suppose that’s ok, I am someone’s parent and, there’s no way around it, pretty old.) I felt like I was watching something not meant for my eyes, for anyone else’s eyes. She was wearing a red dress. And so was he.

The next boy brought a girl who was wearing a too-short, shiny dress, carefully multi-colored hair, pulling him by the hand through the crowd, past the group of out of place parents, to reach her friends. He had scraggly unkempt patches of facial hair, disheveled hair, wore sneakers, jeans, and the piece de resistance, a Champion t-shirt.

The contrast was striking and obvious. One was totally respectful of his date, the formality of the evening, and himself. The other wore a t-shirt. One offered his special girl his most significant possession, the gift of his time – the time to plan, search for, and choose an appropriate oufit. The other wore dirty sneakers. One was unconventional, but clearly intentional. He lavished his undivided attention on his date, before just as much as during the actual event, who must’ve felt like the only woman in the world to him (which is exactly how every woman should feel to the man lucky enough to be taking her out). The other, an immature child, couldn’t even manage to shave.

Now, I have no interest in participating in the discussion of whether he should or should not have worn a dress. What is far more important to me is what’s happening underneath the skin rather than what we put over it.

Wide disrespect for everyone and everything and selfishness are direct descendants of insecurity and inadequacy. He simply can’t see others because he’s too busy looking for himself and who he is. And until he finds him, this silly facade will have to do, and for at least 1 night, the uniform of a sad pretender was a t-shirt. I have a giant soft spot in my heart for him because I know exactly the violence & pain of the “not enough” loop in my head. I didn’t wear t-shirts to formals or anything, my inadequacy manifested in different ways, whispered rather than screamed. But we know our own kinds, and can hear similar heartaches.

Maybe a red dress isn’t your preference, but this young man was nothing more or less than who he is right now. Maybe he won’t always wear a dress, or maybe he will. Like all of us, he’ll grow and change in lots of ways throughout his life, but one thing I hope sticks is his kind, passionate, thoughtfulness. The world needs more of that, more like him, no matter what they’re wearing.

Tragedy — September 26, 2022

Tragedy

This weekend, I watched a Netflix documentary series that was one of the most depressing things I have ever witnessed. And what I’m going to try to do is find beauty and hope in it. Try.

First, let me tell you about what I did Saturday. We (my family and some visiting in-laws) piled in a car and went to the local amusement park. It’s local but it’s also known around the whole world. That’s always an interesting dichotomy to reconcile in my head. Something extraordinarily famous is in my backyard, making it feel familiar and routine, like if Lady Gaga was your sister.

(But I always write about taking amazing things for granted, like kissing the Angel and kindness and Morrissey, so I won’t today.)

What was striking about this park is the extent of the corporate greed on display. I recognize this is nothing new in commercial America, where industry is built at the altar of MORE. Parking fees and food prices are obscene and attendees are shoehorned in until actually riding rollercoasters is nearly impossible, as receipts pile up. I rode 3 rides and waited an hour and a half for the privilege of buying hot dogs.

I am not an idiot. I have a business degree and a working knowledge of insurance and hidden costs. I don’t even have a problem with rising profits. This “wonderland” provides a service that is specific and fantastic, they should all get filthy rich on it. My problem is the contempt they showed for me and all of the other suckers who essentially paid to stand on their property. I can take the fact that I am not their #1 priority. So, I’m educated as a business major and a marketer, but I was raised in the ‘90’s to distrust and rage against any, and all, machines. Especially the machines that can’t even manage to even pretend that I’m in their top 20 list of importance.

Which brings me to the Woodstock 99 documentary, Trainwreck. This is, first and foremost, a story of dollars > people. But it’s also a story of people who are either a) treated like animals because they are, or b) behaving like animals because they’re treated like animals. I happen to believe it’s the second. Probably even the sweetest bunny rabbit will bite if it’s cornered and beaten for long enough. Most of us will lash out if we are hated loudly enough. Maybe we wouldn’t set the town on fire, but we might kick the dumb insincere peace and love signs down. And it does take a special kind of monster to sexually assault another simply because they are in close enough proximity to do so.

Which brings me to the thread that ties all of these together. Simply because we can doesn’t mean we should. Because the amusement park is the only game in town doesn’t mean a 1,000% markup on popcorn is any less offensive. Because the Woodstock promoters can have 1 water fountain for every 100,000 people doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and because some frat boy can grope a woman (and much, much worse) without being stopped doesn’t make it less abhorrent.

Now. There is a bright side. “Mob mentality” was referenced over and over in the doc, and that same concept applies to board rooms and management meetings. We all think so (or we think we all think so), so we all go along. We say, “we could probably raise prices another 100% before it begins to keep anyone away,” and we look around for agreement, salivating over bonuses and perks, drowning out any voices of dissent, and we end up raising them 125%. We see those neanderthals setting fires and pulling down towers and the internal voice that objects goes silent and, the next thing we know, we’re turning over nearby cars and trying to break into ATMs.

We’re social creatures, looking for belonging and acceptance. The good news about this is if we were to, say, replace the violence for generosity, switch anger for care. You know when you’re around someone relentlessly positive and hopeful, you feel buoyant and like maybe this ship doesn’t have to sink? Same principle. If we, just 2 or 3 of us to start, were to treat the women in our midst with respect instead of trying to rip their clothes off at a concert, maybe everyone would. Probably everyone would. Certainly everyone would. And those that wouldn’t would find their actions met with strong resistance and protection. If we would begin to love each other, treat each other like the treasures we are, then we could make new paths that are easier for the rest of us to tread. And then Woodstock might really be about the beauty of humanity and its creative spirit and we’d all be rich beyond our wildest imagination.

The Differences — August 18, 2022

The Differences

2 years ago, we all decided to draw battle lines over a pandemic and a shot (or 4). There were many conversations (often very contentious) over a vaccination, whether we would or would not, with just as many reasons why or why not. The one I found most compelling was the one centered around a growing mountain of conflicting information. Scientific wisdom shifted almost daily, the evidence we staked our arguments upon became obsolete seemingly as soon as we adopted them.

But if we so much as suggested this confusion and mistrust, we were quickly branded anti-vaxxers, or right wing conspiracy theorists. I am neither. I had questions, concerns. I believe we all had some experience with this, no matter what we believed. No matter what questions we asked, they were met with wild aggression.

Now, the CDC is admitting that public guidance was “confusing and overwhelming.” Dr Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, says, “we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.”

I’m watching The Vow right now, an HBO documentary on the cult NXIVM. I’m sure I’ll talk more in depth about this a little later, once I finish the 9 episodes. But in the one I was watching this morning, a woman was speaking under the condition of anonymity to avoid the snap judgments she had faced. People were unbearably rude to her, calling her all sorts of nasty adjectives before (and often without) knowing her name. “How could someone be so stupid to willingly participate in a cult like this?” those on the outside asked.

I’m positive there are parallels as well as distinctions to make between the CDC and NXIVM, and I’m also positive I don’t want to make them. My concern is how it’s so easy for us to decide another’s why, so easy to lock another in boxes in which they can’t ever escape. We fought like animals (mostly on social media) because we all made assumptions about those whose only crime was to arrive at a different conclusion – and in my case, I hadn’t even arrived. Sometimes, the crime was to not agree fast enough.

When did honest questioning or respectful discourse become such terrible transgressions? I know this didn’t start in 2020, with Covid-19, but I don’t exactly care when it started. I do care about how it ends.

I have a good friend who is a transgender woman. As a white man, I know nothing at all about the perspective of a transgender woman, so I ask a lot, A LOT, of questions. And she, who is endlessly graceful, answers them all. And that is why we call each other ‘good friends.’ We don’t agree on everything, have vastly different experiences, homes, families, and we certainly don’t see the world through the same lenses, but we don’t have to. We just have to care for each other.

A monochromatic world is totally uninteresting. I don’t know why that woman chose to do the things she did in NXIVM, but I do know I’ve done things I regret for reasons that made sense at the time. The CDC is admitting they mishandled a situation in a big, high profile moment, but I don’t think they’re evil, and I don’t think they meant harm. They did the best with what they had when they had it. I don’t know that we did the same. Fear caused us to resort to cheap generalizations and instant uninformed judgment. Fear caused us to forget the honor and dignity inherent in being human. And fear caused us to build walls.

This nonsense only ends when we erase our battle lines, knock the walls down and open the cell doors to our shared humanity and the beauty of me & you, and start loving each other, even, especially, the differences.