Love With A Capital L

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

Rise of Skywalker — January 22, 2020

Rise of Skywalker

I saw Star Wars and I liked it. Of course I liked it. I am the target market. If a marketer’s intended demographic had a face, it would be my face.

From around 5 to 12 or 13, nothing mattered more than Luke Skywalker, Jedi knights, empires and rebellions. 24 year-old me cried at the opening crawl of episode 1…on a date. As I write this now, it’s less embarrassing than it was then – the happy ending is that the date was with the Angel, and she still married me.

The 2 externals in my life that mattered the most were Star Wars and, later, Morrissey.

In High Fidelity, the author Nick Hornby asks the question if we find the things we find because we are the way we are, or if the things we find mold us into the way we are. Which comes first?

Did I love Morrissey because I was super-sensitive and leaned towards loneliness and melancholy? Or did those songs push me in that direction?

I suppose it doesn’t matter now. No matter how I got there, I did and now I’m the sort that cries at movies and paintings and, well, everything. It’s probably a combination. If I was the captain of the football team, maybe Morrissey would’ve sounded sad and whiny and I would’ve tended more to Led Zeppelin IV or Nickelback. If I was a 5 year old girl, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to fight and liberate the princess and the galaxy (in that order) with a laser sword and space ship so badly.

Sometimes it feels like the road has been mapped out perfectly all along, that we found the people and things that made sense and gave us some context for our lives at EXACTLY the right time. So perfectly, in fact, that it can make us question if we have any free will at all or if we’re just puppets in a theater having our strings pulled by giant fingers in the sky. Then other times, it all seems so random and confusing, with no narrative or plot, like we’re bumper cars driven by toddlers.

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes (and this is likely no surprise, I imagine it leaks into everything I write and say.) It holds all of this confusion, the duality of an authentic life lived with eyes half closed (or half open;), with both hands. The Writer asks questions without expecting answers, is comfortable being lost without needing a detailed map home. A life that holds everything “temporary” (a better translation than “meaningless” – it’s not meaningless, not at all, only temporary) lightly, wanting to understand but willing to abide in the uncertainty, content to eat and drink with the people we love.

Star Wars wasn’t perfect, but in a world that has much much much more than enough pain and suffering to go around, it was beautiful. Morrissey is, too. I don’t care how they got to me, I’m just so thankful they did.

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews — January 16, 2020

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews

We’ll start with Depeche Mode being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and my first instinct is to say: It’s about time. How did this oversight happen? Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, The Crickets, Comets, Green Day, and on and on – we are not now debating whether or not these bands deserve to be in the HOF, but how could Radiohead possibly gain entry before Depeche Mode???

My first instinct is to say ‘it’s about time,’ but I’m trying not to focus so much on incompetence and, instead, only feel gratitude, overjoyed that a band that has meant a great deal to me has gotten the appreciation and acknowledgment they have very well earned. Listen to “Lie To Me” and “Everything Counts” and tell me I’m wrong.

I really loved Nine Inch Nails for a little in high school so I’m happy about that, too.

Whoever this super-special club of voters is (of which I would love to somehow be a part), they get my approval for these 2, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, AND refusing acceptance to horrible college jam-band Dave Matthews Band. Exclusivity is paramount in the perception of a Hall of Fame, and if DMB is allowed inside, then what’s next? Rusted Root? Spin Doctors? Or worse, Blues Traveler!!!

You know, it’s a strange thing, this blog posting. It’s awfully arrogant to assume that my opinions (facts) on bands and movies or anything else might be a little bit interesting to anyone but me, isn’t it? Why would you care what I think of Dave Matthews? I know I like to read others thoughts on art and culture, but I’m just some man in Pennsylvania who has an iPad and a WordPress account. Who knows about that, but I do know about the value of telling our stories. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and honesty does exactly the same thing listening to “Blasphemous Rumours” on vinyl does; makes us feel less alone, like we’re not lost in a world that doesn’t see, know, or care. That there might be someone, somewhere who is feeling the same things we are is unbelievably comforting and a step or 1,000 on the road to knocking down the walls we’ve decided separate us and seeing each other as, simply, human.

Here’s something else I want to tell you: Yesterday is my usual day off, right? (I say usual, but it’s not at all the norm yet. The relationship with unproductive time is complicated, but rest is vital to being a healthy person, so I’m walking that way.) I didn’t take it. I decided to end my commitment to The Witcher after episode 4, and this week has drifted without any replacement. I wrote a lot, visited some good friends, baked a cake, worked out, started reading 2 new books, listened to a ton of new songs, watched youth sports, and served as taxi driver for the neighborhood. Great week. But I did not take my “day off.”

And that is ok. I had a terrific week, inspired and engaged. The point of the rest day is to break from all of the expectations and voices telling (screaming at) me what I SHOULD be doing. What if I begin a new practice to escape that cage and it becomes just another expectation, another should, another example where I have failed, more guilt and shame?

It’s still a cage.

My resolution (not a New Years resolution – more like a whole life resolution) is to be a little kinder to me, give me a break from time to time. So yes, I did not have my “day off” this week…and that’s fine.

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — January 9, 2020

Let’s Dance To Joy Division

The days off this week were sort of forced. As it turns out, I’m pretty sick and it’s possible I have been for quite some time. My doctor, the greatest doctor on earth, feels like the symptoms that have plagued me for several months might possibly be the same illness, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. Go figure.

This week, though, the looks of fear I saw as Angel and the boys helplessly watched me cough and cough finally convinced me and I made an appointment and now take a myriad of pills and inhalers (including a pill that’s so huge it must be for a giraffe.)

I watched the first 2 Iliza Shlesinger comedy specials (War Paint and Freezing Hot) and the first episode of the Witcher, all of which were excellent. The Iliza’s give a lot of hope for her career, because each special is better than the last. Usually in art (music especially), a whole life informs the debut, and it’s personal and deep, then the follow up is rushed and sadly lacking the immediacy of what made the debut so compelling. Iliza is sharper as she goes, the material is new (not just a greatest hit collection with a few new tracks.)

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (the current Superman, at least for now) and carries an unreasonable amount of armor, swords, moral ambiguity and violence: all things I really love.

I’m listening to Matchbox Twenty, “Our Song,” right now. I’ve always thought they were wholly underrated and under appreciated, and I would be willing to fight you about that.

Then there is this song called “Let’s Dance To Joy Division,” by the Wombats. As much as it hurts me to say, I don’t know anything about them. Maybe if I did, I would be a little embarrassed to mention them. Not as embarrassed as I would’ve been when I was 20 and that sort of thing mattered more.

(By the way, “Our Song” has ended and “Beeswing” by Richard Thompson is on now. If you do nothing else, please listen to this. It’s everything.)

So, “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” is a catchy pop song that sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes. This world doesn’t make any sense, sometimes, and it’s scary and feels random and mean, so let’s just have a nice meal, enjoy ourselves and move our hips a little. War, earthquakes, whole countries on fire, hunger, violence (when I say I love violence, it goes without saying that it’s in Netflix documentaries and not in real life, right???), what are we supposed to do? It all feels so big, what can we do?

Well, we can’t fix it today, or tomorrow, or next week. I might suggest we are part of a generation that believes we can’t fix it on a macro, or governmental, level. However, I do believe we can fix it. Or better yet, I believe it’s not meaningless to try. We have to try, or why would we ever get out of bed?

It’s broken, structurally. Everyone knows this. The whole system is corrupt, rotted from the inside, but not without hope. We can easily forget the system is made of people, it’s not faceless and nameless, it’s just people who are broken, corrupt, sad, empty, who are overwhelmed with inadequacy and insecurity, and when those people can be replaced with people who are loved, accepted, belong to a family of humanity that knows no walls or division, people who rediscover their worth and value, then the system can be one that breathes kindness, care, compassion.

It’s quite a reclamation project, a long play, isn’t it? But it’ll work, and the longer we wait to love somebody (eventually everybody), the longer it’ll take. We can start today, we can do something, anything. Write a check, volunteer, vote, pray AND hold hands, kiss softly and slowly, eat with someone, listen, laugh, and move your hips a little.

The Cost of Amazon Prime — January 3, 2020

The Cost of Amazon Prime

This is not a post on Big Brother or algorithms or privacy at all. Others can do that much better than me – there’s probably a terrific Netflix documentary on it.

This is, instead, a post on Amazon Prime Music Unlimited. One of my very best friends (after judging me too harshly for still buying full albums, CDs and CD players, and using my iPod) eloquently put it like this: “For almost half the price of 1 album, you can get them all,” and that made sense. Also, we already have Prime, so I do have access to a huge untapped library. Untapped no longer!!! And as I was diving into this pool, I realized I had a promotional coupon for 3 months of Unlimited free. So now I have Unlimited.

Today, I listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers – Getaway (which is nowhere near as awesome as Blood Sugar Sex Magik and nowhere near as horrible as you’ve heard) and now I’m listening to Acoustic Volume 2 from Bayside; 2 albums I hadn’t bought earlier, for different reasons.

Yesterday I listened to the Strumbellas and a series of singles that I like a little or a lot and a playlist they deem “for Me.” (Maybe this is about algorithms, because it was pretty much For Me, even though they have only known me for a few days.)

Like everything, there is a cost. Not the $7 or 8 or 11 (for the family plan) or whatever, my buddy was totally right. It makes great financial sense, if you are a music lover. But if you are a music lover, you’ll have to give up something valuable to get it, namely, the love.

Every time I go to the app, I want to dive into the unreasonably deep waters of infinity – I will never exhaust all of my choices. It’s simply impossible, there aren’t enough hours. I’d have to live to 5,000 years old.

When I bought Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991, I listened to it on repeat for months and months. I laid in my bed with the liner notes and lyrics, bought the VHS (!!!) making of and listened to bass lines and interesting noises and genres. They’re an interesting band, man. I can still sing along word for word to that album at any time. I have no idea if I’ll ever listen to The Getaway again. Maybe I’ll drop a song or 2 on a playlist.

I love bands and the people in them, their instruments, hometowns and side projects. I care deeply about the albums and the stories behind them. It matters to me who wrote the songs and why. I even care about record labels and producers.

Those days are gone for me, I fear. There’s simply too much. You know, in the Bible, there are kings that have thousands of women for their pleasure. They probably didn’t know their names, favorite colors, or dreams for the future – and if you ask me, that’s the best part. Probably the most interesting part of a sexual experience is the soul connection, the knowing of another human being. The lyrics and the liner notes, not just the chorus (even if the chorus is the best chorus ever).

I now have thousands of partners. Variety is nice, I suppose. Now I’m listening to the Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and it really is amazing. If you haven’t heard it yet, you should go now. And I might not have ever listened to it. In fact, it’s the 4th or 5th time I’ve played it.

So, maybe it’s not as dire a situation as I think. But I don’t know who the bass player is, and I really like to know who the bass player is.

All I Want For Christmas — December 13, 2019

All I Want For Christmas

The second I heard Lady Gaga’s first album – actually, probably the first time I heard ‘Paparazzi’ – I figured that she was not the empty record company vessel she appeared to be. Of course, the songs were amazing, perfectly written and packaged pop explosions, but the interesting part to me was that embedded inside an album about becoming rich and famous, there were lyrics that dismantled the very goal it espoused. My theory was that she was wooing us just to pull the rug from under us all, exposing the vacuousness of the entire system of chasing dollar bills and Kardashian fame.

I figured she was different, the anti-Mariah Carey, anti-Britney Spears.

I am right about Lady Gaga, she hasn’t yet “come out” as running an elaborate ruse to show us ourselves and the absurdity of temporal, temporary pursuits, but I am right. As you can see in A Star Is Born and the Joanne album, her entire career trajectory is the revelation of a real-life artist, an endangered species of sorts.

What I may not be right about is that she is the anti-Mariah Carey.

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, there’s an interview to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Now, 2 things. First, 25 years?!!!?. Can it really be 25 years??? And 2, we hear it on an endless loop at this time of year and you either love it or you pretend to hate it. (Sometimes, art snobs like us rage against popular things because they’re lowest common denominator drivel, edges sanded to appeal to everyone, and moving no one. Or because we like to look like the coolest kids at the party.) The public reactions are polarizing, but the actual feelings aren’t: Everyone loves this song, because it’s perfect.

So, I read this interview and it’s sharp, funny, entertaining and informative. The best interviews (and interviewers) force us to ask, “have we been wrong about this person all along?” Maybe I was. Seared into my head is her embarrassing TRL appearance (and Her embarrassing Cribs episode and embarrassing New Years Eve performance and and and) that showed her, um, in a less than flattering light. Who knows what she actually is?

Who knows who any of the people we see on tv actually are? Once, we all wanted Bill Cosby to be our dad because of his sweaters, The Cosby Show and Jell-O commercials.

We are seeing carefully crafted images.

How I can definitively say I’m right about Gaga is because I’m that kind of arrogant when it comes to music and artistic expression. But I don’t know, really. Maybe there’s a guy that looks like me in his living room that is writing the subtle cutting lyrics and designing meat dresses, pulling strings and planting Easter eggs for us to find.

This is important (and bigger than records and Christmas songs) because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about who I am, who you are, who we are. Are we living authentic, fulfilling lives or are we simply actors, building personas that shift depending on who we are performing for?

And perhaps more importantly, are we making inferences on those we see and meet based on those images? I don’t have the visceral hatred for the word ‘judgment’ that I’m told to, because I don’t think it’s always such a terrible thing. Sometimes, toxic people are toxic people and should not be allowed to hurt us over and over and over, no matter how many times we are scolded, commanded, “Don’t judge me.” But our perceptions should probably be held loosely, able to be changed, because who knows? Maybe she was going through some things. Maybe she has grown since she was 25. Maybe she is still figuring out who she is. Maybe she is exactly who she is on TRL or the interview. Most likely, she’s both and neither. Just like me.

The truth of who we are, stripped of all of the expectations and pretenses, is both messier and so much better than we could ever imagine. It’s those edges and colors and quirks that make life so great. If I promise to be real, and you promise to be real, we can see each other for who we are, fall in love with each other’s everything (even when that everything includes the things that drive us crazy), then Christmas will become what Christmas was actually meant to be when it was about a baby that would rescue us all. And if it can be for 1 day, it can be more and more, and it can be everyday.

Ok. We’ve spent too much time here, reading, when this time could be much better spent listening to that song, and living Love.

Bikram — December 4, 2019

Bikram

This morning I watched a new Netflix documentary (a new-ish practice for me that is becoming more and more treasured) called Bikram:Yogi, Guru, Predator.

Now, I was about to preface my comments on misused power, sexual violence and manipulation with some wish-washy disclaimer like: I quite like yoga, some days in the right condition and state of mind, I might even say I could love it, and it has absolutely transformed my sister’s life in all sorts of positive ways… but I’m not going to do that. It implies that yoga and monsters are linked and yoga must be exonerated, that any comments I make about this evil are also somehow commentary on yoga, but that’s simply not true. Monsters can be found in every corner of society. Yoga happens to be the vehicle Bikram used to wreak his havoc, but it could have been a big corporation, an elementary school, semi-professional sports, or religion.

Truly, though, yoga has changed my sister’s life and she’s way better since she’s stretchy like Silly Putty.

This doc was strikingly similar to the one I watched several weeks ago called Holy Hell, where another monster leveraged his position and influence to damage those who would follow him. Also, it’s just like most of the cases on the People’s Court, where the vast majority detail a person’s attempts to get something back from someone they never should have lent whatever to in the first place, and when the judge repeats the facts out loud (a tactic of mine when I speak to my kids) and asks, “Why would you do that? What did you think would happen?” Or something like that.

And these documentaries, in the interviews that take place long after the abuse, ask much the same question. It’s a question we ask when we watch the films. How could these strong, intelligent, capable women and men not see what we can see in the first 5 minutes?

I recognize we are not in the situation, being squashed and frightened, and we also have the benefit of hindsight and of course, previews and descriptions, but moving the man you’ve only just met into your apartment and adding him to your cell phone plan has never been very wise, right? And being berated by an openly misogynistic man in a 900 degree room for thousands of dollars might not be, either.

…But I’ve made plenty of decisions I can’t explain afterwards, too.

(I also recognize that I’m walking a fine line, here. When someone asks questions, calling some decisions poor, it can sound judgmental and give the impression that the responsibility is being shifted from the monster to the victim. That is not my intention. Bikram did what he did to people who trusted him, people who DID NOT deserve the horrific treatment they received – no one deserves to be abused. No one. I am also not equating the hell they endured with cell phone plans, it’s like calling a broken arm and a scratch the same. But they are injuries. It’s relative, right? Maybe to the woman with a broken heart being hassled by creditors, they are very similar. Maybe the scratch is deep and infected and will not heal the way your broken bone can. Asking isn’t judgment, some decisions aren’t great – we’re adults, we can talk about different circumstances, draw lines here that would not apply there, acknowledge levels of grey. I’m about to infer that they chose to stay in an unhealthy environment because they were attempting to fill a most basic need of ours, but in another post, on another day, I might infer that they stayed because they were brainwashed and de-valued and told (and believed) the lie that they had no future and no hope without this monster, these classes, this path. This whole paragraph is because these topics need to be discussed, evil must be stopped, we have to be free to speak out, and I don’t want to fight you, I want us to fight him and the kind of systemic sickness that allows him to exist.)

So, how could they and why would they? For the same reason most of us make our mistakes – because we’re seeking a group where we can belong. Because we want to fit in and have a family that accepts us. Because we want some purpose and be loved well.

And to get it, we’ll ignore all sorts of warnings.

I don’t know that I have a point here. I’m just sitting here thinking about decisions and communities and acceptance and love. Probably, the risk is worth it. We get our hearts broken from time to time (too many times, if you ask me) but it’s necessary. This drive for connection ends with lots of dead ends and wreckage, but when we find the real thing, the relationship we have been created for, it’s also what puts us back together.

Smells Like Real Life — November 5, 2019

Smells Like Real Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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