Love With A Capital L

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

Cold & Broken — November 22, 2019

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

On The Way — November 15, 2019

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?

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.

Emotions — November 1, 2019

Emotions

I gave a talk at a youth group near Gettysburg last Saturday. The church is fairly conservative (although it could be said that, to me, maybe every church is fairly conservative) and there was a very good chance that I would not play well there. I shared the message for their Sunday service several years ago and have not yet been invited back. The looks on the congregants faces told me as much, so the fact that I was not yet invited back was far less surprising than that I was for their youth group.

I was because I have very good friends who either persuaded everyone else who (hopefully) had forgotten the past or hidden my visit from them altogether. I didn’t ask which one.

My very good friend asked me to come and speak about music and faith. I said yes, of course, then asked “um, what kind of music?” Because the kind of talk I would give on Christian music might not be what she had in mind. And actually, what music I consider to be Christian might not be everyone’s, and we should probably know what definition we’re using to avoid the kind of misunderstandings I enjoy. She said whatever I wanted, and I asked her to pretty please repeat that. And she did. So, I said yes again.

Now, I think it would be fun to explore those songs and ideas here, in a short series based on that talk, called “It’s a Cold and It’s a Broken Hallelujah.”

The songs are: “Emotions,” by Mariah Carey. (So you know and can follow along as intended, we played the videos – easily found in a Google search. For this one, however, I offered to simply play the song because there was “a significant cleavage issue.” And there is.) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana. “Help Is On The Way,” by Rise Against. (This one is the only one that the video is absolutely necessary.) And “Hallelujah,” the cover version by Jeff Buckley.

“Emotions” was a gigantic hit record in 1991. It was all of the words that begin with P: polished, produced, perfect. What an unbelievable showcase for that extraordinary instrument of hers, right?!! She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. The video is exactly like the song, glossy and refined, as if a team of marketers created it in a laboratory for maximum exposure and sales figures.

The problem is that it’s called “Emotions,” and I don’t feel any at all. Except that she’s awesome, I suppose.

Pretending is the other P word that comes to mind with something like this. It’s like an advertisement for LIFE, or at least the life other people are living, that I could be living if only I…whatever. It brings to mind – and the reason I play it in discussions of spirituality – gauzy pictures of Christians with perfect teeth and plastic smiles. This was the perspective I had of people of faith for the first half of my life. To me, they all looked like Joel Osteen book jackets, all smiles and manicured nails. My life wasn’t all smiles and manicured nails. In fact, no life I knew was all smiles. Sometimes, there were tears and dirt and darkness and hairs wildly out of place.

When you’re upset and the wheels are falling off, a Christian, with their cliches and cheery platitudes and “God’s plan,” is often the very last person you’d like to see. The carefully crafted images of rounded edges and masks they wear usually just amplify their uncomfortability and insecurity.

Everything is fine, and if it’s not, shhh, we’ll just hide that behind the closet door and hope it goes away.

Phony (another ‘P!!’) That is what “Emotions” means to me.

I understand that this is not the most positive way to start a conversation, but it gets better. It has to.

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell — October 31, 2019

Funny Girl/Ortiz v. Liddell

I’m trying to add a rest day to my life. It’s an interesting thing, when I left my job to work from home, I also left a life neatly segmented into work/rest and on/off. My initial fear was that a childish impulse for laziness (my childish bend towards laziness, in fact) would rule and I would get nothing at all done. This fear was unfounded and instead, it’s opposite proved to be the real concern. Without the structure of time “on,” punching a time clock to be at work there could be no “off,” no rest, and that rest became the most damaging casualty of the move. Even when I wasn’t actively working on something, when I wasn’t productive, I was considering what I would do. Or worse, what I should be doing. That ‘should’ provided a wide-open door for the voices whispering the lies that have plagued me forever, convincing me that any time not working was idle, wasted, that I had not changed and my poor work ethic was letting everyone down, that I was a disappointment.

Those voices are the absolute worst. We can talk about them more another time. What I want to talk about is the next step I’m taking on the journey towards health (all kinds; physical, emotional, spiritual, etc) and ultimately, peace.

So. Now I try to take a day off – No work, nothing to do with church or pastoral duties. Initially, I wasn’t going to go the gym, but as it turns out, I like that, it’s filling to me and allows me to eat a little more;)  Anyway, 2 weeks ago was the first and we talked about that here. I watched The Hateful 8 and started a book, Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Then, last week, I didn’t intentionally choose a film, so I ended up unintentionally staring at half-hour sitcoms and reality tv and not opening the Hornby book until the evening. I’m not one of those condescending snobs…well, actually I am, but not about mindless tv. I see their purpose and think the phrase “guilty pleasure” is ridiculous. We all like what we like and sometimes those things are food and sometimes they’re leeches, sucking our energy and motivation. The very same things can be positive and negative, depending on the day and moment.

On the Hateful 8 day, I was refreshed and bright. even though I didn’t too much like the movie, I was inspired by it’s scope and artistry. The following week, I was drained and depressed. The things we put into our body (into our eyes and ears and souls as well as our mouths) and when we put them in matter more than we recognize. And no one can tell us what and when. It takes attention/intention and a desire to live the kind of lives for which we have been created. That’s not easy and the hardest part is that it takes a long inward journey and willingness to meet ourselves in dark places, hold hands and lead us back into the light.

This week, I watched an ESPN documentary called Chuck & Tito, about 2 mixed martial arts fighters, and finished Funny Girl. I also watched the People’s Court. They were all awesome, (especially Funny Girl), you should find and experience all of them. And today, I feel like a million bucks.

It’s as if these works of art rub up against us and can either erode, wearing us down into hollow-eyed shells over time, or they can provide the impetus for growth, fulfillment and new life. It’s just up to us to decide which one it’ll be.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.       

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.

 

Storied Life — January 23, 2019

Storied Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Memento — January 20, 2019

Memento

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

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

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

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

To which the answer is, apparently, yes.

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

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

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

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

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