Love With A Capital L

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

Rise of Skywalker — April 23, 2021

Rise of Skywalker

I wrote this last year, before the world stopped, and for some reason never posted it. It’s still true.

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.

Kong — April 8, 2021

Kong

Last weekend I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Blockbuster — April 2, 2021

Last Blockbuster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superheroes, etc. — March 1, 2021

Superheroes, etc.

We’ve seen 8 episodes of Wandavision now. What once was confusing and gimmicky is now clear and focused, the gimmick has faded into a deep character-driven exploration of grief. We all knew this, probably, but the genre hasn’t historically been a space for deep character-driven anything. At least that’s what we all have been led to believe. To say you’re a superhero guy implies you’re stunted emotionally and especially socially, living in your parents basement wishing for a girl who likes action figures and cosplay as much as you do.

Aside on cosplay: The last time I participated in anything that could be called cosplay was when I was 8, with a lightsaber and bathrobe or a towel safety-pinned around my neck. Good times, man. But if that’s what your deal is, I’m down with that. I don’t live in my parents basement, either. I am married with 2 kids, and haven’t played with action figures since high school. I loved it then and would probably love it still. I don’t think I’m stunted in any way. I wouldn’t, though, would I?

But I really love superhero movies and would sign a petition to classify them as films, nowadays every bit as nuanced and layered as any random indie film nobody sees and is critically adored. They just use a different delivery device. Peanut butter is still peanut butter if it’s on celery or an apple or a cracker or a chocolate bar. Courage, fear, friendship, kindness, and love are real if they’re in your town or Hogwart’s.

This has taken a while to come to grips for me, as a fairly insufferable snob with negative opinions on popularity. If everyone likes it, I figure it’s like white bread or McDonald’s hamburgers; nothing to love but nothing to hate, inoffensive, safe, produced for mass consumption. But Endgame raked in 2 billion dollars and everybody saw it and screamed with joy when Captain America held Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor). It’s hard for me to understand that sometimes everyone likes something because it’s actually very good.

While we’re talking about that hammer, when Thor regained it and woke up to the idea that he could still be “worthy,” who didn’t understand? Who hasn’t felt the inadequacy of “Am I good enough?” Even the god of thunder feels like me and you. This is the sort of arc that takes half a dozen movies to move from sickening arrogance to heartbreaking insecurity. Have any of your friends fallen apart because the image they wrongly based their entire value on turned out to be pretense? If I am not what I do, what I can produce, then what am I? Of course, it’s as true and relatably human in a cubicle or corner office as it is in the last son of Krypton.

We live in a culture that needs it NOW, spoon-fed with a tidy conclusion – and that was always perceived as the realm of superhero stories. Our hero would vanquish the villain as the credits rolled. Infinity War ended with half of all living creatures reduced to dust and we had to wait a year for any other resolution. That first story in the Marvel universe took 23 (!!) films. That’s why it mattered soo much and was sooo devastating when Tony Stark made the sacrifice he did.

Wandavision took 4 episodes before anything happened that even considered making sense of the sitcoms from different decades. Many of us checked out, but those who stayed are now being rewarded with a richly imagined psychological drama. Vision says at one point, “what is grief but love persevered?” Of course, I cried then. So did you and everybody else because Wanda is now our sister, dealing with the kind of loss and suffering that breaks us into a million pieces. Does the fact that the lovely her life is dead somehow hurt less if she can fly? The decision to do this on a weekly tv show tied into and through the previous films allows us to truly know her story, and as it turns out, it’s ours.

I could write forever about Rocket and his loneliness or the Quill/Yondu father-son dynamic or Gamora wrestling with the sins of her own father or Natasha wrestling with her past and if she’s done too much and gone too far to ever return… but I won’t. You already know.

A Bad Review — December 11, 2020

A Bad Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mando — December 8, 2020

Mando

As of Saturday morning, I am a subscriber to Disney+. It’s taken a pretty long time for me to make that commitment, considering my tastes, but this is no surprise. I’m usually a relatively late convert to new forms of entertainment. All of my friends had cds, dvds, and an iPod before me, all I eventually loved. I had to be wrestled into a membership to Amazon Prime music, which I immediately loved (that love has yet to fade even a little). I collected old 78 record players/records, 8-tracks, cassettes, VHS tapes, until a flood drank them all along with the house. I even still read actual, physical books! I do not have a Kindle, though I do have an iBooks app that has few downloads I never read. If there were still record stores, I would go there, too.

So, why?

Partly because it’s expensive to switch media. This morning I gave my son a pair of earbuds (wired!!!) from my iPod and asked him to please not ruin or lose them. These boys have such little respect for things. Can you believe they treat them like the soulless disposable trinkets that they have become? Anyway, don’t lose or break them, right? But why? I can’t imagine the circumstances that they will ever be used again. And that fact carries with it a significant amount of sadness, reflection on the money I spent, and disgust at my faithlessness, my disloyalty.

If you don’t subscribe to Disney+, you can’t watch the Mandalorian, and that would be a shame. It’s terrific. But maybe that’s my hesitance with adopting new, exclusive forms of media, because it leaves some behind. It’s like a first-class curtain on a plane (if either of those exist in a modern, pandemic world). Some are inside and others are outside. I want us all to watch at a scheduled time and talk about the Child the next day. I want us all to gather in front of the tv for the world premiere of “Thriller,” of the finale of Seinfeld.

Now, you might not even know who or what the Child is. And there’s no such thing as music videos anymore. Or sitcoms that anyone, much less everyone, cares about. Who would ever watch a show when it airs? Are there even shows that “air” anymore or do they simply appear in a queue to be streamed on the 4th of the month?

There is a program on Netflix called “The Toys That Made Us” that is awesome, and maybe new episodes exist, but I don’t know because I don’t know when they drop or whatever that’s called. They don’t on, for example, Thursday nights at 9.

I recognize this all sounds like the bitter nostalgic rants of the Oldest Man On Earth, and maybe it is. But I don’t ever want anyone to have to be on the outside of anything or feel like they don’t belong or aren’t cool or whatever enough. I made mixtapes for everyone I knew (especially girls I liked) so they could hear the songs that changed my life and would certainly change theirs. I pastor a church for the same reason. I guess I write this blog for that, too. I don’t want anyone to have a bad marriage or feel unloved or alone or worthless.

I don’t believe, like Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super, no one is.” I think when everyone is super – or acknowledges that we are – then we’re all super. And there’s another scene where Mrs. Incredible says, “Everyone is special, Dash,” and her son responds, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” He’s wrong. Everyone is special, it just might be in a different kind of way and take eyes that see, for us and for them.

This didn’t begin as an idealistic manifesto on how great you are, it was only supposed to be a little bit of nothing on how great the Mandalorian is. But maybe you won’t hear how great you are anywhere else today.

Mama’s Boy — December 3, 2020

Mama’s Boy

I’ve been watching (and enjoying) I Love A Mama’s Boy on TLC. Now, this is a show about women who are in relationships with boys who are…um…let’s say, overly-bonded, with their mothers. In a text message to my very good friend, I confessed that I was “embarrassed” to watch and like this mess. It is, to use a current term, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Now, I have no idea why these women are in these relationships, why they would live with these boys’ mothers, why they would build houses on their in-laws properties, why they would share Valentine’s Day dinners, why they would stand idly by while mother and son practiced a tango, of all things, as their wedding dance, why why why. NO IDEA. I suppose it’s a deflated sense of worth combined with the bar being lowered so far that this is what passes as acceptable in a prospective mate. AND I have no idea why these boys would apply to be on a tv show that ridicules them, that shows them in such a pathetically emasculated light. (Actually I do know that one: just like in small children, even negative attention is attention. Being a punch line for our 15 minutes of fame is still 15 minutes of fame.)

I could probably go on asking questions in this vein, but the truth is, I don’t care. It’s not too many episodes and it’s sufficiently mindless, which can be fine for 42 minutes here or there.

What I do want to talk about, and what I do care about, is the phrase ‘guilty pleasure,’ and why I might say, even in jest, that I am embarrassed to watch.

Like so many things, it is a reflection of our bend towards image-making and an endless list of what we “should” or “should” not do or who we “should” or “should” not be. It’s a avalanche of should’s under which we bury ourselves. Why would I possibly be guilty over a tv show or a movie or song? Because I am so focused on being cool or whatever. For example, I am a music snob. I like songs and artists that you haven’t heard, which by some misguided logic makes those songs and artists better, which by the same misguided logic makes me better. I also like the Christina Aguilera song “Fighter” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” but you’d never know because I wouldn’t tell you about those.

I want my favorite movie to be Pulp Fiction because it’s cool and violent and independent, or better yet, something neither of us has heard of and is wildly uncomfortable to watch, but in reality it’s probably a Captain America movie or Point Break.

Guilty pleasure? Nope. It’s just me, and the second I can make peace with who that is the second I can unload the mountain of expectations that tear me apart. I’ve been so exhausted trying to live up to the ideal of me that is in only my head. The one that has everything together and makes all the right decisions, is wise and beautiful in equal amounts, and doesn’t watch garbage tv.

But the truth is that I am often a basket case when I’m alone over the poor decisions that are definitely not wise, and will always laugh when a mother and son decide to dance inappropriately. Is that shameful or is it simply human? Maybe human is the most beautiful thing of all.

Amy — October 24, 2020

Amy

I have some thoughts on Amy, the tragic documentary on the life and death of Amy Winehouse that I watched yesterday.

First, maybe it didn’t have to end this way. 1. At a rehabilitation facility, when her husband and 2 others were mocking her song “Rehab,” saying she’d have to change it. (The lyrics were, “they try to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”) They pushed like mean middle school kids, and she quietly answered, “I like it here,” clearly embarrassed. 2. Her bodyguard said, towards the end of her life, “She just wanted someone to say no.” I’m angry that she felt she couldn’t.

This amazing talent had an eating disorder and a wide number of addictions, and because of her lovely gift, she was forced (by everyone from record executives to her own fame-thirsty father) to live these disorders and addictions in public. The disorders and addictions that became punch lines on late night tv, “news” programs, and countless conversations by people like me. People exactly like me, as it turns out. I remember laughing at her issues and meltdowns, too, as if she were a singing, dancing machine and not a human being.

We all knew she would die early, and of course she would pass at 27, like so many other tortured souls. Now, she’s gone and only her memory and the music remains. I love the music, but as I get older, wiser and softer (something thought impossible), I wish I would have never heard “Back To Black,” “Rehab,” or my favorite, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” and she would still be here instead. I wish we would not have kept shoving her on stage and cashing checks at the expense of her life. I wish making and offering her beautiful art would not have such a high cost, that she could’ve walked down the street without assault, or gone to an island without her dad bringing a camera crew.

But I did, she’s not, we do, and it does. And did we learn anything at all from this celebrity sacrifice? Maybe. Probably not. She’s gone and there will be more. I wonder what and who it will take to shock us back into sanity. Amy (the documentary and the person) was one of the saddest masterpieces I have ever seen.

Wrong. — September 2, 2020

Wrong.

When the Fight Club movie was released, Lisa Schwartzbaum (critic for Entertainment Weekly) gave it a D. In the current issue, she reflected on that grade and said she hasn’t reconsidered, that all reviews are confined to a certain time period and should stay that way. Like, for instance, we cannot consider ‘80’s comedies through a 2020 lens. There will be socially problematic characters, jokes, plot lines and countless else that just doesn’t hold up. It has to be viewed as part of a complicated amalgam of context.

I think Citizen Kane is grossly overrated. I know exactly what Rosebud is and wish I didn’t, wish I didn’t spend the time watching wondering what the big deal was. However, it must have been awesome once.

Anyway, maybe Lisa Schwartzbaum had a point then, though I cannot imagine what it was, and surely would change that review today with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom. Maybe she wouldn’t, either, maybe she’d just continue to be wrong.

The point is, we change. Society changes. Our perspective changes. This is a given, right? Of course. Could you picture how much you would dislike the 18 year-old you if you ran into you at a party? I would at least feel very sorry for that very opinionated, misguided, insecure kid. And then I would be equally grateful that I’m not that kid, that I was open enough to change my deeply held positions on almost everything.

I think we’re probably all that way, which makes it all the more perplexing why we’re all so violently defending our current dogmas as if we have arrived at the apex of our own evolution. Doesn’t wisdom carry with it a level of experience and, with it, humility that we might not know everything about everything? Doesn’t it require that we hold with a looser grip?

I’m not mad at Lisa Schwartzbaum. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, and I totally understand her desire not to amend her review. Who we were is who we were, not who we are, unless we haven’t learned anything, unless we stayed stubbornly planted in the mindset of our youth, unless we haven’t grown, unless we haven’t changed. And I can’t think of anything more depressing than that.

General Zod In Waco — July 30, 2020

General Zod In Waco

I told you last week that I was falling apart, right?

We’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs, but first I want to give you a quick recommendation/review. I followed up the Filthy Epstein documentary with the Waco series, also on Netflix. It’s a 6 part series based on books written by those closely involved, produced by and starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon. Taylor Kitsch hasn’t been in anything I’ve seen, but is outstanding as David Koresh. Michael Shannon has been in quite a few things I’ve seen (General Zod in the newest Superman movies, Walt Thrombey in the awesome Knives Out, etc) and is terrific in everything, including this, as the chief FBI negotiator.

It’s the feel-good hit chronicling how the FBI & ATF murdered 76 people. Maybe we can talk about the things the Branch Davidians (the group led by Koresh) did wrong or that we don’t like or understand. Surely, there are plenty of those to discuss. But I’m absolutely positive none of those things deserved the death penalty. It was disgusting and when the final credits rolled, I cried and cried. It’s beautifully written and acted, an excellent miniseries.

Now back to the beginning. Nothing is new about me falling apart from time to time. I have ups and downs, like everyone, but as I am told, not everyone feels them quite like I do. When I was much younger, the dark down parts felt like they’d never end and I’d often contemplate anything to end the darkness. Now, I don’t ever think about making today my last day, because I know the darkness isn’t forever. I know the darkness will pass and it will be light again, sometime. That’s as good of a definition of faith as I can find.

It’s been dark for me for some weeks now, and as my tears dried from the horrors of Waco, my heavy heart plodded to why? After breakups in college, I would listen exclusively to the Smiths, Morrissey and Depeche Mode and the other saddest songs I could find. I’d play “Unloveable” on repeat. Why purposefully walk deeper into that abyss? As I watch the pain of Federal Agents being sent into Seattle on the news, why am I choosing the story of Waco, TX? When I’m overwhelmed with sadness, maybe the murder of women and children isn’t the best option. Or is it?

Just like in the kitchen, it really matters a what we put in our bodies. But I’m not sure what that even means when it comes to this. I refuse to ignore or avoid the pain of real life…but maybe diving in so fully isn’t the healthiest, either. Maybe I need, say, 2 Morrissey albums and then a mindless electronic dj mix, like a cold glass of water tossed in my face to remind me that a full life contains joy as well as pain, mindless superficiality in addition to matters of weight. Depth includes laughter, too. Not just tears. Who knows?

But I can’t stand electronic dj mixes. (I call them mixes – maybe that’s what they call them, too – because they’re not songs or albums, they’re just beats and pulses. They’re not really anything, are they? Besides awful, I mean.)

So. I don’t have a nice tidy ending, here or in my broken heart. We’re just having these conversations.