Or, the Fact That I’m Not Getting Any Older, either.
I’ve had an unusual response lately to folks wishing me Happy Birthday. I turned 41 years old 5 days (and of this moment 9 hours and 53 minutes) ago. The specifics are part of the larger point, which I swear I’ll get to as succinctly as possible. But my reactions to the well wishes this year have been decidedly muted on my part (with the exception of a great impromptu Barbershop rendition of Happy Birthday from Matthew Levine and friends, which made me tear up.) And I’ve had more than a couple of conversations about why I’ve been so blasé about getting a year older.
Last year, I had a REALLY tough time turning 40. For at least 6 months leading up to it, I was a fucking mess. I was taking the first steps towards a new career, which turned out in fact to be missteps. I didn’t see them as part of a learning process at the time, but as signs of failure. I hadn’t yet reached certain milestones I’d set for myself before turning 40, and it was really eating me up. As it got closer and closer, three different people pointed out to me that my logic around all this was what was tripping me up. I’m often wont to make Nuke LaLouche’s great mistake. I was thinking too much, and more specifically, I was thinking too much about signposts.
For those who don’t know me (and I can’t imagine you’d be reading this otherwise, but thanks if you are) I was born on New Years Day, 1974. My birthday has always attracted a lot of attention from others for the obvious facts having nothing to do with my birth. It’s extremely rare that anyone’s who’s asked to see my ID doesn’t comment on this auspicious date. (It’s getting more and more rare that anyone checks my ID for anything, but I digress.) Having a Holiday birthday fascinates most, folks who likely have randomly mundane dates of birth. For those born on June 29, I am a rare and interesting unicorn. (My Mom’s birthday is June 29, and she thinks this for different reasons, not the least of which being that I finally remembered her birthday. Hi Mom!)
I’ve said many times that Jan 1 has it’s perks, and it certainly does. Never in my life have I had to go to school or work on my birthday. Ever, and I likely never will. Now that I have a family, I’m virtually guaranteed that the same will be true for my wife and children. I’ll always get to see them on this big day.
This particular date does lead annually to some fairly interesting celebrations. I have another dear friend who’s birthday falls on Dec. 31, and she hates it. I’ve had more than a few conversations with her about embracing the idea that the huge nationwide party going on all around her isn’t in spite of her birthday, but rather a celebration of it. Her response was something along the lines of how that was a great way for me to think, but didn’t work for her. On New Year’s Eve, no one is celebrating the year that passed, they’re looking forward. The whole planet counts down the seconds until it’s my birthday, and is grateful to see my friend’s pass into memory. I feel strongly for her, as I’m certain my attempts to cheer her on her birthday have hugely backfired, souring her all the more.
That said, her logic steers me closer to the point. For me, getting older is a huge signpost, and the specifics of the date are a major factor in that. I get older on the first day of the year. There is almost no way to look at my birthday as anything other than a new beginning. I’ve spent many a birthday suffering from what you might call Brown Bottle Flu, caused by excessive celebration of getting older at the moment that it happened and on into the wee hours. But there have been some huge moments on that day, indeed even in that second. I got engaged to my lovely wife at the stroke of midnight, in a huge crowd of folks whom we both dearly love. I’ve made the signpost count in lots of ways over the years, but it was the Big One that really got to me.
Time is a human construct, some say a fallacy, and it can super fuck with your head. I realized last year that it wasn’t just getting older, it was the birthday combined with the false finish line I had created. I needed to have a lot of stuff done by that day to feel validated. I needed to have achieved certain things, and was utterly incapable of appreciating the things that already happened. The accomplishments I’d made were overshadowed by that towering signpost, that uncrossed finish line, and I was choking on my own perceived failure.
My Wife, My Mother, and my Therapist all pointed out to me that I was being, essentially, a fuckin’ moron. Time may indeed be just a method of measuring the few precious moments we have before death, the tick tick tick that never goes away, but it doesn’t have to be. If this thinking motivates you to achieve, then great. But letting it constantly blind you to where you are instead of where you are going is not healthy. I spent the weeks, even months, after that signpost passed by and faded into the distance, and looked around a little at where I really was. I had, in fact, made progress. I’d written the first draft of the first issue of a comic, a lifelong dream. I’d made a few connections in that industry, I’d been writing regularly for two years about comics, and I was taking the first steps into a larger world.
It was only another month or so later that I realized more specifically what mistakes I had been making, and that I had actually learned a few things along the way. I took what I had done and started on a new approach: Think smaller, put more hooks in the water, never stop fishing. If you want to make comics? Make Comics. By mid-year, I WAS making comics. I’m still doing it, in new ways and with new collaborators, and I’ve achieved a few of those signpost goals. I’ve achieved a few new ones. I’ve missed others, and dismissed a few more altogether.
And at 41, I’m content with that progress. More than that, I have a better understanding of where I’m going and how to deal with it. My birthday will obviously never change, but it doesn’t matter that much to me anymore. I’ll still dread getting older, I’ll still worry that I’m not working hard enough. But the next big signpost is a long way off, and I’m not going to worry about it anymore. It’ll get here when it gets here. I’ll keep plugging away, I’ll keep achieving personal goals with the wife and our girls, and I’ll try to be a good husband and step-dad. I’ll do everything I can to keep making comics. There’s a big number out there, and I do have things I’d like to achieve by then. But I’m running towards it now, instead of resisting it. It’s coming, but for now, if you ask me how old I am, I have a pretty simple answer.
Meh. I’m not 50 yet.
or, Why I’m grateful my Mother taught me to read before I could remember.
I’ve slept on it, and I have to say that I AM surprised, I AM shocked. Not by continuous institutionalized racism, nor by the rage of the impoverished and the marginalized. I am surprised and shocked that when given a chance to finally make a difference, when a country is handed a moment like this that is so obviously an example of intolerance, injustice and oppression, that it has once again divided us rather than united us.
As a white man in this country, I am well aware that I exist in a bubble of privilege that has sheltered me from the worst of these injustices all my life. I have never known true poverty. I have never faced harassment and brutality due to the color of my skin.
I was raised by a racist. He was not the only parent I had, thankfully, and he was not, despite that claim, a wholly bad person.. As a small child, and then a teen and a young adult, I was subjected to the diatribe of hatred and anger, listening to the angry, narrow point of view that said that those that were different from me were lesser, were unworthy of respect, were dangerous and must be controlled or destroyed. As an adult I learned that racism as a concept is taught, that hatred supposedly breeds hatred, that blind acceptance of what you are told by your parents and your peers becomes your belief system.
That seemed ridiculous to me.
I was TOLD to hate those who looked different than me, those who had less than I was blessed with. And I rejected that idea whole-heartedly. I still reject it.
I was also taught to read, at an age so young I don’t recall it having happened. I was taught to look at stories other than my own. I was encouraged by a truly loving and wonderful parent to learn. (Thanks Mom!) I was encouraged to wonder at the power of truly great story telling and embrace the ideas beyond my own scope.
I keep coming back to one of my favorite stories of all time. In To Kill A Mockingbird, when a white jury convicts a black man of a crime he clearly didn’t commit, a saddened Jem asks his father, “How could they do it, how could they?”, to which Atticus Finch replies, “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do – it seems only children weep.”
This morning, I awakened again to a newscast and a “feed” and a “wall” full of division, and it’s that division that still upsets me even today. I AM shocked. I AM surprised. I have to think that people who DON’T understand the violence that has been occurring since yesterday do not realize that protestors in Ferguson and elsewhere feel they no longer have a legal voice with which to speak out about injustice. The rest of us must see past our own privilege. We must realize that the people in Ferguson and elsewhere see aggressive acts of protest as their last option to have their voices heard. We cannot continue to pretend any longer that they have the same legal protections that you and I have. The system is skewed against them, and has been their entire lives. To suggest that blacks and the impoverished only know oppression “from history books” is the worst kind of abuse of privilege.
Take this opportunity to reach out to poor people, to people of color, to people you do not know, to people different from you , and ASK them about their experiences with the legal system, their experiences with police, their experiences simply trying to find equality in this country. I promise you, you will be shocked and appalled by their stories if you truly listen. You may also begin to understand their deep level of frustration and rage. If we DON’T do this, if we don’t attempt to get to know and understand people who are different than us, if we insist on looking at these events though only our own eyes and experiences instead of trying to learn about and understand other points of view, I promise you things will only get worse.
These aren’t THEIR stories. They are OUR stories.
Or, what I had to say when he left.
This is the text of I read at my father’s funeral. I miss you Dad, and I love you.
“”My Dad has been one of my best friends and my hero since I was a little kid. I was always, and still am, kind of a nerd, but when you’re a little kid, you have no idea what that is. I loved a great story back then, and still do. I was a sucker for comic books and movies (and still am), I worshipped spacemen and superheroes and cowboys, and my Dad was all of those things to me, all at once. One of my best early memories of Dad is him coming by to pick me up for the weekend, and driving together over to his place. A lot of the best times with Dad were these trips, times when we’d ride in his big red and silver van, just he and I, and we’d talk about all the things we had been doing, and all the things we were going to do. My Dad was forever watching great movies with me, showing me things he thought were exciting, and I loved it all. We watched old episodes of Gunsmoke, we watched black and white classics, we watched science fiction flicks and westerns. I knew back then, just KNEW, that Dad grew his beard just like Clint Eastwood’s in The Outlaw Josey Wales because he WAS an outlaw. On this particular day, Dad was really excited, and telling me all about a movie he wanted to show me. “It’s about this Immortal Scottish warrior,” he was saying, animated and talking with his hands even while he was driving, “ and he fights these other Immortal Warriors, and the only way for them to die is if they cut each other’s head off … and the guy carries this ancient Japanese sword … and lightning shoots out of his body … and the bad guy has this helmet with skulls on it and this big scar on his neck … and James Bond is in it … it’s just really great! … “ He went on and on like that, and all I could think was, “Wow, my Dad is soooooo COOL!”
As I got a little older, I got to know my Father in new ways, and he never lost that luster of Cool. I got to Junior High and was still obsessed over comics and movies, and slowly started realizing that I was a nerd. I loved sports, Dad having taught me love Dallas Cowboys football, and though I was a runt who couldn’t play, Dad never cared about that. We’d watch games and be excited when they won, and then we’d watch a movie. I knew by then that My Dad wasn’t John Wayne or Roger Staubach, but I also knew that I didn’t care. My hero worship was strongly intact, because Dad didn’t make any apologies for who he was. He drank whole milk and ate ding dongs, and smoked unapologetically. He had the best VHS movie collection of anyone I knew. He liked to engage with people and laugh and tell a good story, he still talked with his hands, and he enjoyed the pleasures of his life.
As I grew into High School, my nerdy mind turned to what all boys minds turn to. Not that. Cars. Thankfully, again, here Dad was my Hero. I’d heard the stories of how he and my Mother met, that Dad used to run around with her older brother David, getting into trouble, stealing car parts and building hot rods. When I was in High School, dad got a job at, and eventually ran, his own Auto Garage. He taught me all sorts of great stuff about cars, turning me into a grease monkey just like him. These were some more of my best memories of Dad, working in the shop and hanging out with the guys on the dirt track race teams, going to the track on Saturday nights, and he was still my hero. He just seemed determined to live life on his terms, and stay his young wild guy, smoking cigarettes like Steve McQueen or someone, and I still thought, “Man, My Dad is soooooo COOL!”
I went away to college, and that’s this first time I really remember Dad’s health beginning to get lousy. For a long time I was afraid I’d get a phone call, that scary one, and I spent a lot of years sort of steeling myself for it. I thought, Dad would want me to toughen up, to be prepared, to not get morose. As I got older, and I saw my sisters have kids and saw him become a Grandfather, very loving and attentive. I saw him get wound up talking about an 7 year old girls soccer games and my older self began to realize Wow, my Dad is able to be a dork, and a tough guy, and still be a solid family man. That is soooooo COOL!
In these last months, I’ve seen my Dad dealing with his illness, dealing with the consequences of his life the same way he always did. I remember when he first was diagnosed with cancer he told me a story about how he had the first of his tumors removed while under a local anesthetic. We were just hanging out in his living room, but the way he told me the story like he was having a bullet removed in a western, pouring whiskey into the wound while chewing on a rawhide leather strip and cauterizing the thing with a hot poker. I realized then that he was telling it that way for my benefit, that he was approaching this in the unapologetic way he approached everything else, accepting the bad things with dignity and enjoying the good things in life with relish. And I realized that I still thought he was sooooo COOL.
I’ve been telling versions of these stories about my Dad my whole life, to friends and strangers and now my fiancée and step daughters, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve worshipped him so long that they’ve grown out of control, into tall tales in the eyes of others while they feel like gospel to me. I wonder, was he really so into the same things I was? Cars and westerns, football and sci-fi flicks? Or am I still a little boy who never grew out of the hero worship of his Dad. But I look back on one of the last letters he wrote to me about two years ago, and it always makes me smile. It’s two paragraphs, the first one the tough guy one …
I have taken a leave from my work and applied for my company disability insurance so I can just laze around for a while … my oncologist said I should stop working so I don’t just wear myself out and maybe shorten my life span … My last set of x-ray’s and CT scans showed no increase or growth in the cancer’s … My breathing is a little more labored, but I get by pretty well. I do take lots of naps these days.
“We went to see Watchmen last weekend. Totally Awesome!! It was even more than I had anticipated. It’s almost hard to believe that it got made, it is so far beyond anything else out there. We went Sunday afternoon and we were the oldest people in the theater. I think I am just younger than most old people I know.”
My Dad was sooooo COOL!”
How we taught Grace and Vivi to adore a good kick in the face.
I have learned a lot recently about the things that children think, the things that children say, and the things that children believe. I am, by no means, a stranger to the younger versions of my fellow human beings. I have known and loved children all my life, but it’s not at all the same experience as being a step-parent. Since elaborating on the nature of the step-parent/child relationship would be mind-numbingly dull to most of you who have children, and terrifying enough to force those that do not under the vasectomy knife, I’ll warn you now that you might want to stop reading. That is, unless you love, as I love, The Karate Kid.
Not too far back, we decided that this was something the kids “needed to see.” As anyone who was reared in the ‘80’s can tell you, this is by no means a light-hearted decision. This was a seminal movie in my childhood, and almost everyone I know who’s my age says the same. Carla and I both loved it and couldn’t imagine why the kids wouldn’t love it as well. It is, after all, a classic coming of age story, and a true heroes tale as well. If you look at it through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s teachings (and those of us who revere Star Wars with equal fervor to the Karate Kid surely have studied said teachings) you see that Daniel-San is as archetypically heroic as Luke Skywalker. According to Campbell, heroes come from a heroic or mysterious birth (New Jersey, check) and are typically fatherless (Mrs. Laruso was clearly on her own, check. She did have the good sense to own a station wagon, whether it ran or not, though). They face adversity early in life (Kobra Kai Karate Bullies, check) and find through this adversity the wise old man to become a teacher/father figure (and Mr. Miyagi is as shriveled, short, old, and verbally challenged as Yoda, with only slightly better hair, check). There follows a period of hiding in a magical land (Mr. Miyagi lived, apparently, behind a junk-yard in an unusually inexpensive Japanese pleasure garden of some type. He also owned a fleet of classic automobiles that clearly only required a good wash and wax to get them in tip-top running shape, and all of this on a handy-mans salary in LOS ANGELES, a magical and mysterious place if ever there was one. Check.) A true hero undergoes rigorous training in the warrior discipline, (Admit it, EVERYONE of you reading this just said, “Wax On, Wax Off” to yourselves, possibly out loud. Some of you mimed the hand gesture), and proceeds to vanquish his enemies while learning something about himself, and usually getting the girl. OK, that might not be an EXACT recount of Campbell’s writing, but you get the point. We LOVED Daniel-San, though almost no one in his world seemed to. Plus, we were all as in love with Alli with an I just as much as we had loved Princess Leia only a few years before, and only lamented that KKIII didn’t include a gold bikini (or a believable or even recognizable plot structure.)
However, I digress. (ya think?) In order to properly expose Grace and Vivi to the glory of The Karate Kid, Carla and I invited to our home the one man who might truly seal the deal when selling ‘80’s pop culture to the uninitiated. That is, of course, the inimitable Mr. Kevin Smokler (@Weegee). We gathered around the boob tube (what is the proper reference of this nature for an HD digital television these days? TV’s don’t have tube’s anymore, right?), and settled in for a movie night like none other. The first hour or so was predictable difficult, and this is where we (finally) get to the point I made up front. Children’s minds work in unique and wonderful ways, and ours are no different.
Seemingly the most difficult thing for the girls to digest was ‘80’s fashion, and frankly, who can blame them? If I had a nickel for every time Grace or Viv asked, incredulously, “What is he/she WEARING?!!?!?!?”, well, I’d have about $1.15. They had little understanding of the shortness of the shorts during the P.E. or beach scenes, no acceptance whatsoever of the sleeveless t-shirt, and Daniel-San’s classic red plaid shirt / camo pants combo was a complete mystery to them (as it was to us, at the time). The level of unintentional comedy in their discussion of Billy Zabka’s hair alone could provide stand-up material for a fleet of comics.
The other difficulty they seemed to have difficulty with is the one that makes me love them as much as I do. They had no conception, none whatsoever, as to why the Kobra Kai asshats had decided to ruin Daniel-San’s life. “Why are they doing that?” they often asked, and it wasn’t a saddened plea on young Mr. Larusso’s behalf while they watched in horror as he got his teenage ass whipped. They genuinely had no understanding of cruelty on that level from one young person to another. I know they experience bullying at school, but it is mostly in the form of teasing, verbal abuse or the modern “Cyber bullying”, and they mostly know how to handle it, i.e. just ignore such ridiculousness when mild, and let the proper adult know what’s up when things get nasty. But actual physical violence between schoolmates was something foreign to them. Is this because they are only 11 and 12? Or, is it that the boys at school brawl in the yard, but they are beyond it since they are girls? This doesn’t seem to be the case. They are, thank goodness, just not exposed to that kind of blatant aggression and physical cruelty, and I am thankful for it. I felt the same when we saw Fried Green Tomatoes, and had to explain WHY a black woman’s word would never be trusted over a white man’s. That level of removal from the issues that so dominated generations before them makes me warm and fuzzy inside.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take too terribly long before the girls were completely wrapped up in this wonderful little flick, and rooting for Daniel-San right along with us. They laughed in all the right places (Daniel getting thrown out of the boat by a cackling Mr. Miyagi, who seems to have lost a firm grip on his horses), they got teary in the right places (learning of Mr. Miyagi’s own loss in his past) and by the end of the flick, they were PUMPED for the All Valley Karate Tournament. Seriously, who wouldn’t be? They laughed a good bit at the music (which they seemed to regard as just as odd as the fashion, surprisingly) but they were stoked. Another of their amazing insights happened right near the end, and it made me incredibly happy to see it. I’m not sure if WE understood this as kids, but the girls pretty clearly saw through the Kobra Kai kids’ bravado at the end, and recognized that they were in fact just some scared kids themselves, being manipulated by a teacher that was very, very wrong in the head. They saw the fear in Johnny’s eyes when Martin Cove delivered the classic line “Sweep the Leg,” and again when he let Mr. Lawrence know he wanted Daniel-San, “Out of commission.” These chilling moments might have been lost on me as a kid, but not on the girls. They saw the inherent decency in these young men with a terrible teacher, and focused their ire on the true villain of the story rather quickly.
And then, at last, it was here, the moment that so affected my childhood, and that of all my friends. The Crane Kick. Need I say more? I think not. What burst forth in our living room was the same that burst forth in my Father’s 25 years prior.
Riotous cheers! Whoooo! All five of us leapt forward, yelling and applauding, all of us rejoicing in Daniel-San and Mr. Miyagi’s triumph just as much as my family had done when I was the girl’s age. That, for me, was easily one of the great moments in my new parenting experience, and really showed me that as much as kids today are smarter and more experienced and exposed to the world, ultimately, everyone loves it when the good guy wins.
How I learned I might be spared from Classic Rock drudgery after all.
For starters, let me just say that I DO, in fact, READ. I have noticed in the last couple of years that from time to time I feel woefully under-read in the important books, the classics, the pop-culturally significant tomes of gibberish, the Non-fictional histories of ridiculous modern trends, the things most OTHER people seem to be reading. I like fiction, greatly, and I like popular fiction, and I am unapologetic about it. Most of the time it doesn’t bother that my shelves creak with Steven King, but are lacking in volumes of non-fiction attacking the establishment, or the people who make and eat fast-food. I enjoy trashy novels, sci-fi, and I have in recent years begun again to read comic books. Not Graphic Novels about self important Brits who have lifestyle issues, but the big-pecs, spandex-clad Comics I enjoyed as a pre-teen (and as a teenager, for that matter. Frankly, there were only a few years that I was OFF comics). That said, I do pick up new ideas form time to time, and when someone was recently shocked by the fact that I had only occasionally read Chuck Klosterman in ESPN (The) Magazine and GQ, I picked up Fargo Rock City.
I enjoyed it, and will only briefly expound on my thoughts on Chuck’s view of “Metal.” I lived in the same era Mr. Klosterman did, and enjoyed many of the same bands, though I have discovered my tastes and ideas about Metal differed from his in the following ways: 1) In the (ahem) political spectrum of Metal, I was much more Right Wing than ol’ Chucky, as I rarely if ever gave credence to such metal pretenders as Cinderella and Poison, Metallica and their British peers Motorhead and Iron Maiden being a bit more my style, and 2) Metal did not rule my life. I was also a bit Punker-than-Thou in 1988, having discovered the Ramones through the aforementioned Mr. King. I bought and consumed feverishly every rap album I could possibly get my hands on, and it was around this time that I began an almost decade long unbroken streak of owning a pair of white Adidas Superstars. I also enjoyed, even then, older country music. In the midst of the Public Enemy and the Anthrax, Willie and Merle’s cover of Townes’ “Pancho and Lefty” became my favorite song during the late ‘80’s, and it remains so to this day.
So, all that said, I enjoyed the book. I also agree with his supposition that Guns ‘N Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction was not only the best album of the genre, but certainly the most definitive, and I think, the one that stands the test of time. I still have it on regular rotation in my iTunes. Not only that, I’ve been hearing it in lots of other places lately, mostly radio.
Now, I listen to a lot of CRAP on the radio lately. I do, after all, have two pre-teen step-daughters, and they like … well, … really AWFUL crap. I love them deeply, and I know they are young and growing into their tastes, but only Gracie so far seems to have any appreciation for anything other than the Top-40 garbage her friends are listening to. Yet, that’s where I’ve been hearing G’N’R lately. On VIVI’s radio stations (defined as the ones she asks for regularly, and who mostly feature Ke$ha, Kanye, and Justin Bieber. And, for the record, I enjoy Kanye sometimes.) I believed at first that they were playing “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Paradise City” with a certain sense of irony, and that may have been the goal in the beginning, but I think that irony is lost on the listeners themselves. Recently, at the Pacifica Fog Fest (any excuse for a street fair is a good one, even fog I suppose) the local radio tent played it right after playing an old school Michael Jackson number, and the kids around (I actually saw this with my own eyes) were ROCKING OUT to both. BOTH! This pleases me, in that at the very least, my tastes have been validated by twelve year olds. Yeah, they like shit, but they recognize great tunes when they hear them. As I believe you aren’t ALLOWED to understand real irony before the age of 16 or so, they aren’t giggling at it, as some sort of fluke, or old guy’s tune. They genuinely enjoy Axel and Slash.
Makes me feel better.
How and Why my English teachers and professors are gonna kill me when they see the footnotes.
So, the last few posts were about physically getting here, and that’s happened and it’s wonderful. I’ve been adjusting to being a step-father, and trying to adjust to being a writer again, and I gotta tell ya, the former is INCREDIBLY easy AND exhausting at the same time, and the latter is supremely difficult lately. I need to stop listening to people who talk about how difficult it is to “make it” as a writer, I need to stop listening to myself saying I wasted too much time in this life to get this dream done, I need to stop listening to the never ending un-fucking-believably scary silence that is the blank piece of paper. I am stuck, and I need to get unstuck, so lets switch to a nice simple easy topic, shall we.
Today, brothers and sisters, let’s talk about God.
WAIT, wait, waitwaitwait! You, over there, don’t go running just yet. And you, in the front, put away your wallet. I just meant lets talk about the nature of God, discuss a little philosophy, if you please. There you go, little bunnies, that’s right, just settle in like you are getting ready for a nap. It’s all right. Everyone always falls asleep when I start blathering.
I have been thinking about this again lately, you see, and when I do, I once more feel obligated to beat anyone I can get to listen over their heads with the Fungo of Obviousness, as lots of people seem strangely blind and lost when it comes to this kind of thinking.
How did I arrive on this befuddling-but-should-be-obvious topic, you ask? It started this week with what has become one of my favorite Twitter followees, The Austin American Statesman. According to a poll or a study or something that I didn’t bother to read1, more Austinites than ever regard themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious” and I want to smack their hippy fool selves with my FOO.2 I’m ready to get my swing good and warmed up because I think most Austinites who describe themselves as such, do so because it is fashionably weird. Austin loves to be fashionably weird. Really, they made T-shirts. The fact that religion and spirituality go hand in hand is something even Austin’s most whacked-out whackadoodles do not need reminding of, I don’t believe, but the attempt to separate the two for no other reason than you can’t be bothered to get out of bed early on Saturday or Sunday morning to go to whatever large social gathering your parents trained you as good little chilluns to attend does not mean you are no longer religious, kiddies. It means you are Lapsed. As a lapsed Catholic myself, this is something I know a little bit about. Catholics invented lapsing, in fact2a. Now that’s not to say that a great many neo-hippies in Austin aren’t ACTUALLY spiritualists since, like I said, I didn’t really READ the survey, I just got tickled by the headline (This is after all, the age of instant news and the 140 character attention span.) But I imagine, knowing a good many of them, that most of them are much more lapsed than spiritual, and they need to be okay with it.
Other things that got me thinking about the Nature of the Divine Being3, you ask? A few, really. First, it’s gray as fuck here in SF3c this week, so that helps. Also, I’ve been listening in the car to a television program3f written by a hero of mine that quite often contains plot points intentionally manipulated to induce two of the main characters to argue on the nature of the New Testament and whether or not it might be, “a fairy tale.” Third, becoming a stepfather to two pre-teen girls after living a bachelor’s life for 35 years will also have you struggling to find strength in anything, faith included. And thankfully, that’s another way I have been reminded of this little conversation, from a lovely young lady, coincidentally named Grace.
Grace is beautiful, like her mother, precocious like her mother, and all of 12 years old. She asked me at dinner last night what my religion was, and though it had been a while since I had heard it, there was, in her voice, the timbre of the converter. Gracie, you see, has developed HER OWN RELIGION.3lmnop She named it after the gerund form of one of her favorite verbs4, though that has little to do with the dogma or practice of said religion. It revolves around, as best I can tell, the understanding of three female deities, personified as Life, Death, and Fate, sisters three, who influence but do not overtly control the lives of all human beings. There are elements of everything from Christianity to Greek and Roman Mythology to Warrior Goddesses of every fantasy novel ever written in her religious tenets and teachings, and this both makes me love her and speaks to the point that I will eventually get around to making, if you’re lucky.5
The obviousness of religious belief, and you may all exhale sighs of relief that I have finally gotten to the point, is this. All religions, now pay attention, are the same religion. God, in whatever form He may choose to take, loves all of you, whether you believe in Her or not. It doesn’t care if you are White, Black, Cuban, Asian or Mutant X-Factor positive. The only things They really care about are hatred (also known as the failure by human beings to treat other human beings like human beings), the attempt by each one of us to learn and better themselves, hurting or killing each other in It’s name, and pronouns. God is Jehovah, Muhammed, Buddha, Christ, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Trees, Mushrooms, and any other damn thing that will get any of you to listen, pay attention, and stop hurting each other just because you can. Whatever It may be, It has done everything possible to get you to understand It. To do so, It has created wise and not so wise men who in turn have organized great social structures and built glorious buildings in which we may each worship It as we see fit.5z She has also been our Mother, and given us the resources we need to live, breathe, and wonder about the universe and each other. Lastly, It has given us just that, each other. Someone once said, “Hell is Other People”6 and while that may be true for some, I have learned that the opposite is also very true. Heaven is other people. Specifically, Heaven is the people in your life, be they great pieces or small, and if you don’t believe me, then you do not call your mother often enough, or are a sociopath of some type.7 When it comes to entertainment lately, the choice of me and mine has been a wonderful show entitled “This Emotional Life”,8 which quite wonderfully states that we need each other to survive and be happy, and while I agree with that, I kept finding myself thinking that there was more to it than just that. We don’t just need each other to be happy, we need to be happy for each other, and it strikes me as no accident. Some might consider it paradoxical thinking, but I think it’s blatantly obvious that this works this way on purpose.9 We need each other, we find happiness in each other, no matter our great differences. In fact, it is our differences that make us need and like each other and make us happy. Talking to oneself is a sign that one has gone the aforementioned whackadoodle, but talking to others is what we all need in our lives. Interaction is key, and we see it even in our worship of the higher power. We are PLURAL. So why do we insist on our religious beliefs being singular? Why can we not realize that God, in whatever form or name, is God in all forms and names? That He sent us whatever the hell it was we needed for us to figure out that She loves us, and that we should love each other?10 The similarities between the religions of this planet are all far too similar for this to be a coincidence. The Golden Rule exists in some form almost universally, from Bible to Torah to Koran to Oprah to whatever the name of L. Ron’s book is. Eventually, we all need to realize that God is right here, all around us, in the other people that we love and care about, in the people that other people love and care about that we’ve never met, and we need to shut up and try a little harder to stop honking at each other and hitting each other and killing each other and forgetting to leave the seat down. Because, if there is one thing I have learned, even more so than I ever knew it before I got here to SF to live with my family, Heaven is certainly other people.11
1. Here lies the link to said article,. Read it for yourselves, like good little sheep.
2. FOO, or The Fungo of Obviousness. Sad, really, that I have to explain an acronym for something I was just talking about three sentences before. Obviousness, according to my experience, requires a Fungo to the skull. Or a footnote. I enjoy comedic footnotes, and though I fully understand the Chicago and AP Rules of Style, I just don’t give a shit.
2a. The Lapsed Catholic Church was unofficially founded in 1866 by Algernon B. McCullen, an Irish immigrant, prominent accordianist, and former Union Army soldier, when he realized that he hadn’t been to Mass in something like six years because a bunch of his friends and relatives, all living just seven miles south of the border that he lived seven miles north of, had been trying inexplicably during this period to shoot his ass off. Realizing that he was likely to burn in hell if he didn’t get around to eventually going to confession, but that this was in no way preventing him or his future relatives from one day spending several hours on Sundays watching NFL football, Algernon petitioned the Pope to be dubbed the Cardinal of the Lapsed Catholic Church of the United States. His request, submitted by mail to The Holy Father in Rome, was unfortunately never granted, as it was returned to a Lexington, Kentucky Post Office, on the grounds that it was, “heretical”, “spiritually and morally unsound”, and lacked, “Sufficient Postage.” Mostly the later.
3. “I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things.” – the inimitable Annie Savoy.
3c. No one here is allowed to refer to SF as anything other than SF, or “The City.” Use of the term “San Fran” is socially frowned upon and may be prosecuted with a penalty of up to 60 hours community service and a $2500 fine. Use of the forbidden term “Frisco” is, I believe, punishable by death.
3f. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, also known as Aaron Sorkin’s last bad idea on TV that premiered the same season as 30 Rock, was about basically the same thing, and was smarter, but less funny. That title ended up being too long, however, and really bad, at that. Also, yes, I listen to television programs on my iPhone while driving the car. I don’t WATCH them, but I listen. Sue me. And, stop signaling for seventeen blocks if you aren’t really turning right, lady, that’s just infuriating.
3lmnop. This use of capitalization was not only meant to imply importance, but should be accompanied by that angelic singing sound effect you always hear.
4. Words are fun. Grace knows this instinctually, just one of the millions of reasons I am in love with her, her mother, and her sister. Plus, aren’t you glad we finally got to footnote 4? Me too.
5. As I sit here, a song is playing in the café, by a band that helped me once have Faith in the Divine. I stood under a beautiful Texas night sky with my best friend and a girl I was in love with, and reveled in glorious music and happiness, thinking, “This, THIS is what all human beings are supposed to do with their lives, make each other feel LIKE THIS.” Sorry, that one wasn’t funny, or adorable like the last one.
5z. That is not to say that all the men involved subsequent to the creation of various religions were great, see also The Crusades, The Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials, Billy Graham, L. Ron Hubbard, etcetera, ad nauseum.
6. Jean-Paul Sartre, as part of his masterwork Huis-clos, or “An Impression of Jeffrey Rider’s Mother,” in the English. It’s spot on.
7. The medical opinions expressed in this article are the sole opinion of the author of this blog, and in no way reflect the opinion of Blogger, Google, or any of their partners, divisions, holdings or subsidiaries. Also, call your mother sometime.
8. PBS, NOVA for BS, “This Emotional Life” 4 January 2010 (USA). Wow, that one was an actual footnote. Until I went, “Wow, …”
9. FOO SMACK!
10. A guy is sitting at home, and the television news reports that a flood is coming. He prays, knowing God loves him, and waits to be saved by the Lord. The waters rise up, and he goes out and climbs onto his fence , while a man in a rowboat comes by. The rowboat guy says, “Come with me and I’ll help you,” but the man prays, and waits to be saved by God. The waters rise further, and the man climbs onto the roof of his house. A helicopter comes by, and the pilot shouts to the man to grab a lowered rope, but the man refuses, and prays, still insisting that God will save him. The waters keep rising, and the man drowns. He gets to the gates of heaven, and asks St. Peter, “I prayed, and I am religious, why did God not save me?” Peter looks up the man’s name in the book, then replies, “We sent you a news report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat! What the HELL are you DOING HERE??!?!?!” St. Peter is a grumpy old fart, I bet.
11. Don’t forget to leave the seat down.
Sipping red wine, Driving winding roads, and trying not to bit each others heads off.
Well, I made it folks, as many of you already know (don’t tell the DMV, I haven’t gotten a new driver’s license yet) and it was quite an ordeal. So far the most regularly asked question I have answered is, “How was the trip?”, further evidence that no one is reading my drivel. However, it’s helpful to me to write it all down, so here’s The Final Day.
The Final Day of The Great Adventure was, without question, the best day. Carla and I woke up at our hotel in L.A. on Sunday morning, beaming and happy. After long absences, the heart is not the only thing that grows fonder, I am here to tell ya. There is something physically wonderful about waking up in the morning next to the person you know you are supposed to be with. When they are away, you wake up wondering blearily where they ARE every morning, a situation that is utterly unlivable after a while, as Carla and I have both proven and now rectified.
Our hotel, by the way, was called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” All I could think about where all those raunchy jokes I knew as a kid … hehehe … this was all together another great reason to have my long absent girlfriend around, but I digress …
We had ourselves a great breakfast at their little restaurant and hit the road. In the beginning I was loathe to get into the driver’s seat again, after the previous day’s grueling difficulties, but I was so overjoyed to have someone to ride with and talk to that it didn’t phase me too much. Carla and I headed north out of L.A. towards Santa Barbara, where we were meeting an old friend of hers for lunch.
It turns out it’s a good thing we did. Santa Barbara, for the uninitiated, is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Granted, it’s the middle of nowhere, CALIFORNIA, so it’s pretty nice. It is, in fact, a quaintly beautiful little town where we had a lovely lunch and a nice walk with Carla’s long lost amigo, who is pursuing a branch of religious study so fascinating and worldly that I could not begin to do it justice here. Suffice it to say it was great to have engaging intellectual conversation after so many days alone on the road.
After lunch, we decided to continue up the coast along the legendary Route 1, that long and winding road up and down the Pacific coast. We took turns driving, and stopped in Big Sur. We had a nice meal, a glass of red wine, and sat looking at the coastal sunset, in as beautiful (and typically) Northern Californian setting as you could possibly get. The grandeur of my new state was really beginning to set in, and it was lovely to be there with Carla.
We finished off the trip after dinner, and the last bit was a bit rough. We rolled into SF about 11pm, tired and ready for bed. Sadly, we had a car load of my CRAP to unload, and we set to it as quickly as possible. We were exhausted, and very near to snapping at each other at this point. In retrospect, I can only say that it was a testament to our feeling and commitment to each other that we got the car unloaded without killing each other, as tempers were frayed to the edge. We got a good night’s sleep, together in our home at last, and woke up the next morning with that same beaming feeling of happiness to be together at last. The best part is, it’s been almost two weeks since that day, and it hasn’t gone away yet. Hopefully it never will.
(Wow, that final bit, the last sentence especially, almost had ME losing my lunch. Fell free to be disgusted by our happiness. We sometimes gross ourselves out, and then laugh and laugh.)
How I learned to stop watching TV and love a dog.
Day Four of The Great Adventure, I gotta tell ya, started off a little rough. Having spent the night on a couch who’s cushions insisted on running away from me during the night, I woke grumpy and slightly hung-over. This was in now way due to the graciousness of my host, as Dexter was great about Kevin and I crashing at his place, but more to do with the joys of sleeping on a leather couch and the joys of imbibing many beers with old friends neither of which I would have traded for anything.
So, I made a conscious effort to shower and get the car loaded, taking my mind off my mind, or more specifically, my brain, and it’s unfortunate level of dehydration. A good scrub and a full bottle of water later, I was rarin’ to go.
And Go I did. And go, and go and go and go and go. 10 ½ hours across all of New Mexico and a good portion of Arizona, with only the briefest of stops for food and gas. I listened to a lot of music, and discovered the joy of iPhone television episodes whilst driving in the car. One can’t actually WATCH TV episodes while driving, but I can listen to episodes of Firefly that I have seen a half dozen times, and they keep me entertained. I couldn’t help thinking how something less visually stimulating might go for a trip like this. Perhaps epps of The West Wing would have been even better, all talk and very few special effects… something to consider.
I reached Flagstaff in the dark and cold, found an Arby’s, ate, and crashed. I awoke at 4:30 in the morning, realized that was the local time and that I had gotten two hours back (take THAT Daylight Savings Time!) and got back on the road by 5:45. Crazy, I know, but there was a little lady waitin’ on me in L.A., and I was wasting no more time. 7 1/2 hours later, these being the longest and dullest of the trip so far, I was cruising through traffic in the City of Angels, rockin’ out to The Thermals, and thinking, “Wow, I live in California now.” It was an odd sensation, but a thoroughly pleasurable one.
I called the lady on got directions to her friends place, and after a bit of a parking cluster F, I walked on over. It was here that I at long last got to meet Nina in the flesh, and had the honor of addressing the legendary Daisy J. Dog. In fact, I am pretty sure I leaned in to pet Daisy before bothering to say hello to or hug Nina, a sure sign that I am a sucker for a cute pup. She led me down the street, and there was Carla, at long last.
I can’t begin to explain how happy I was in that moment (yet watch me go ahead and try). If you’ve ever been separated from the one you love for a long period, and then been reunited, you might understand a little of it. But it was so much more than that, this time. Seeing here was not merely the relief of missing her, my heart having once again grown proverbially fonder with her absence, it was a real sense of homecoming, regardless of the fact that we haven’t actually made it HOME yet. Home is indeed where one’s heart is, and she has mine tucked firmly away in her hip pocket, no question about it.
We spent a bit chatting with Nina and the aforementioned legendary pooch, on life and shared friends and puppy surgery and all manor of topics. After a bit we headed to the hotel to unpack, mercifully allow me to shower, and then headed back for an evening of beers and pizza. Here, I met Will, another great treat. He and his lovely bride are dear friends to Carla, and I have enjoyed knowing them virtually. I was deeply happy (and more than a little nervous) to finally develop that friendship in real life, and it turned out I needn’t have bothered with the nervousness, as they are delightful folks and so easy to spend time with. We had a great night, swapping old stories and laughing, and it felt more like coming back to see old friends than it did making new ones.
Carla and I eventually retired into the night, happy to be together in a way that was both excited and greatly content. This is where we are supposed to be, together, and though I might make you all sick of hearing it, I could not be happier.
Life is Who you make of it.
So, Two days have past this far on The Great Adventure, and so far, I am still in Texas. I spent Tuesday with my father, who’s health is still failing. Dad , of course, will never let you know this. He can barely walk, he’s on oxygen 24 hours a day, and I am pretty sure he is in much more pain from the cancer than he is letting on. Still, when you ask him how he’s feeling, he says, “I’m fine. I’m good.” Of which, I believe not a word, but it wouldn’t be Dad if he didn’t say them. I love him very much, I often wish I were closer to him, and I worry about him. It was nice to spend a day catching up with him, and with my Grandmother, who came down from Missouri to see me off. I hadn’t seen her in many years, due largely to the fact that I am a terrible grandson and a generally lazy, selfish, rotten SOB. However, this trip, and this new stage in my life, are the beginnings of my trying to change all that. Thankfully, Grandmothers are forgiving and loving unconditionally, and it was wonderful to see her. Also, they don’t have a holiday like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and I really think that ought to change. Somebody oughtta right a letter or somethin‘.
Wednesday morning I packed up the car and hit the road. There is something about the solitary Texas Road Trip that makes me sublimely happy. I cranked up bad country music I would never listen to otherwise, I drove with the sunroof open, I sang in my awful twangy accent, I hollered at cows as I passed. Really, I yelled at the cows. I t was friendly yelling, to be sure, but guess what. Cows DO NOT care what you are doing out on the highway. Cows have no imagination, no sense of hopefulness that comes from the road. Might be because they are fenced in, might just be because they are steaks waiting to happen.
I arrived in Lubbock, Texas in early afternoon. Lubbock was my place of hiding for the heroes training that must come, as the old stories tell it, and will always hold a warm place in my heart. I spent time with three of the best friends a guy could ever want, and saw many more. We talked about old times and new times, about football and baseball and baby boys, about parenting and life and, as always, good beer. We had a grand old time, though I kept the lid on reasonably well, and I will never forget it. And now I am packing up to hit the longest day on the road of the trip, 641 miles to Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m told there is little to see on the way, but if it;s out there, I’ll find it. My fingers are itching to get behind the wheel and drive, one thing I truly love to do, and I have a good book at the ready as well, so I am looking forward to a long good day (it’s an audiobook people, Don’t Read and Drive.)
And the best thing about all of it is that I am that much closer to thee lovely blond ladies, the coast, and a new beginning. Time to hit the road …