Hearts and Minds

I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m white, fairly educated, and have had a pretty good life. I say this because I feel it’s important to define the circumstances in which I was raised. Growing up, my exposure to racism was pretty much non-existent. I had few minorities in my classes, though my best friend in my first years of school was black, albeit adopted by white parents. I don’t know if the “N-word” was ever uttered in my household, but I think I grew up with an understanding that it simply wasn’t a word that I used.

Oddly enough, however, the word ‘faggot’ was routinely employed. Since I wasn’t allowed to use profanity, when I learned that one I, like many of my friends, used it. It was much more prevalent in the lexicon. The first time I heard Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, it was clearly a word that I could use with little, if any, repercussions. Being a guy, any sense of effeminate tendencies was shunned and discouraged. It was just a part of life.

One time I was visiting my grandmother at her home in Iowa. Since she passed her time watching The Young and the Restless, I was very much compelled to entertain myself in any other way. I played outside for a bit until I saw some other kids roughly my age across the street. I ended up hanging out with them and was having a really good time until I heard my grandmother bellow from her porch. Upon returning, I was confronted by a visibly angry grandmother. Not because I didn’t let her know what I was up to, but because I was playing with Latino kids. I was absolutely mystified. I don’t hold many memories from that time, but I remember that because of how confused and ultimately awful it made me feel. It wasn’t long after that that I had discovered that my grandmother had effectively disowned my sister for marrying a black man. As a result, many years later after my parents had divorced, I took my mother’s maiden name. I didn’t want to be associated with racism in any way. I didn’t understand it and I actively disassociated myself from it.

This is, of course, one of many times in my life where I turned my back on what was a cultural norm for many people. It simply didn’t make sense to me. And that brings us to two momentous events that occurred these past weeks.

The first was the horrific event that occurred in the church in South Carolina. This church, in case you’ve missed somehow missed all the media coverage, has a long history of violence and literally rising from its own ashes. But out of that, a revolution of sorts was created that wound up with the entire country asking “Why is the South embracing a flag of a failed attempt at succession over slavery?” It was a worthy question. That’s not enough — why would the country acquiesce to such a slap in the face of the Americans of color all over the south? Germany had outlawed the swastika flag and it was rightfully scorned by intelligent people as a symbol of hate. How was the Stars and Bars any different? In the face of a murderer who was heard to say, “I hate black people”, and proudly displayed his affection for this flag, the south seemed to finally realize that it was long overdue for this flag to be retired to the dustbin of history.

The second event was one that came from the Supreme Court. In a momentous ruling, that will surely go down in the annals of history, they ruled that people of the same sex could marry and enjoy the freedoms that other married couples enjoy. Not with an asterisk, not with a caveat, but simply because they, like their heterosexual brethren, possess the same rights as citizens of the United States of America. A true resounding of the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution that this country was founded.

I realize that I have padded these events into words that could be interpreted by some as overblown. But there’s a reason that I chose them, and it’s not only because of how important I feel they are to my country. I want to emphasize how far I have come as a person. It’s not nearly as far as I am asking my southern countrymen I’m asking to come. I realize that you all have been bathed in a world where black or gay was somehow inferior to you. I’ve heard the jokes, I’ve seen the disparities, and I know the mistrust.

It’s all false.

These people, who you are lucky enough to call your fellow people — your very countrymen — are no more or less human than you. Many of them are absolutely amazing. Like some of the people you’ve encountered, some can be assholes. That’s life. Judge not by what you see initially, but instead by their actions and words. But I must assure you, from the bottom of my heart, that they are truly amazing beings just like everyone else. They are men and women of a cacophony of the people that you encounter in life that should be judged for who they are, and not the labels that society wants to adhere. Listen to their stories. Hear their heartfelt words. Learn from them. They are just as much a part of your limited experience on earth as anyone else.

To do anything else is to close your mind from the illuminating experience of what it means to exist on this earth. How could you rob yourself of such a thing for something so limited as your ego? Take it in. You’ll only be better for the experience.

Profile Advice – For the Ladies

All in all, I do feel bad for women on dating sites. As I’ve been led to understand, and have even witnessed, there are more than a few guys out there who pretty much wreck any respect women would have for men simply by being troglodytic, sex-crazed mooncalves. On behalf of myself and every other guy out there who’s actually looking for something fun and meaningful, I offer my deepest apologies and wish you nothing but the best.

That said…buckle up, because the filter is coming off for a bit.

Ladies, as a relatively normal guy, I really need to clear some things up for you. Because some of you (not all — sit down feministas) are really not putting forth your best in your profiles. It’s not that I don’t think you’re trying. I just think that certain obvious things need to be pointed out as being so stupidly obvious that I simply cannot understand why you don’t see it.

Everyone can and should put up multiple pictures. This is, for all intents and purposes, an internet meat market. Dress it up all you like, and follow your heart all you want; human beings are attracted, initially, by appearance. That’s an evolved trait passed down through evolution just like the color or your eyes or the way you jump when frightened. I truly do understand the well-meaning thought behind appreciating someone for their mind, their wit, their humor. But you could be the William Shakespeare of this generation and it won’t mean squat if you look like Sloth from the Goonies. That said, not all of us have won in the genetic lottery — work what you’ve got anyway. The right person can and will be attracted to you.

One of the things I simply cannot understand, and quite frankly I tire of running across, is the woman who has one or more pictures of her boobs or butt who writes in her bio that she’s “not looking to hook up” or can’t understand why guys are such pigs. This one gets filed in the ever-growing file folder labeled “You’re fucking kidding me, right?!” If you want a man to appreciate you for something other than your sexual tidbits, maybe you should put that shit away until you get to know someone better. Put another way: If you sell sex in your pictures, you’re gonna find buyers. This is not rocket science. If you want to argue with me that I’m some kind of chauvinistic pig, I will simply point you in the direction of countless studies of evolutionary science that say men are programmed to seek women with large breasts and wide hips because it displays a healthy female who will likely not die during childbirth and provide for the offspring. I’m not some kind of knuckle-dragger — that’s just how it works.

Something else that bothers me is the overuse of certain phrases in bios. It usually starts off with some variation of “I’m not good at talking about myself”. This is, of course, judged by me as being USDA-Prime bullshit. Sell yourself. Be proud of who you are and that you’ve managed to make it as far in life as you have without killing yourself or others (assuming you don’t have a murder record). Brag. If you have a great love for ceramic monkeys, say so. Above all else, be yourself. Be the amazing woman you are.

Using that as a baseline, the following phrases, and their variants, should not now nor ever be used in bios:

  • “Partner in crime”

– Seriously? This phrase should die a quiet death. Stop using it. Literally 75% of women have this in their bio. We can’t all be Bonnie and fucking Clyde, okay? Besides, they died a hail of bullets.

  • “Sense of humor a must”

– Unless by some miracle a tax accountant who had a personality-andectomy somehow managed to put together the reasoning that he’s looking for a romantic partner who also is a soulless, humorless freak of nature on a dating website, chances are the guys on there have some form of humor. What kind of humor? Hmm…maybe that’s something you should specify. Dark humor? Gentle humor? Red-Fox-dirtier-than-a-motherfucker humor? I’m hilarious, but probably not as much to the folks who dig clean and wholesome anecdotes. That’s who they are and that’s who I am. Oil and water, ladies.

  • “No liars/cheaters/players”

– This pretty much goes without saying. By and large, women aren’t looking for a one night stand. Rest assured that those who are looking for that are pretty upfront about it. This telegraphs one thing to men: This chick has been fucked over and is probably more laden with issues than a Tuesday morning magazine stand.

  • “I don’t play games”

– Unless this phrase is being used in the context of video or board games, take it off your profile. You can say “Don’t play games with me”. Subtle difference, I know. But the latter is someone who has been played — the former is someone who’s been accused of doing so; probably justifiably.

Another word of advice: Keep your bios brief if you can. As a guy who knows how to completely blow up the keyboard, not everyone is looking to read a narrative of your personal philosophy. People don’t read EULAs or owner’s manuals, so why would your life story be any different? Save something for the actual date. Give enough to draw interest and spark a conversation. If you’re not confident enough in your abilities to convey who you are, write it up and give it to a friend who can be your editor, offer suggestions, and be blunt with you.

I had given serious thought to creating a fake profile with some hot guy’s pictures to draw attention, and then put all of this in the profile section…but thought better of it. Just do me a favor and pass this along to every woman you know who has a dating profile or three.

Side note: When a guy writes you an otherwise well-intentioned message, and you’re just not into him, be polite, tell him he looks like Louis CK’s ugly brother and that you’re not interested. Otherwise you are, in fact, a rude person for not answering. I know you’re getting deluged by messages (I’ve seen this and it is frightening) but if you viewed my bio, I know you read the message. Be direct and let the chips fall where they may.

My Funeral

I attended a funeral recently. Young kid. Leukemia. Absolute tragedy. I don’t do well in settings like this because I empathize with people. Dealing with that massive collection of grief can be absolutely overwhelming for me. But it also inevitably turns my thoughts towards my own impending demise, cause to be determined at a later date.

After sitting through my share of funerals, I’ve made some decisions. First of all, I’ve never understood why funeral is spelled with the word fun preceeding it. But after bawling my eyes out on more than one occasion, I’m making the conscious decision to ensure that my funeral will be fun. In fact, cry on your own time.

Public gatherings of crying will be abolished, unless you can prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you’re crying for other reasons. As such, note cards will be provided for you to scrawl your reasons, bullshit as they may be, for crying at my funeral. They will be preprinted with the words, “I’m crying because…” Acceptable answers include, ‘black licorice sucks’ or ‘Adrian Peterson is a dick’. Think of it as my own version of Cards Against Humanity, but on a totally maccabe scale. I’m thinking that these should be collected at the end and read in front of everyone. The winner gets a free McDonald’s quarter pounder. Or perhaps I should have my funeral sponsored by a local bar that can donate free xeroxed coupons. That would be perfect.

It’s not that I wish to cheapen my life and death, don’t misunderstand me. I just think that collectively mourning should be reserved for much more important events than my simple passing. Just because I may have died, you can’t put your emotions through the spin cycle. Save that for when they cure cancer or perfect the technology of punching people via electronic media.

I passed a booth at the memorial center that had pamphlets on how to prearrange your funeral. Being that I’m the prime age for things to go physically haywire, it’s something I really should put some effort to do. So I guess this post is something of a primer.

People who have known me a while know that Eric Idle’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” will be played during my funeral. But it was only recently that I realized this only covers about four minutes. I could ask that it be put on repeat, but that would get annoying. I can’t leave a bunch of time for my friends and family try to maudlinize the service, so I realize now I need to map this out like a Super Bowl halftime show. Ideas are abundant, but I need or organize them somehow.

For instance, I will be enlisting a group of individuals to dress us like monks and reenact the procession the can be seen in The Holy Grail — complete with the smacking of their foreheads with a holy book. (Those who render themselves unconscious should get a free appetizer.) I’ll provide the Latin lyric sheets for authenticity’s sake. If I’m in a casket, when I’m moved to the hearse, the song March of the  Swivel Heads by The Beat, a song more familiar to those who’ve seen the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, will be played.

The Ex had a wonderful idea of opening services to the theme from The Muppet Show. That said, I need to find a place with two funeral directors who can sing the part of Stadler and Waldorf. But since Kermit sings of the special guest star, which would obviously be yours truly, I need to have a Muppet made in my image. Tell me this isn’t genius.

I’m also hoping to employ motion sensors around my coffin. I don’t like to be touched, so if you get too close a voice recording will trigger of me saying, “No touchie.” I also thought of one that is triggered when the coffin is picked up that says, “Hey, what are you trying to do, kill me?”

This is all silly, I admit. But this will be the last gathering that I can ever host, posthumously as the case may be. I want it to be as memorable as possible and not because of how sad my guests were, but how hard I can make them laugh at how positively ridiculous I can be. My friends and family should leave, wiping tears of laughter from their eyes and say, “Damn, that was awesome.” There after, live your lives being your own flavor of awesome.

Postscript: Since there is always at least one young kid who refuses to stay quiet throughout the services, I highly encourage you to listen to how bored that kid is and find something better to do. After all, that kid is still alive and dying to make some of their own memorable moments. So go make them.

Heartbreak and Afterwards

When you’ve had your heart broken…Well, at first, you look at it and question whether or not it’s really worth all the effort. You examine the remains of all that was you and gaze at the torn edges wondering if you could even begin to find how it all fit together in the first place.

After a while, you look around and see that others have done it. Inexplicably, these people have had their hearts torn apart but have somehow cobbled them back together. How did they do that?

So you gather a few pieces and compare the edges. Tears gather in your eyes as you view the complexity of it all. You knew your heart when it was whole, but somehow its completed shape, which you had taken for granted, escapes you. Even so, if you were somehow able to get it back together somehow, why would you ever put yourself in a place where it could so easily be shattered again?

But eventually, the pieces start to come together. Bit by bit it starts to take shape once more. You show it to others in an effort to see if they can give you a hint of how it’s supposed to look. Sometimes they give you hints and even offer to help. Sometimes they swat it away and now the pieces that once fit together don’t seem to fit anymore. You begin to understand why some artists never share their work until it’s been completed.

At some point, you’ve put together most of the pieces and something resembling a heart has taken shape. You shake your head at it because it’s nothing like what you remember. Somehow the lines are more jagged and the color from one piece to the next doesn’t match quite right. But it fits. At least you think it does. You feel better for the most part. So you start showing your heart again to other people.

Once, in what seems like ages ago, this was a simple thing. But now, as you hold your heart out, you are now acutely aware of the claws, sandpaper and thorns that some people have on their hands. You recoil, wondering how you had missed that before. Everyone has them, it seems. In horror, you hold your reassembled heart tightly to yourself. As you glance at the now sharpened world wondering how you could ever consider sharing it with anyone ever again.

You hear a soft crack and your eyes go wide. You look down and discover that your heart was beginning to break again. You loosen your grip and examine it. Small tears in the seams and cracks in the new exterior appear to you. As you struggle to understand how it happened, you look at your own hands. You see it now and you don’t understand how you didn’t see it before. Your hands have small thorns…patches of sandpaper…and even claws.

That’s when you begin to understand.

How else pieces stay together without the holes for the screws to hold everything together? How else could the rough exterior have been smoothed unless you had the sandpaper to do so? These imperfections are tools that you used to reassemble your heart. They aren’t so horrifying to you anymore as you accept that they are as much a part of you as your heart — indeed, they ensure that you can repair your heart when it needs it.

Now you rise and look upon the others and see that they are just as flawed as you are. They’re also doing the best that they can with their own tools. Many don’t know they exist, but some do. Some do use them to hurt other people, but others use them to comfort and console those that cannot do it for themselves.

I want to be one of those people.

I can be one of those people.

Let me show you.

Too Much

For a long time, I’ve struggled with posting here. I used to think that it was because I’ve had writer’s block. But the truth is that I’ve had far too much to say, and the pipeline that I have is far too narrow to allow me to fully convey all that I want to say. I’ve struggled with it for so long. There is a veritble fire hose of words, a Niagara Falls of my thought process, that is stifled by my ability to convey it into text. Not to mention just a hint of self doubt that you’d even read my words and understand what I mean.

On The Middle East

I know where I stand in the world. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s where I stand. Take note.

Hamas is a bunch idiot cowards. I say that because only idiot cowards stockpile their arms in what is usually the refuge of innocents; hospitals and schools that, by and large, house those unable to defend themselves. Only when destruction rains down upon you can you parade those innocents in front of the cameras. Only then can you complain that you are the victims. Shame on you.

Israel is in no better position. Hamas fires rockets upon you, targeting civilians to inflict maximum damage upon innocent people to propel their own missive agenda. So, in return, you seek and destroy targets that you know house the ammunition of your demise, only to kill children. Defending yourself has become a public spectacle of mass murder of the innocent. But when it all boils down, you made that choice. You launched the weapons that ended the lives of children too young to understand that they’re being used a human propaganda to be paraded to cell phone cameras to be tweeted and posted for the world to see. Sick? Yes. But you fired those shots in retaliation. To make a stand.

You should all be ashamed. No god, no matter how twisted or sick, would see this as anything but killing for the wrong reasons. Hamas, Isrealis — you’re all sick. It is long overdue that you recognize that. Stop judging those who support or decry you and instead look long and hard into a mirror. Face that horror that you have become.

I hope you, dear reader, understand the point I’m trying to make. I take no sides. I see only death and destruction for absolutely idiotic reasons. I see those that call out one side or the other as weak-minded, sociopathic fools. You want death to “the other guy”, regardless of the cost. Fuck you entirely. And fuck you for calling out those that would try to make sense of senseless killing as somehow traitors against you.

Fuck you both for targeting innocent children. You’re both a disgrace to humanity. You are both a dark chapter in the greater volume of human history. You will both be judged by history writ large for the murder you commit today. Not by one another — but by those who bear witness and weep for the innocent blood spilled over absolutely meaningless violence with no outcome but generations of sorrow and regret.

You will both bear the shame. Make no fucking mistake about it.

Full-Time, Full-Life Job

I heard a story on MPR that was done by a 17-year-old father. He was recounting how his life had changed since the birth of his daughter a year ago, as well as that of his family. His father took off after three of his own sons became fathers around 16 years old. He had a brief telephone interview with his dad, who said that he was always a phone call away and if they felt he wasn’t around enough that it was their own fault for not contacting him. It also briefly touched upon the young mother’s life, who was 19 at the time of the child’s birth. She cried as she told of how her father was never there as she grew up. She spoke of how jealous she was of friends whose fathers picked them up from places and gave them hugs when they needed them.

Overall, the story was good. This kid, who initially had no clue how to be a father, is making steps towards being a real part of his daughter’s life. Good on him. But the real lesson, I feel, needs to be underscored — and it goes for both sexes.

Your job as a parent never ends; It changes, it evolves, but never truly ends. Even when you’ve successfully allowed your child to live for 18 years and get a diploma, you’re not done. If you end up walking away and leaving your children to effectively fend for themselves, you’re doing them a disservice beyond measure. This world can really suck — everyone knows that. But when you have a family you can turn to, it sucks a lot less.

Being a parent is no easier, nor is it any harder when your kid is 8 months or 18 years or any span between. The challenges are just different and you’ve got to learn how to adapt. You need to find a way to look at the world through those young eyes once more, when you were young, terrified, invincible and stupid. Remember that feeling of being utterly confused yet completely convinced of how right you were? Guess who’s going through that now. They need you to be their conscience, their sounding block, their occasional verbal punching bag and the arms that hold them close in understanding when they feel like the world is against them.

But really, is that much harder than waking up every 45 minutes to change a diaper and rock a baby back to sleep?

Is it any harder than trying to clean crayon scribbles all over your brand new painted walls?

Is it any harder than sending them outside to play and trust they don’t pull up your flowerbed but end up tracking mud all over the house?

Is it any harder than wiping their tears away when they’ve fallen and scraped up their elbows really bad?

Is it any harder than trying to get them to just sit down and do their spelling words for the umpteenth time?

Not really. It’s just different.

Even if your folks weren’t there for you, you can be better than them and be there for these young adults. Yes, they can grow up and be “adults” at different times. But that’s why I call it adapting — there is no manual for this.

If there is, it’s a simple one-line instruction: Be there for them.

Hello Soldier

To fully appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made, I fear that my only chance at understanding would have been if I had donned the fatigues, picked up a weapon and fought alongside you. Had I come to know the horrors of war through your eyes, only then would truly identify with what you feel. I want to understand. A small part of me needs to understand, but it can never be so.

It would be all too easy for me to get on my podium and speak of the injustices that you suffered upon returning home in the tone of pointed shame and anger of a country and a government that seems to forget you the moment you return home. But we’ve all read the stories in the news by now. I feel it would almost be self serving to recount stories of battles with the VA, the feelings of rage, the emotional isolation, and the struggles of finding a way back to normalcy. Or even to sullenly recount the lives ended too quickly on foreign soils.

Just know that the vast majority of the people you fought for are so grateful to you. Wars in all corners of the world, spanning decades of history, and seemingly endless attitudes towards the very meaning of the act itself that covers the broadest of spectrums. Your sacrifice meant something to us. It meant everything to us. Even if we didn’t understand or agree on the premise of why you left us in the first place, it meant something priceless. You fought for those who, for a myriad of reasons, did not or could not fight for themselves.

Thank you, soldier. Thank you for laying down your life.

“Obama’s Deficit”

After Obama was first elected in 2008, I made a vow or sorts to avoid public political commentary. I realized that after several years of doing this, I was about as popular at parties as a leper. And rather than helping people understand the sometimes quizzical nature of American politics, I was only rustling jimmies and upsetting people. Some of them were grotesquely stupid people, but they can’t help that. The point was that I really wasn’t helping much. I was only adding fuel to the fire. I was also at the point where I was ready to take my position in the political middle again. It was my hope that by having a solidly blue track ahead of us for the foreseeable future that the country would pull back from the Right Wing that it had been dancing on for nearly a decade.

So while I was retooling for a less confrontational existence, I let the world go on as it wished. It wasn’t easy, and I have to say that I did manage to become presentable in public gatherings again and even managed to rescue most of my sense of humor from the pits of caustic cynicism. Not that I could ever truly let that go, but I was much funnier before I let it engulf me. But something you cannot shake after delving into the depths of the political cesspool are the facts that you learned on your journey. And unlike many of the commentators out there, I prided myself in allowing all facts take root and letting my conscience guide me.  Continue reading “Obama’s Deficit”

Modern Fame

In case you somehow miraculously avoided the news yesterday, Justin Bieber was arrested. DUI, drag racing, resisting arrest — in general for being a douchebag. And I think that’s why the majority of the civilized world is getting off on it.

I tend to avoid celebrity gossip and such. It’s pretty simple reasoning in that I genuinely don’t give a flying petunia what these people are like. When you stop to consider how much money is spent on public image, it’s a wonder how anyone can take anything they say as being serious. While I don’t like thinking about the personal lives of celebrities, I do tend to get wrapped up in the phenomena of what it must be like to be a celebrity. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t wish the experience upon anyone.

It’s sort of become the standing joke that once some kid gets famous there’s an invisible countdown that’s set off that ticks down to the moment where that kid finally implodes under the weight of their own success. The public at large seems to get reap great joy in making predictions and celebrating when it finally happens. For the record: Bieber hasn’t hit that moment yet. But it’s because of this recent news that I thought it was finally time to say something. Continue reading Modern Fame