Sunday, August 09, 2015
LAST DAYS ON THE AVENUE
I had barely turned thirty when Rebecca and I began our search for a place to live. She had relocated from San Diego and moved into the house I shared with roommates, hardly an ideal situation for the new love we shared, but our feelings were young and powerful, and she did her damnedest to make the most of it.
There were other obstacles. My job didn’t exactly pay me a whole lot, and on top of that, I was in debt counseling, trying to erase years of quiet shopping addiction. She had left behind her nursing career, having reached the end of her stress rope and needing a change. It didn’t exactly put us in a position to rent anything opulent, and we preferred not to live somewhere that required a bulletproof vest to go to the car. Everything we looked at in the newspaper made the whole notion feel a little bleak. We weren’t even going and looking at places yet, and already it felt defeating.
Then, one day as I rode my bicycle through the neighborhood, I saw The House.
Situated at the corner of The Avenue and Broadway Road, it was small but intriguing. Two bedrooms, one bathroom – just enough for the two of us to spread out into. And the price on the sign was so low as to barely be believable. I excitedly told her about it and we drove back over to look at it from outside, and in agreement we made the call.
We moved in at the end of August in 2000.
Cut to fifteen years later…
Rebecca and I sputtered out at five years. She left. I stayed on The Avenue. I began living on my own for the first time in my life, trying to decide if that was even worth the effort. (Spoiler alert: it was.) Other relationships filled the void. I wrote my first published comic. I went back and got another degree. Traveled overseas for the first time. Had my first novel published.
And always – always – I went home to my place on The Avenue.
I lived in my Mom’s trailer for twelve years. The place I rented the room in? I was there for nine years. I’m quite fond of stability, as you might guess. But as stories usually progress, there was a plot twist I didn’t see coming:
Her name was Sophie.
To be honest, early on I thought she was insane to even have anything to do with me, yet no matter what an idiot I was, she did not walk away or stab me in the ribs. Where I come from, we call that a “keeper.”
Six months passed, and we were still going. Then a year. We began making noises about living together, but if I’m being blunt? I didn’t necessarily take the idea all that seriously at that point. One, I was perfectly happy in my bachelor pad on The Avenue, and two, I was still expecting her to come to her senses and walk away.
Hell, when we hit the two-year mark, I still had trouble believing that she was still with me, and the idea of having her held for a 48-hour psych evaluation crossed my mind more than once. Still, the whole “move in together” idea still felt more like fantasy than potential fact.
Until she started sending me listings. And we started going to look at places. Suddenly… suddenly…
She’s fucking serious about this shit.
It took two months of soul-sucking, energy-draining searching but we found a house for her, her kids, and me to move into. We signed a lease. We had a move-in date.
She’s fucking serious about this shit.
Moving? Yeah, that eats an enormous bag of dicks. I hadn’t moved in fifteen years. I didn’t even really know what the hell to do. I never really got any boxes, and I own 2000 books! The entire process was a nightmare from which there seemed to be no awakening.
But more than that, it was just painful.
Early on, every day brought a change in the old place that unearthed a memory. I found crafts that Rebecca and I had made when we moved in and decorated the place. I found keepsakes and gifts that friends had given me over the years, some who have gone on themselves, only their faces still in my mind. Letters. Cards. Signposts from a lively, winding road that I’ve traveled since I arrived on The Avenue and truly become an adult.
The House was with me, the one constant through all the stuff I went through. It comforted me to get home every evening, to this place that gave me such a sense of peace and belonging.
Having that feeling slip away piece-by-piece and day-by-day was remarkably painful.
Sure, I was going home to Sophie and my new family every night, but that feeling of comfort was totally absent. It was replaced by fear and anxiety and uncertainty.
For twenty-three consecutive days, I went into the house on The Avenue and removed or threw away some of my possessions, either delivering them to the new place or to the back alley dumpster.
As the end neared and the place became emptier and emptier, I began to let go a bit and appreciate my new life a little more. Finally, in those last days, I reconciled with the loss of the house, because I began to see what I had gained and I began to see that the new challenge my life was presenting was a worthy one. It was not going to be easy, mind you, and I knew I was about to fall on my ass quite a bit, but I became okay with that.
You see, I had to learn to see things from a different perspective. I was so myopic in those last days on The Avenue that I easily lost track of an incredibly important fact:
There had been no question in my mind: I was betting my life on Sophie.
But she was also betting her life on me.
And she was fucking serious about that shit.
Monday, June 23, 2014
I was 24 years old, a year out of college, living in a run-down house near the school. I rented one of the four bedrooms – the only one that had its own bathroom – and split the utilities with the schizophrenic down the hall and a rotating cast of foreign and graduate students who occupied the other rooms. The kitchen stove only had two working burners, and the oven didn’t govern temperature, heating until maximum any time you turned it on. The lime green countertops gave away the age of the décor, and the roaches were an omnipresent reminder of how much on the cheap we were all choosing to live.
It was not an optimal time in my life.
Often, you could find me crashed on my loveseat, a book propped on my chest, my eyes deeply engrossed in the text. I was working a half-time job, four days a week, and I had a lot of time on my hands but not much money. What I did have, I spent (usually) on the usual crap of youth. Movies. Comics.
And music. God, did I buy a lot of music.
Wish I could say I was more discriminate about what I bought, but frankly a lot of my choices went wrong. But there were gems. I had started gaining interest in the stuff coming out of Seattle when Nirvana landed in ’91, quickly followed by Pearl Jam’s “Ten.” But it wasn’t until three years later that things got really good – no, scratch that – they got great.
March of ’94 was when “Superunknown” by Soundgarden was released, and I took little notice of it at first. What I had heard on the radio was pretty good, mind you, but I was on a budget and tired of getting burned. But a co-worker I told this to looked at me like I was insane and demanded I buy the disc. He even offered to buy it back from me if I didn’t like it. So, what the hell? I picked it up.
I tore it open late that night, popping it into my player and hitting play, just hoping that most of it would be listenable. The opening chords of “Let Me Drown” kicked in and suddenly… I knew. I just knew.
The book got put down on the floor. I turned out the lights and began to listen. Not just with my ears, because that was not the sole intent of the album. I swear on my life that I felt like Soundgarden was trying to talk to my inner being. The music, the lyrics… I began mainlining them. Each song seemed to speak to a different part of my life and the confusion I was feeling about what direction I should take with my future. In a moment of horrific clarity, I wondered if what I was feeling was akin to what the crazy guys who claimed that they were instructed to kill by heavy metal albums felt.
Jesus, did that scare the hell out of me!
As the final notes of “Like Suicide” played out, and I dried my eyes as I thought about a friend who had been having some mental health issues, I realized that I could not go to bed. Not yet. So I walked over to the player and restarted the disc, listening to it all over again in the darkness.
Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.
For months, I would, on nights when it was possible, lay in the dark and just listen to “Superunknown.” As my life shifted and changed, so did the meanings I took from the various songs. As I began to realize that, I discovered a new layer to the album – it was like great literature, something that evolves with the maturity and experiences of the reader, or in this case, listener. No other music in my collection did that. Not like this. The power of this album was incredible.
A few weeks ago, Soundgarden released a 20-year anniversary edition, re-mastered for modern digital stereo systems. I bought it, of course. How could I not? It arrived this past weekend, but it has taken me until this evening to crack it open and press play.
I’m a far better, stronger, and wiser man now, but the power of this particular piece of music remains undeniable. The lyrics remain some of the finest rock lyrics of the modern era. The music is muscular and dives beneath your skin within seconds. The vocals are remarkable, hitting notes few singers even now can reach. It is a piece of pristine, glorious alternative rock that stands the time as the best album released in its particular decade, and as one of the true all-time greats.
For what the album did to carry me through some very tough times, I will always be grateful. For what the album did in helping me learn about and understand myself better, I can never show my appreciation enough. And for the album to continue to show me the amazing effect that music can have on the depths of my soul? I do not know if I have the words to describe how much that means to me. I just know that I am glad it is still with me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to turn out the lights and listen again.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
by Marc Mason
It had been twelve full days by our
counting since last we heard sound from above. Before that, the sounds of
battle echoed for at least three days, thunderous explosions tearing their way
through the waning infrastructure of the city, erasing civilization as we know
quiet was harder to take.
group of us had found our way into a bunker as the carnage began. That day had
begun so simply: my intern, a bilingual young man with a fantastic sense of
style, had stopped and brought in donuts, making sure to save me a maple-iced,
and those of us on the design team gathered in the conference room to eat
sugary goodness and discuss our next move with the athletic shoe company that
had just hired us. It was smoggy, as Los Angeles usually is, but the sun seemed
particularly radiant, like it refused to be shut down by the brown haze in the
sky. Then we felt the rumbles begin.
are a fact of life for Southern California, so no one really panicked. Plus,
the rumbles were rather short, not sustained. But then they began to increase
in intensity, and they felt… closer is, I guess, the right word. My intern
thought they might be coming from somewhere on the opposite side of the
building, so he ran that way to see if he could see anything. This was to be
his one and only mistake while he was under my supervision.
Jose. You were a fine web designer, and your taste in donut shops was
all heard him scream his final words: “Holy shi--!”
“t” was silent as what looked like a huge, white beam of energy tore upward
through that side of the building, eradicating everything in its path.
Everything around us shook, and pieces of the ceiling began to cave in. But I
didn’t move. Not at first. I was frozen in horror as I stared through the
gaping wound in our building and saw what was out there. It was so insane, my
mind could barely cope with it. What I would estimate to be a three hundred
foot tall dinosaur was walking toward us. Toward downtown, really. I watched as
its jaws flared wide and that energy beam erupted, the creature destroying
buildings next to ours, too.
would have stayed still, but one of the team members grabbed me and yelled at
me that we needed to go. So I ran, following my crew down the stairs and out of
the building and into the streets. The insanity outside was worse. Emergency
services vehicles were clogging the roads, a select few ridiculously brave
people answering the call of duty. Helicopters zoomed by overhead, and it
looked like a couple of them might be military. I went numb as my body
registered the fact that my city had just become a warzone.
war against what was the lingering
Read more »
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
THE BLUE STREAK
A couple of months ago, some friends posted a story
on their social media accounts about a bicycle repair shop basically refusing
to do what the sign on the front door advertised: repair a bike. The bicycle in
question belonged to a young boy, and his ride was an off-brand two-wheeler
that can commonly be bought in big-box department stores. Well, according to
the owners of the repair shop, it didn’t actually qualify as a bicycle in their
eyes. It was more of a toy, and one not worth their time to fix. This was
incredibly hurtful to the young boy in question, as you might imagine, and his
mother was quite upset, as she should have been. But I also managed to feel a
great swell of pity for the people who refused to help the boy with his bike,
and when I explained that to a friend, she gave me a blank look that suggested
I had taken leave of my senses. But after I explained, she understood me
June of 1982, I turned twelve years old. Growing up
in a tiny Midwestern town, I had always had a bicycle – the years prior to this
it was a nifty purple and black dirt bike – but the present I received that
year was like a shining gift from the gods. It was a brand-new, sparkling blue,
Free Spirit ten-speed! To that moment in time, it was the most amazing,
fantastic, awesome thing I had ever been given. This was a step up; heck, it
was two or three steps up. The dirt bike was great for riding around town in a
small radius. But this?
This was freedom on two wheels.
The Free Spirit – which I did not know at the time
was a big-box department store (Sears) knock-off brand of bicycle – opened up
my world. The nearest town was three miles away, and during the summer I would
make a quick ride down to pick up new comic books at Kaki’s Five and Dime. Mrs. Kakisoulas quickly learned to anticipate
my weekly arrival, and I always had first pick. She and her staff always
chuckled at me for loyally showing up every week, but to me, it was one of the
greatest things ever. I had this
bike, which I had named The Blue Streak, and it gave me license to go go go
wherever my legs would take me.
It would get better.
Soon, I was riding two towns over to my best pal’s
house, about seven miles away. We’d goof off, play outside, shoot bb guns, you
name it… summer days that seemed to go on forever. As I made those rides, I
started creating stories, putting together plots and ideas that I would
eventually put to paper, something I had never done with such volume before. Or
I would slip into the world of make-believe as I rode, using the reflectors as
my phaser cannons as I played Star Trek
against imaginary Klingons and Romulans. I plotted a full novel about a boy who
owned a bicycle that could pierce dimensional walls and go from parallel Earth
to parallel Earth.
Giving me the freedom to move distances physically
also encouraged my mind to do the same, you see.
Eventually, I got a moped, then a car, and I used
The Blue Streak less and less. That didn’t mean I stopped loving her, though. I
didn’t get rid of her, either. I kept her around. And when I moved to Arizona at the age of
eighteen, she soon followed, and we were reunited like I was twelve again.
First, she became my transportation around campus.
Then I moved five miles away from campus, and the old girl became my lifeline.
Every day, through brutal summer heat, I rode that bike to my job. And about
once every two weeks, I would hit a patch of glass and wind up with a flat
There was a small bicycle repair place about a
half-mile from campus that was owned and operated by a kindly older gentleman.
He had thinning greay hair, an odd assortment of summer sweaters, and glasses
that he propped at the tip of his nose. The first time I brought the bike in to
be fixed, he looked at it, looked at me, and said “Son, are you sure?”
I nodded and told him simply “This has been my bike
for a long time.”
He fixed the bike.
He fixed the bike repeatedly. Broken glass is all
too common where I was living, and time after time, I would drag my poor Blue
Streak inside his shop and he would shake his head in bewilderment and tell me
to come back at 4pm. Occasionally, I would show up early, and I would tell him
stories about the bike, and he would tell me how he had never seen a Free
Spirit that had lasted like mine with so many miles on it. I was lucky, he
would tell me, that it somehow continued to stay on the road. But after a
little while, I also knew that he grew to respect my commitment to the old
girl. He understood that it was so much more to me than just a way to get back
and forth to work. So he did his job, took my money, and sent me on my way. I
must have spent $300 or more fixing my bike in that shop, when I couldn’t have
sold it for $20. But that’s why I went there.
And that’s why I felt a swell of pity for the guys
who refused to fix that boy’s bicycle. That young boy, he doesn’t know or
understand that his parents didn’t have the money to buy him a bike worth
hundreds of dollars. All he knows is that the greatest instrument of freedom he
has ever known has been granted to him. The guys working in that shop have
forgotten that – they have forgotten that a bicycle is not just a way of moving
from place to place. It is an instrument of imagination. It is a doorway that
opens up new worlds for a kid to explore. It makes everything bigger. I pity them that they have lost
that sense of wonder, the sense of wonder with which that the young boy is
about to blossom.
I rode The Blue Streak until she literally fell
apart beneath me, over eleven years after I received that amazing gift. The body
of the bike broke away from the wheel base, and there was nothing in the world
that could fix the old girl at that point. I walked the pieces over to a nearby
bicycle rack and gently parked what was left between two shiny mountain bikes.
I didn’t have the heart to put her in a dumpster or some other cruel fate, so I
straightened the pieces until they looked like they basically should, and I
took one last mental picture of my wonderful friend and companion. Saddened and
eternally grateful, I finished the rest of that journey on foot.
Friday, August 09, 2013
THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES
I’ve given a lot of serious thought to giving up my satellite dish subscription lately. I find myself watching less and less television, even during the main part of the year, and I have so many things going on at once that I can’t help but wonder if I just wouldn’t be better off without it. But then I remind myself what I really use the dish for, and it remains on my roof.
You see, my Dish gives me access to Sirius/XM satellite radio, and running that magnificent bit of programming through my home Dolby Digital 5.1 soundsystem gives me nearly unlimited joy. It also, at one point in my life, actually kept me going when I was at my lowest. That is the gift of music; it can hoist you upon its broad expanse and carry you through life’s roughest waters.
When you’re a kid, music grants you an almost unlimited license to be emo. (God help us all.) I can remember all too clearly the hours I spent alternating between rage and depression as I sat in the dark listening to Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. Glorious days of misspent youth and all that. But getting older, I think it becomes harder to find music that truly gets under your skin and becomes meaningful. Aging allows us to find that meaning in many other places, and general maturation sees our inner emo turn to dust and float away in the wind. It takes something truly special to burrow into your soul.
That happened to me last in 2006.
Rebecca and I had been split for a bit over a year at that point, and to say that I was not doing well would be underselling it. I was living alone for the first time in my entire life, which was an ongoing struggle, and my efforts at getting back into the dating pool (“Hi. This is my first date this millennium.”) were not exactly brilliant. I found myself frequently overwhelmed by even mundane tasks, and I had serious questions about my ability to cope over the long term.
Then, one night, I was listening to the radio and a song came on that made me sit up and take notice. It was immediately different than anything I had heard in a long, long time, and it was called “The Adventure.” The chorus spoke of a deep and abiding love (“I cannot live, I can’t breathe, unless you do this with me.”) but it also carried a larger message, one that I grasped immediately: tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of your life.
It sounds trite, I suppose, but that was the message I needed to hear at that time.
What made it more unusual, I believe, is that it was played on an alternative rock station. I’m a huge alt-rock fan, but let’s be honest: songs with an uplifting, positive tone aren’t exactly what the genre does best. I fell in love with it immediately, and I wanted to know more about this band. What was their name? Ahh… “Angels & Airwaves.” Cool name.
Now, I had never been a huge fan of Blink-182. I liked some of their stuff well enough, but not enough to be a fanboy. So I was stunned to find out that the guy behind A&A was one of the members of Blink. It seemed incongruous to Blink’s music that this dude produced something so completely opposite of their music, but it was true. There was obviously a hell of a lot more to Tom DeLonge than met the eye.
The next single, “The War,” had some of the most powerful lyrical imagery I’d heard since I was a kid. Ostensibly a cry for the end of the war in Iraq, it also worked as an ode to the hope that pain and strife in one’s life would come to an end: “Why won’t you tell me that it’s almost over? Why must this tear my head inside out?”
It felt like the music was written directly to me. Cheesy, I suppose, but that’s how it felt.
I bought the album, of course, and it was easy to see how it told a story from beginning to end. Each successive album has done the same, and if you play the band’s four albums consecutively, you can see a grander picture unfold before your eyes. It is absolutely amazing.
Seven years later, I still remember how it felt to hear those first couple of singles, then that first album. How it felt like I had found the music that would weave into the tapestry of my universe for the rest of my life. Makes my hair stand on end just thinking about it.
That is the gift of music, you see, just as it is the gift of great literature: it transports you and elevates you, and it leaves part of itself behind in your soul. I am forever grateful for that.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
I awoke to a phone call from my mother today, and she was
crying so hard that I could barely understand what she was saying. But I soon
pieced it together quickly: Scott Griffey had died. I was mute in disbelief.
Griff had been ill for a long time, and the true depth of
how sick he was wasn’t something widely known. During the holidays, Mom was
getting updates from him as he learned about his condition and charted a course
for surgery and healing. It wasn’t easy for her; Griff had always been a great
friend and mentor to me, but to her, he was one of her two best friends. As he
had been getting sicker, she had stepped in to help Abdul (Mrs. Griff) with
taking him to doctors’ appointments and the like. He had also been keeping an
eye on her through Mom’s own health issues. That’s what good friends do. It
gave me comfort to know that she had Griff for a friend, because he was top of
the line as far as humans go.
The man first came into my life as a teacher, but he quickly
moved beyond that. He was a mentor. A friend. A coach. Spending time with him,
even as a kid, was something that I knew was special. He was also honest, and
he never fed me bullshit. When I was wrong, or being a jerk, Griff never
hesitated to tell me so. When you’re a teenager, that isn’t always easy, but
later I realized what a precious gift that is. Most of the world is ready to
blow smoke up your ass; Griff blew his smoke out the window and then let you
know what you really needed to hear.
When Griff was assigned to teach the Gifted & Talented
Students program, I think a lot of people may have been taken aback. Griff had
a reputation as an eccentric guy, and maybe not the most rigorous teacher;
hell, even I was a little baffled by it at the time. I couldn’t even understand
why he would want the task. It wasn’t like we were any less of a pain in the
ass than anyone else. In many ways, we were probably worse. But later I would
understand all of it quite clearly.
You see, Scott Griffey was a chameleon. He was an incredibly
intelligent man, but he didn’t necessarily like it when people realized that.
Like Muhammad Ali, Griff used the rope-a-dope. If you underestimated him, he
had you right where he wanted to. By using that perception of him as an
eccentric, he could quietly maneuver people into doing what they should be
doing and acting how they should be acting.
For instance, in the G/T class, he made us read Ayn Rand’s
THE FOUNTAINHEAD. This drove my pal Bill Beechler absolutely crazy. Billy hated
that book. Hated it. Some others liked it. I was intrigued by it enough to read
it twice. But I never quite understood why, of all books, Griff made us read
it. Later, I would.
In the book, Howard Roark uses his uncompromising vision to
power through the world and attain the greatness that he knows he can achieve.
I think that Griff saw that potential in us and wanted very much for us to tap
it and reach greatness ourselves. But Roark was also a colossal asshole in
reaching for his goals, scorching the Earth in his quest for personal glory.
Griff saw that potential in us as well.
I realized that Griff wanted us to see both sides of the
coin, that he wanted to make sure that any quest for creating something
wonderful must also be tempered with caring and respect for the lives of
others. That if we do that, we can truly become better than we hoped to be in
our wildest dreams.
Clever man, that Griff.
He also used the rope-a-dope to inspire others. When he was
the girls basketball coach, I remember one thing that never fails to make me laugh
to this day. We had Noblesville on the schedule, and they were ranked number
one in the state. Mind you, the HHHS team was really, really good. Just not
Noblesville good. Anyway, someone asked Griff if he had a plan to for how to
start the game strong and keep us in it, and this was (approximately) his
response: “Well, Noblesville will win the tip, and then run down for a layup.
Then we’ll bring the ball upcourt, they’ll steal it, and then they’ll run it
down for a layup. Then I’ll call timeout and hope for the best the rest of the
We didn’t beat Noblesville. But where that team was beating
everyone else by 40 or 50 points, we were always within 20. Because Griff
coached our girls hard on how to effectively play against that team so they
couldn’t do what he had joked about.
Griff could show you the surface all day, but you really had
to get close in order for him to let you see the real, brilliant man below.
But if I had to pick the most important thing about Scott
Griffey, at least as he pertained to my life, I would tell you with all honesty
that I would not be the man I am today without him, and my life path would be
wildly different. Here’s why:
Early in my high school years, the sports editor of the
Noblesville Daily Ledger, a man named Chuck Godby, struck out on his own and
started a sports tabloid. It was called Hamilton County Sports Weekly. Sometime
after the paper got going, and I don’t remember the specific details of how it
happened, Griff got an offer from Chuck to write a column for that charming
little publication. And while I don’t remember the details out of how it played
out, Griff brought me into the mix. Thus, “The Ramblin’ Guys” column was born.
At the age of fifteen, I was co-writing a column for a legit newspaper.
As time passed, though, Griff quietly handed off more and
more of the writing to me, until finally, I was almost a solo show. Eventually,
the tabloid folded, and Chuck went back to the Ledger. Not long after Chuck
went back to the Ledger, he gave me a call and offered me a job as a full-on
sports reporter. For a daily newspaper! I was still just seventeen years old.
I took that job. I learned more at that job that I can even
begin to explain. I would go on from that job to write for a weekly magazine at
ASU, do a stint at U Magazine, review films… When digital rolled around, I
would continue to do those types of jobs online. I still do. But it all started
with HCSW and “The Ramblin’ Guys.”
Again, Griff knew what he was doing. He saw the potential in
me, and he saw a path for me, and he helped set me on it. No way that Chuck
called and offered me a job without Griff in his ear telling him about how much
of the column he had turned over to me. No way Chuck offers me that job without
Griff telling him that I can do it, and do it well, and that I can be counted
on. Still, that took balls of steel; he put himself on the line for me, betting
on me coming through and succeeding. He never told me as much, and he never
held that over my head. He just believed in me.
There were other things as well, and I could belabor them
for a long time, but I think what you need to know about the man is abundantly
clear: he was one of the best. You couldn’t ask for a better person in your
corner. Friend. Mentor.
Family. Scott Griffey was all of those things to me, and more. I am who I am
today in no small part to the influence he had on my life. I am lucky to have
known him and to have been a small part of the enormous sphere of influence he
achieved in his amazing, wondrous life. For that, I will forever be grateful.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
THE BIG ONE
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about lies. It’s hard not to during an election season; lying becomes a game, an art during that time, and we are fed a steady diet of them. The only good thing is that that lies are calorie-free. That’s the kind of diet I think we can all get behind.
The funny thing about lies is how much we say that we are tired of them. For proof, head to an online dating website. I swear to you, at least 90% of the profiles I’ve read, the woman talks about how she is tired of liars and how she wants an “honest” relationship. It sounds great on the surface; I’m sure she has been victimized by a man’s falsehoods. (Hey – we guys have certainly taken our hits from some of you ladies as well.) But any honest look at relationships reveals that a little bit of lying here and there is what keeps things going. No woman wants to be told that her butt does indeed look bad in those pants. No woman wants to hear her man admit that Christina Hendricks is exactly what he wants. And she certainly doesn’t want you to give an honest answer when she asks if you’re sexually attracted to any of her friends.
Guys: she is not asking because she’s thinking threesome. Trust me on this.
Instead, she wants to hear “Your ass looks amazing.” “You are exactly what I want.” “You are way hotter than any of your friends.”
Look, I’m not suggesting that dishonesty should be your go-to response. It just seems to be embedded in us. We are born, and then the lies start flooding into our lives. There is a cycle, and with each successive generation, we keep peddling the same crap. It is inexplicable. It is crazy. It is stupid.
Think about the lies we tell children. “There is no such thing as monsters.” Fuck yeah, there are! Whether they are strapping bombs to their bodies and walking into a crowded shopping area, or they are polluting fresh water and making people sick in the name of profit, they are opening fire with assault rifles in movie theatres, or they are molesting altar boys, there are monsters all around us. We are not safe from them, no matter where we live. Think of the terror that registered on your face once you realized that the world is a scary, brutal place. I suppose we’re lucky our faces didn’t get stuck like that, eh?
What we’re doing is implicitly telling kids that it is okay to lie. “I didn’t do it.” “It was like that when I got here.” “My homework is done.” “I took a bath.” It escalates. “I’m sure I was going the speed limit.” “I’m working on that right now.” “The check is in the mail.” “I would never cheat on you.”
There are two lies, though, that bother me most. The first, I suppose, is a matter of personal philosophy, so to some it may not count. That would be “Everything happens for a reason.” I would find this particularly repulsive if I were a child with a horrific disease. What possible reason could there be for a ten-year old to have leukemia? How does that make sense to anyone? It attempts to rationalize the shitty, random nature of reality, and that offends me deeply. I think I would punch someone in the face if they said that to me in that kind of scenario.
But the worst lie, the whopper of them all, that we tell people of all ages is this: “Good things come to those who wait.” The idea being that we should exercise patience, I suppose, but this is such a pile of horseshit that it makes me want to punch puppies. In the face.
I believed this one. For a very long time, I believed this one. I tried to be patient. I led my life on the fringe, and I took away meager scraps of happiness. But then I realized that I had put my faith in a lie, and that is a nasty feeling.
The truth is this: good things come to those who bust their asses, accept and learn from failure, and never give up.
Over the past two years, I have lived out my reaction to discovering this truth for myself. I have worked harder, feared less, and created more success for myself than I had in the previous forty years combined. I have seen first-hand what happens when I have walked outside of my comfortable little bubble and doubled my efforts. And it has been worth it.
Lies, you see, make us soft. They make us stagnant. They take away our inner drive and our fight. And that is a shitty, shitty thing. So do yourself a favor: find the ones in your life that are holding you back and destroy them. Confront them. Eliminate them. Then get to the process of busting your ass. Whether you succeed or fail, you will know one thing:
You will have lived honestly.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
STUPID THOUGHTS ABOUT DYING
It was a misty, rainy day in Lillehammer, Norway.
I had walked uphill – because everything in Lillehammer is uphill, even when you’re going
downhill – to the edge of the city to visit the Olympic History Museum. It’s a
beautiful facility, and the stuff inside is seriously cool; the most
comprehensive museum of its type, with a special secondary museum devoted
solely to the winter Olympics that took place there in 1994. But when I
finished my tour of the place, I was faced with a decision to make: go on to
the next place… or keep going uphill.
You see, further uphill… well, further up a large
hill/mini-mountain called Lysgardsbakken, is the ski jump. I’m quite fond of
the ski jump. Watching crazy people ski down a ridiculous slope and fly a
couple of hundred feet through the air is cool. I’d be terrified to do it
myself, but I admire the hell out of those that do it. They have nothing but
guts. No parachute, no air bags. Anyway, needless to say, I chose to continue
uphill, no matter what my screaming calves had to say about it.
The Lysgardsbakken isn’t too
steep. Just steep enough. And when it’s drizzling, the sun is playing hide and
seek, and there’s literally not a soul anywhere within visual range… in
hindsight, I’ve had better ideas. But up I went.
I wandered around the place for a while. To say that it was
astonishing would be underselling it. Like everything else in Norway, it was
beautiful beyond words. I could look out over city, across Lake Mjosa,
and to the large rolling hills on the opposite side of the water. Breathtaking.
Simply breathtaking. I stood for a few minutes just taking in the air, tasting
how clean it felt to my lungs, feeling my pulse slow. It was as peaceful a
moment as I’ve had in my entire life.
So of course, I proceeded to ruin it.
For whatever reason, the most likely being that I’m a jerk,
a thought came unbidden to me: if I fall down and break something while trying
to get off this thing, I’m screwed. No one is nearby, no one can hear me. I
could lay here for a long time.
It got worse. I suddenly freaked out that I was going to
have a stroke and collapse. Would I fall into the high weeds? How long would it
take to find my body? My cell phone didn’t work there! Would a stray reindeer
eat my corpse before the authorities could find it and send it back to the
States? OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO DIE ALONE ON A MOUNTAIN IN NORWAY!
So much for my pulse slowing down. Idiot.
Now, we all have a death fear or two. My primary one is
drowning. I have real issues with the idea of drowning, and if I could avoid
that, I’ll go to my grave happier. Plane crash comes in second, though my real
paranoia kicks in when I think about being in a plane that crashes in water. If
you’re also afraid of drowning… you’re welcome. I’m just sharing a nightmare
If asked how I would prefer to die, I would always answer
“heroically” because I am a giant nerd. But given a second option, I’d pick “in
bed having sex… with someone else’s wife.” I realize that’s unfair to both her
and him, but it doubles my chances of something interesting. Orgasmic heart
attack or shot by angry husband. You could do worse. Drowning, for instance.
The key is, of course, to control your fears. You can’t let
them rule you, and you can’t let them ruin your day. Was it possible that I
could have stroked out on the Lysgardsbakken? Sure. But I could do that while
trying to help one of my students write a research paper. So I got hold of
myself and pulled it back together. After all, I was standing in one of the
most pristine and lovely places in the world, and it was totally unspoiled by
the sounds of man or machine. Opportunities like that come along very rarely.
Besides, as I made my way back to the museum, I had plenty
of other things to worry about. Like that six hour plane trip across the Atlantic I still had ahead of me.
Sunday, July 01, 2012
The past month turned out to be one of the most important times of my entire life. As usual for June, I tacked on another year of life, but beyond that I undertook a grand journey, one that would carry me to four U.S. states and two European countries. It was a trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life, one that changed me in vital, yet subtle ways.
Looking back at it now, and trying to absorb everything that happened along the way, I am struck at the range of moments that it contained. There were highs that made me feel as though the spirit of an eagle had entered my body and was carrying me aloft into the clouds. I experienced beauty that at times was beyond my comprehension. For someone who spends his life communicating with words, the number of times that those words failed me was staggering. It was a humbling reminder of how, even though I like to believe otherwise, I don’t always have the answers.
Humility isn’t easy for me. Typically, I believe that humility is the realm of suckers. If you are what you claim to be, then owning it is fine. If you’re faking it, you deserve to eat pavement. The only difference is whether or not you’re a dick about it. For me, it’s the “don’t be a dick about it” that can be kinda difficult.
Anyway, the main part of the trip was a ten day/nine night stop in Norway. A lot of people asked me before, and since, “why Norway?” It isn’t a common destination for American tourists; my research showed that only about a half million of my countrymen head to Norway in a given year. In part, that’s why I went there. Places like Paris and Rome have been done to death by the tourist set. I wanted a different experience for my first trip.
That’s right- my first trip. I didn’t get a passport until January of 2010. I’ve been plotting ever since on how to use it, and after two years of detailed research and planning, I finally did this June.
My Norway visit took me to five different places: Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, and Lillehammer. Each place had something special to offer, and I had wondrous moments at every turn. I could go on and on about what I did (and I will in the upcoming book I’m writing about the experience and on the website dedicated to it), but it is easiest to give you a small taste of the profound effect I felt, and the changes I went through, by talking about one small moment.
Oslo is home to the Nobel Peace Museum, an amazing facility dedicated to putting the spotlight on those who have won the coveted award, as well as dedicated to the cause of peace itself. The exhibits during my visit were astonishing; one photo exhibit focused on the plight of women in Afghanistan, while another turned the lens on humanizing a platoon of U.S. soldiers and what they really do during their time in-country. Upstairs there was an exhibit called “She-roes” which explored the lives of women who were trying to bring peace to war-torn places like the Sudan. In every room I encountered history, knowledge, compassion. It was awe-inspiring, one of those moments in time where you put your own life in perspective and think about what a whiny jackass you can be over trivial stuff.
However, it was near a stairwell that I discovered the thing that left me the most speechless. There was a long, spiraling gold tube there that extended from the ceiling down to the very bowels of the building. Next to it was a small table that held a box of paper shapes, a pile of small wires, and a box of colored pencils. Clearly, this was something for the kids who visited to do. I approached, though, and read the instructions. They were simple: write your message of peace on one of the papers, and send it into the world by tying it to the gold spiral.
A challenge! Surely I had a message of peace, yes? My brain began spinning, and I found myself thinking about my experience so far in Norway and about how I was feeling. And a few things came to me in rapid succession. One, I hadn’t felt angry- about anything- in days. I also realized, for the first time, that I had barely spoken. Aside from checking into my hotel and buying tickets to enter places, I had been almost mute. My predilection for monologuing out loud was absent. Also, and this really shocked me, I realized I hadn’t worn my headphones in days. Normally, I have my music going constantly.
My face felt warm, and I began to realize that I was smiling almost uncontrollably. I thought then about how screwed up the world can be. I thought about that hate and vitriol spewed in the political arena, a battle to see who can shout the loudest and say the stupidest thing. I thought about “celebrities” who are famous only for being famous and demanding attention. And then I thought about the overwhelming solitude I was feeling at that moment.
I picked up one of the shapes and began to write. My message was short, simple, direct. Done, I used a piece of wire and tied it to the golden spiral, then I watched it flutter away like a leaf on the wind, making its way into the heart of peace. Satisfied, I headed downstairs to retrieve my backpack and walked outside into the midday sun. Walking away, I felt a sense of calm wash over me and I stopped in my tracks. My arms went limp at my sides and the harbor breeze wafted across my skin. Then it started: voices in different languages, a passing trolley, a boat horn in the distance, a baby crying in a nearby stroller. It was - in the words of one my idols, Spalding Gray - a perfect moment, as I lived out the message of peace I had just sent out into the world:
Sunday, May 13, 2012
EXCERPTED FROM "THE NORWAY DIARIES" - which happens to be my Applied Project (equivalent of a Masters Thesis) due December 2012
May 13, 2012
It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks, and I thought the
worst – that huge pile of work - was over. But today rocked me back on my heels
Putting it in reverse: I finished the semester strong. I
completed all assignments ahead of schedule, posted my practicum collection –
now titled YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE – to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu
with days to spare, and turned in my final two research papers with a week
still to go before the due date. I’m not going to do that “humblebrag” shit; I
kicked complete and total ass. People started buying the collection and
enjoying it. I started enjoying making their money. It really felt like the
payoff I needed after working so damned hard for so long.
This was not all.
In between doing everything else, I had been collecting
together a best-of from my work at my comics and pop culture website The Comics
Waiting Room. Once everything else was settled, I wrapped that up and went the
self-publishing route with it. That came out about a week ago. Yesterday, I did
a book signing at a local store. It is incredibly validating to meet people,
talk to them, and see them find enough value in it to spend their hard-earned
cash on it. I was mentally flying by the time it was over, my self-esteem
levels showing green. All felt right with the world. Hell, I even got an email
from Eurail telling me my pass was on its way. I woke up this morning 27 days
away from wheels up for my journey. Glorious.
Today being Mother’s Day, I woke up and called mine before
even getting out of bed. Good boy, right? Had a great chat, caught her up on
what’s going on: trip preparation, potential new job, traditional life stuff.
She had received her gift in the mail from me on Thursday, so I didn’t screw
that up, either. The good feeling from last night carried over into today. Then
I got online.
My high school was not a large one. Our graduating class had
fewer than 150 kids, and we all knew each other pretty well. Most of us spent
at least the last eight years of school together. Even being far away, thanks
to social media, I can keep up with a lot of them. So it was a slap in the face
to see the news that Matt Schuster had died this morning, taken down by brain
cancer. 42 years old. Are you fucking kidding me?
To my knowledge, Matt is the third one of us to make an
early exit; if there have been more, I’m in the dark about it. This, though, is
the first one to really get to me. I knew Matt pretty well when we were kids,
and he was as warm and generous a soul that you could imagine. We had also been
in contact through social media, and we discussed getting together and catching
up if he ever had a decently long layover as he came through Phoenix. What I remember most about him: he
had a heart filled with kindness, and like me, he left our small town roots and
set out for adventure. His career as a flight attendant took him all over, and
from reading his Facebook posts, he made friends everywhere he went and had an
absolute legion of people that loved him. There is no question in my mind that
his life was wondrous and amazing. Whatever afterlife he arrives at is in for a
treat; the parties there just got a lot more fun.
Still, I am stricken by the entire idea. I, of course, am
about to turn 42 myself, and am heading off for a new adventure in less than a
month. But now my little midlife crisis suddenly feels as though it has more
urgency, more need behind it. It’s a traditional response to death, I know, to
question the direction of your own life and what you are doing with it, but
dammit, I’m okay with that.
What it boils down to is that it really can be taken from you at any time. Matt was flying all over the
world and being happy when fucking cancer came along and took it from him. Like
he was a tiny obstacle in its path of terror, it ran him over and consigned his
existence to memory. It is horrific just to think about it. But it could be
anything, really. Car wreck. Aneurism. It doesn’t matter; Death is a random
bitch, pointing her bony finger and gazing us into the abyss when we least
I grieve for Matt, and I feel sorrow for all those that
loved him. But I also must take from this the feeling I have today and use it
going forward. Am I living the life I should be? Am I pursuing happiness and
love? Am I making the most of my moments?
This isn’t something I can put off for twenty-seven days;
it’s something I need to be more aware of right now. Time is precious, and I am
agonizingly conscious of the fact that it is running out.
Friday, May 04, 2012
SO I’VE BEEN BUSY
Ahh.. that whole education thing, dontcha know? What started
in spring of 2011 is coming close to reaching an end. I have now completed nine
of the ten classes for my Masters degree, and I’m pretty damned excited about
it. I’ve been working myself into the ground over the last nine months in
particular. Each of the past two semesters, I have taken three classes while
working full time, teaching two classes a semester as professor, and engaging
in other activities like writing my first comic book, serializing a novel online
running the Comics Waiting
and more. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my personal life
along the way. But I needed to get it done. I had to make this happen.
So I did.
What sort of outcomes am I seeing? Some wonderfully tangible
results, thankfully. After nine classes, my GPA stands at 4.22 on the 4pt
scale. I’ve gotten A+ in six courses, and As in the others. I was accepted into
the Phi Kappa Phi, a prestigious honor society. I’ve made new friends. And I’ve
gotten prolific as a writer in ways I could not have imagined when I started.
This past semester, I undertook a practicum. It required me to write eight new
short creative nonfiction pieces in the four month span, put them together as a
short book, and direct publish them to the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble
Nook platforms. Just to show I’m insane, I wrote nine stories, added two from
last summer, and got that bad boy up on the web for purchase. I even added a
third way it could be downloaded, because that’s just how I roll:
Three of your dollars. Cheap.
On top of that, my faculty advisor prodded me to finally put
together a best-of collection of my writings about comics. Sure, why not? I
didn’t have enough to do already, right? So I did it, and it is now available
as well. In paperback and exclusively on the Kindle:
So I’ve been busy. Now I have some freedom to have a life
again, which I’m pretty excited about. What’s up with you?
Monday, March 19, 2012
Sunday, December 18, 2011
NOT A JEDI
I was texting with a friend yesterday afternoon, and we were commiserating about some of the feelings that get drudged up around this time of year. Speaking for myself, I can struggle quite a bit during the holiday season- like many people, I have depressive issues associated with this time of year. Every year I take certain steps to deal with it and keep myself going, and so far this year they seem to be working out reasonably well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it continues.
When we were done texting, I was thinking about my friend and how much fun we had the last time we hung out, and a phrase from eons ago popped into my head: that one of the reasons I like and respect her so much is because she is not a Jedi.
Like many people my age, I grew up as a STAR WARS kid. Seeing the first film back in 1977 activated my imagination and set me on a course that in many ways I am still on today. I grew up in a small town in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, so the idea of escaping, going on an adventure, tapping a fantastical super power, and becoming a great hero? Gold. To millions of us, the idea was gold.
Then THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and something happened in that film that changed my perspective completely.
You all know the story. Luke goes off to meet Yoda and begin training as a Jedi. Early on, Luke is a whiny bitch, and Yoda is a dickhead. Classic buddy movie stuff, really. But one line of dialogue stuck out to me after I left the theatre: “Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”
Insert the sound of a needle screeching across a record. What. The. Fuck?
Let me get this straight: you’re blessed with this amazing superpower, you have the most amazing weapon in the universe at your side, and you’re supposed to treat it like it is nothing but a fucking burden? Are you shitting me with that crap? Basically, being a Jedi means you have to shove your head up your ass and never smile. Well Han Solo got the girl, had a cool ship, and loves the hell out of his life. Fuck you, Yoda. If using the force means having a stick shoved up my ass, I’ll pass, thanks.
My friend has done so much cool shit in her life. Adventure, excitement, travel… she has the soul of a poet and the guts of a pirate. If I had the proverbial chance to go back and do it all over again, I would follow in her footsteps as far as getting outside my comfort zone and taking the world head on. A Jedi might not crave these things, but a fun, full-of-life human being does.
Yoda’s little credo really means that you should be obedient and not question things. Even the slightest glance at what is happening in our world right now shows us the peril of doing that. We need to question authority. We need to be disobedient. Anything else and those with the power will only continue to consolidate more of it, and at the expense of those without it.
I want more out of my life and from my world than to just sit by idly. So, no thanks, you short, green putz. I’ll stick to my cravings. Even if occasionally I wind up frozen in carbonite.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I have always been torn on the subject of single-mindedness. Part of me appreciates it- some forms of single-mindedness demonstrate a level of focus and commitment that I haven’t had since I was a kid. There’s a drive and energy in that mindset that I wish I could find again. Those that have it (and use it correctly) tend to do amazing things.
However, there’s a downside to single-mindedness. You can get so focused that you lose track of other important things. There’s a danger in your personality becoming unbalanced. Not keeping a broader look at the world at large means you might not take the time to stop and smell the roses. Pity, that.
This is on my mind thanks to a number of recent events in my life. Things are ridiculously busy for me these days; from late August to mid-October, I was working my regular 40hr-a-week job, teaching two classes as professor, and also taking two classes towards the Masters degree I am pursuing. It would be an understatement to say that was exhausting- I did a shitload of work between those three things, and that was not all I accomplished during that time. I also managed to achieve a lifelong goal along the way.
In early January 2012, RED SONJA: RAVEN will ship from Dynamite Entertainment. This marks my debut as a comicbook writer, and that’s huge for me. I’ve been reading comics since I was four years old. I’ve been a comics journalist for the past decade. I suppose this is one of those “it’s about damned time” moments, and I’m okay with that.
My point, though, is that I wrote the book right alongside everything else I was doing.
What tears at me is the question: why can’t you just settle on one thing and do that? I’m a good teacher- this semester, more than ever, I can see the effect I have had on my students’ lives. I’m having a fantastic run as a student back in the classroom; by the time this semester is complete, I expect I will have four A+s and two As from the six classes I’ll have taken so far for my degree. I’m also a solid writer- dependable and reliable, if not flashy- and can tell a story that will entertain.
My lack of single-mindedness has carried over into most aspects of my life for a long time now. I remember a few years ago explaining to a good friend of mine in the comics business how much I enjoyed golf, and that I subscribed to more golfing magazines than comics-related magazines. He looked at me like I was drunk. But it isn’t just golf; I’m an avid bicyclist, too. I bounce from one thing I enjoy to the next, heedless of the consequences.
Honestly, for a long time, this is one of those things that has really bothered me about myself. I’m 41- shouldn’t I have written a ton of comics by now? Shouldn’t I have gone back to school five years ago and be finished and teaching full-time somewhere at this point? What the fuck is wrong with me?
It is only lately that I have begun to realize that the answer to that question is “nothing.”
Certain things in life, you need to be ready to do them. I wasn’t ready to go back to school until this year. I don’t know that I was strong enough at the keyboard to write a good comic until right now. But more than that, I needed have the skills and patience I possess now in order to finally chase what I consider to be success and have a chance of achieving it.
Perhaps the greatest of those skills is time management. When I started writing SONJA, my house was in the middle of massive repairs by my landlord. Not only did that restrict my time at the computer for working on the script, it also hampered my ability to grade my students’ homework, do my own homework… it would have been easy to just throw my hands up in exasperation. But I didn’t. I changed how I managed my time. I set goals for what I was going to do each day and defined how I would get them done. And on not one day did I ever fall behind or falter.
What this began to show me was that my lack of single-mindedness was an asset, not a hindrance. I began to realize that it is okay to want to do a number of different things and keep my options open for how I approach the world. I can teach. I can write more comics. I can finish this degree. I can do all the things I want because I am not so buried in my head that I cannot see how to do them.
That’s weirdly close to optimism for me, which is kinda scary. I’m just going to chalk it up to going through a midlife renaissance. After years of allowing my potential to lie fallow, I have begun tapping into pieces of myself I didn’t know still existed and developing as a person again. For the first time in a long time, I am able to ask myself “why can’t you do that?” and not come up with an answer. Because right now, I can. And there’s no feeling quite like having that particular knowledge at your fingertips.