Something Beautiful

Someone famous once said, “If you don’t bend, you will break.” I could be paraphrasing. It would have had to come from someone famous because us normals don’t get quoted. It was probably someone who is also dead because getting famous for something you say usually doesn’t happen until after you’ve moved on and someone else finally understands what you were talking about and tells everyone else.

This place… this… repository of words and thoughts, fears, feelings and forgettings, rememberings, searchings, findings and losings is devoted to the quest; to the process and journey to discover the opposite of breaking. My son solved the puzzle for me of what the opposite of breaking is, but knowing what it is, is only half the battle. Some say the other half is red and blue lasers. Technically that’s true — the firing of lasers indicates action. The other half of the battle is putting what you know into action. The other day (or today, or whenever) I was only half of what I should have been. I was, er… am, quite the opposite of bending.

• • •

A few Fridays ago at The Trail (a men’s short-term morning bible study at our church) I listened to my friend Dan talk about breaking. Well, indirectly at least…

All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. reference

This version of these verses from The Message are more poetic than most. Other translations refer to us, our lives, our hearts as “jars of clay” and the treasure is God’s light and power hidden in us, in plain sight. The best place to hide something valuable is in worthless junk in plain sight.

Dan continued his lecture. Uncovering some clay pots, one at a time, on stage explaining that as we go through life we incur cracks and chips in our clay pots. Our experiences or decisions and circumstances in which we find ourselves — either by our own doing or as a result of other people’s choices — take a toll on us. They break us. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in barely noticeable ways (at least on the outside). And no two people break the same way, or have the same set of chips and fractures. He had the lights turned down in the room and I could see light coming out from inside the clay pots; through the holes and the cracks. His message ended with the notion that the more broken we are, the more people can see God shining out from inside us.

I couldn’t stop there. Because if that’s the end: to be all busted up and fractured, I don’t want that. At what point is the last crack going to happen and everything comes crashing down? When is the bottom going to fall off? Fear set in and I became afraid of this final moment hanging out there somewhere in the timeline of my life waiting for me to finally give in and give up and smash. I’ve seen it before. I’ve been close before. I remember watching my dad on the kitchen floor rolling around, crying, out of his mind. We see movies all the time where people just snap and go nuts. Somedays I feel I’m standing on that line and all it will take is a simple push in the wrong direction and I’ll be done.

And then it hit me.

Maybe Dan was trying to get here, or maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know, but it hit me. Hard. That light? The light of God seeping through the cracks of those of us that have him in our hearts? That light is glue. His light is the resin that holds everything together. That light is stronger than my clay. In fact, the clayness of my heart, the parts made of dirt and mud and impurities, just get in the way and if I’m really honest with myself… if I step back from my own selfishness and my own moping and my sick sense of self-importance, then I can see the way the light bends through and around the cracks. In some parts it is thicker and more brilliant than others and it makes me wish I was all glue and no clay.

Pieces of We

Almost two years ago, Lego released their first Mini-Figure series. These are specialized singular figures only (not from any other sets) in mystery foil packs* with sixteen in each series and Kai and I have collected our favorites. Series 5 just came out less than a month ago. We jumped in at Series 4 at Legoland on our last family vacation. I was looking for the Werewolf for my sister. Kai started out trying to find all the figures with helmets; I wanted all the monsters. My first was Frankenstein’s Monster, then the Werewolf, Mummy, and the old Fisherman. I know, the old fisherman is not a monster… keep reading. Once I learned of the Zombie from Series 1, I had to get it. I found it on Amazon for way more than the $3 retail cost (along with The Robot for Kai). The Vampire was also from Amazon for less than $2.

I’ve always liked monster movies as far back as I can remember, despite being so incredibly frightened as a kid. I still vividly remember, when I was about 7 or 8, watching a black-and-white version of Dracula at night at my grandmother’s house. Or, maybe she just had a black-and-white television. Anyway, there was a woman in a white night gown unconscious on a bed, and a man hiding in the closet, terrified. Dracula flew in from the balcony window and approached the woman. He paused and you could hear the heart beat of the guy in the closet from Dracula’s vantage point. He said something to the man in the closet, knowing who he was, and left, I think. That scene has been stuck in my head for a long, long time and I don’t know which version of Draclua it’s from. I almost don’t want to know.

There were plenty of other not so family-friendly vampire/horror movies at friends’ houses who had HBO and parents who either didn’t care or… well, didn’t care. At one point, my other grandma took me to the movie theater to see Fright Night (1985). As far as I knew, monster and horror movies were normal. Being scared is normal, right? I used to be petrified to get out of bed at night, thinking that as soon as I set foot on the floor, something will grab my leg and yank me under my bed… I still have a hard time going to sleep with any part of me hanging over the edge of the mattress. Logic has very little affect on fear. It’s pretty safe to say that vampire and monster lore is somewhere buried deep in my psyche. And, so is Christmas music. Go figure.

Fast forward about thirty years — I’ve got some life under my belt and my world view has changed quite a bit. It recently occurred to me that all these monster stories have something in common (besides obvious plot lines, bad special effects, and horrible piano music): they are capitalizations of isolated and extracted and flawed characteristics of humanity, of myself, exaggerated and exploited. Monster movies remind me of what I don’t want to be. And seeing them now as little plastic toys with semi-adorable faces disarms them.

Mindless, relentless, obsessive (the zombie):

Lego Zombie Mini-Figure (Series 1)

Lego Zombie Mini-Figure (Series 1)

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Bound, lifeless, destructive (the mummy):

Lego Mummy Mini-Figure (Series 3)

Lego Mummy Mini-Figure (Series 3)

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Fractured, alone, misunderstood (Frankenstein’s creature):

Lego The Monster Mini-Figure (Series 4)

Lego The Monster Mini-Figure (Series 4)

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Angry, manic, depressed, uncontrollable (the werewolf):

Lego Werewolf Mini-Figure (Series 4)

Lego Werewolf Mini-Figure (Series 4)

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Cold, parasitic, selfishly passionate (the vampire):

Lego Vampire Mini-Figure (Series 2)

Lego Vampire Mini-Figure (Series 2)

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Okay, now this is where the old fisherman comes in as patience and wisdom and old-fashioned manliness, instead of all this monsterness. Not the kind of manliness that seems so prevalent today, but the quiet, gentle, discerning kind. The kind of manliness that isn’t pushy, obnoxious or loud. The kind that knows how to treat everyone and knows how to ride out the storms. The kind of manliness that does not react to time (or the lack thereof); rather, he responds with tact and thoughtfulness, compassion, warmth, strength, and dependability.

Lego Fisherman Mini-Figure (Series 3)

Lego Fisherman Mini-Figure (Series 3)

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Becoming a bad-ass fisherman means conquering of all these inner monsters. I’m not sure I can cross many of these off my list yet on my journey to becoming a fisherman. Some days are better than others, though.

* Mini-Figure individual foil packs from Series 1 and 2 had a second barcode that identified which figure was inside. As of Series 3, Lego no longer used a second bar code, thus making the packs more of a mystery, unless you got really good at feeling for certain pieces.

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

I am so mad at you. My anger runs deep because it was born first in the hell fires of empathy — not for you — and second in the flames of defense — against you — and lastly in the smoldering fear of what I am capable of in the midst of knowledge without wisdom. Because of you, I am forced to carry my armor and I don’t want to. I am forced to wear this burden, this reminder of humanity weighing down my striving for more than what humanity could ever offer. Because of you, I am forced to realize what we all have the potential to become, especially when we are left in isolation.

I don’t hate you. But right now, I don’t like you either. In some ways I thank you pointing out so clearly what not to do. Please do not talk to me. Please do not come near me. I might not remember that I don’t hate you if you do. I’m sorry you have become what you are, or rather, my heart breaks for you that you did not yet become what you were meant to be. My heart breaks for me because you did not yet become what you are meant to be. There is a gap now. A hole in the way things should be.

Where is wisdom in all this? Where is mercy? When does grace kick in? Carrying this burden and this frustration and the anger means that my hands are preoccupied. It means that my fists are incapable of forming and the weight of all this knocks the wind out of me, making it hard to speak which means I am safe from destructive words that cannot be undone. I am afraid to put down these things, to free my hands, to catch my breath. I am afraid of myself in the midst of all this brokenness; afraid of losing myself in the riptides of unforgiveness. Wisdom is knowing when grace is needed, mercy is using grace instead of a fist.

Maybe I’ll find mercy up here. Maybe I’ll find acceptance. Maybe I’ll find that space where forgiveness transforms into lifegiveness. Maybe I’ll find the ability to see you how He sees you. I have a hunch it happens somewhere in the universe between the nucleus and the electron shell in every atom in the fibers of my being. I am trying to get there. For now, I’m clinging to the default mercy of stasis; of inaction. For now, I’m clinging to the default wisdom intrinsically existent in the distances in the combinations of space and time. For now, I’m clinging to the grace buried deep inside the carrying of all this, expecting mercy lives somewhere in here.

Twenty-three nineteen

He’s lying down, fighting the rip current of the sleepy high tide. Kai tells me he thinks he knows what ‘the opposite of breaking’ is, “It’s like Facebook or Twitter.”

I tried to make the connection, thinking he might have some insight into something deep. Smoke bellowed from my ears, “What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

It’s a website where you post your thoughts and feelings.”

“Oh. Yeah. Kind of.” I was thinking he meant means when he said is. He said he thought he knew what the opposite of breaking is. He’s so literal and I know that. But it still shocks me when he’s so extremely literal. “I thought you meant you knew what ‘the opposite of breaking’ means.”

“Oh, I don’t know what it means.” he said.

“Yeah, me either.”

“Then why did you name it that?”

“Because I don’t know what it means.” And I don’t. I don’t know what word is the opposite of ‘breaking.’ “Maybe it means fixing, but not really.”

And then he said something so profound and deep, so abstract and so incredibly literal, all at the same time. He said it in such a way as if a question can be stated as if it is a matter of fact, “Or bending.”

. . .

So, who can bring the monster world to its knees merely with their mind powers? Kids. A child, or an artifact from a child, is deadly to the monster world and warrants a scrub-down, otherwise known as: Code Violation 2319.

Seconds From Disaster

The past few nights I’ve been working on an epic post, working through way too much stuff in my head over way too much time and I’m seconds from crashing all day long. Tonight was a pile up.
Continue reading…

Are We Not Men?

The smell of evaporating rain on the summer-heated asphalt conjures ambiguous flashbacks and less-than-vivid feelings from my childhood, pretty much all summed up into one memory of laying in the middle of the double-yellow street, on a blind corner, in front of the house I grew up in. Somehow I’m not dead. I remember watching steam rise and swirl around me as the rain fell, creating more steam. The street was almost too hot for my skin and I would tolerate it as long as possible, then run to the back yard covered in grit and tiny pebbles and jump in the pool. Repeat.

My dad was not around much when I was a kid. Maybe he was, I’m not sure. That’s really not the point. The point is that he left no strong impression in my mind for better or for worse. I don’t remember him being around. He liked to work. He was always working on the deal of the century. Although, nine times out of ten or eleven he was home for dinner. Most of the time he got home just in time, I think. I wish I had more powerful memories of my dad, but they are just not there. The memories I do have paint him in a very passive and in-the-background light; always reading the paper, or absorbed in something other than what was happening. Not angry, not excited, not engaged. Sure, I have some fond moments with him, but those are from my teen years after the divorce. Everyone loved my dad. He was really good at giving everyone else the best of himself. He would walk into a room and not one person would not notice. He could be considered a genius by those who measure such things. I don’t know if I ever fought for his attention. I probably did. Perhaps we just get used to things. I was always more concerned with explaining to my mom how this or that Lego spaceship worked with all its escape pods and detachable rovers and mission-specific vehicles. The older I grew, the more frustrated and angry I became as I realized how she seemed to increasingly not pay attention. Then I had my own kids. Knowing what I know now, she was most likely trying to hold everything together and had very little left over for the non-critical things.

Recently, I had a chance to hang out with my littlest sister. I haven’t seen her in over two years and only once or twice in the previous two. She just graduated from college. We talked and laughed and reminisced and had an awesome discussion about how somewhere along the line, our awareness of the world around us became larger than our creativity, or our perceived capacity to be creative. At that moment, whenever it happened, we stop believing. Mostly in ourselves. As if we traded our imagination for the voices that would tell us, “That won’t work.” “That’s not a good idea.” “You can’t do that.” I shared with her my short story concept about a time machine… about always living in the past or waiting for the future to happen, thus completely missing the present. My dad missed her graduation. So did I. It’s funny how physical proximity and time as investment collateral can be a valid excuse by which we gauge how “worth it” something is. If the only truly eternal thing in this universe is people, then why do we write them off so easily? The fact that my sister graduated from college is huge. I didn’t. Neither did my other sister. Yes, I feel bad about missing it. I’m off the hook though, you know, because we live so far away and it’s expensive to fly and life and stuff. My dad is not. He could have been there. He chose otherwise, or probably more aptly let the choice for him to not be there be made for him. I love my dad. I miss him. My mom has always said he’s got a big heart. He’s a glorious asshole.

I used to think my dad was invincible. That illusion crumbled over 10 years ago. It was nothing dramatic. At least, not as dramatic as it could be or sounds like. He no longer represented the ideal man to me. I just realized one day that my dad made some choices and mistakes that he never recovered from, or never figured out how to get out from underneath. I don’t know. Maybe he likes his life. When I realized I did not want to be like my dad, that’s when my adventures in growing up began. There was no one in my life I wanted to be like. I was newly married, with an infant son, and a full-time job. And suddenly I had no time left for making spaceships.

I talked to my counselor today (back story). He listened to me tell my stories from the past two weeks. Stories of kids running away, father & son breakfast times, losing Lego pieces in the car, and the “quarter incident” at the grocery store. Then he punched me in the face. Twice. Metaphorically, of course. Over the past three months we’ve been talking about and working on what my role is, both as a father and a husband. Today was two fistfuls of both. I can’t recall the exact phrasing he used, but the following is what I got out of what we talked about.

Guys, here’s some free advice: if you’re living for the approval or praise of your wife (or anyone), stop it. It will undermine every decision you are required to make. It will be evident to your kids that your authority can be shaken, because they’ll know you can’t do anything without her. This is not a “tyrant” or “boss” kind of authority; rather, the kind that lets your family know you are provider, protector, teacher, and counselor. It is the kind that defines your presence as peace-giving and definite and not feared. This is the kind of authority your wife considers security. Second-guessing yourself is like drinking poison that hollows you from the inside out, especially when it’s centered around self-preservation and shielding from criticism from someone else, assumed or actual. Obviously, making sound decisions is important and should be revered to build and maintain trust so that we can be what we’ve been entrusted to be. Like it or not, carrying the title “husband” and/or “father” is not just for tax breaks. And don’t be a dumb-ass (read: passive, uninvolved, too tired, over-worked, etc…) forcing her to wear your boots to carry you both through life’s shit storms. It’s hard enough to navigate when you don’t have all the answers; don’t make it harder by making your wife/partner your obsession and your enemy. She needs you. You need her. She is amazing and it’s a miracle she chose you to be with. She’s your best teammate. Treat her like the incredible person she is by being the man you are meant to be. It’s time to stop being kids in our parents’ shoes and start being adults who can wear kids’ shoes. Here’s a great article about this, in better detail. The Art of Manliness is a great site in general.

Freebie #2: As parents, our kids need to see mom and dad as a united front and that there’s no chance for a “divide and conquer” strategy to gain any ground (either planned, reactionary, or otherwise). We gotta be ready for this. It happens. We do it to ourselves, our kids do it to us. Not out of a sense of malicious intent, but out of a reaction to any number or combination of things.

Bonus, maybe: Simple is not easy. These are very hard patterns to break. We have suitcases of garbage from our past that can affect and thwart our abilities to do what we need to do. Combined with your wife’s own case(s) of crap, we’re lucky anyone makes it out alive. But I’m not talking about dealing with the past. This is about starting right now, today, choosing to be active and present; choosing to give all we have to each moment we have. Our kids are not going to be four again. They’re not going to just sing as if no one is watching for much longer. They are not going to be eight again and be willing to tell you what they’re thinking, wether you asked them to or not. They are not going to be eleven again, wanting to explain how that Lego spaceship works, or what story idea is floating around in their brain.

As I drove away from my counseling session, wiping the blood from my nose and trying not to aggravate my new fat lip, I started thinking about role models. I was thinking of what I look to for examples and how there’s no shortage of role models, just a severe shortage of decent ones. Even now as an adult it is tough to find a voice not celebrating the stereotypical “guy” who only watches sports, can’t wait to drink beer, and has no clue what the woman who has pledged herself to him actually wants, as “the life.” I don’t know what the word for being sad and mad at the same time is… maybe it’s smad. From Dexter to Abraham Lincoln, from Superman and every other super-hero to late night talk show hosts, from The President to Jesus to rock star song writers and every protagonist from every movie ever made… they all want to tell us or show us how to make life work. That somehow they have the answer. And they can’t all be right, can they? I mean some combinations are deadly. On a more personal note: there’s my dad who pretty much traded us in for a new family long after my sisters and I “grew up,” who can’t stop trying to escape the present, teaching that when life gets broken, go get a new one. And you’ve got my amazing friend Carvis whose bio-dad who only knows him by silently lurking on his blog for the past eight years only to surface and defend himself after an angry post about Father’s Day (which consequently, was not about him), teaching that if you can justify what you did then no one has the right to be mad at you. And then there’s Bill Cosby who’s pretty much everyone’s pipe-dream of a dad, teaching us that television might be the best source for finding answers. Not to mention God, which we all fall short of living up to — I don’t even know how to pull that one in and still make sense and carry this post through.

Then I realized that all we get left with is the classic Frankenstein Syndrome. We become monster. Not as a role model, not on purpose, but as a result. We are demo. We break and get broken and try to find “experts” to fix what’s wrong and before you know what’s happening, your head is cracked open and a crazy doctor is pulling stuff out and cramming other stuff in and trying to tidy up the mess.

The Monster

Do not, through inaction, succumb to the Frankenstein Syndrome.

We become bits and pieces of all kinds of theologies and methodologies and flat-out lies fist fighting with undeniable truth and promises of grace and hope… all mixed up, leaving us for the most part numb and dumb; unable to make critical, life-long decisions; creating havoc everywhere we go when all we really want is to feel loved and accepted, but have no idea how to solve this problem and so we plow through people and ourselves and end up back in the hands of some other whacked out scientist repeating the process.

Then I remember my kids and my wife, and I start praying for God to disassemble me and extract all the parts he didn’t put in, and add back the parts that are missing, and nurse me back to the man I was created to be. And let my scars remind me of what life would be like without him, and let my dependence on him power my confidence in the effect of my presence in my kids’ lives, and let his grace sufficiently enable me to fulfill my responsibility to my wife and our family and to not end up cultivating a bio-hazard dumping ground.

The Graveyard Near The House

Two days ago I discovered the new album All At Once by The Airborne Toxic Event via Grooveshark. The song “The Graveyard Near The House” started to play and it immediately grabbed my heart. Bought the album (mp3 download version) for $5 on Amazon. There are a lot of great songs on this album, but this one is my favorite. I love the subtle morbidity accenting the incredible depth of love and the raw honesty applied to the characters in the story. This video is a live recording and not the polished album version — the underlying rainfall aptly becomes an instrument. The vocals, violin, upright bass, simple percussions and even simpler keys melt perfectly. Enjoy!

The Graveyard Near The House

And the lyrcs…

The other day, when we were walking by the graveyard near the house, you asked me if you thought we would ever die. And if life and love both fade predictably we’ve made ourselves a kind of predictable life.

And so I pictured us like corpses, lying side by side in pieces, in a dark and lonely plot under a bough. We looked so silly there, all decomposed, half turned to dust, in tattered clothes, but we probably look just as silly now.

Bye bye bye bye, bye bye to all this dogged innocence. I can’t pretend that I can tell you what is going to happen next, or how to be. But you have no idea ’bout me, do you?

And it left me to wonder if people ever know each other or just stumble around like strangers in the dark. ‘Cause sometimes you seem so strange to me, I must seem strange to you. We’re like two actors playing two parts. Did you memorize your lines? ‘Cause I did. And this part where I get so mad, I tell you I can’t forget the past. You get so quiet now, and you seem, somehow, like a lost and lonely child. And you just hope that the moment won’t last.

Bye bye bye bye, bye bye to all this dogged innocence. I can’t pretend that I can tell you what is going to happen next, or how to be. But you have no idea ’bout me. You have no idea ’bout me, do you?

So there’s always a way around. There’s something tying our feet to the ground. A moment passed, we hate how it sounds.

And it seems a little less profound. Like we’re all going the same way down. Yeah we’re all going the same way down. I’m just trying to write it all down.

‘Cause I write songs, and you write letters. We are tied like two, in tethers. And we talk and read, and laugh and sleep, at night in bed, together. And you wake in tears sometimes, I can see the thoughts flash across your eyes. They say “Darling, will you be kind? Will you be a good man, and stay behind if I get old?”

And then the letters all pass through my head, with the words that I was told. About the fading flesh of life and love, the failures of the bold. I can list each crippling fear like I’m reading from a will.

(Listen to the violin doubling the vocals with this next verse. It kills me.)
And I’ll defy everyone and love you still. I will carry you with me up every hill. If you die before I die, I’ll carve your name out of the sky. I’ll fall asleep with your memory and dream of where you lie.

It maybe better to move on, and to let life just carry on. I may be wrong.

But still, I’ll try.

‘Cause it’s better to love whether you win or lose or die. Yeah, It’s better to love whether you win or lose or die. It’s better to love, and I will love you ’til I die.

Lyrics by The Airborne Toxic Event


Sun. Ripped through the windows and crashed into the wall on the opposite side of the room. I’d give just about anything to circumvent being back here right now, again. Awake. Anywhere but here. Light smashing into fragments an undone lifetime borne during the darkness and it dissipates at an exponential rate with each passing second. Can’t tell yet what’s real and what’s memory. Dreams all mixed up with plans and ideas. Flashbacks and imagination have been surgically grafted. The trees are wiggly — it’s windy outside.

Time for work. I don’t remember getting ready. Sound is missing from my morning routine. No one else wants to be conscious yet either. I think I ate something, but can’t recall exactly what or if I dreamed it. Irrelevant. Breakfast is like an obligation and most of the time I ignore it. Eating so soon makes me nauseous anyway. I’ll eat when I’m hungry. I’ll sleep when I’m tired. Schedules are good for other people. I have no idea how to apply one to me. Traffic. Stuck between a seeping garbage truck and some jack-ass who must think the rest of us all secretly collaborated to get in his way. I need a time machine. No bother. I sort of enjoy watching other people freak out over things they have zero control over. At some point I got old and now prefer news via National Public Radio while driving to work. It’s trite and seeded as any other news source although it seems like they at least try not to be. I still get some twisted enjoyment out of listening to how much people need something to freak out over. Desk. I picked up a coffee on my way in today but have not tried to drink it yet. I can tell that the 100% post-consumer recycled heat-sleeve is doing its job. I left a few notes to myself hopefully to jump start me back into my work quicker, bypassing the spin up routine: turn everything on, log in, coffee, pretend to listen to my co-workers pretend to care about something in the news, or recount uninteresting anecdotes from last night’s impromptu hang-out session over beers and video games, check email, and spend the next 20 minutes trying to remember what the hell I did yesterday. Great. My attempt to elude the kitchen chatter failed. Apparently I got someone else’s coffee order and they happen to like it black. Ew. I wish someone would invent sweetened, caffeinated creamer so I wouldn’t need to deal with coffee at all.

One of my notes to self had a bunch of hexidecimal numbers scribbled out in no particular pattern. Colors. RGB value pairs as six character 8-bit digital alpha-numeric codes for representing any one of over 16.7 million possible colors. Combine the right ones and they exude a low level amount of control over what people will feel and can dictate a rudimentary course for how they react. The other note was even more cryptic. It definitely was written in my hand-writing but I cannot remember writing it. Random words. A string of numbers in a pattern I’m not familiar with: spiders jump galaxies spin 17.694 8 72#13.5. The ink does not match my current favorite pen. Leaving notes for myself is not a new practice and typically if they have no immediate, direct meaning or don’t conjure up some sort of connection between today and the day before I just trash them. I can’t stand seeing different people’s habits of disorganization around the office. Sticky notes were never meant to be permanent fixtures. And once you have more than three or four of them you probably have bigger problems than just needing to remember “a few things.”

Green. #A0CC56 — this one was circled, and not just once. A very specific kind of green. I suppose that statement is ridiculous. Every color code is specific. But this green is the perfect green. Full of vigor and freshness without being obnoxious. This is the kind of green people tweet about. It’s got just enough yellow to be grounded and feel natural and just enough blue to be soothing. Memorized. Trashed. Left perplexed with my second note. Was it a riddle? A song lyric? It has that universality and ambiguous sense to it that all meaningful songs have. Was this an old note that got dislodged from my desk and found its way behind a plant or garbage can? It wasn’t crumpled or folded or otherwise mangled in any way. Maybe the cleaning crew noticed it on the floor and re-instituted its residency on my desk. This is the only note I’ve kept around longer than the intended 24 hour life span for which sticky notes were designed.

5:07 pm. The drive home was incredibly dull. A blur, abruptly interrupted by arriving at home sooner than I was ready. I love being home, but some days I wish it took no less than twice as long to get here. Some days I need more time to decompress. More time to let the radio sing me an anthem to cling to. I may have briefly fallen asleep during stasis at a red light. Uneventful. Not that I’m looking to get stuck in traffic due to something catastrophic that happened to someone else. I suppose I’m just hoping for something to wake me up. Sometimes the weather is dramatic enough. Sometimes the radio plays music worth hearing. Sometimes, I wonder if the next intersection I cross is the one with my name on it; the one where some over-the-top, plastic, multi-tasking, distracted soccer mom checks her Facebook and slips through a red light and slams her SUV into the side of my slightly dated minivan. I wonder if that would change anything and drastically alter the course my life is on. Bubbles. Life packed up into neat rule-sets and tidy exchanges — emotional, professional, intellectual — everything fits and makes sense and has a time and a place. Forced. I’m constantly on edge. Anxious. Waiting for something dramatic to happen. Fearing that something dramatic is about to happen. Feeling like I’m ever-present on the cusp of popping bubbles. Not at all like the notion of walking on eggshells; rather, anxious like some sort of survival mechanism has been activated in order to maintain the structural integrity of my bubbles with the knowledge permeating my core with the inevitable truth that every bubble’s existence is purposed to pop. Fighting so hard to disprove that. Yet, without the popping, a bubble is, instead, an iridescent prison. I know this. I don’t want to. But why to just survive? Where is the land of the living? Why all the aversion to a full and unpredictable life, over-flowing with freedom and timelessness?

Bedtime. My least favorite time of the day. If ever a time exists for everything to come unglued, bedtime would be that time. Sleeping frustrates me. Has always seemed like a waste of time and telling my kids they need to go to bed just makes me a hypocrite, or at best a selfish bastard grasping at minutes on the clock as if they actually made a difference.

Moon. Night time is so much better than any other time. It’s quiet, cool, and no matter where you are, the stars are always hauntingly familiar and unknowable at the same time. Even through the clouds, just knowing they are there settles my soul; as if the purpose for their very existence is to be for us permission to dream and wonder [1]. Everything is shadow. Time pretends to stand still. The wind calls out through the trees, furiously screaming and whispering out loud all the sorrows in my heart and all the fears in the back of my head and all the things my soul keeps captive in a place where only the rain can come and go as it pleases. Velvet. Colors sleep and my mind is freed from the burdens of obligation; freed from pretense and dialog and all that trying to make sense out of what people are saying. The world slumbers and I am king. The king of nowhere.

I’ve been building something and it’s almost complete. While the planet spins apace on its tilted axis and people are murdered one commercial at a time, I’ve been busy constructing a loop-hole in reality — a way to bypass the idiocracy of everything. My note to self I found this morning definitely has meaning, I just haven’t gotten there yet, literally… the events leading up to that note being written have not happened yet. But it is proof. The first real proof that my construct is valid. That which has consumed me for most of my life actually works. Kind of. I am a time machine.

Hello world. What is it to exist? Is it to feel? Or think? If someone else acknowledges you, is that proof enough of your existence? Are we all trapped in some endless yet extremely limited set of possibilities where everything is just a result of a series of all our choices and somehow we as a people manage to navigate this omniverse without trashing everything? Bullshit. Cause and effect have been iced, creamed and blended — made impossible to decipher, turned cause into effect and result into just cause, and fed to us all… no, we begged for it. Like a mocha-coconut smoothie creates something entirely new; greater than the sum of its parts and leaves your mouth coated with a bland, milky film. Every sip laced with a numbing agent stealing our abilities to properly assess what’s really happening. We drink from our own bubbles the waste of our own bubbles. Time makes space linear. They’re connected. Inseparable. The outer most bubble.

Traveling. Movement without moving. This is starting to cause me problems. I’ve acquired the ability to time travel. It is the art of being anywhere but here, anywhen but now. My adventures a’clock have made it painfully clear that time (itself brutally linear) makes space linear. As elusive and mysterious as it is to be in the future, or as deceivingly fruitless it proves to be in the past, the problem lies in my absence from the present. I cannot exist now and in either side of then simultaneously. If I am wrestling my demons or asking answerless questions, exhausting myself down to vital mechanical responses only… or if I’m soaring between stars and constructing metropolises, concocting false realities out of the vapor-trails of dreams, then I have not the mental facilities to absorb the present and rather than just being missed I fall prey to missing being. Disappeared from my life as it happens. Details and nuances that make life full vanish. Unable to wisely navigate decisions the next moments require. Thus in my lack of being, my absence makes the decisions for me. These choices will always be rooted basic, self-preservation, passive, shallow motives irrespective of due diligence, thought, empathy and goodwill.

Cycle. Vicious. I return from my travels to find my life nothing like what I’ve ever wanted and resentment festers and escaping to anywhen else becomes paramount, deepening the chasm between me and my life.

Pain. I came home to an empty house today. I need to break my time machine.


“Sir? Sir…” I called after the man we just saw moments before-hand digging through one of the many garbage cans lining the 16th Street Mall downtown — looking for food, looking for anything. At about 9am, the biting cold of a mid-November morning starts to loosen its jaws a bit, up to 30° give or take a few. Cold, nonetheless. What difference does two or three degrees really make? His hair was exactly as you’d expect it to be; his clothes following suit. No bags. A hollow gait with each trash can his goal. I caught up to him, and… actually, let me back up a bit. This all started with an anniversary weekend getaway, a blueberry muffin, and a very special girl.

Breakfast — the day before… I was craving just a blueberry muffin and a vanilla coffee drink (or grandé vanilla latté with no foam for those of you who only speak metro), but got distracted by the notion of a vanilla custard french toast offering and when we ordered our food at the Corner Bakery Cafe, I still ordered that blueberry muffin. You know those kind of huge muffins with that crumbly topping? Fresh-baked and moist in the middle with a crunchy outer crust? Like this one:


A blueberry muffin from the Corner Bakery Cafe

Well, the muffin was still intact by the time we finished our meals so Jen wrapped it up to bring with us on our adventures and we thought we could share it when we were hungry again. Then I realized I left my phone up in the hotel room. I needed my phone. You need your phone, right? Gotta have your phone. Once back in the hotel room, it made sense to just leave the muffin there and maybe call it dessert and not carry it around all day. So that’s what we did and the muffin sat on the credenza in a bag in the hotel room all day while we delighted in a long day of walking, playing together, filling up our cameras with funny faces and amazing places and things that make Denver what it is, and topped off with a fancy impromptu dinner at Maggiano’s.

One of the threads weaving itself through our weekend was a heightened awareness of homeless people. For the uninformed, here’s a little something about my wife that defines a significant part of who she is — and this in no way encompasses the extent of her traumas and triumphs: she was a teenage runaway and spent 10 days on the streets and dealt with situations and things most people only know about from movies and the evening news. Because of her experiences and the damage and repercussions and the road to healing she’s been on, she now has this incredible gift of tenderness, forgiveness, intuition and the super power to see right through bullshit.

Okay, so earlier this night after our fancy dinner while walking back through the 16th Street Mall on our way back to our hotel room she wanted to give our leftover food from dinner to someone. It wan’t much, but something is better then nothing when you’re hungry. And hardly anything becomes even less if you share it. The streets were thinning out and the nightly chill started its descent on downtown. it was getting kind of late and most places were closed, but she did find a few people who were homeless. She handed me the to-go bag and said, “Go give it to that guy right there.” Timeout — a little something you should know about me: I do not do well with crowds, I will always find the least in-the-way place to stand in a room, and I’m borderline paranoid of talking to people I don’t know. It took a lot for me to look back at Jen and say, “Okay.” I don’t remember how cold it was, but everyone was wearing winter jackets. This was, after all, November in Denver.

The man I walked up to was an older black gentleman, almost like my dad’s age, or maybe life just made him look older like that. He was standing with two or three other older people. I had the food in my left hand and reached out to hand it him. He took it with his left hand and reached his right hand out gesturing to shake my hand. As I was reaching for his hand, he said, “Thank you, I’ll pass it around.” His hand was warm and not nearly as rough as I was expecting. I think I replied with something stupid like, “Stay warm.” or something like that. I thought for a split second about saying something like, “God bless.” which seemed so trite or perfectly insensitive. My force field started to decay. My head started reorganizing. Jen gave me a gift. She probably knew it, too.

By the way, “renting” a movie in your hotel room is a rip-off (thank you Redbox and Netflix for spoiling us all.) We watched what I can only describe as a really bad camcorder recoding of a TV screen that was playing the movie Date Night. Even still, we laughed and ate our pumpkin cheesecake in our pajamas, leaving us in no shape to be eating a muffin. “Let’s bring it with us to breakfast tomorrow and we’ll eat it then.” She suggested. My wife is always full of smart ideas. No, brilliant ideas. She has this knack for knowing the right time for saying whatever needs to be said or doing whatever needs to be done.

Waking up quietly and peacefully is one of the few luxuries in life that I’m sure all parents of small children could just die for. The last bits of our weekend were upon us, and we were so excited to head back to our new favorite place for breakfast.

So there we were, Jen and I, sitting in our front window seats, laughing, reminiscing, loving each other and people watching as if this was our normal Sunday morning routine and we’d been coming here for years. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast for the second day in a row on the last day of our weekend getaway in celebration of being married for 12 years. I can still taste the cinnamon and vanilla custard baked into the french toast. We ate and talked and sat in the restaurant for well over an hour, and I fell in love all over again with my wife.

People watching. We tried to guess the stories of the people we saw. Jen kept pointing out people who were homeless, explaining how she knew based on various clues I’d never pick up on. We watched a lady have an entire conversation with the thin chilling air. We watch a different lady move from one table to the next in the restaurant making up various stories trying to convince people to give her money. We saw a rich man (you can tell by the shoes, the overcoat, and the way he wore his baseball cap) walking around with and talking at what could have very much been his son who’s all grown up, but probably feels lost and unsure of himself. We watched a handsome man standing outside, patiently standing, nervously standing and watching in all directions; checking his phone every other minute, waiting for someone to show up. He was early, or maybe she was late. We guessed at his story and figured this was a moment in the making. She finally showed up. “It takes time to make yourself look nice. And he better appreciate her cause she looks pretty for him.” Jen says with a smile in her voice.

We finished our breakfast and continued to sit and watch and talk. We never got to the blueberry muffin. Once again, we ordered too much food. “We can just take it home and the kids can have it.” she said. We talked about our dreams and wishes. We held hands and watched the world spin itself up around us. And we watched the same guy that went down the other side of the street work his way back up on our side stopping at each trash can looking for something. Looking for anything. Without missing a beat, Jen grabs the muffin out of her bag, along with three dollars in cash that we had left and handed it to me. “Go give this to that guy.”

I’d like to say that I responded immediately with, “That’s what I was just thinking!” But, no. I challenged her. I started reeling with reasons why that was a bad idea to give someone in need a bit of food and a few bucks… “He’ll just buy alcohol with it.” I started to spew out and quickly realized what I was saying and tried to take it back. Words have this amazingly linear trajectory. There is no reverse. As I was trying to not say what I was saying, I got out of my seat, took the muffin bag with her three dollars and sped out the cafe doors. During my insolence, he managed to make it to the corner of the block. I went from a brisk walk to a hasty jog to catch up.

“Sir? Sir…” I called after him. He turned slowly, cautiously, perhaps incoherently. I must have caught him off-guard, calling after him like that. I handed him the bag and the money. He reached out to take it from me with both of his hands. I know I looked into his eyes then, but now recalling the story I barely remember them. They were so hollow and light.

“Thank you, brother. Thank you.” I can still hear his voice. Smashing what was left of the stale, hard candy-coated shell I’ve been constructing around my heart for most of my life. Going to work the next day and sitting at my desk and organizing electrons never felt so meaningless. The newly exposed, raw flesh of my heart was not ready to be so contained so soon. It still isn’t. Almost every day now for the past six months I’ve thought of this weekend and I’m finding myself more and more unsettled with what I spend my time doing everyday.

I have an idea, and I’m going to need a lot of money, or a miracle, or both.

A Robot On The Rocks, or The Perfect Storm, or Monsters Bawl, or We Are Phoenix

I couldn’t decide on a sufficient title. I’m still not satisfied with any of them.

“You’re in robot mode. Again.” she said with disappointment. To think things is one thing. To speak them out loud can be a completely different thing for some things which seems to transform that which could have hope into something… less. Not just less, but sorrowfully less. I suppose it’s the combination of the pause and the word “again” that spawned this transformation.

For the un-indoctrinated, robot mode is the endearing term (yes, sarcasm) my lovely wife (not sarcasm, I really think she’s lovely) uses to describe me when I’m walking around as a ghost in my own home; a hologram of my self; a shell masking the labyrinth of emptiness lying just beneath. Floating from one obligation to the next without vigor or effect or affect — alive, but only according to the scientific definition of life, yet for all intents and purposes dead; on auto-pilot. Things don’t have taste. My normally very active sense of smell goes dormant. Smiling is facade and thinking (on just about any level) is mirage. I’ve tried to figure out how this happens and so far it seems to be the apex of a distinct collection or sequence of events with impeccable timing. I suppose robot mode is a form of self preservation or a defense mechanism when I’m unable to make sense out of things; or when I’m facing questions with any number of plausibly debilitating, yet paranoia-laced answers; or when I’m coming down from an extended professional and intellectual climb upon completion of a task or project of substantial caliber — a sort of post-project depression; or when I start feeling unimportant and alone and forgotten… or worse, intentionally ignored; or when work is seeming more and more like a waste of time because my voice has been stolen by… the vacuous thieves of never-land.

We recently learned at church about Jonah. It’s such a tragically beautiful story of rebellion and restoration, forgiveness and provision. I can see why the story takes place mostly in the sea. Where else does the notion of drowning feel even more prevalent and hopeless? Sorrow and depression very much feel like the deep beckons for a moratorium on trying, and begs for an effortless downward trajectory. It’s hopelessly overwhelming. I’m reminded of stormy days when I used to surf a spot called South Garbage. Paddling out against the breakers was the embodiment of futility. Next to the ocean, there aren’t many places on this earth that are incredibly adept at stealing your progress faster than you can make some. This surf spot is at the bottom of a treacherous cliff. The reef and rocks just a few feet below the surface give the waves amazing shape and unexpected power.

Robot mode is a complex, infinite loop of overlapping, broken analyses that never resolve. I heard someone once describe jazz music this way — that it never resolves; it does not have a natural progression to a logical ending. It has to be ended. Robot mode is the jazz of whatever you call that gap between the head and the heart… you know, that place where things go when they don’t make sense. Robot mode is a reactionary state to an overflowing bucket of seemingly disconnected and senseless things. Enter melancholy, enter numbness, enter mediocrity: the leading roles in this act while fear, loathing and unjustified anger trail, no… lurk, behind. No, that’s not right… It’s more like the fear, the loathing, the resentment, the frustration and anger — all stemming from an inability to resolve things — conceal themselves in the trough of the wake of this ill-fated jazz. They ride out the numbness until the right moment when they can weave chaos and havoc onto the stage, creating prime conditions for a perfect storm.

For Jonah, the perfect storm was a literal storm that was a result of his own choices. He fled from God heading in the opposite direction from where he was told to go. The story says God sent the storm, and it affected everyone on the boat, yet Jonah slept through it until some one had to wake him up. The other people on the boat were tossing overboard everything they could think of to try to prevent the boat from getting ripped in two by the waves. Jonah explains to the others it’s his fault the storm was upon them and he tells them to throw him into the sea to die, yet God provided for him a fish. A sanctuary. A place for Jonah to have no distractions from what the real problems in his life were: himself. He was given time and space to sort through things he never would have faced otherwise. On the surface, the story seems like a bad joke. But if you peel back the layers and read what’s really going on and look past the whole giant fish or whale or sea monster or whatever, therein lies God’s incredible gifts of provision and redemption: people who were otherwise agnostic towards God see first-hand how real he is, a city full of wicked people get saved, and a broken man gets a shot at restoration.

My perfect storm arrived last week. On top of an already stressful time, all the crap I was stuck fruitlessly trying to sift through and resolve converged into one horrible moment. A defining moment for almost all of my important relationships. A defining moment for my own definition of myself. The aftermath of this incident has been and still is surreal and amazing and harrowing… an emotional melting pot. I never thought myself to be the monster; to be capable of hurting others. My birth name means “healer” and what happened last week is so far from that, it makes me sick. I don’t know what the opposite of breaking is, but this, it definitely is not. I look in the mirror and I’m shocked that my reflection looks so normal because I’m expecting to see something hideous and grotesque and repulsive. I’m expecting to see a monster on the verge of sobbing with remorse for simply just being. I’m startled that people still talk to me in a normal fashion. Undeserving is my new name. I was in such denial that I could ever be like that. Other people can be like that, but not me. I’m supposed to be invisible and blend into the walls and slip through the cracks and bring peace and … and now I feel paralyzed and humiliated in the center of the room, vulnerable, and ashamed and on another planet. I scared myself and never thought before about how much capacity I have for what happened. I’m very much aware now of my own depravity, which I’ve always been in denial about. Oh, sure, I’ve sort of always known that I needed God, but that was head knowledge. That was just information. But now, I’m experiencing something much more. Something much deeper and messier and more meaningful it makes what I grew up with seem hollow and trite and pretend.

I set into motion a chain of events last week that still have a course to complete. It will not soon be over, but has already illuminated God’s grace and mercy in my life in ways that I’ve never experienced. The relationships I jeopardized are stronger than I gave them credit for. I know what it is to read these words and absorb them as nutrients for my soul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I never noticed before how the story of Jonah abruptly ends with an open-ended and slightly rhetorical question from God; an unresolved stanza of biblical jazz. The story gets ended. I’m banking on my story to not be like that. I’m determined to not make Jonah’s mistake and wallow in self pity, arguing with God over the value of my own life (when I have no right to set my own value in the first place) essentially nullifying everything he can do through this time in my life.

As the myth of the phoenix goes: born and reborn from violent, blazing fire, out of the mess of its own ashes, it begins life again. So too, we monsters are destined to fail upwards despite ourselves, our circumstances, our denials and mistakes. We are lifted up in spite of our undeserving selves by a God who writes the stories and their endings and knows all there is to know and a God who can see around time and a God who loves so deeply he sends or allows the storms so we’ll call to him and learn from our mistakes and help each other find the right paths to travel.

As man or monster (what’s the difference?), we are phoenix — and robots must die.