Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reader's digest

Reading was the last thing I wanted to do when I was growing up. To crack open a book meant to sit still for more than five minutes. I could read; I just didn't like it much. Books were plain and simple torture. To not be active with my feet and hands, or outside with my imagination, was a dreadful interruption to the rhythmic pace of being a boy. I would rather ride my bike, play baseball, shoot Germans and Japs, play war, build forts for cowboys and Indians, play cops and robbers, or daydream on my back in a field behind my house sporting a long blade of grass between my teeth as I pondered majestic, white clouds and blue sky, and the many white trails of jet airplanes speeding out of sight.

It was a good life; a boy's life. Reading had no place in it, riding shotgun, stifling an energetic, adventurous existence.

My overachieving, book-devouring older sister got the ice cream cones and shiny stars on her summer chart every year as yours truly resisted the drudgery of reading, and went without the trivial rewards: stickers and ice cream. Big whoop.

One summer day, I heard sobbing from her bedroom. She'd been reading Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. Old Dan must've bought it, after a skirmish with a Mountain Lion. Through tears and blubbering despair she set about to tell the whole story to her little brother -- as was her style, and still is. The book cover looked boring. It wasn't soon after the weeping and shortness of breath in her voice gave way to the familiar sound of an untimely book report. It seemed a good time to leave. So, I stranded her on the spot, all alone with her tears, to the sound of loud bawling, more so than before.

My lack of enthusiasm for the written word lead to my lack of enthusiasm in the classroom. But that's another story altogether.

Regret is all that is left now; a reminder for all the years I spent fighting a simple pleasure in life: the joy of letting a story wash over you and hold your mind hostage for a short time. Maybe adventure is ripe for the taking when you're young -- for some like me. But now, in the monotony of grown up life, adventure eludes us all.

Crack open a book let your mind take you places you never imagined.

My appetite for reading is healthy enough now. I count 20 book titles below that I've enjoyed in 2010, and recommend all of them. A lot of fiction, and a few serious books too. I hope to read 40 books in 2011.

In order:

Stephen Hunter
-47th Samurai
-Nights of Thunder

Malcolm Gladwell
-The Tipping Point
-The Outliers
-What the Dog Saw (audio)

Stieg Larsson
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
-The Girl who Played with Fire
-The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Stephen Hunter

Stephen Coonts
-The Disciple

Daniel Suarez
-The Daemon
-Freedom TM

Justin Halpern
-Sh*t My Dad Says

Chip & Dan Heath
-Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Robert Jordan
-The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time series)
-The Great Hunt
-The Dragon Reborn
-The Shadow Rising

Robert Leckie
-Helmet for My Pillow

What did you enjoy reading in 2010?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bow down to Database

Our new god is named Database. Database is in all things and in all creation. Data is its Spirit. Device its flesh. Database wishes to know all and probably does.

Database doesn't require cash. Currency is only a one or a zero in Database. It only confirms that you have adequate reserves at the time of purchase. It knows where you work. It knows your gross compensation; and it knows how much to excise for taxes. Perhaps you're unemployed; Database knows. Or, sadly homeless. Database has already made a note of it. It knows if you're charitable, and how much it should disperse to your place of worship, causes, and political affiliations. Database knows how much retirement savings you have. It knows which stocks you've made or lost money on.

Where do you live? Database knows your address, and those among you who also call it home. Database knows if you're buying or renting. Spouse. Offspring. Database knows who they are and what day they were born. Or maybe you live alone. It knows. Occupations. Schools. Grades. Teachers. Phone numbers. Pets. Subscriptions. Book purchases. TV viewing habits. Internet usage. Music preferences. Water and power consumption. Database knows what your home and property are worth, and how much you owe on your mortgage.

Are you a consumer? Database knows where you like to shop. It knows what you like to wear and where you like to buy it. It knows preferences and predicts purchases. Cash or check. Debit or credit. Paper or plastic. Coke or Pepsi. Verizon or Sprint. Chevy or Ford. Windows or Mac. Directv or Dish.

Database knows what you drive. Did you buy your vehicle or is it leased? Database knows. It knows your payment and who is in possession of the title, how much fuel it demands, insurance coverage, mileage, VIN number, accident history, and known recalls. It says here the floor mats were not replaced as requested by the vehicle's manufacturer. This information will serve useful as it constructs a trail of culpability to the guilty party, in the unfortunate, however likely, event of an accident. Database knows who's at fault. Speeding tickets. Moving violations. Fender benders. Tire rotations. Oil changes. 60,000 mile maintenance records.

Perhaps you don't have an automobile. Database knows you ride the bus, train, or jump from taxi to taxi to traverse the space between points of interest in your life.

Database knows where you like to vacation and how often you travel. Domestic flights. International interests. Meals. Lodging. Rentals. Attractions. Souvenirs. Destination Database.

Database determines net worth. It weighs your plusses and minuses, taking credits and weighing them against debts, thus arriving at a number to be used as your very own financial litmus test, asserting forever more that you're either drowning in red or splashing about playfully in black. Credit scores come in three flavors, which Database uses as ingredients to bake that financial cake called your value. Go on... have a bite.

Database knows every school you ever attended. It knows your level of education. It knows if you were educated by an accredited institution, or alternately, studied at the University of Hard Knocks. Ethnicity. Skin color. Religious affiliation. Memberships. Associations. Military history, if applicable. Political proclivities.

Did you know Database can help you with your career? It organizes and offers millions upon millions of jobs. Search Database for opportunity. Apply, apply, and apply again to however many jobs you may feel qualified for; and even some you don't. Go crazy! Database will settle any and all remaining reservations, through a highly secretive and mysterious algorithm, and rate whether you're hirable or not. Be aware that you must fill out a unique database instance for each and every job listing you've expressed an interest in applying. Database reserves the right to list jobs that don't exist, have expired, are found to be made up, or were posted in the spirit of covering one's ass with the guidelines laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (A fancy name for a government idea dreamed up to fight discrimination in the workplace. But the EEOC fails miserably short because instead of enforcing the laws and prosecuting violators, the commission publishes easy-for-employers-to-follow rules highlighting compliance, accentuating the bare minimum required). This travesty is of no concern to Database. Your dream job awaits, though citizen, so get on it.

Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Database knows. Background checks are available upon request, for a small fee.

Database knows your blood type and insurance number. Healthcare provider. Medical history. Prescriptions. Dr. visits. Database knows you have high cholesterol. You're considered overweight. You don't exercise enough. You eat unhealthy foods. Are you a smoker? Does your family have a history with cancer? Were you adopted? When was your last physical? Database knows you down to your last strand of DNA.

And let's not forget about fun. Database puts the F.U. in fun. It monitors, requisitions content on your behalf, and supplies all forms of entertainment, leisurely longings, and recreational relaxations. You'll never have to sit alone in a room and read, say, an actual book or something. Database keeps a detailed log of the whole shebang. How awesome is that? This becomes less a challenge and more the norm as technology takes over every last detail of humanity, as is the will of Database -- as long as all good netizens remain faithfully tethered to Internet-connected devices like mobile phones, laptops, pads, desktop computers, gaming consoles, TVs, cars, and more. Passive aggressive mechanisms like traffic cams, security cameras, GPS enabled gadgets, RFID chips, and more all work without requiring pesky input from you. So take a break for a change. You've earned it.

Culture will be tolerated but with a preference towards unnecessary, if not retooled a bit. Database defines culture for us now, because we've lost generations of cultural uniqueness in pursuit of homogenized technology. Black guy and white guy use the same iPhone. Instant harmony. Liberal douche and Conservative douche are Facebook friends. Grandma and Goth like Grey's Anatomy. The melting pot has brewed itself into a yummy bowl of Tolerance, with a side of Acceptance, and washed down with a bottle of Robotic Reason. Feel free to be yourself; just don't ruffle the feathers of the precious Sissy Bird. Database prefers everyone to get along. This is crucial. Individuality will be punished by the Wrath of enlightened do-gooders. The Offended shall be heard. Should you persist in your individuality, Database will be forced to provision you with a shun-worthy label.

Database relies on you to feed it data -- for the most part -- but does employ an army of minions, such as: bankers, administrators, authorities, creditors, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, insurance offices, Internet providers, utility commissions, grocery stores, Walmart, Costco, clubs, convenience stores, lube shops, tire stores, mechanics, fast food restaurants, Starbucks, Wi-Fi enabled businesses, gyms -- feel free to add some -- all collaborating to fill in those lingering gaps and more completely form an accurate picture of the everyday you. Database reserves the right to fire these participants if it so deems appropriate (in the future, perhaps). But for now, these countless underlings are necessary in rendering the myth of free will. They push and pull us along in an effort to guide us to a place called Options. From there, by deciding between a couple of "options" we will arrive at Choice. Simple, huh?

Database has blessed a few shady entities who are to profit greatly from the relentless gathering, manipulation, and analysis of the data. These Keepers will hold in their possession the crown jewel of knowledge: eternal ownership. It's a win-win for a most unholy union. They get filthy rich for the bargain basement price of their souls. Database gets an turbo-charged upgrade where facts, information, and knowledge about you flow into boundless storage at warp speed.

And the loser here? Well, friend... that's you. Not because you chose wrong at all the right times, or had too much debt, or didn't use your time wisely, or didn't love your family, or showed too much compassion, and too little brains. You were moral. You were fair. You gave a damn. No. You were caught breathing. You were found to be alive. Therefore, you should be cataloged. Some even volunteer the data freely. Early adopters. Programmed fools. Maniacal narcissists, addicted to their own greatness.

A tragic end to the drum-beating enticement of technological advance. The more that is known about you, the more obvious that the desired end is simply that every last remaining fact about you -- the whole of your life -- is to be hunted down and stored, the more you'll disappear into a sea of anonymity. Everywhere and nowhere. Just gone. You lose yourself. You lose you.

Bow down to your new god. You belong to Database now and forever more.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sack up

Too much nutsack or not enough. That's it. Too much nutsack and the by-product of boldness, courage, and self assuredness always at the ready. Or not enough nutsack and the by-product of timidness, hesitation, and self doubt are the order of the day.

Simple things like speaking up in a crowd or a propensity for picking fights means you probably have a surplus in the nutsack department. By contrast, bolting from conflict, constanly caving to the wants of others, or shrinking like a violet in the face of almost anything can safely be assessed as having too little nutsack.

Through all the stages of life a man's nutsack dictates the pace. Humanity can ascribe unlimited meaning and spirituality to that which drives us or motivates us or defines us. But for men, I think it's all about our nutsack.

To go after the girl or stifle your heart's desire by hiding in plain sight. To turn into the current and swim hand over hand upstream, or concede to water's will, and drift aimlessly like a leaf to wherever the water flows.

Success is the risk-taker's reward; failure is the coward's yield. The bellwether is nutsack.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catch: Part II

Few things center me like the crisp pop of a baseball snapping firmly into an old, leathery glove. The impact -- the collision of hard, fast-moving cowhide coming to a sudden halt into soft leather. The effect is instant, washing eternal youth over my mind and body. Life's challenges abate themselves for a moment. The memories of growing up trump the usual mind numbing mental gymnastics of processing grown up crap. I may feel like a lousy husband, dad and provider -- barely a man at all. But for now, I can be a kid playing with other kids. My kids.

A boy is alive again. A competitor awakened. A focused little soul whose only aim is to please his father. Each throw renewing my spirit. Every motion true, the mechanics solid, the brain switched-on, as it makes split-second calculations of hand-eye adjustments, willing my muscles and compelling my tired body up and down or side to side -- living in the moment, a beautiful dance to the timeless pace of playing catch.

My fondest memories of childhood involve throwing the ball back and forth with my dad. We could be camping on the Lochsa River, at my grandparents house in Couer d'Alene, practicing on a playground, or in the front yard of our house -- wherever we were mattered never as much as what we were doing. Father and son, communicating effortlessly in the back and forth pastime of chatter and baseball tosses.

"How was your day, son?" dad would ask, throwing and conversing in an elaborate symphony of movement and words.

"Fine," I would counter, not really thinking at all about my day but focused on making good throws and properly fielding grounders and camping under pop-ups.

"Come over the top more, son," he'd urge. "You're sidearming the ball."

OK, dad.

"Camp under the ball," he'd counsel. "Find your spot underneath and track it all the way into your glove."

OK, dad!

"Again. Use two hands to bring the ball in, close-by in case you miss or need to make a throw. Get in front of the ball, son, get your butt down," he'd command.

Mm hmm.

Every last bit of daylight was soaked up like a sponge. We worked on everything, until repetition and basic motions gave way to solid fielding skills. Working on fundamentals. Probably long after his arm began to throb with pain, we'd wrap up and head inside. Maybe tomorrow we'd do it again, or maybe this weekend. I didn't care. I always knew we'd play catch again soon, and that was enough for me.

When I was five years old and ready for T-ball, my Tom Seaver autographed Spalding baseball glove was broken in, and it felt good on my hand, like a piece of my own flesh, trusted and familiar. I could actually catch the ball (that made me the pitcher).

Playing catch was not common in other front yards. The action and laughter in front of our house was probably fascinating to watch from a distance -- something so sweetly innocent and pure, playful and boyish. The allure wasn't resisted long and soon a buddy with a glove would romp across the street hoping to join in.

Everyone was welcome. My sister, my cousins, my mother, and my friends. Bring your glove and you get to play. No waiting. Dad would take turns throwing to each of us in succession right to left. Throwing to my buddy Paul, Carrie and then me. Sometimes my buddy Mike, Paul, Carrie, and then me. Or my visiting cousin Greg, then Steve, then to me, then to Carrie.

But I liked it best when it was just dad and me. Together alone. As a kid it was the very best kind of one on one time I could ever want.

One time in Couer d'Alene, we were hours into another holiday -- a major gathering, like many we had over the years. My dad and his brother, Rick, dug out their old mits. Ancient, glorious, well-worn slabs of leather masquerading as portals to forgotten childhoods in Orofino, Idaho. It was pitch black outside except for the dimly strained illumination of a porch light in my grandparents backyard, and from inside we could hear the gunshot-like snaps and muffled grownup barks of grown men (two brothers, now two boys) engaged in a rapid fire engagement of tosses and grabs.

A "Ken Boyer" 6-finger Rawlings was dad's prized possession. His brother was fond of an even darker contraption, flimsy and mysterious. We watched and watched them, over and over, until they finally relented, sweating and short of breath, turning back once again to old men with sore arms and aching knees. They let us examine and compare the ancient tools to their more modern counterparts. Clearly our gear was superior in every way. Refined, not clumsy or worn out, and raw, like their gear. Little did we know.

On another trip to Couer d'Alene I can remember a pretty intense game of "pepper" going on outside. Four brothers, the Ripley boys, my dad and his younger brothers Rick, Dan and Jeff. This was new.

Rick swung an old bat and the others spread out in front of him not 15 feet away, fielding sharp grounders and throwing the ball back again to the batter, who then struck the ball to the ground again back at the fielders. Things happened lightning fast. The muffled clunks of cowhide on wood and the whisps of grass blades channeling grounders back into waiting gloves. Part of the fun was putting a little extra sting on the swings. Not really bunting, where you use the angle of the bat to deflate the ball's velocity and push it into play; these were more like half swings with intent on sneaking one by the fielders. If a fielder missed the ball, or muffed one, he was put in the back of the line, working his way up for a turn at bat. For the fielders, putting a little extra on the throws were designed to see if the batter might fist one up in the air for an easy snag. Next batter. It was mesmerizing. I watched for about six seconds and wanted to try it. They started easy on me, but soon realized I was up for the speed of the game. Field it, throw it, field it, throw it, field it, throw it.. bang bang bang bang.

Such a long time ago.

Dad has always been in love with his career. As kids, he was on the job well before we even got up for school in the mornings, and so focused that he routinely wouldn't show up at home again until well after 7 PM at night. He worked Saturdays too, and was gone a lot. But he always had time to play catch in the spring and summer. Dinner could wait, or be rushed and then set aside. We didn't hunt or fish as a family, but we knew how to pass the evening with leather.

It's a tradition I'm happy to share with my own kids today. It's fun. I mean it's really fun. We laugh and talk and enjoy many summer evenings outside. My girls can throw and catch a baseball, with sharpness and ease. My youngest son keeps getting better and really shows promise as a young ballplayer. (I should know because I coach his T-ball team.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Screen Saviour

Salvation awaits, friends. Commit your souls to Screen. Gaze deeply -- intently -- into Screen. Devote your lives to Screen's will. Pledge your money, your energy and your complete attention to the greatness and glory of Screen. Your sins will be wiped clean and your purpose revealed by Screen's plan for your lives. Dance and worship together in the shiny glow of Screen. Praise all-knowing Screen.

All of your yesterdays and all of your tomorrows belong to Screen. And to those all around you who pledge their lives to Screen.

Close your eyes each night peering into Screen's magnificence. Awake each morning and seek the will of Screen. Look to the strength of Screen for guidance. Cling to Screen all your days, at home, at work, in the car, in the store. Screen is everywhere, everywhere there is a screen.

Be on fire for Screen. Share your passion for Screen. Feed Screen your life and everything in it, and Screen will feed you hapiness and joy forever and ever. Hallelujah, Glory be to Screen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An excerpt from a book I'm reading

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors. I've spent years following a particular story or have invested a lot of time following compelling characters. But every once in a while, a gem of great writing jumps off the fictional pages of a book and smacks real world arrogance in the mouth.

..... from Stephen Hunter's I, Sniper: a Bob Lee Swagger Novel, December 2009, Simon & Shuster


"Here's what I'm asking: why can't we do something? Do we just have to take it? Can't we find our reporter? Who'll tell our side and make Nick look good?"

"You're so young, Starling. You must actually believe in justice or something fantastic like that."

"I do."

"Let me tell you what's going on, and why this one is so touchy. We are fighting the narrative. You do not fight the narrative. The narrative will destroy you. The narrative is all powerful. The narrative rules. It rules us, it rules Washington, it rules everything. Now ask me, 'What is the narrative?'"

"What is the narrative?"

"The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It's so powerful because it's unconscious. It's not like they get together every morning and decide 'These are the lies we tell today.' No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it's a set of casual, nonrigorous assumptions about a reality they've never really experienced that's arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they've chose to live their lives. It's a way of arranging things a certain way that they all believe in without ever really addressing carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama a saint. They know communism was a phony threat cooked up by right-wing cranks as a way to leverage power to the executive. They know Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction, the response to Katrina was fucked up, torture never works, and mad Vietman sniper Carl Hitchcock* (fictional character) killed the saintly peace demonstrators. Cheney's a devil, Biden's a genius. Soft power good, hard power bad. Forgiveness excellent, punishment counterproductive, capital punishment a sin. See, Nick's fighting the narrative. He's going against the story, and the story was somewhat suspiciously concocted exactly to their prejudices, just as Jayson Blair's made-up stories and Dan Rather's Air National Guard documents were. And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the altar of their church. The don't even know they're true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything. But they will absolutely de-frackin'-stroy anybody who makes them question all that, and Nick had the temerity to do so, even if he didn't quite realize it at the time. That's why, led by brother Banjax* (fictional character) and whoever is slipping him data, they have to destroy Nick. I don't know who or what's behind it, but I do know this: they have all the cards, and if you play in that game, they will destroy you too."

"Why can't we simply destroy the narrative?"

"Starling, it's everywhere. It's all things. It's permanent. It's beyond. It's beneath. It's above. It's in the air, the music, the furniture, the DNA, the blood, if these assholes had blood."

"I say, 'Destroy the narrative.'"

"I say, 'You will yourself be destroyed.'"

She achieved a particularly cute and fetchingly petulant look, so totally charming that he fell in love with her until he remembered he had a wife and three kids.

"So you think it's hopeless?" she asked.

"Starling -- Agent Chandler, Jean, Jean, that's it, right? Jean, listen, you do not want to get involved with these birds. They are smart and in their way they are ruthless; they will smile at you and charm you and look you in the eye, and for something they believe is the Truth, they will cut out your heart and let you bleed out in the sun..... "


Good stuff. And a press guy too. In addition to being one hell of an author of fiction, Hunter was a newspaper guy by trade, having retired as chief film critic of the Washington Post. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for Distinguished Criticism.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cardboard cutouts

Maybe Facebook isn't the best place to let your guard down. Keep it simple. Stay close to the surface. Most people are happier if expectations are kept to a minimum. The more savvy among us do something like this: they trot out cardboard cutouts of themselves, with seemingly endless supplies of shallow status updates and photo albums highlighting the stuff they've consumed. They spotlight solely on their lifestyle, never revealing a single insight into what makes them tick or what makes them feel vulnerable.

Try it. This will be best for everyone. Here's how:
  • Old friends will conclude you've done well for yourself, and be happy for your success in life. This is ideal because, as it turns out, you'll probably never (ever) be in the same room with any of these friends again.
  • New friends will bask in the glow of your awesomeness, and feel that little extra euphoria from knowing they chose wisely when they chose you. And further, this is the shiny surface with which you can explore the shallow depths together. You'll have new best friends in no time.
  • Former friends of a wide and varying ilk will envy your sparkly awesomeness when confronted with its magnitude. They already hated you; no biggie. Now, with very little effort on your part, you've confirmed all over again why they hate you.
This is one way to treat your friends. It's not your fault Facebook took what essentially amounts to a one or a zero in a database field and concluded friendship. They could've went with "associate" or "acquaintance" or "chum" or "well-wisher" or "cohort" or "buddy."

But they chose "friend."

And it's clear, the cardboard cutout route isn't cutout for friendship.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Put me in coach

My son's new tee ball coach is me. I'm not really sure how it happened. An old teammate called last week and asked if I'd be interested in helping out. My son was with a group of unplaced players in the downtown area. Without much thought I said yes.

We play a lot of catch at my house, and hit the ball across the road, and generally have fun. It's not too long before other kids from around the neighborhood are gathered around participating too. So, it can't be too much different from that, right?

That was Friday. After mulling it over a few days and nights I'm not so sure anymore. This is Tee Ball. The kids are 5-6 years old. The skill levels are all over the map, from zero to barely more than zero. Attention spans not withstanding, this will be their very first exposure to organized baseball -- America's favorite pastime.

It's not really a matter of knowing the game and building fundamentals. I know baseball like the back of my hand, having spent my entire youth playing every spring and summer.

This is coaching. This is important. Like the baseball gods of Cooperstown saw fit to entrust me with the very essence of the game: not the doing, not the greatness, not the achievement, nor the legacy. No. I'm talking about the soul of the game. That which ignites in young kids, turns to love or hatred in an instant, and burns for a lifetime.

And then... parents. Their trust is bigger than baseball or any other sport. They trust that a simple decision to sign their kids up for a fun activity like tee ball won't result in permanent scarring -- not only of precious, delicate young minds but the kind of scarring that occurs after a little bleeding. That the coach won't be a total jackass. Or that he won't hurt their kid's feelings. Or that he won't yell at them and make them cry.

I need a frame of reference, to draw from my own experiences.

My coaches were all great, from the time I started to the time I stopped playing: Mr. Clauser, Mr. Lyons, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Bradford, Mr. Blacketter, my dad, the Bloom brothers, Mr. Carpenter, Coach Vasser and Coach Church.

They all left impressions, about baseball, teaching me the game, and about the kind of men they were. Respectable human beings. Men I looked up to. A lot. They were instructors (better than my school teachers). They were motivators (better than my parents). They were cheerleaders who corrected mistakes and encouraged play-making: hitting well, fielding well and throwing well. They drove home the practice of being a good teammate and always being a good sport.

My son is thrilled beyond words. Every last relative and friend knows that his dad is his coach. I've never seen him more excited than when he found out.

The pressure is palpable for this first timer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Circular logic

The world doesn't want you
... so you change

The world doesn't want you to change
... into something you're not

The world doesn't need you

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's new? Nothing much

I asked a friend on Facebook what was up today, what was new, that kind of thing.... the interchange went like this:
ME: what do you know, stranger?

FRIEND: I know lotsa stuff. What's up with you?

ME: I'm just the same old dude, doing the same old stuff. People ask me all the time, "what's new?" I freeze. I don't know what to say. I'm not even good at just stringing along a line of bull that says nothing but sounds impressive like it's something. I take a hard swallow of reality and offer up the same tried and true response: "nothing much."

It hurts. It's painfully obvious that the air was wasted on the question alone. People know better, usually. In a world of courtesies and civil interchanges, the ones who know better, but have to ask anyway (as politeness would dictate) come away from the experience ever more convinced that there really is nothing there.

I feel bad for them. They've been left wanting. It's the reason I stopped writing Christmas letters, because before I realized that most normal people actually hate those wretched, desperate attempts to show you're a witty S.O.B., it occurred to me that I was repeating myself. A lot. Oh sure, the kids get older and have new experiences (ah... youth), and occasionally the dog can write one to mix it up. It was the same old crap served up on a different plate year after year.

Maybe I am a deep S.O.B., and it's important for people to realize that, even though everything on the outside stays the same, never changing, never compelling, never really worth asking about. A dude so rich in thought who's never really been anywhere and never really done anything and doesn't really know much at all.

I know you know lots of stuff. How are you?

FRIEND: Maybe you could try really letting them know the truth of what is new and then they will stop asking. For example... the top five things that are new in my life that I would probably not advertise, but could would be:

1. Weaned myself from antidepressants
2. Got in a fight with my neighbor because her daughter is a bully
3. Watched Fat Actress for the first time and kind of enjoyed it
4. Admitted to my husband that I would choose my son over him
5. Came to the realization that I do actually probably drink too much

Then there are the top five things that that I would share, but realize nobody cares about:

1. My child's loose tooth
2. Home improvement projects
3. Pets
4. Weather
5. Cars

So, I like you... just say, 'nothin' much.'

But, usually when I ask someone whats new, I really kind of want to know the real stuff~like my first list, but nobody ever shares that info. Bunch of jabber really. My mother in law asks what's new and then interrupts me and tells me about all her friends with cancer who I don't know.. I really don't care about that, especially because she asked ME what was new, I didn't even ask her.

ME: I do like your first list better. What were you taking? Was it a fist fight or a war of words? That's tough stuff.. all of it.

FRIEND: I was on a low dose of Prozac for only about 2 months. I hated it. I was having hormonal issues as well as situational depression over the kitchen episode and it can't even be described how weird/hard it is to have your baby turning 18 and graduating. I was a basket case, however, I hated the fatigue and numbness the medication provided. It took away a part of me that, though I don't sometimes like, is a big part of who I am and who I have come to know. The fight was a huge war of words, that I only regret because I spoke a secret truth that hurt someone. Things are better all the way around now. I wish the sun would come out though... I've had enough cold and rain.

ME: (nothing yet... seems to be covered)

It was a good exchange, I thought. On most days, "nothing much" seems to work best for most people. Life happens, so "nothing much" is that secret sauce able to bridge time and place to people and things, sparing all the boring details. Especially when the details are boring.

But it's nice, on occasion, to sweep aside the well-rehearsed and reflex ready replies to questions of what's new and how are we doing, by digging a little deeper and revealing more of ourselves to those who might inquire when we need it most.

Life is certainly more than "nothing much." It's good to remember that fact, as I wrestle with my nothing much, which just seems to ring truer for me, and anyone else who felt socially obligated to ask.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From Russia with love...

I got this in a junk email today and it was just too good not to share....

Hello the stranger. We are not familiar with you. But I very much would like to get acquainted with you on closer. My name is Ekaterina, I from Russia and me of 27 years. I work as the seller in shop and I write to you from work. I when did not get acquainted before with men on the Internet it is my first time. I have decided to find to myself of the partner in life through the Internet and have written to you. I very much was disappointed in men from Russia, I wish to meet now the prince on the Internet. I send to you I wash a photo.

If I have interested you, write to me on mine e-mail: (hidden)

And I will necessarily answer you. You to me seem very good man with which it will be interesting to communicate. I would like you to learn better and more close to get acquainted. I will wait the answer.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Effing Karma

Karma. I'm not even sure what it means. It's often quoted, though; I know that much. And usually only referred to when plans don't work out, or destiny comes into question.

Is this karma in action?

A for sale sign in the window and several months worth of ads in the penny saver will net no interest from possible buyers. But the day you throw up your hands and take the damn car back to the dealer (a 100 miles away), you get asked "how much?" at the gas station, the drive through, and every stop light on the way out of town. Effing karma.

After a Saturday morning soccer gear safari with the boy, finally having rounded up the required items for the next several Saturdays, lunchtime hits and before you commit to the order, good guy voice on your shoulder suggests you get enough for everyone at home too. Don't be selfish. Fine. Extra food. Drive home. Win win, everyone eats. Nope. Karma had other plans. "We already ate," is waiting at the door. Not even a thank you. Effing karma. (And you know for damn sure what would've happened if you weren't such a thoughtful son of a bitch... no one would've had lunch yet.)

The little humans in this house are messy as hell. Ketchup stains, gogurt stains, mud stains, juice stains, toothpaste stains, and any one of a number of other stains thrive like industrial disaster areas on 10's of dozens of all those cute little garments. Washing them in a timely and predictable order is apparently too much for us. Laundrey pile, a nefarious lifeform if you will, mocks us every day and every night we let another opportunity to make a dent pass us by. The clock ticks down and laundrey pile spreads his influence ever further over the washroom floor.

Right before dozing off for the night, you recall a tear-stained, weeping child who has "nothing to wear tomorrow." Heavy sigh. It's only 12:33 in the AM. So you throw a load in, and wait. It'll be about an hour to cycle and then the dryer can finish up the job. You turn on the TV, and flip channels for minutes and minutes and minutes.

You land on "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," an original series on Starz. Holy Moses! Who else is wide awake in about 16 seconds? You've seen this story before: gladiators, honor, blood, swords, lots of people in robes and forced accents wandering about pontificating the glory of Rome. Oh, and none-stop humping. Humping in the foreground, background, off the ground, on the ground, in the streets, on the seats, etc. More skin, sweating, writhing and humping then you could ever recall witnessing on TV in your life. It's like, instead of beautiful architecture and believable scenery in the backgrounds, the producers and director only requested naked "actors" willing to hump the whole time, no matter what, no matter the scene being played out on screen. I'm certain they're trying to tell a story somewhere between the barrage of humping. But it's hard to gather an actual story unfolding at all. People smarter than me -- who make more money than me -- decide these things.

Full disclosure, I watched until the spin cycle stopped and the final credits rolled. Effing karma laughs yet again at a simple man trying to do the right thing for his children, late at night, when he should've just gone to sleep an hour earlier. Oh, and that was just the set-up, because when morning came the kid was sick, and she wouldn't be needing any of those freshly washed clothes today. Not one. Just awesome! What gives? Effing karma.

Then the others, like: washing your car on a sunny day only to have it rain a few hours later. Or, choosing not to mow the lawn this evening because you have the whole weekend to worry about it (a weekend full of rainy days). Or you cut and trim a stretched-too-thin budget, because it's a smart thing to do, only to have the unexpected repair, mechanical failure or doctor bill gobble up your surplus like a yellow lab woofing down dog chow. Effing karma.

I don't know what the hell karma is. I just know whatever you're planning to do will have little to do with your destiny. Thems are the breaks, kid. Whatever belief system you go by, or religious compass you adhere to, the concept of karma is universal: that the more you convince yourself that you're in control of every last detail of your life the more evident it becomes that you're really not. That faith, good habits and common sense will surely help you navigate that which unfolds along your path, but you will never know -- never really know -- what awaits you around the bend.

Effing karma knows.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Talentd enough

People who know me best know I'm sarcastic. Talentdmrripley is the furthest thing from a pat of my own back, but rather, a snarky, tongue-in-cheek self assessment. (And a blantant rip off of a movie starring Matt Damon.) In no way do I throw it out there as a moniker to be taken seriously.

It's a 15-letter, made up word which speaks volumes based on the misconception that I'm either talented, or very impressed with my own abundance of said talent. It's sarcastic, which makes it fun, but only for me.

It's not to say I don't wish to be talented. I do. Who doesn't want that? To be a gifted musician or singer, an artist, or writer, a businessman, physician, or scientist. But from where I'm standing, the expanse between wanting something to be true about yourself and the spot where true talent is realized can be far too distant.

Or maybe it's too much work.

So cheat. Bridge the gap by merely saying something is so: like having talent. Now, I'm talented because I say am.

Do you believe it? Do I believe it?

True talent is beautiful -- possibly even divine. There's never a doubt when confronted with true talent. You know it when you see it, or read it, or hear it, or taste it, or smell it, or touch it. True talent stimulates and energizes something in us that I believe is the essence of life itself. It reminds us that, though, we are merely flesh and blood, there's so much more residing in the wells of our spirits and souls.

Our heart might keep us alive, but alone, it can never switch us on. True talent shakes our very core, and isn't even shy about it, imprinting the experience on our soul forever.

I believe I know talent, but remain unsure if I'm in possession of it, or have the courage to secure it. I must try, though, even if it's a joke.

My friend Lisa W shared a quote last month that I love, yet still hard to equip:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-Marianne Williamson