Monthly Archives: October 2015

Getting the magic back

In 1980, the New York Mets were bought by a new ownership group. To show that the Mets wouldn’t be as awful as they were in the late 1970s, they hired a PR firm to come up with a new slogan–because that’ll work. They chose “The Magic is Back.”

To any casual observer, it was a lie, just another empty promise with no results. The 1980 Mets lost 95 games. But the new ownership understood it wouldn’t happen overnight. They kept at it, building a framework, even when the results didn’t appear to be there. By 1984, the Mets were good. They won the World Series in 1986.

The Magic is Back resonated in my brain all week, since last week’s sad-sack entry. Last week’s post wasn’t about my not believing in magic. It was about the value of that belief.

Magic, karma, fate, destiny, or the hand of God–call it what you will, but it’s the most valuable thing. For whoever is joined to all the living there is hope. Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

Even in Ecclesiastes, the breathtakingly cynical Bible book, there’s at least a sliver of hope.

Regaining your belief in hope, in magic is worth every once of work required.

For some, the hardest work is accepting what’s happened. If you look up the definition of awful, you won’t see the words fair or right. It takes a great deal of humility to accept that you got hammered unfairly and you have to deal with it.

The definition of awful also excludes the word permanent.

Maybe you can’t believe in magic today. That’s okay. Try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.

Alongside trying, do the work. Go through the awful. Find out what you have to do to work back from it, and do it. Even if part of that doing is simply waiting.

Finally, magic’s often extended by other people. Don’t assume you’re alone, because you most likely aren’t.

 

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Instant peace

My current TV obsession is the HBO series The Leftovers. In its fictional universe, 2% of the world’s population has disappeared. It’s not the rapture because some of the people taken wouldn’t seem rapture-worthy (then again, no one is–that’s the point of grace). They just disappear all at once.

And the leftovers have to deal with the aftermath.

One of the leftovers is a woman named Nora Durst. As she tolerated a busy morning herding her two kids and husband out the door, they were suddenly gone. Her entire family. Her life. Her identity. Gone. In an instant. It haunts her, makes her a shell of herself. It makes her hate the pain while she’s afraid to leave it.

And then she meets Holy Wayne. Holy Wayne isn’t really holy. For one thing, he’s impregnated at least two–probably more–teenage girls. For another, he has a magnificent gift–something you can’t earn–something given to him by God, fate, Damon Lindeloff (the showrunner)–and he charges an awful lot of money to dispense it.

By the simple act of a hug, he can take away your pain.

Nora is brought to Holy Wayne and this happens:

At the end of it, Nora continues, remembering her loved ones, but divine interference has given her peace. The pain falls from her like scales from her eyes. She can see clearly now, the rain is gone.

That scene resonated with me and I’ve watched it on YouTube more than once. For one thing, Carrie Coon does a great job with the role of Nora. For another, I get what her character does.

If you had Holy Wayne’s gift, you could charge a lot for your services. People wouldn’t just empty their bank accounts to experience his services, they would forsake their marriages. They would throw aside their jobs, their children, every shred of dignity they have. To get rid of the pain, they would do anything he asks. Anything. He. Asks. And then they would offer more.

Because they do it now. Gambling. Sex. Work. Alcohol. Jesus. The Democratic party. Red Sox nation. People are looking for Holy Wayne in whatever form they can find. And they’ll pay him whatever he demands just for the pain to be gone.

Holy Wayne exists only in the mind of some writers and in the empty hopes of millions of people in need of a twelve-step program. Pain, in whatever form it takes, doesn’t simply vanish. There’s no shortcut to peace. Peace occurs on its own schedule and it doesn’t just come to you. You have to seek it out and work for it.

That’s a hard pill to swallow when you haven’t done anything to incur the pain. When you lose your job in spite of excellent performance. When you come down with a debilitating disease. When your family is just gone. It’s not fair that you have to figure out how to deal with this pain. And that just adds to the pain.

The road to peace is hard and rocky. There are no guardrails. There’s no guarantee you’ll get to end and there’s no limit to the carfare you might be charged. And the temptation to pay whatever Holy Wayne charges–whatever form he takes–is immense.

Instant peace is a lie–a comely lover who beckons you to her bed even though you know you’re just being used.

Peace is hard and it sure as hell is not simply gained. It comes only from experience and probing and introspection. It comes from the people who support you and from long, hard lonely afternoons and obscenely early mornings. You can’t buy it from Holy Wayne or Christian Brothers or Anheuser Busch.

It’s a process and it sucks.

But that’s the way it works. And like so much else, it’s absolutely not fair. It just is.


You can’t get there from here if you don’t acknowledge where here is

So yesterday was a bit of a pity party.

Though things could be a lot worse, they’re a bit tumultuous right now. Apocalyptic is a little strong for what’s happening, but sometimes it seems that way. And, yes, I admit it; I’m indulging in a bit of drama right now.

On the the other hand, it’s been a bitch of a year.

The official song of 2015

And when you go through a bitch of a year, there are low points. Those low points–they’re part of it. When life kicks you in the groin, it hurts. You don’t get past the hurt and onto the next thing by pretending the hurt isn’t there.

We don’t like hurt in American society. We don’t like vulnerability. We–especially males–like to be impervious to pain. Like the T101 (or whatever the model number is) from Terminator 2. Show up, speak with an Austrian accent, and do the job. We still have a soft spot for the western hero who rides into town, spits tobacco juice, scowls, and does what needs to be done.

I haven’t got time for the pain. Carly Simon stole that from me. I shot her.

And there’s a place for that. If we don’t do what needs to be done when it’s hard, nothing gets done. Inspirational stories are a dime a dozen. Everyone knows someone amazing. At one point or another in life, many people are amazing. We have the things we have–good and bad–because millions of people over thousands of years did amazing things under difficult circumstances.

Put another way, there’s a reason Alan Alda never starred in a private eye show.

But in order to be tough and to do difficult thing under horrendous circumstances, you have to be aware of what you’re feeling. You can push it ahead until there’s time to deal with it for a while, but if you don’t deal with it, it’ll crush you.

Look at Job. Satan came and took away basically everything. His wife–a woman dependent on him for her very existence in that culture–told him to curse God and die. And then his three friends came and took turns telling him how much he sucked. Yes, Job did complain. He said his hope was gone and God was pummeling him and it wasn’t fair and it didn’t make sense. He did all that whiny crap I did yesterday.

The Travails of Job. Coming next summer to the CW.

But he survived it. And when God came and addressed him, Job stood up and owned it all. Job, quite simply, was a bad ass.

If you look at successful people, when shit happens to them, they don’t ignore it. They don’t pretend they don’t bleed. They don’t turn into a Terminator. They acknowledge it, experience it, maybe learn from it, and move forward.

Mad Men’s Don Draper was, in many ways, a horrible human being. But when he fired Layne Price, he told him something very valuable. Layne asked what he would tell his family. Don’s response: “You’ll tell them it didn’t work out, because it didn’t. And you’ll tell them the next thing will be better because it always is.” (Of course, Layne hanged himself, but that’s on him, not Don.)

There’s no guarantee that the next thing will be better. But if you don’t believe in even the possibility it will be better, it never will be.

You gotta believe.


I don’t believe in magic any more, but…

Author’s note: This post isn’t a 600-word pity party; please read it to the end.

“If you don’t believe in even the possibility of magic you’ll never, ever find it.” — Richard Castle

I don’t believe in magic–even the possibility of it. I know I’m whining, clearly violating the Tough Mudder pledge (I do not whine; kids whine.) But the simple fact is, I don’t believe in magic. Not right now. Not today.

QUIT WHINING, MAGGOT! YOU SIGNED A DEATH WAIVER ONCE!

Today, I believe in the long procession of gray days, in the endless procession of grim uphill battles. In watching the world pass you by until you’re so far behind, that the people you used to be with can’t relate to you any more. I believe in hanging on another day today so you can hang on another day tomorrow.

I’m not alone in this cesspool of self-pity. I’m not the only one whose belief in karma surprising me with a blessing–in unexpected gifts that blow my mind–has dimmed, then flickered out. I’m not the only one who can’t see life in color any more.

It’s call a test pattern. Old people know what it is. Google it.

If you can see the color, if your magic is real and tangible, then go away. Go enjoy your karma and your colors and your excitement somewhere else. And no, I’m not bitter. I’m just consumed by a gnawing hate that’s eating away at my gut until I can taste the bile in my mouth! Okay, I guess I am a little bitter. Either that or I’m coming down with something. Does anyone have a Tic Tac?* (Bonus points for knowing who I quoted.)

If you can only see the procession of gray and the pity party and the gnawing hate, this is for you.

If you can’t see magic, admit it. It’s a problem with your vision and if you don’t recognize that problem…well, you know the rest.

Right now, I’m as likely to find magic as an insomniac is to find sleep. I feel like the Cubs fan who had dreams dangled just out of reach, only to have them mercilessly destroyed. Again. (Not a shot at the Cubs, by the way. I’m glad the Mets won, but I don’t belittle your agony.)

But sleep eventually comes to everyone, even the worst insomniac. The question is, whether they can accept the sleep or just keep cursing the insomnia.

So I’ll quote Castle again: If you don’t believe in even the possibility of magic you’ll never, ever find it. It will find you, and while you’re busy not  finding it, it’ll move on to the next person until it finds someone who recognizes it.

I’m told by at least one female friend that Nathan Fillion’s butt is magic. I wouldn’t know. I like girls.

I’m not writing this for pity. I’m writing it because I have to change. And maybe so do you.

Magic will come, and if you believe and you can recognize it, it’ll be everything you imagined, if only just for a moment. In that moment, all this shit–and that’s exactly the right word–will vanish, even if just for an instance.

If you can’t believe in that, then believe in believing it. Work toward it. Find someone to talk to, because if you lose your that belief, the days will be a long, gray procession. Your existence is worth more than that because you are worth more than that.

* — That rant came from Woodrow Tiberius Boyd. Cheers. The Gift of the Woodi, 1989


The first kindness

To breathe is to screw up.

Take me for instance. My name is Chris and I am a schmuck.

Hi, Chris.

I’m a lot less schmucky than I used to be, but I can still schmucktify with the best of them. I’m selfish and arrogant and dismissive, judgmental and self-absorbed, self-loathing and insecure. On a bad day, I stay away from people because of my mighty schmucktitude. (Bonus: read my blog; learn new words.)

In other words, with the exception of some of the particulars, I’m just like…you.

Everyone has moments where, if they were broadcast on the Jumbotron in Times Square, they would seek the front of the nearest bus and sweet release.

So the key to successful living is to rise above your portrait of schmuckiness so you can be all the things listed a few paragraphs up.

We preach kindness all over the place, but that kindness is outward-facing. Do unto others. Practice random acts of kindness. Or, as my gym teacher used to so eloquently say, “Don’t be an idiot.”

To be successful, the first kindness must be internal. You can’t be kind to other people unless you’re kind to yourself first. At the risk of calling down fiery destruction on my part of Tampa (home of the Lightning), do unto yourself as you would unto others. Do unto yourself as you would do unto your best friend.

God: You said WHAT?

That thing you did yesterday–that careless, thoughtless thing that you didn’t really mean, but still hurt someone. What would you say if your best friend did it?  Or that bigger thing you don’t admit to anyone else because it’s too embarrassing? What would you say if your best friend did it?

Perhaps you should be your best friend from time to time. Perhaps you should consider not crucifying that person and treat them like your friend. Be kind to them.

Kindness isn’t complacency. It’s not “I’m not perfect, but I sure am forgiven.” It’s accepting that you do schmucky things, and you really should stop, but also that you’re no good to yourself or anyone else if you define yourself by those things.

It’s simple stuff. There’s nothing new here–just important.

Regardless of your religious outlook, grace has to be practiced inside before it can be given outside. If I can’t see the goodness in me, how can I possibly see it in you?

Kindness doesn’t absolve you of responsibility. But you can’t change something you’ve been doing for years in one sitting. And you probably can’t change it alone.

And you sure as hell can’t change it if you give yourself forty lashes every time it happens.


Dead to me

We have reached this point in human discourse. Of course, to just call it human discourse is, of course, speciesist. But so be it.

After careful study of my Facebook feed, Twitter feed, and a log of what passes for news these days, I’ve decided I don’t need to be burdened with stupid ideas. If, Ben Carson, for instance, says something I disagree with, I will burn his ass with by saying something funny and mean that will blow holes in him.

If you don’t hold the same position about gun rights as I do, you will become a contemptible piece of trash, best placed on an ice floe and sent away for a well-deserved death.

If you don’t think that Chase Utley is a punk who deserves a Matt Harvey fastball to the ribs, then you are an inhuman goon who deserves to be completely shunned.

If you don’t even try to touch the bag, it’s a dirty play.

Name the topic: Hillary Clinton’s emails, Bernie Sanders, Trump, global warming, yoga being satanic, the appropriateness of yoga pants, bringing back sleeves on football jerseys, New York style or Chicago style, Jennifer or Bailey. There’s a simple test–you either agree with my absolutely certain, easily-maintained view of the world or you’re quite simply dead to me, just like this poor guy who once lived across the hall from Alyson Hannigan, but lives no more.

You see, I have figured it out. I know all the answers. I have all the information worth having. Anything that runs counter to my opinion is wrong, hateful, stupid, unworthy, or comes from a disreputable source.

I’m not like those idiots who only get their news from Faux. I listen only to NPR.

And God agrees with me. Just ask me; I’ll tell you. (Unless I decide to be an atheist, then God is a tool for weak people who aren’t worth my time.)

I have a social media platform to show the world my righteousness. So don’t you dare contest what I say or I will be offended and bring you back to proverbial life, just so you can be dead to me again. (Although I don’t actually believe in the death penalty. But it’s not figurative hypocrisy because the innate righteousness of what I stand for makes hypocrisy impossible for me.)

And for you, if you take the absolute proper position.

If this offends you, I’m sorry (not really), but I’m trying to change the world. Which also makes me right.

It’s so much easier this way. There are no messy extenuating circumstances. I can just sit here and hammer the crap out of everything that’s wrong and everyone so stupid as to disagree with me.

This is how stupid you probably are.

Especially the fundamentalists.

If this offends you, please click here


52 weeks ago today

Fifty-two weeks ago today, I ran 17 miles. It was a typical October Saturday morning for Florida–a little cooler than September, but still, as Batdad’s son likes to say, “hot as balls.”

I didn’t set out to go that far. It just sort of happened.

Things were lined up nicely for me. Work had died down for the moment and I had the Florida Writers Conference coming up, then Tough Mudder. Then a nice skate into the holidays followed by a lovely cruise over New Years with my family.

The end of 2014 was teeing up 2015 to be the best year ever.

And, to be sure, amazing things have happened this year. My daughter graduated and went off to start changing the world, one step at a time. My son got a job he enjoys well enough and is almost done with his Eagle Scout work. He’s a senior now and really relishing the life he’s built. My wife is progressing at work to a job I think will make her a little more stressed, but probably happier.

And me? I’ve discovered the collected works of Nathan Fillion. It’s a pretty awesome accomplishment. Castle has been a favorite of a lot of writers for years and it’s my current television obsession. And I’m also a fan of good sci-fi: Star Trek, Battlestar, that Joss Whedon show.

There were a couple other things, too. I’ve kind of bludgeoned them to death on these hallowed pixels over the months.

Suffice to say, that 52 weeks later, I’ve paid a heavy price in exchange for existing. I’ve lost two suitcases, a bluetooth earpiece, two cell phones, a water bottle I kind of liked, a lot of sleep, my ability to do hard core workouts, a lot of my cynicism about a certain baseball team, a good deal of my cynicism about trusting people and about God, and my ability to drink more than two beers at a sitting without waking up with an annoying headache behind my ears.

I’d say, in retrospect, it’s a fair price.

Monetarily, I haven’t gained or lost much, but in every other way, almost, my life is richer than it was 52 weeks ago.

In Chicago, during the winter, there’s typically a long processions of days in which the sky is a low-hanging gray monolith that threatens to drop from the sky and smother you. Then you go to bed hoping for sun, knowing there won’t be any, and enduring the gray monolith again. It’s like living in dusk every day for four months.

When you’re done, you say “Oh, that’s just sixteen weeks. Over the course of a year–of a life–that’s not that bad.” But during that stretch, the days seem as endless as the low cloud-cover that makes you feel claustrophobic in the middle of an open field.

That was this year.

But the winter passed and the spring came, like it always does. And like it always does, the end of the storm left people both diminished and tougher. There are scars that didn’t used to be there, more tender spots to care for. More realization of limitations and mortality–and more faith in determination, friendship, love, and–for me, anyway–in God.

Well done, my trusted servant. Enter into your master’s joy.

I’m not turning this into a come-to-Jesus post, but there are certain people who didn’t run, didn’t throw darts, and who were part of all of this. I can’t go through this all with relationships that haven’t deepened. God is one of those relationships for me.

The super sucky part of hard times is that they’re hard–and while you’re going through them, they involve a ton of time.

But the great part is what you learn. For me, that’s summed up in a quote from Winnie the Pooh I once used for my daughter. It’s a quote a friend reminded me of recently.

There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.

If I were building a secular gospel, that would be part of it.

That and the statement that no matter where you go, you aren’t alone. You might have to think hard on who’s with you, but someone always is.