Monthly Archives: December 2016

Some ideas for the new year

It’s almost the new year. Time for change.

Change is hard. It takes a lot of effort and it requires you to move through that awkward period where you want to change, but you keep sliding back into old habits.

So with a new year dawning, there’s a natural desire to take stock and make some changes, by crackie! And then you return to work and things get nuts again and (dun, dun, DUNNNNNN) reality sets in.

Here are some simple things I’ve done over the past year. They aren’t huge and won’t result in immediate massive changes. But they’ve helped me.

They’re free, so they’re worth exactly what you paid for them:

  1. Every day on Facebook, I post something I’m thankful for. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because some days, I’m not feeling super thankful. Typically on those days, I go through the motions. I’m just thankful I’m here. I’m thankful for coffee. I’m thankful that there are only two work days left. That’s okay. In this case, the effort matters, not the result. I number them–not to show how awesomely grateful I am, but because it re-enforces, even on crappy days, how many things I’m thankful for. For 2017, I’m considering creating a blog post and just adding to it every day so I don’t have to wade through my Facebook feed to see the entire list.
  2. When something really good happens, I put it on a piece of paper, date it, and put it in a jar. A lot of people do this, with the goal of reading all the good things on New Years Eve. I think I’m going to wait until the jar is full, though. This is an area I need to pay attention to more. I can go weeks without remembering to put paper in the jar. My jar should be overflowing.
  3. When it’s a super crappy day, I put a dollar in a different jar. No date. No explanation. Just a dollar. When we did the Metropolitan Ministries thing, I took my dollars and bought a Publix gift card and donated it. In short, people ate because I had a crappy day. Takes the edge off a little.
  4. Step away. It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and to just starting doing what people want so they go away. I’m prone to giving myself over to that and getting tunnel vision. When I’m thinking right, I step away–even if it’s just to run to the store at lunch. But when I step away, I need to be better at disconnecting. You aren’t stepping away if you’re answering email on your phone at the checkout.
  5. Recognizing that I’m not God. This isn’t as narcisistic as it sounds. God has infinite ability. I don’t. It’s not my job to change the laws of physics or turn back time. It’s my job to do what I can to help people with as much grace and dignity as I can. God didn’t put me here to fix problems on demand.
  6. Try to see myself with all my flaws, but through a fundamentally accepting lens. I’m prone to thinking and talking about myself like sports talk radio talks about the manager/coach of whatever team is currently struggling. Enough. Really. God isn’t Steve Duemig (or insert the name of your local sports talk gas bag here). The voice in my head shouldn’t be, either.
  7. Find what makes things work for me and do it. For me, it’s working out. It’s writing. And it’s taking time to not be what someone needs me to be at the moment.

Of the things listed here, as the numbers grew higher, I got less likely to succeed at them. In general, toward the end of the list, these are things I don’t do.

But, to use the words of the great Tony Horton these aren’t things I can’t do.

Happy New Year.

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When Megyn Kelly dared to ask candidate Donald Trump a hard question in a debate in August 2015 (more than a year before the election–how ridiculous is that?), Trump became offended and then declared that he doesn’t have time for political correctness.

And I became confused.

Political correctness has become the tool by which they impose their ideology on others. Contrary to what a lot of people would have you believe, it does exist and the people who fight back against it aren’t just fighting for their right to be flaming a-holes.

As a society, we’ve become increasingly inflexible when it comes to hearing things we don’t like.

The most recent was the angst fired at Steve Martin after his tweet about the passing of Carrie Fisher. Ironically, his point was that he started by looking at the girl in the gold bikini–the bad-ass sexy chick in Star Wars. And he realized that she was so much more than that. As a result of the outcry, Martin removed his tweet.

But the outcry isn’t unique to bitter, angry feminists. When President-elect Trump decided it might be a good idea to remove citizenship for people who burn flags, a lot of people agreed with him. And more than a few wanted Colin Kaepernick and his cohort to be forced to stand and sing our national anthem.

Flag burning might be disrespectful. Colin Kaepernick might be a self-entitled pinhead. And Steve Martin might’ve chosen his words better. But in a free society, you aren’t required to make sure no one is offended before you say what you want.

Sure, you can criticize. You can call people out when you disagree with them. You can boo Kaepernick and tweet your anger back at Steve Martin. But they have no moral, ethical, or other obligation to make sure you aren’t upset by what they say.

It’s ironic, considering the amount of angst over snowflakes and safe spaces, that some of the same people lose their minds when someone’s disrespectful of Jesus, the flag, or the incoming President.

And it’s equally ironic that people who demand that the rest of us get over people who are disrespectful of Jesus, the flag, or the incoming President are so incredibly worked out over rape scenes in TV shows and artistic works that don’t pass the Bechtel Test.

In short, offense and irritation are the downside of freedom. If Starbucks wanted to create a cup that says Jesus sucks, they get to do that. And you get to criticize it. Both their right to create that cup (they haven’t) and your right to be irritated are protected by the same First Amendment.

So the next time someone offends you with what they say, be thankful. Their ability to do that is a product of a wonderfully free society.


The gift of depression

Note: I wrote this, let it sit, read it again, decided it was hopelessly self-involved, ditched it, re-read it, edited it, and decided that given the tens of people who read my blog, what’s the worst that could happen? I hope it’s useful if you experience or know someone who experiences depression. Also, the pictures are funny.

I took a strengths assessment a couple weeks ago. According to the assessment, my strengths tend to align with qualities that aren’t common among men. More aptly put, I’m like a chick, in that my skill set, according to their terms, are restorative, harmony, and empathy. (Smart ass, for some reason, wasn’t a strength. And, if you know me, looking good in leggings isn’t a strength, either.)

I thought about them this week as I waded through a bumpy week emotionally.

I Googled 'bumpy week' and this is the first picture that came up. True story.

I Googled ‘bumpy week’ and this is the first picture that came up. True story.

I experience depression now and again, and not just after Jets games. As I grow in myself, I’ve come to accept that. It’s a part of me. If you’re into the God thing, it’s something God allowed–the thorn in my side that helps me know that his grace is enough. God knows that when your view of the world mirrors Eeyore’s, that’s a place where you need help. If there’s one thing that makes me know I can’t do it alone, this is it–usually with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer to the nose.

There’s a place in the Bible that chastises us for daring to demand an answer from God about why he made us the way we are. According to Scripture, we aren’t supposed to do that. But that hasn’t stopped me. I mean, I don’t like being this way. I tend to do things God doesn’t like when I’m this way. I’m certainly not everything I can be to others when I’m this way.

So what the hell, Dude? (Pro-tip: When you live in a place whose hockey team is called The Lightning, you save that question for when it’s not storm season.)

Then I thought about my strengths set and my disposition to depression. It’s not a fun place. It would be like vacationing at the bottom of an abandoned, isolated well that’s been drained of most of its water. You can’t get out, you can’t feel the sun. All you can do is wade around in the mud and wait for it to end.

In the words of some scary guy Christopher Walken played in a movie once, “That ain’t any kind of fun.”

I just instinctively say “Oh, crap,” when I see this picture. But maybe not in those exact words.

In short, how can I not at least try to be empathetic? When people are going through dark places, I know how to get around. I know that sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone is just say that you’re there with them and then not say anything else–just let them know you are there. I’ve done that for people and it’s been the right thing.

Lest you think I’m a snowflake–a millennial man-child trapped in a middle-aged body–I’m not asking for anyone to accommodate me. I’m not demanding a safe place. I’m in the world, in a fairly demanding environment, and I don’t totally suck at it. Not totally. I’m not asking for–let alone demanding–accommodation.

What I am doing is trying on a new view of the world. And putting it forward for others to consider.

I experience (rather than suffer from) depression. As time marches on, I’ve seen that the best way to live with that is to accept it–stop fighting it and give it permission to enter my life. It’s going to be there as long as I am. Railing against it as something wrong is like railing against the fact that I have no hair on my head. It’s true, but so what?

Actual picture of me sticking my head out the sunroof.

Actual picture of me sticking my head out the sunroof.

But more than that, my supposed emotional weakness is the source of great strength. It’s helped me to become a trusted and valued friend to at least one person going through an Alaskan dark winter of the soul.

This isn’t a call to embrace victimhood–quite the opposite. It’s a call to accept yourself, warts and all. And then to dig into those warts and find the ways they make you stronger and then use them to help others in ways that only you can.

‘Cause I’m a bad-ass snowflake, buttercup.


It’s not the emails…

So a Facebook friend posted this today…

I know a fair number of people who voted for Donald Trump. For many of them, the driving factor was a visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton–something I don’t understand. I don’t agree with Secretary Clinton’s politics, but I don’t agree with Nathan Fillion’s politics, either. And I can’t hate Castle. Outside Stana Katic–and who knows what happened there?–how can anyone hate Castle?

That said, Donald Trump didn’t get elected because of emails. Donald Trump wasn’t nominated for President because of emails. The roots of the Trump presidency don’t lie with FBI Director Comey. They rest within the Republican party establishment.

In 2014, the Republicans cleaned up in the mid-term elections. That’s not news. A second-term President’s party typically suffers large losses in mid-term elections. But in this case, the Republicans who won ran largely on opposing immigration reform. And before the winning Republicans were sworn into office, they abandoned that issue–and that’s the issue that gave Trump leverage. The other Republicans ran and lied on that issue, so their credibility was shot. Democrats see people who cross the border without regard to immigration laws as future voters. Donald Trump seemed to be the only person listening.

And that’s why he got leverage. That’s why he got the nomination. And ultimately, that’s why he won.

The President-elect looking rather Madden-like. Pass the Turducken.

The President-elect looking rather Madden-like. Pass the Turducken.

Somewhere along this way in this country, amid all the cries of conservative extremism, we turned into a culture in which opposing open borders made you the functional equivalent of a KKK member.

For the record, I oppose open borders. I believe we have a lot of immigrants here and we aren’t going to send them home. I believe migrant farm workers are a fact of life and are heavily exploited. I believe we need a workable system to control the borders and allow workers in from outside.

But throwing open the borders and yelling “Come on down!” isn’t that system.

Excuse me while I burn this cross.

Trump–who I didn’t vote for, by the way–was the only major candidate who listened to this. But his election didn’t mean that 60 million of your fellow Americans (if you’re American) suddenly became KKK members.

Bernie Sanders, of all people, went on record this week saying that the Democratic Party dismisses the so-called Deplorables at its own risk. That some of the things they’re saying are (1) valid and (2) aren’t that much different than the people who Occupied Wall Street were saying.

They’re sick of the Big Guys manipulating everything. The people who voted for Trump aren’t blind to the fact that Big Business makes out when the borders are open. Wages go down. They aren’t blind to the fact that companies gain tax advantages for shipping jobs overseas. That’s right–they pay taxes to subsidize companies who take away their very own jobs. Frigging awesome, right?

Donald Trump isn’t the final word in this discussion. In my opinion, Trump has a tiger by the tail and has no clue what to do with it. Let’s see what his support is in 2018.

It might make you feel good to dismiss every Trump voter as a cross between a Grand Wizard wannabe and a Hitler lover, but the truth, as is typical, is far more nuanced and complex.


Why Carrie FIsher matters

When Carrie Fisher suffered a major heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles, there was the expected amount of traffic on Facebook. After all, a lot of recognizable people have died this year and Friday night, on the eve of Christmas weekend, seemed like a bad time to add to that count.

When Fisher’s death was announced early Tuesday afternoon, my Facebook feed blew up. I expected there to be traffic if that happened, but her death dominated my feed the rest of the day–with most of the emotional outpouring coming from women.

Their stories made me realize something too long in coming.

When I think of Princess Leia, my initial thought is the gold bikini in Return of the Jedi. To be truthful, she was pretty bad-ass in that bikini, killing Jabba while she was nearly naked. It’s a lasting enough image that an entire episode of Friends was written around it.

But to women my age, it’s a different thing.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, there was no Buffy the Vampire Slayer kicking ass. Xena didn’t exist. Sydney Bristow wasn’t around. In fact, Lois Lane was the prototypical female in an action setting. And that was the setting that led to the naming of the Superman Syndrome, where you don’t have to do much of anything because Superman will certainly save the day.

Princess Leia solved all of that. She was bad ass. She kept pace with the roguish loner and the wide-eyed idealist. More than that–she was their boss. She was the woman who saw her home planet anihilated and kept herself together to fight the force that caused all that death.

When your role models are Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman and not much else, you’re going to have a soft spot.

Fisher, it might be added, wasn’t just a hero to little girls. She was a successful actress in her own right and a revered script doctor.

But it was her work with mental health issues that added the extra dimension. In a time when mental health issues were too often seen as personal weakness, and people living with thos issues were seen as weirdos and bad people, she managed to transcend that label.

To be sure, Carrie Fisher was no saint. But a generation of people enjoyed her work. And more than that, a healthy subset of those people drew meaning from her work and her life.

It’s odd. When Bing Crosby and Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and that generation died, they were largely venerated. Many of those who died this year–Carrie Fisher, Prince, Ali, and David Bowie come to mind–they were held up as pretenders of some sort, somehow less deserving.

And to be sure, Prince didn’t fight in World War II. But then again, neither did John Wayne.

To a generation–my g-g-g-generation–the losses this year were huge. For many Carrie Fisher will be the biggest of those big losses.


Why you pop the champagne

A year ago, I said I would definitely drink champagne on New Years Eve, but I’d do it earlier than midnight because I didn’t want to celebrate the new year as much as I wanted to celebrate the death of the old one.

Aside from the celebrity deaths (and Bono, Sting, and Phil Collins should all be holding their breath), a lot of people are expressing something similar to what I expressed last year.

For me, 2015 sucked. It staggered me. It humbled me and thought me things about life, other people, the world, and myself.

If someone were to come to me and say that 2017 would be an exact copy of 2015–only this time I’d see every bit of it coming, my first thought is that I’d assume a fetal position and stay there. But that’s not true.

I’d be scared and sad and I’d probably celebrate every second until the health curtain descended again. But I’ve been though the storm. I’m not going to be so vain as to mirror the meme that says I am the storm. But I can sure as hell belt in and make it through.

So if 2016 is your personal year of hell, I celebrate your passage next weekend and I hope that your 2017 is everything 2016 wasn’t.

But whatever happened this year, it’s not a lost or vain effort.

Maybe it’s not worth what you paid, but you will come away with insights that were impossible before.


How 2017 can be better

It’s been a couple bumpy weeks. A friend has had a major event in her family that’s going to change a lot of things forever. Another friend has had a very sick very young child. In my family, we’ve had a roller-coaster ride with a family member’s health the past couple weeks.

Although 2016 hasn’t been the personal shit storm that 2015, it’s had its share of bumps. Even the election has caused crap from time to time.

And yet, I go back to the retirement of Vin Scully and the gracious way he left the stage. This guy would seem to have had the perfect life. He got paid a lot of money to watch baseball games and talk about it, for crying out loud.

But that’s just part of it. Along the way, he lost his wife. And his son. He was passed over by a network he worked for a long time, all so some guy named Summerall could work with John Madden.

He’s known personal and professional pain and disappointment. Like you and me. And yet, when he retired, he opined that he needed his viewers and listeners more than they ever needed him.

 

As he neared the end of his sign-off, he talked about next spring, and how once again, it’ll be time for Dodger baseball. His good-bye was filled with hope.

So, in the face of all that–in the face of a world that seems to be going to hell, how do you keep that hope?

I can’t do it. Not alone. I’m a Jets fan. I chose to be that. I chose to stay. Even after the Butt Fumble. It’s not in my DNA.

And so I need to fall back on the only power that can counteract the hopelessness of the Jets–God.

I claim to believe all that God crap. And though I’ve had a successful life, I’ve bounced along, struggling with hope.

It’s time for me to reset. I claim to believe in a God who is all-powerful–who, in his best-selling book, said that he causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him. I mean, here’s a guy who loved me so much, that a part of him chose to come down here and deal with crappy shoes and bad food, and bad sleeping arrangements so he could hang with us.

I believe in that stuff.

Or I claim to. So maybe I should think past me, past the Butt Fumble, past the problems I’m having–the seemingly endless reservoir of tough stuff to figure out.

Maybe I want to be better for my friends and co-workers and family. Maybe I want to be able to say that I’ve needed them more than they’ve ever needed me and not sound like a horse’s ass.

And I know how to do that. Because if God is really running everything and if he’s really working for my ultimate good, then (1) how cool is that? Maybe some gratitude is in order. And (2) I don’t need to worry about little stuff. I can relax and let go of my baggage and be more useful than others.

It’s too easy to think about you first when you follow God. But it’s not about you. Or me. It’s about the guy who loved the world that much. He says we can relax.

So maybe if you get keyed up about who’s schtupping who, or what greeting someone uses when you get a Christmas present, or whether popular culture properly respects your views…maybe it’s best to let God get upset about that and do what we’ve been freed to do.

This is my resolution for 2017.