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The New House

“We’re heading home,” I told my youngest daughter, and she gave me the broadest smile. It’s the one that shows all her teeth, and my favorite as well. There’s just something about her showing enjoyment that warms my heart.

While still smiling, she responded, “To the new house, dad.” And — you know — she’s right. We were heading to the new house, which is our home.

bee4fa54e8953da02a57738c9e1a4c05--doodle-quotes-short-quotesWe were boarders for 18 months, caught in the circadian rhythms of another household, of another system. It was the longest I’ve ever held my breath, waiting for it all to end, to finally be in our new house. And here we are, ready to take on another fall and another winter, our first of both seasonal varieties ensconced in our dream made real.

Madeline likes to call it “the new house,” and I correct her by saying it’s “home,” but perhaps we are both right. I think she likes knowing it as “the new house” because it helps her distinguish it from the other places we’ve lived. It reminds me once again how her brain works, of the organizational structure with which she lives her life. For her everything is cut and dry, black and white, stark in its edges with nothing on the margins. This is the new house now because it wasn’t here before, and now it is. And now we live here.

But she doesn’t change her designations either. It is the new house now, and that much is true, but in four or five years’ time it won’t be so new anymore, but to her it will still be the new house. To her it will still be the new one because it can never be the old one, and I love the way her brain sees it. It’s as simple as can be, this reliance on a phraseology that distinguishes for the moment but also for forever. I wonder what she would call this place if we ever moved again.

I told a friend today, when she asked how the new house was treating us, that waiting to be in was endless, but now that we are in I can’t really remember not living here. It’s the same way with my children. That’s probably the only thing I can really compare it to, life before my kids getting hazier by the second. I think it’s because this house, just like my children, is a permanent part of my life now, because now all of my memories from here on in will include this house in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the new house because it has transformed us by being here, from some transients into a family with a stable homestead. It’s the new house because Madeline has deemed it thus, and I’m overjoyed to accept her label. And in four or five or twenty years’ time, when she’s still calling it the new house, I will still smile because she will be as right then as she is now.

Sam

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Apologies & Excuses

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ~Unknown

I’m sorry, but…

I’m sorry; however…

These are never good ways to show that you’re truly repentant. Believe me. I’m accomplished in the “qualified apology,” the idea that any apology has to come along with an excuse. But that pretty much negates the apology. See, an apology is your way of accepting blame for whatever happened. An excuse is a way of denying blame for whatever happened. You can see how the two cannot possibly jibe, how they can be confusing and destroy the point of an apology in the first place.

I’m sorry. I was wrong. I take full responsibility for whatever happened.

I know it’s hard, too. As human beings, we are hard wired to look for the way out, to see how anyone else, how anything else, could have had a part in whatever happened, in whatever went horribly wrong. I’ve been there more times than I want to take credit for, but here I am, taking credit, or blame, however you want to look at it. No one else is responsible for the decisions I make, and I learned that the hard way. There’s no surer teacher than the hard way.

There was this one time I really liked a girl (don’t all quality stories begin this way?) so I lied to her about having exclusive Dave Matthews Band fan club tickets. Of course I figured I could join the fan club the next day, get some tickets, and no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately the exclusive tickets for the show were already gone by the time I signed up, but instead of fessing up I got in deeper. I bought a regular ticket and gave it to her, telling her it was the exclusive one, then lied about meeting her there later.

Of course the tickets were nosebleed section, and of course I was no where near when she inevitably found this out. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. All I can say was that I was hoping she was dumb enough to A) accept that fan club tickets just aren’t as cool as they claim to be, and B) accept my excuse for not being there. She wasn’t dumb at all, it turns out, and the next time I saw her after the concert she ripped me a new one. I apologized then, of course, but it was way too late, and we pretty much never spoke again.

If only I had just told her I was sorry I lied about the fan club tickets ahead of time perhaps I could have salvaged a friendship. And when I did finally apologize it was with the patented excuses built in. I said how much I liked her and wanted her to think I was an exclusive kind of person. I said how I really did try to get exclusive tickets after the fact, how I spent a lot on the regular ticket… just for her. And did that get me anywhere? No. All she did was say that if I really liked her then I should have just trusted her with the information.

Because those excuses were never really for her. They were so that I didn’t feel so horrible about myself for what I did. But that’s just it. I needed to feel bad about what I did. I needed to let it all out and let the chips fall where they would. It was my fault, and I needed to take responsibility for it instead of thinking of excuses, instead of trying to rely on excuses to get me out of taking that responsibility. It never works, and even if it does all it does it reinforce the idea that I wouldn’t have to take responsibility.

You can be assured I learned from that experience. That doesn’t mean I didn’t apologize with excuses after that in other situations. I’m sad to say that I did. But it did mean I was aware of it, and eventually I was able to cut out the excuses. The more times we do something and don’t receive the desired effects… the more we learn. Now, when I apologize, I take all the blame. I lay it all out there and take the consequences. Because that’s what I would want in return.

Sam

Judge Not.

Why do we feel the insane need to judge others? Why can’t we simply enjoy our own lives and let others enjoy theirs? Or at the very least why can’t we just leave others alone? Meddling has become an art form. I swear it has. There’s just something so… American about getting all up in somebody else’s business, and making our home there, whether we’re welcome or not.

I honestly don’t know where I was going with that. It’s just that way too often lately I’m reminded that we don’t know everything about others, that we judge them based on what we think we see, but we don’t have the full picture. Because we think the world should revolve around us we see things through the lens that IS us, through our own experiences and the way we would do things.

But others are not us. They have their own lives, their own circumstances, and their own thoughts. They do things their way, whether we like it or not, because they don’t live their lives for us. So even when we think we know better, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t, that it’s their choice to make. We need to remind ourselves that we are mere pebbles in the stream, all working to find purchase.

We often judge because we either don’t understand, or we misinterpret. How often have you seen the show where the audience knows what the main characters are talking about but the entire half hour is spent with them upset with each other because of misinterpretation? Or the Shakespeare play where each Act builds on the previous one, and almost leads to absolute ruin before the characters realize they’ve judged all wrong. Oops.

Yet it’s not just judging based on misinformation, or on a lack of understanding, or even on our misguided perception. It’s judging based on preconceived notions of entire groups. I see way too much lately in my feed about how, “Republicans are douchebags who care more about their guns than about other people.” And I see way too many instances of, “Those stupid democrats know that gun laws won’t stop killing, right?”

Which is precisely why we continue to have this divide. Why can’t we all just get together to say that what happened was WRONG, that it should never have happened, that we need to ALL figure out a way to stop these things from happening.

Because I haven’t gotten numb to this kind of violence. Each instance fills me with a sense of dread, of a deep sadness that threatens to overrun my soul, thinking of how far humanity still has to come… together. I will never be numb to this kind of violence, but I will also not take out my anger and sadness on others. All that does is foster the same kind of atmosphere that led these people to believe that was the answer, that led these people to think that was the only way they could make some kind of statement.

I won’t judge them. I will judge their deeds, which were heinous, and I will mourn those who lost their lives, and the ones who were left behind.

This is not about democrats or republicans, about agendas and gun lobbies. This is about humanity, about the ongoing fight for relevance that will never end while there are people around who breathe. Because humanity has always been about judging others, about making ourselves out to be better than whomever, about survival of the fittest. Humanity has always been about getting over, getting by, by any means necessary. Of course as we have progressed it has become easier to take out our aggression on those we judge, who judge us in return.

This is human nature. That’s why it’s such a fight to be nice, not to judge others, to be quality human beings. That’s why people say they “strive” to be good, because it’s something we have to strive for, because human nature is not good. It’s in our nature to be our base selves, to demean others just for the sake of demeaning them. It’s in our nature to get pleasure from belittling those around us in order to raise ourselves up. We push them down so that we can rise.

But it’s wrong. It’s wrong to hold others down, to wish the worst for them, to judge them for what they cannot help. To judge them for who they are. Because we are just as bad. We are just as responsible for the things we do as they are, for the times we have judged others when we haven’t been innocent ourselves. We need to come together, not to take pleasure in discord. We need to learn the lessons from all these acts of violence, because contrary to popular opinion, they’re not senseless. It’s only when we can learn from them, when we try to make sense of the chaos, that we can truly progress, that humanity can learn its lesson.

I think back to Klebold and Harris, names that will forever be etched in my consciousness, and I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for their victims, a category the two of them also fit into, and I grieve even today. The same is true of every single instance between then and now, between Columbine and Vegas, and for all the instances to come, because I know it’s not over. I don’t judge those who did this, nor those who paid the ultimate price. I don’t pray for them or for their souls either. Prayer is not going to help anything or anyone. It’s only when we stop saying we are helpless, that we couldn’t have done anything, only then when we can truly make a difference.

Because making a difference doesn’t mean praying. It doesn’t mean banding together to send money and supplies to the victims. It means making connections with others every day, so that no one falls through the cracks. It means getting people with issues some honest to goodness help, not just paying the whole thing lip service and then shaking our heads when bad things happen. “Not on our watch,” we tell ourselves, because we honestly think we were watching and trying to help. This is a method of patting ourselves on the back, on saying how good we are when we’ve done absolutely nothing.

Then we sit back, and we judge them. Even worse, we judge those around us, the whole rhetoric of democrat vs. republican just window dressing for the two sides that can’t be separated so cleanly — good and evil. Because everyone has the capacity for both. After all, it’s human nature. So we must fight human nature every second of every day. We must try to make a difference.

And it starts with no more judging. No more.

Sam

Like a New Religion

“‘Cause they need a new song like a new religion, music for the television. I can’t do the long division. Someone do the math.” ~Jason Mraz (Wordplay)

9e9ad8b7-77df-42a5-86a8-165ad969402cI don’t like Twitter. There’s just something counterproductive in finding something to say, then being forced to limit it to 140 letters, or characters, or whatever they want to call it these days. I like being brief, or concise, or whatever you want to call it, but I like to do it on my own, not because someone is making me do it. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t really make for a good journalist. It was writing, but it wasn’t writing what I wanted to write, in the way that I wanted to write it, on whatever subject I so deemed worthy.

There’s just something about Twitter that’s suspect. It’s kind of like an advanced form of gossip, except that everyone can read it everywhere. It’s not really for secrets then, and yet people expose those innermost thoughts utilizing the forum. I guess there’s something about making something public that gives people a heady rush, that is transformative in a way that most other things just can’t match. Or that’s what they tell themselves when they’re letting you (and everyone else in the Twitterverse) know the shape of their pain.

And I get the idea. I do. It’s supposed to be a big soup bowl where everyone contributes, a massive spider’s web where everything sticks and we are forced to stare at them every time we pass. Every time we pick up our phones. Every time we get retweeted by someone, BY ANYONE. Because a retweet is like getting a phone call direct from god, like we are suddenly famous and ready for our closeups. Especially when that retweet does indeed come from someone we placed after the almighty hashtag.

So tweets have to be worthy.

All hail the new usage for the number sign. A hashtag is a grand way of saying “Look AT me” because to everyone who searches for the particular hashtag you displayed it will come up. Your tweet will come up. They can read it, and love it, and yes indeed, retweet it to their heart’s content. @therealjaymohr just enjoyed my tweet so much he had to retweet it, and now everyone who subscribes to @therealjaymohr is now reading my tweet.

So tweets have to be worthy. They have to justify the time and effort we’ve spent on them. We have to make sure we are putting the absolutely best, the absolute most appropriate hashtag on each tweet. After all, we need the best coverage, the best chance that someone who is anyone will read and appreciate our pithy wordplay. A little birdy told me. A little birdy whispered in my ear, but it wasn’t a whisper. It was a shout, a sound heard round the world, but it wasn’t even a sound. It was the power of words multiplied by the power of the platform.

But yeah, I hate it. I use it, but I hate it. And I know what you’re thinking. Why use something that you hate? It’s a rather simple explanation too. Because everybody else is doing it. Well, not quite everybody else. But many of the people I appreciate for their artistic merit, literary skill, or sports acumen like to tweet. I’m not generally a fan of political tweets because we all know politicians always have an agenda, whether on or off social media. That of course doesn’t stop the zeitgeist that is Twitter from recommending politicians for me to subscribe to on a daily basis.

I delete those recommendations.

Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

Seriously, though, I only tweet about once a month, when I remember that it is indeed an interactive platform. It’s kind of like when I’m playing golf on the Wii and I forget that I’m playing over a connection and those are real people walking the “course” with me, until a speech box shows up out of nowhere. I respond, and then I forget again. It’s the same way with Twitter. I catch a tweet once, and it moves me. So I either like it, or I retweet it (as if my retweeting something will make it more popular) and then I’m off again for another month. Or sometimes when something short comes to me that I feel like imparting on the universe. Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

But Twitter and I will never be more than acquaintances. I just wasn’t built for the stamina and discipline it takes to perfectly construct hashtags, to cyber stalk celebrities’ tweets, or to just do pretty much anything on that type of social media. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around it for longer than a few minutes. In fact, this is probably the longest I’ve ever sat in front of any screen, without pause, and thought about Twitter.

_prayer2_400x400Twitter is like a new religion, a type of worship of social media itself, a grand attempt at brevity that somehow misses the mark when people feel the need to tweet every single second of every single day. #prayer #newreligion #tweetsrlife. I deleted the app once, and it was gone for a while before someone reminded me that they had sent me an @sammcmanus callout, and they were wondering why I hadn’t responded. I almost told them it wasn’t them. It was me. But I felt that would be too cliche a response. I wanted to craft something spectacular to tell them how I really felt.

But it would have been over 140 letters, or characters, or whatever they want to call it these days. So I didn’t.

Sam

I’m a black man. I don’t think about it very often, but there it is anyway. I said it. It’s out there. Of course if you met me in person it might be one of the first things you think of, depending on where you’re from, or how old you are. I’ve gotten quite adept at interpreting “the look,” the one that says you see my color, the one that gives me an inkling of where your thoughts are, for better or for worse.

You see, I’ve gotten that look since I was first able to register looks. There’s the look that says, “I recognize you’re a black man and that I’m supposed to be afraid of you.” There’s the look that says, “I recognize you’re a black man and I’m intrigued by it.” And then there’s the look that proclaims, “I recognize you’re a black man and I hate you for it.” Luckily I don’t see that last look quite as much as I used to, or maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses again.

When I was a kid I didn’t really know how to interpret the looks that said I was a black man in training. I knew I was black, instinctively, the way you know you’re in water because you’re wet. But what that meant I wasn’t quite aware of, aside from the looks anyway. Generally I didn’t come into too much contact with anyone who wasn’t black for a very long time. I lived a sheltered life, meaning those around me were largely also black. Growing up in Southwest Philly wasn’t quite the diverse atmosphere in the 80’s.

But once I began seeing white people on a regular basis, once I started high school (where to be black was indeed a minority) it became obvious that there was a difference between them and me. For one, I was seen as a member of the minority just by looking the way I did. It wasn’t a negative, per se, but it was definitely obvious. The black kids sat at separate lunch tables, sat together in class, and pretty much segregated themselves from the whites and “others” at the school. At least that’s what I saw, because to my young brain it seemed like real separation. Looking back, though, I think everyone was friendly. It was just that at its base the race dynamic tended to dominate, at least in social situations.

The looks changed, though, when I got a little older and began dating. Because I didn’t tend to choose the “safe” black girls to date, the ones that would have been mother approved simply because of the tone of their skin. I tended to look at girls who had lighter skin and could turn orange if they so chose. Luckily they generally didn’t choose this particular shade, but being white wasn’t seen as a positive. That’s where it got interesting. To that point all the looks I got and recognized were from white people, because I was a black man, and weren’t they supposed to be afraid of me? I began to get different looks when I stepped out on the town with white women.

For a black man, to be with a white woman can be daunting. First, because of the obvious stereotypes of interracial couples, but also because too many people actually believe in those stereotypes. They believe that a black man is simply a beast, and that a white woman who is with a black man must be looking to be submissive. They believe that like has to stay with like, that diluting the racial pool is akin to taking a sledgehammer to the Constitution. The looks these people give are scathing, withering stares, as if they can’t possibly believe what they’re seeing, but that it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.

The biggest difference in these looks from the initial ones is that these looks come from just as many black people as they do white folk. So, while I was used to being seen as “other” from white people, I hadn’t gotten quite a taste of what being seen as “other” from black people was like. I got it in full force once my dating life began, even in as big and as diverse a city as Philadelphia. I guess my own circles were small enough. The looks were many, and were fierce, some people going as far as to say something under their breath, but not quite under their breath, knowing that I heard them, but also knowing I wouldn’t dare approach them about it.

Most of these people, I have to say, were older. Old black women, old white men, old white women, old black men, it didn’t seem to matter based on gender. It was just WRONG for a young black man to be attracting the fancy of a white woman. It was just unheard of for a white woman to be seen in the company of a black man, to hold hands in public, or even to show other public displays of affection so they couldn’t imagine (as they were wont to do) that we were friends, and nothing more. It’s just funny to me that even as society advanced these people went absolutely nowhere, preferring to keep holding on tightly to preconceived notions of how the world “should be.”

Then I got married and had children, who are mixed race, and they look it. I find it fascinating that now I get a whole other range of looks that at first I couldn’t identify. Many of these new looks are positive. I’m a black man who is there for his children, who is spending time with them, who isn’t a deadbeat. And I guess that’s not as positive as it sounds at first, because isn’t that an assumption that black men aren’t there for their children? My children are often called beautiful by perfect strangers who claim that, “aren’t mixed race kids the cutest?” And I often think, the more we change the more we stay the same.

These looks shift depending on who I’m with or whether I’m alone. When I’m by myself I still get the initial looks, just for being a black man. These looks don’t happen as often as they used to, but I still recognize them the second they do occur. I know this one black guy who claims to embrace the looks, who always plays on it like it’s some kind of joke. Like, yeah, “this one store only hires one black person as a token.” Like, yeah, “somebody’s gotta be black around here. Might as well be me.” I can’t be like him, though, because I really have hope for a world where it’s just another thing.

I’d like to think we live in that world already, but the looks tell me otherwise. Still.

Sam

“Send your lifeboats out for me. Send your lifeboat out.” ~Snow Patrol

1609917.pngI’ve never been good at speaking my feelings. Writing them down, no problem, but speaking them out loud? In front of other people? Being that vulnerable? No way, unless it was absolutely impossible to do it any other way. I once broke up with a girl over email. I once broke up with a girl through a proxy (Anthony has never forgiven me for that one). I told a girl I loved her for the first time in a note, and only when she told me the feelings were reciprocated was I able to actually say it out loud.

I guess I’m just not wired that way, to be emotionally raw and accessible outside of the written word. Even now, even in this, I realize I’m doing exactly what I’m talking about, in writing down how I feel about this aspect of my being. But that’s just me, and I’ve spent years working on it, to no avail. Many people have told me they thought I was just fine until I finally broke down. Many people have been surprised when what seems like the smallest thing gets me depressed. That’s because it wasn’t the smallest thing. That’s because I let things build when I don’t talk about them.

I used to think it was good enough to write my feelings down, because at least I was getting them out. And it is definitely cathartic for me, a type of medicine that I don’t know what I would do without. But sometimes words need to be actually said. Sometimes words need to pass through my lips on their way to someone’s ears, so that they can hear me. So that they can know what I feel. So that I can bare my soul in a way that writing cannot mimic. Because there’s something to be said for human contact, for eye contact, for personal and physical CONTACT.

There have been very few people in my life who I don’t put on a mask around, but even with those people it hasn’t been easy to verbalize, to get things out without writing them down. Perhaps I’ve used my skill with writing as a crutch all these years in my personal relationships, preferring to write it out instead of to face it head on, whatever IT is. When I need to confess something, when things haven’t gone the way I wish they had, it’s tough to get it out. When I am overcome with emotion and I want to share it, it’s tough.

And it’s not just my writing that I use as a crutch. These masks I often wear, they’ve become rigid, so when I have them on I can’t even move my face, like a Botox injection that won’t wear off until I’m asleep and finally vulnerable. When I try to focus, to shuck off these masks, it’s difficult to do. But I used to feel like it was impossible, and I no longer feel that way. Sometimes I need to feel that bit of discomfort in order to get to the greater good. I learned that the hard way, time after time.

But with Heidi… it’s different. I won’t deign to say it’s easy, because it’s not. It’s the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” deal, but it really is me. Luckily for me, we’ve been together long enough that she knows when I have something on my mind. She is the one person who can see through my masks and can draw me out. I know it’s not easy, and I’m not easy, but she fights for me when I won’t fight for myself. Over the years I’ve found myself relaxing around her, being myself, which is incredibly scary. But less scary lately.

As I’ve gotten older I realize it’s more important to let the people I care about be there for me instead of trying to always be so strong. So that this emotional rawness I can allow my wife to see becomes more of a standard for me. So that these feelings I used to drown deep down inside are allowed to swim. So I can breathe, and speak, and be.

Sam

The Art of Adulting

Adult“Adulting is tough,” a lot of twenty-somethings tell me. Constantly. On repeat. Like a broken record. Not that they would know what an actual record is, or if they would get the funny nature of using a non-word to describe something. Maybe if they use it enough it will become part of the common lexicon. With enough usage it could eventually make its way into the dictionary. Apparently, it’s hard.

They tell me this because they don’t think I get it. After all, when I became an official adult Bill Clinton was still in office, Kanye West was just another black dude, and Taylor Swift was in kindergarten. They tell me this because “adulting” has apparently gotten tougher since I came up, and I don’t get that the #struggleisreal. For them it’s harder these days to navigate the rough waters of new adulthood, so they had to create a term to show their pain.

I get it. I do. It’s hard when you’re finally liberated from “the nest,” when you have to take care of your own bills, when you have to feed yourself, clothe yourself, do THINGS for yourself. It’s that point in your life when you finally realize what mom and/or dad have been telling you all along, that life is tough, that they’ve been doing everything for you, and “wait until you grow up.” Well, now you’re all grown up, and you’re longing for the good ol days. That’s what it means to me when those twenty-somethings tell me that adulting is tough.

So when the going gets tough, the tough do what, twenty-somethings? Whine to everyone about it on Twitter? Post Instagram pics of you holding an empty wallet? Ramble on using the limitless nature of the Facebook post? They don’t generally get a job, or if they do they whine about that too. They don’t usually go ask mom and/or dad for advice, because what would their parents possibly know about the big wide world? What they’ve been taught is if they complain enough about it other twenty-somethings will commiserate, using the same hashtags, and that shows some solidarity. That’s exactly what they need in order to succeed in the big, bad world.

I agree, by the way. Being an adult is tough. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been one for over 22 years. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been an adult for far longer than I ever was a child. It doesn’t get any easier, because there are still some things you have to do, even if you don’t want to do them. That gets exponentially harder when you begin to own STUFF, and when you have children. Tying yourself to someone who is dependent on you for their own well being is a huge commitment, and it’s another part of adulthood that can be challenging, and overwhelming at times.

Being an adult isn’t easy, and this feeling is not just limited to twenty-somethings. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the responsibility of being an adult is an awesome one. The struggle is definitely real, but the key is to deal with it by organizing your life, by figuring out not just how you’re going to get by, but how you’re going to thrive with what you’ve been given in life. It’s okay to admit the difficulty, but whining about it at every opportunity is simply counterproductive.

Sam

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