Both Sides of the Story

“Be sure, before we close our eyes, don’t walk away from here. We must hear both sides of the story.” – Phil Collins

I met a woman the other day who had a bubbly personality, a zest for life, and a mouth that talked nonstop about anything and everything under the sun. It was refreshing to encounter someone like that because it seems like most people I run into are, how shall I say it, restrained. It was good to see someone out there enjoying life and being loud and proud about it. We had a sparkling conversation (when I was able to get a word in edgewise), and I thought she would make an excellent friend. It seemed like our personalities meshed very well.

Then I found out she had just lost her mother two days before we met, and the joyous personality I had seen was shown to be her attempt to ignore her true feelings about it all. After the truth came out I saw everything she had told me in a completely different light, with the knowledge that hers was a sad soul in need of a friend. Notice how I thought we would make good friends before the revelation, and that didn’t change one iota after knowing what I did about her subterfuge. I could completely understand it, and it endeared her to me even more, that she wanted to appear strong. But it’s okay to be weak with friends. We’re there for each other. Continue reading “Both Sides of the Story”

Question Everything

That’s the biggest singular piece of advice I’ve ever gotten from a living soul, and anytime I feel adrift in this crazy sea of life I go back to it like a lifeline, tethering me to a better version of reality where I’m not its star and others I come in contact with aren’t my subjects. Everyone does things for a reason, and even though I don’t have to always be privy to their reasoning, I should always think about why I do the things I do. See, I’m not in charge of them, but I can think about me.

Question everything. Continue reading “Question Everything”

The Fugly Duckling

Who is that guy?

I grew up thinking I was ugly, or “fugly,” as the teenagers called it in the early ’90s. Don’t worry, I won’t explain the combination of words it takes to come up with the word fugly, but suffice it to say it wasn’t a very nice word to call others. From an early age I remember looking in the mirror and not liking what I saw, though. Sure, I knew I was smart, and I knew my family loved me (at least most of the time), and I knew someone would always be there for me, but I realized even then that I wasn’t what you would call classically handsome. It took me ages, however, to comprehend that none of that mattered anyway.

Take a look at the number one culprit of eating disorders everywhere, the mass media. The magazine shows a woman with a ridiculously slim waist, practically nonexistent breasts, and “an ass that just won’t quit.” On the television you can see a woman with a normal-sized waist, enormous breasts, and “an ass that won’t quit.” This second type is known as the “hourglass” figure. It seems like the only prerequisite for being famous is to have a posterior that refuses to stop. Continue reading “The Fugly Duckling”

Standing Up: How to Deal

The great Richard Pryor

I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Honestly. I thought all my problems would be solved if I could just laugh about them in front of an adoring audience that would then forgive me for all the horrible things I’ve done and clean the slate. Absolution with a touch of ribald humor, always a winner. Of course, my problem is that I’m horrible with a punchline. Ask anyone (except my children, they think I can do no wrong, and they love my “pig” punchlines). There’s something about timing, phrasing, pausing, you know, every single thing that makes or breaks a punchline. Simply put, my jokes just aren’t funny. I’m much better at random sarcasm.

So, how to deal with my problems, to get them out without being able to laugh at myself in front of an audience of my peers? Well, that’s what friends are for, right? My problem has always been in finding friends, though, and then once I’ve found them, maintaining them. Maybe it is my tendency to be randomly sarcastic that has something to do with not maintaining them, or perhaps it’s how often I laugh at myself. Maybe I just need therapy. If I talk to someone who has to listen because I’m paying her, would that solve all my problems? Continue reading “Standing Up: How to Deal”

My Obituary

I wrote my own obituary once as an assignment for school and it was an exercise in futility. It was supposed to show me what I really wanted to do with my life and what really mattered to me. The problem, as you’ve probably already guessed, was that it was a construct, and I knew it the entire time. Therefore, it came out sounding like I was this perfect person who had done everything short of climbing Everest. Even things I never wanted to do made their way into it (for example, climbing Kilimanjaro). How was I really going to do what they wanted me to do and capture exactly what was important to me on the page?

The term “bucket list” became famous a few years back as a way to quickly categorize those things you wanted to do before you died, which to me is a bit of a morbid concept. Not even because it mentions death in its premise, but because it puts a ticking clock on everything you want to eventually get done. I read a book with a similar premise, where a woman finds this list of 40 things and she tries to do every single one of them as homage to the girl who wrote it, who died before completing it. I loved that book because instead of focusing on death, it focused on life, on living for living’s sake.

So, back to my obituary. I’ve done a few things I’m very happy about and that make the cut. Things like having two wonderful children, getting married to the love of my life, and publishing a novel. But what else from the things I’ve done to this point in my life is worthy to being included therein? Not much, and that honestly scared me. It woke me up, indeed.

So how do I get from where I am currently to where I want to be? He was a model citizen who braked for pedestrians and rescued treed cats in his spare time. That’s nice to embrace altruism but how does that fit with who I am fundamentally? I support causes that get me emotionally invested, personal causes and issues. So, rescuing treed cats, not so much. But supporting Down syndrome research and programs, definitely. That’s what I want.

And as I thought more along those lines my eyes got wide. That’s what I had been missing. Where was the individual, personal investment? That’s what I needed to connect with. When all was said and done, did I want to be known for random acts of kindness or for an ongoing sense of commitment to causes? When my life was over, did I want to be remembered for the things I did, or for the people I affected in a positive way? It’s like two different ways of looking at the same coin, but decidedly different views that affect everything else.

He was a stalwart man, and could often be found lounging on the couch with a biscuit. Now, I like biscuits as much as the next person, and I do admit to a fondness for my couch, but that’s not what I want in my obituary. What was I doing on that couch? I was spending time with my kids, watching a program, or relaxing after a long day, spending time with my wife. Because, you see, it is those times that matter in the grand scheme of a life well lived. Who loved you, and who did you love? What will they remember most about you? Not the biscuits or even the act of being stalwart. They will remember the laughs and tears, the things that made me… me.

And after this moment in time. Well, that’s the great division, isn’t it? No one can see into the future, let alone predict what will happen, but if everything to this point has been seen through the lens of love, commitment, decisions based on fundamentally sound principles, and the like, I see myself continuing that. It doesn’t matter what I do from here on out as long as I keep in mind those basics.

He was a family man who could often be found sharing a laugh with his loved ones while retelling stories he had told forth times before, but that were still appreciated until the day he died.

And that’s enough for me.


The Wake-Up Call

This is your wake-up call. You’re gonna miss it all.” – Phil Collins

Often in life, people have what is considered a wake-up call, something that shifts their line of thinking, even though that line of thinking had been going on for a very long time. Sometimes that wake-up call is because someone has achieved something you think you should have achieved first. For example, when a colleague gets promoted over you when you’ve been at the company longer. And often that wake-up call is courtesy of a life-changing event like having a baby or getting married (not necessarily in that order). In the order of life-changing events is the death of someone close to us, or who we felt a kindred spirit with. For me, that wake-up call came when Michael Jackson died. It reminded me that life is short (and 50 is way too young to die), that we all have problems but medicating them is not the answer. And it also reminded me that if I want to get things done, I have to do them myself, not wait for them to come to me, because odds are they won’t.

Then just this morning I heard that Chris Kelly, from the early-90s kiddie rap group Kris Kross had also passed. He was 34. What is it about people who are younger than us dying that really gets us thinking? Well, at least that’s what happened to me. I remember quite clearly when the duo was on the top of the charts, rapping it up to “Jump,” and taking the world by storm. Those precocious pre-teens were all over the place, with their baggy pants and their backwards attire right when I too was a pre-teen, so I identified with them. That’s what it really is, isn’t it? An identification with someone or something, a trigger that makes the event more emotional for an individual.

So why does it take us so long or certain events to finally WAKE UP? How can we live the vast majority of our lives stuck in a vacuum and going nowhere until we get that jolt? And does it happen for everyone? I would argue that it does not happen for everyone, that some people go to their graves without ever recognizing their potential, without ever seeing the pitfalls, or the promise that their existence could have had.

I had to write the great American novel. I had a neutron bomb. I had to teach the world to sing by the age of 21.” – R.E.M.

And I woke up. On June 26, 2009, I woke up for the first time in a world where Michael Jackson was no longer breathing, and I finally began breathing myself. I took all of my creative ideas and laid them bare to observe, to dig through, and to continue working on. I got out my green pen, made great big slashes, changed so much, but I was finally doing it. I was finally getting that wake-up call, answering that call, and going for it as a writer. And I haven’t looked backwards, even though the world tries its best to put me back to sleep, to slide me back under those covers, under that duvet, but I don’t let it. And neither should you. Find what makes you happy. Write that great American novel. Teach the world to sing by the age of 21, or whatever you want (just try to avoid that neutron bomb). Just do it now. Who needs a bucket list? All you need is an alarm clock.

Wake up with me.


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