Forever, Michael

Michael Jackson. 1958-2009.

Five years ago on this day a man who was and remains special to me exited this world. It was the ultimate shock, even though I had dreamt of just those circumstances, him dying suddenly, more times than I dare to admit now. Those dreams would inevitably lead to me crying in my sleep and shaking myself awake. Then I would check the news to make sure he was still alive, and he was, so I sighed in relief. Until five years ago, when he wasn’t.

And I cried then too, heaving sobs that shook my frame and awakened me in other ways. You see, he died because he was in massive pain, both physical and emotional. He just wanted to ease that pain, and he went too far. His doctor let him go too far because he was who he was, and because he had a special series of shows coming up that he wanted to be prepared for, a series of shows that never happened instead.

I sat in my bedroom with wet eyes for a solid week afterwards, leaving only to work. Those days were warm ones, though, because I wasn’t just mourning. I was remembering, and I was feeling. That’s one thing he always did for me (and still does). He makes me feel these deep emotions that I didn’t think were possible. And I don’t expect anyone else to understand, all those poseurs who sat vigil by the shrine that sprang up overnight, all those sudden fans who declared their devotion when just the week before they were demeaning him.

Michael-michael-jacksons-scream-18692809-879-832Michael was always, for me, more than a phenomenon, more than an enigma, more than a fantastic dream. Michael was always a part of my soul, and he still is, five years after his death. I think back to that dark time, and what brought me out of it was always Michael. Forever Michael. I sat there in my bedroom and listened to his music nonstop, from Invincible, to Bad, to Dangerous, to Thriller, to Blood on the Dance Floor, to HIStory, to Off the Wall, to every single one of his young albums, and the records with his brothers. I saturated myself with Michael because as he always has been for me, he was the salve for my ills.

Five years later he is as present to me as he ever was, his music speaks volumes to me and to others about me. Michael and I always had a kindred spirit, and I celebrate that now and always. I don’t expect anyone else to truly understand, and that’s okay, because just as it has always been me and Michael, it will always be me and Michael. Today I am listening to XScape, the latest posthumous album from the legend himself, and I am inspired all over again.

I just keep telling myself that he’s no longer in pain, that his time had come earlier than I expected, but right when it should have, the same way it will happen with me, right when it should it will happen. I just hope I inspire something in others the way he inspires me still.

Forever Michael.



How to Hug

Give_me_a_hug_by_juliguiltyI don’t even remember my first hug, but it is probably my mom who can claim it. I know I always felt safe and secure with her, and a good hug can be a great catalyst for those feelings. Why do you think that when people are sad a hug can comfort them? Because it’s a kind of physical closeness that can imitate and/or draw upon an emotional closeness. A hug can be an amazing connection between people, but it can also be bittersweet, a valid form of saying goodbye that can dredge up sad feelings as well.

The most recent person I hugged was my daughter Alexa. I went to her school today for the end of year “Fun Fest,” and I stayed through the morning’s round of activities. When it was time for those to end, and I had to tell Alexa I was leaving, she grabbed my leg and squeezed me tightly. She didn’t want me to go, and I felt like a horrible person for having to leave, all those feelings pressed into that hug. But I explained to her why I had to leave and she eventually let me go, but it was such an emotional feeling, that hug.

Who was the last person you hugged? Was the emotional connection there, or was it one of those perfunctory hugs? A hug can be just as impersonal as anything else if you take it for granted. Here are some ways to hug:

  1. The Ol’ One Arm Hug. This is most often performed between guys who are supposed to be close but who aren’t. Take for instance these guys Tom and Willis, who are married to best friends, Theresa and Jen. When they get together for dinner out Theresa and Jen hug, so Tom and Willis would feel awkward if they didn’t. But they’re not buddies, so they quickly lean into each other, and only put out one arm. This is impersonal.
  2. The Handshake Hug. When you’re unsure of how to greet someone the handshake hug is a good way to go. You can leave it at a handshake if they don’t lean in, but if they do, you can hug it out and feel validated for having the forethought not to go in for the big hug, for leaving it up to the other person. This is a step past the Ol’ One Arm Hug, but not quite the sign that you’re mates for life, as the Aussies would put it. This is somewhat personal.
  3. The Back Pat Hug. So, you finally feel comfortable actually leaning in to hug the other person without the subterfuge of the Handshake Hug. First objective met. But there are whole other levels beyond that, though, that could trip you up, such as do you pat each other on the back? Businessmen seeking to seal the deal will likely perform the quick, breath-taking (literally) back pat, meant to separate the men from the boys. Women who feel warmly for one another will pat each other on the back multiple times in one hug, but gently. This can be both impersonal/meant to impress, or personal/meant to comfort.
  4. The Big Bear Hug. This one is the most telling of any hug. Wrapping your arms firmly around another person and squeezing them tightly is the ultimate sign of emotional closeness, and lack of physical boundaries with that person. It’s the hug most often given between family members who actually care for each other, and between close friends who have been close friends for a long time. It is definitely personal and is the one implied when someone signs off “XOXO.”

There are many more variations of each of those hugs out there, and also several more types of hugs, dependent upon where in the world you are. Some variations are the Lean-Down Hug, the Looking Elsewhere Hug, the Smug Hug, and the Hug-Without-Touching. Each of these hugs can be defined in different ways, but most likely each one has been approved by both parties over a series of trials and errors, of aborted hugs and of embarrassing situations. And that’s okay.

Because a hug is a two-way street, and it’s always great when you’re driving by and someone stops to say hi.


What Dad Really Wants

black-father-and-daughterAs Father’s Day approaches (in just one week) I am reminded once again of making things for my dad when I was little. Small things really, like a paper tie, a pocket protector made from construction paper, a church made out of popsicle sticks, numerous cards I created myself, and the list went on. Most of these items were easily made out of school supplies, and at school, but they were also made well ahead of time because school was always over by then. And he always seemed amazed by each and every gift, as if it was the best thing he had ever gotten in his entire life.

Then I got older and my dad wasn’t around, so I pretty much forgot all about Father’s Day. I mean, I still called him on the day to wish him a good holiday, but sometimes he wasn’t there, and I only left him a message on his machine. It seemed good enough at the time. Then I got older still and I didn’t even call him, but he never called me either so I felt like it was okay. Many years passed, and I became a father myself, then the holiday became magical again.

Now I get those same types of items from my children that I gave my dad when I was their age, and now I know why he smiled and was overcome. Not because the gifts were amazing in their own right, but because of the thought that goes into each and every one of them. I proudly wear my paper ties for several days after the holiday so I can proudly tell everyone I know that my kid made them for me. So, as a dad, I appreciate every one of those unique, special gifts, BUT what if dads could get what we really wanted on that one day in June every year?

Here’s what Dad Really Wants:

  1. Some peace and quiet. If you’re a father worth his salt, you know that you spend tons of time running around with and after your kids. It’s all great fun, but you’re not as young as you used to be, right? So it’s harder to keep up all the time. On Father’s Day you should just be allowed to snuggle up with your kids and take a nice nap right in the middle of the day. That would be perfect.
  2. No store-bought cards. There is nothing better than getting a card full of stickers and crayon-filled drawings of you (even if they look like the Loch Ness Monster instead). It means your kids spent actual time trying to make something perfect for you, and that’s so special it should inspire tears of joy.
  3. 11361-black-father-daughterThat personal touch. Maybe surprise Dad with a scavenger hunt where the end prize is something picked out or made by the kids.You can even give him a hand-made map and go around with him telling him when he’s hot and cold. Then make X mark the spot, and see his eyes light up when he finally locates it.
  4. Wants, not Needs. It is not the time to pick Dad up some socks because his have huge holes in them, or to give him a gift certificate to the barber shop because his hair is overdue for a trim. Remember that you love Dad just the way he is, and that all that stuff is not just his preference, but it fits into the “Need” category. Give him something he has been talking about for months like that new XBox game or belt clip for his cell phone.
  5. Something from Mom. Whether or not you’re together as a couple anymore, if Dad is doing his best as a father, give him credit for it, Mom, even if just in a card or a little acknowledgement the next time you drop the kids off at his place. While we might not all be great husband material, if we are rockin’ it as a father, it would be nice to have it acknowledged, even if just once a year. **This also works for mothers on Mother’s Day, Dads.

What Dad really wants is a day to remember, not a run-through of some scripted program you think he ought to have. Think about what makes Dad truly special, then treat him like it, and show him you know what his wants are too, that you’re thinking about him. I guarantee he’ll love that so much more than you just giving him something made of popsicle sticks because everyone in your class is doing the same thing. Give him that craft, but also personalize something else for him too!

The real key, though, is to think about Dad the other 364 days of the year, and make sure he knows it. Because if you’re giving him something on just one day, and spending time with him on just one day and you think that’s enough, then something wrong, and he’ll know it. Make sure Dad knows you appreciate him always, on every day, just as much as he shows you that you’re special to him. That’s the real glory of having a dad who cares about you and who shows it, that you can show him in return.

That’s what Dad really wants.


On Writing

I don’t spend too much time writing about the way I write and why, but if I did decide to take a minute to analyze my work I would probably say I’m an unconscious writer. I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about how the words just came to them. Well, I’m generally one of those writers. Often I will sit down without a coherent thought in my head, start typing anyway, and in fifteen minutes something fully formed is on the screen and ready to go. Yes, it can be really weird at times.

I was talking to a fellow writer friend of mine the other day, and she told me she preferred silence in which to write. And I took a few moments to consider that. I don’t think I’ve ever really had any silent moments in my life, not when there wasn’t something else to do or somewhere else to be. So I’ve developed an appreciation of, and indeed a reliance on, noise to keep me going while writing. A while ago I did get a private moment with no noise and I couldn’t concentrate enough to write anything. Maybe something is wrong with me.

As an English major in school I took many writing intensive courses, and I loved them all by and large. It wasn’t for all the reading materials, although those Greek and Roman mythology readings were phenomenal. It was really all about the chance to write anything, and to have someone else read it. You see, before college the only people who saw what I wrote were my family members, and a friend or two. College introduced me to that larger audience and I reveled in it.

In fact, when I went to the University of Tennessee I even worked on the college newspaper as a staff writer. That was an eye opening experience because not only did I get to write for a larger audience, but I carried a by-line so people who might have had no clue who I was before were following my work on a weekly basis. It was humbling, and also a lot of work.

What I remember most about working on the college newspaper were the deadlines and trying to find time within them to interview people and turn them into soundbytes in the article. Never before had I been under such pressure. Usually, when I was assigned a paper for class I did it right away, so I wasn’t sweating it out at the last second, but with the paper the deadlines were so tight and I couldn’t just write the article right away. For the first time I stressed over something having to do with writing. It was so strange.

Now I write a lot, but the vast majority of it is under no deadline. I write what I want and when I want, which helps me breathe a lot easier than those paper days. I had a conversation with another friend a few days ago about writing styles, and I told her that this computer site analyzed my writing and said it most resembled that of Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame). She said there were worse things out there to be compared with. I guess I was hoping that the computer site would tell me instead that I sounded like Sam McManus. Maybe some day it will say that for a young aspiring writer who queries it. We’ll see.

Actually, to tell you the truth, maybe I don’t want that after all. I hope they won’t even use that site and just enjoy their own unique voice. I know I’m enjoying my own unconscious writing. And that’s okay.


Personal Library, R.I.P.

“The room was full of bookshelves, from front to back, from wall to wall.”

I haven’t seen a room like that outside the confines of a library in about a month of Sundays, maybe even longer. It seemed like in another era it was common to have rooms such as the one described by a colleague of mine yesterday. And the house that contained such a room didn’t even have to be a mansion, even though those bastions of civility also had large insular libraries. A regular, standard house in the olden days would have perhaps a converted closet as a book repository, but it was still there. What happened? Continue reading “Personal Library, R.I.P.”


It’s not personal
It’s just… happenstance
Just a conflagration of circumstance and need
Rolled together
And pressed flat
Fighting for position
In this rather tangled mind
And it’s not about you
You with your hyper ambivalence
All just put on for show
In your push and pull mentality
That conscious constant need
For understanding
When you don’t know yourself
The yin and yang
Walking single file
Kindergarten style
Because that’s all you know
It’s all coincidence
The sharing of this soul
It could have been anyone
Dancing in my shoes
With those Saturday blues
Threatening to overflow
The more I try to convince myself
The further I get from the truth
And the essence of me and you
That trial by fire mentality
That laissez faire feel
When it’s twisting me inside
Struggling to escape
To break the self-bound chains
That tell me it’s not personal
The look in your eyes
Fixing me to the spot
Calling me baby
Even though I’m not
Not anymore.

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