5.17.2019

Time Traveling Loser

Let’s take a trip through the quantum realm. I have enough Pym particles to make five jumps through time and one test just to make sure it works. Are you ready?

The test run succeeded; I revisited September 15, 2001. Some friends of mine were competing in a garage band contest in McCall that day. I spent the day listening to several different local bands perform. We hung out by the lake, feasted on some of the best pizza I’ve ever devoured, and altered deer crossing signs to make them anatomically correct. It was the perfect way to cope with the tragedy that crashed into our nation a few days prior. Our weekend in McCall is one of my happiest experiences, carefree – surrounded by friends and music. Such memories are rare for me.

Now that I’m back in the present, it’s time to aim for our first destination: the fall of 1990. I had recently started sixth grade and was learning to navigate the halls of my middle school while adjusting to the changing social rules. That kid you see? He’s scrawny, shorter than most of the other kids, uncoordinated, tacky sense of fashion, geeky glasses, and unruly blond hair - that’s me. He desperately wants to be cool but doesn’t know how.

One day, after school, he can’t get to his locker because of the kid who uses the next locker over. The other kid is goofing off with a couple of his friends and young Nic decides to speak when he shouldn’t. He asks the other boys to move. They take one look at the diminutive boy and laugh. Lil’ Nic doesn’t like being laughed at so he replied with a sarcastic remark. This is the first time he ever interacted with school bullies. Two of the boys grab Nic and drag him across the hall, slamming him into lockers on the other side. They restrain him there so he’s unable to escape. The third boy, Shane, approaches. He lets Nic know he’s a loser and should keep his mouth shut. To demonstrate dominance, Shane forms a fist and swings as hard as he can, connecting with Nic’s left temple. The force of the punch knocks Nic’s head back hard enough to dent the locker behind him. Shane’s friends let go and Nic collapses onto the floor in tears while the three bullies run away.

That was my first fight and I lost big. Shane called me a loser that day, a label that stuck with me through most of the rest of my school days.

New destination in time: 1993. I’m now in the ninth grade but I’m not much bigger than the last time you saw me. Ninth grade Nic spends a lot of time at his brother’s house - he lives across the street. The two boys share a love for music and Aarong frequently introduces Nic to new artists or recent albums from some of their favorite bands. Steve Taylor is Nic’s musical hero. As the family prepares for the holiday season, Aaron buys Taylor’s newest record - Squint. They listen to it together for the first time and Nic instantly adored it. From the hook heavy opening track The Lament of Desmond RG Underwood Frederick IV to the odd rock opera closer Cash Cow, every composition sings to him. One song, The Moshing Floor seems to explain his generation, Smug demonstrates the parts of Christian culture that bothers him the most, and The Finish Line is the song he want played at his funeral.


If any song stands out more than the others, it is Jesus is for Losers. This song dug its way into Nic’s heart, put down roots, took shelter there, and provided a shield for his wounded spirit. It’s been three years since Shane’s punch. The remaining years of middle school and junior high were a parade of other bullies calling Nic a loser, sometimes reinforcing the insult with their fists. His few friends were all cooler than me. Better looking, taller, and more athletic. Their parents were wealthier . Even among people who didn’t bully me, he still felt like a loser. This is where you see me in 1993 when I listened to Squint for the first time.

Jesus is for Losers wrecks Nic in the best way possible. “If Jesus is for losers,” he thought, “and I’m a loser, then Jesus is for me.” While most contemporary Christian musicians talked about a Jesus loved Nic because He loves everybody, Steve Taylor sang a song about Jesus loving him because he was Nic. It is a love song for the geeks and nerds. The losers and outcasts. The freaks who didn’t fit in and didn’t belong. The beat up, bullied, and abused.

Just as I am
I am needy and dry
Jesus is for losers
The self-made need not apply

Nothing about ninth grade Nic is self-made. If anything, he’s forged by the taunts of his peers and the crippling violence of assault and harassment condoned by teachers and administrators who look the other way. The song says “Jesus is for losers broken at the foot of the cross,” mirroring the Psalm that tells us “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If the kids at school insist on labeling Nic a loser, he decides to embrace it and wear the name like a crown. God will meet him in his brokenness because Jesus loves losers.

Another jump through time brings us to August of 2013. If you see the grown up Nic crying, it’s because his wife just told him she wants a legal separation.

There’s a pain inflicted when the person who promised to love you for better or worse tells you your best will never be good enough. Her words tore open old wounds from childhood, years of other kids telling Nic he wasn’t good enough. Telling him he wasn’t athletic enough. Or talented enough. Or rich enough. Or cool enough. Nic was always less than. Dork. Loser. Now, he’s losing his marriage.

Granted, her request is only an official application to their reality. Truth is they have been separated for several months since she made a habit of leaving the house as soon as he got home from work. At first she would return around 11pm or midnight but as the days turned into weeks, she started staying out later and later. Now it’s usually 1am (at least) when she gets home. She even started leaving as soon as she’s out of bed on weekends. This day in 2013 might be the day she told Nic she’s leaving but if everyone is honest, she left him a long time ago.

Nic was raised to believe divorce was a sin. He was taught to believe that wedding vows were meant to be permanent. Our bibles contain the text “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Nic intends to keep those vows but the woman he married is out. She gave up. When they exchanged wedding vows, Nic thought that meant forever. Forever?


Those are the thoughts inside my brain as you watch that slightly younger and fatter me sobbing on the couch in my home office. He’s feeling a grief he can’t yet define. There’s a feeling like all he had worked for was falling apart, like all of his efforts were wasted. He is the king of losers losing everything. What he doesn’t know at the moment is this day is the beginning of a season of loss. The next several months will break him down over and over. In November, Grandma Budd - mom’s mom will pass away. On Valentine’s Day, his boss will let him know his position is being eliminated and he’d have to take a pay cut roughly totaling a thousand dollars a month if he wants to remain employed. And by Easter, his wife will file for divorce. He don’t know those events are coming. All he knows is the life he thought he knew is ending. He was, still am, and might always be a loser.

We’re almost done. Our final destination in history is recent, only a couple months ago. That dude sitting in the cab of his truck on the side of the freeway is me. He’s lost some weight, but he’s looking frayed at the edges. It’s a bad day and he don’t fully understand what just happened or what to do next. He texts his fiancée to let her know he was in an accident. Contacts his boss to inform her he’s not going to make it in to work today. Calls 911 and waits for emergency services to arrive.

Nic’s understanding of time is blurry now. A mix of shock and adrenaline are clouding his judgment. He spent a few minutes talking with police officers and paramedics. Or several minutes. It could have been five or fifty, he’s not sure. Today isn’t going according to plan. Instead of a typical day at the office, it is spent talking with insurance companies, ER doctors, and pharmacy technicians. Thankfully, Annie stayed with him for the day. She’s a wonderful woman.

As the sun sets that night, his back is seized in pain and he can’t help but wonder when they’re going to catch a break. Every time it feels like there’s progress, they face a setback. The wreck is one of those setbacks. They live on a farm and a truck is a necessity. They need to be able to pick up and haul fencing supplies, building materials, and hay for their horses. The kids compete in rodeo and they need to tow the horse trailer to events. Now he’s lost the truck. Actually, this is the second truck they lost in the last year - the other had massive engine failure on the freeway while driving home from a rodeo last summer. Nic is burdened with physical pain, which is to be expected when you get hit by a semi. I am also struggling through his emotional response to their situation. The accident wasn’t his fault yet he still feel like a failure. Some days, he wonders if he’s really capable of living the farm life.

Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser.

Almost out of pym particles. We have just enough to get back home. Welcome to the present day. Today is my 40th birthday and I’m very much feeling my age. I’ve come to terms with my life being at least half over and it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate where I’ve been.

Our wandering through my past explored some of the worst days of my life but I needed to get perspective. Our experiences shape us. The good, the bad, the ugly. We are who we are because of these moments and some events stand out more than others. Our days are a series of integers and the people we become is a sum total of every single day. When we look backwards in time, human nature tends to look at the highlight reel. We want to recall the good old days, to relive our warmest and fuzziest memories. It’s healthy to remember the good times, to reminisce. However, it’s dangerous to ignore the days we’d rather forget. It might be easier to look at our mistakes, failures, and tragedies then pretend they never happened. If we do, we lose the ability to learn from them. We can’t dwell on these bad days, but we do need to recognize them for what they are and how they affect to people we are now. I can’t come to terms when the man I am at 40 unless I understand who I was at 11, 14, 34, and 39. Even in my happiest days, there’s a little voice in my head whispering the words Shane told me in sixth grade, that were repeated again and again from school bullies, disgruntled coworkers, and my ex wife: “You’re a loser. You’ll never be good enough.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I’m happier and healthier now than I have been in years. However, happiness doesn’t come easy for me. It takes a lot of work. My natural baseline is melancholy while joy requires intentional effort.

I still occasionally get Jesus is for Losers stuck in my head. The familiar melody brings me comfort. However, there’s another song about losers I hear often. One of the local radio stations still play it a couple times a week even though it’s 25 years old. And I have it in a playlist I listen to whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. Like most of Beck’s songs, Loser is filled with absurd and nonsensical lyrics. He asks his audience why they don’t kill him for being a loser, but he also implores them to get crazy with the Cheeze Wiz so we can’t take him too seriously. Beck didn’t intend the lyrics to contain much substance and he never expected it to be a hit. So he raps about shaving with mace and termites choking on a splinter. It’s one of those songs that should make me feel silly when I sing along, but I still do it loudly and with no shame. It might be four minutes of an entertaining yet ultimately meaningless word salad, but there’s still one line that punches me in the gut every time I hear it. It’s a spoken phrase buried in the mix but the sentiment is earnest. At this stage of my life, it might as well be my anthem: “I’m a driver. I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”


I haven’t always seen hope in my plight as a loser but I do now. I endeavor to be the lovable loser - as a literary archetype, they’re my favorite protagonist.

Perhaps this is you. If you feel like you’re a loser too, then you’re my people. You’re my tribe. I am convinced that Jesus is for people like us. God loves the losers and therefore I have hope. Because of God’s love we’re not consumed. There is new mercy every morning for the freaks and geeks.

As I look back at these four moments in my life, I see hope waiting on the other side of the pain. Every time someone called me a loser, every situation where I felt like a failure, other forces were at work. While there was a devil on one shoulder whispering in my ear “You’re a loser and that’s all you’ll ever be,” there was an angel on my other shoulder gently reminding me, “You’re a driver and a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”

5.09.2019

The Art of Blogging

There are rules. Several rules. Well, maybe not rules, they’re more like suggestions. Enter “blogging tips” into any search engine and you’ll find more helpful lists than you’ll ever have time to read. There are some good suggestions out there.

If I’m honest though, I don’t follow all of the rules. Blogging is an art and sometimes the best artists are those who paint outside the lines.

Most professional bloggers will tell you to maintain a regular posting schedule. I tried it, it’s exhausting, and it hurts my soul. My brain doesn’t properly function under such rigorous demands. So I aim for regular-ish, at least once a week. However, since my car accident, I’ve been lagging behind the more relaxed self-imposed expectation.

Some prominent tips I do attempt to follow, like including pictures in every post. Blog posts with pictures attract more traffic. It's even better if there are words in your pictures. Allegedly.


I also aim to keep the length of my posts within a reasonable word count. Experts tell you if they’re too short, readers skim and move on quickly. But overly long posts risk becoming boring, causing reader to lose interest before they finish. Different writers maintain slightly varied opinions on the correct length of a blog post, and I have my own - no shorter than 800 words, no longer than 1200 words.

That’s my rule and sometimes I break it. I am today by being too short and my next post will be in violation for being too long.

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to word counts when I compose a first draft. My rough drafts are usually composed in a note pad on my computer or the notes app on my phone so that I don’t see the count until I move it into Word. From there, I edit the misspellings and grammar, re-read it for clarity and fix any logical problems, and then I consider length. If it is over the 1200 word limit, I have two choices, cut out extra words or divide the long post into two or more smaller posts.

Usually, I lean toward multi-part posting because I’m hesitant to eliminate content. “I wrote those words for a reason,” is my rationalization. Some ideas also present themselves better in separate yet related posts.

Right now though, this post is only a brief update to where I’ve been and a disclaimer of what’s next.

I got hit by a semi a couple months ago and much of my writing time has been absorbed by physical therapy and recovery. We also have a farm to run and I’ve been working through the pain to make sure our animals remain cared for and fed. Everything I do takes twice as long because I’m moving slower.

Also, just because I haven’t been posting as frequently to the blog, doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m working on my book and my fiancée has been incredible through her support and encouragement to hustle creating something tangible to publish and hold in your hands.

Finally, there is a reason I mention the rules, the steps I take conforming to those rules, and how I sometimes ignore the rules. My next post is going to be long. Really long. It might be the longest single post I’ve ever written for this blog. Normally, I would break up pieces of this length into a part 1 / part 2 series but not this time. My biggest challenge is how it’s a continuous narrative and I couldn’t find a natural break in the story where I could comfortably stop one post and begin another.

The story is also deeply personal. I feel it is too important to split into multiple parts. So brace yourself, it’s a doozy. You’ll want to pour yourself a cup of coffee and find a comfy seat before you read it.

4.28.2019

Bless this Familiar Premise

It’s been almost a year since Roseanne Barr posted an overtly racist insult mocking the appearance of a former senior advisor of Barack Obama. In quick reaction, ABC canceled her show and figured out a way to rework it without the titular character and lead star. The network president called her tweet, “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” It took nine original seasons and one revived return to television for a Hollywood executive to finally put words to the reason my parents wouldn’t allow me to watch the show when I was a kid.

My folks were never fond of Roseanne. They considered her to be rude, crass, brash, obnoxious, and generally offensive. Her show was banned in our house. My dad’s distaste for Barr’s brand of humor was solidified in July of 1990 when she belted out a screeching and intentionally off key rendition of the National Anthem before an MLB game. Between the worst performance of the Star Spangled Banner, the off color television show, and Rosanne’s irreverent personal persona, “abhorrent and repugnant” are the two most suitable words to describe what my family thought of Roseanne Barr.

Yet somehow, I understand the show’s popularity. Comedy tends to skew toward liberal perspectives and Roseanne stood in contrast with a blue collar family and conservative politics. It demonstrated a cohesive (even if dysfunctional) family in a world dominated by broken homes. As the faces and themes of prime-time sitcoms grew more diverse, white America felt like they were losing their dominant place in society. ABC saw a hole shaped like low brow, working class, grumpy white dudes and they filled it with Roseanne. After all, pop culture abhors a vacuum. In the fallout of Barr’s tweet and the show’s cancellation, I was inspired. So I took to Roseanne’s favorite medium and pitched my idea for a new show.



My unsolicited pitch linked to a post I wrote about adjusting to life on the farm and how this phase of my life would be fantastic entertainment if turned into a TV show. As a nerd from the Seattle suburbs, my story is a fish out of water tale that is perfect fodder for a sitcom.

I must be a prophet. Nearly a year later, it seems ABC was listening. They followed my advice. A couple weeks ago, they debuted a new show called Bless This Mess. Consider the official synopsis and compare it to my year-old tweet.

Newlyweds Rio and Mike make the decision to change the course of their life together and move from the relentless pace of big city New York to what they think will be a more relaxed existence in rural Nebraska. After dropping everything --including their jobs and an overbearing mother-in-law -- to make the move from skyscrapers to farmhouses, they soon realize that the simpler life isn't as easy as they had planned. Rio and Mike must now learn how to weather the storm as they are faced with unexpected challenges in their new lives as farmers.

Hmmmm. I suggested a liberal nerd be the main character. Rio is a therapist and Mike is a music journalist. I suggested they move into Trump country. Mike and Rio moved from NYC to small-town Nebraska – a state where Trump won 60% of the popular vote. I suggested they start a family farm. Mike and Rio inherited a farm.

image courtesy of ABC Studios

Theft of my intellectual property? Maybe. I pitched the idea several months before the show went into production. Regardless, I’m impressed with the end result. The first episodes had me laughing out loud several times. Sharp and witty writing with situations so familiar to my current circumstances. I can relate to Dax Shepard’s role of Mike. In the series premiere, Mike admits to his wife, “I want to be the man who can fix a roof. I do. But I don’t think I am.” I’m pretty sure I’ve said something similar to Annie over the past year – perhaps about fences or animal shelters. Rio’s response in the show was perfect; she teased Mike’s pronunciation of “roof” just like Annie makes fun of the way I pronounce “root beer.” Bless This Mess is probably the closest I’ll ever be to seeing a famous actor playing me on TV.

Even if show creators Lake Bell and Elizabeth Meriwether didn’t steal the idea from me, it feels as if they studied my life with Annie at our farm as inspiration for their scripts. If ABC wants to send me any royalty money I won’t complain. And if they ever need some advisers to help brainstorm plots for future episodes, I’m available for hire.

4.14.2019

Humble?

Interpretations of God come in many forms. The deities of Islam or Hinduism. The tenets of Buddha or Confucius. Gods found in nature, science, or the cosmos. Or the modern gods of fame, money, and power.

Even in Christian tradition, the way we see the divine is varied. The Santa Claus god who only reserves wonderful gifts for those who are good enough. The genie god who grants wishes whispered in bedtime prayers. The vindictive god poised to punish sinful deeds. The old man in the sky who watches earthlings from afar. The taskmaster who controls every terrestrial event from hurricanes in the Caribbean to traffic lights that miraculously turn green as you approach. The indifferent god who created the whole universe then washed his hands clean of our existence, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The Dr Feelgood god who is ultimately powerless but will sooth your soul and make you feel alright.

There are Christians who believe in and worship one (or some combination) of these versions of God. This smorgasbord of godly variation allows believers to pick and choose a way of seeing the supernatural in a way that makes them most comfortable. The abundance and diversity in how Christians explain the divine also inspires the opposite of faith. Atheists see these descriptions from their Christian friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They are unable to believe in that kind of god so they believe in no God at all.

If my childhood church preached the gospel of Santa or taught me to pray to a genie in a bottle, I probably wouldn’t believe in God. Nor would I continue to follow a religion if I believed our creator was some punishing tyrant waiting to smite me the moment I make a mistake. I would have abandoned any faith community who encouraged me to worship a distant and aloof god.

Instead, the small Nazarene church my family attended taught me about a God who loved me. It was ingrained through preschool praise choruses: ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ This sentiment was echoed in sermons, Sunday school classes, and midweek youth group meetings throughout the first nineteen years of my life. My peers at church all knew the words of 1 John 4:8: “God is Love.”

I am thankful for the pastors, teachers, and youth leaders of my younger years from the church in Marysville who imprinted this version of a loving God in my psyche. I still believe in THIS God, perhaps now more than ever. I am grateful they taught me about a God who loved me. However, I wish they had also taught me that it was OK to love myself.

The conservative evangelical community of the 80s and 90s was a weird place. The church was caught in a culture war, mostly in a defensive strategy. They were reactionary, hoping to combat the excesses of brat pack movies; glam metal; new wave pop; and the overt sexuality of artists like Madonna, George Michael, and Prince. They were fighting to overcome the scandals of Bill Clinton; the anger and cynicism of grunge music; and the profanity, drugs, and violence of gansta rap and inner city culture. The Christian church that raised me saw evil and hedonism in every corner of secular society. Their reaction was to condemn and forbid all of it. If any of us were to indulge in watching a R rated movie or attending a school dance, it was thought we had gone astray and needed to repent immediately.

There was a consistent message: anything you liked was bad. Your interests were sinful. Without God, you were a horrible human being. You existed in total depravity. But God was good, and God loved you. It was OK to stumble because God would always forgive you. Even mired in sin, we were God’s beloved.

To avoid falling into Satan’s snare, evangelical culture promoted humility as the most important quality. It was as if a humble spirit was a balm to heal the scars left by our sinful past and the bruises of present temptations. We shouldn’t give credence to Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech or abide by the chorus of Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunity, “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.” We were told to sit down. Be humble.

image courtesy of Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records

Humility, like many of the values in my childhood church, was a biblical concept governed by non-biblical rules. For example, the bible prohibits drunkenness but not drinking alcohol. To prevent drunkenness, my church condemned any consumption of alcohol, even if done in moderation. Pride is biblically immoral, with a scriptural call to humility to be the counterbalance. However, my church took the command to be humble to extremes.

In conservative evangelical culture through the 80s and 90s, humility was achieved through radical rejection of self esteem. Jesus told his followers “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” and church leaders interpreted the denial of self to mean a hatred of self. Asking for stuff you want, saying you needed something, or pleading for help was considered selfish, and therefore sinful. Nothing about it was genuine. It was a self-loathing faux humility, smug and self-righteous. We could have ended arguments by yelling “I’m more humble than you.”

As an adult, these childhood lessons of humility have manifested in my self-deprecating sense of humor and my defeatist coping mechanisms. Even today, I struggle to express my wants and needs. I’m practically incapable of speaking my deepest desires. It’s physically painful to admit when I need help. I can’t explain how completely dysfunctional that makes me feel. In prayer, I still find myself approaching God with that same fake humility a whole generation of pastors and Sunday school teachers taught me to possess. I have no problem praying for other people but struggle to pray for me.

My childhood beliefs are slowly coming undone. I’m unlearning all of those supposedly Christian teachings that had no basis in scripture. I’m deconstructing all the damage done by unhealthy religious dogma. I’m discovering what it means to love myself and be humble at the same time. And I’m clinging to the concept of a God who loves me, even when I mess up the balance between ego and humility.

3.30.2019

The Real Hero of NIMH

If I were to ask you to list your favorite films from childhood, could you do it? Not the sit and think about it kind of answer, but an in the moment reply requiring no effort or deliberation. Everyone has those movies that bring them back to a simpler time when they were unburdened with the responsibilities of a grown up world. Given enough time, anyone could name a few titles. But in an instant if I asked you right now?

I could. My collection probably speaks to the era in which I was raised as much as it does my personality. The Goonies. Return of the Jedi. Revenge of the Nerds. Police Academy. The Naked Gun. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Flight of the Navigator. The Neverending Story. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Karate Kid. Back to the Future. Despite their flaws, I consider them to be perfect movies. If they’re playing on a TV in my vicinity, I will stop to watch. They still hold a special place in my heart as the movies that made me fall in love with the magic of cinema.

There is one more not mentioned above - the only animated movie I would include in this list. It was released in 1982, but I didn’t see it until it was available on video cassette. Pretty sure my parents rented it to watch with me for my fourth birthday. A tale of peril and a bunch of smart rodents: The Secret of NIMH. (side note: my parents were fans of Dom DeLuise, who provided voice talent for the crow in NIHM which may or may not have influenced their decision to rent this movie instead of something like Annie, The Last Unicorn, or E.T.)

image courtesy MGM

In NIMH, a mother’s home is about to be destroyed but her son is too sick to get out of bed so she seeks the help of her deceased husband’s friends. If the characters were all human, I’d watch it. But here, the mom was a field mouse and the friends she sought were rats. The rats gained intelligence through experimentation done at the National Institute of Mental Health. I was always fascinated by that plot point – somehow we could create sentient and intelligent creatures through the power of science. Even as a preschooler, my nerd roots were showing.

The character’s captivated me. Mrs. Brisby, the desperate mom who wanted nothing more than to keep her family safe. Jeremy, the clumsy crow who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Mr. Ages, the elderly and curious tinkerer. The terrifying and wise Great Owl. Jenner, the back stabbing rat with a lust for power. Nicodemus, the selfless and noble leader. And Timmy, the little boy sick with pneumonia; I identified with him the most.

I adored The Secret of NIMH. It wasn’t a bright and cheery Disney animated feature. It was dark, grim, and occasionally haunting. It inspired moments of dread not common in family films. It didn’t avoid the topic of death or sugarcoat it. Instead, it treated life with reverence and honor, something to be preserved at great cost. Murder was viewed as the consequence of greed and envy. It was critical of characters who placed selfish ambitions ahead of the good of the community, a topic still socially relevant 37 years later.

image courtesy MGM

Looking back, this was one of the most important movies of my youth, for reasons I didn’t realize until tonight. My son and I were talking about the movie even though the only scene he clearly remembered was when Mrs. Brisby met the Great Owl. He wanted to know why I loved that movie and I explained my above arguments to him. I had a sudden revelation, so I added one more.

Because the hero was a woman.

Realistically, The Secret of NIMH could have relegated Mrs. Brisby into a damsel in distress. The movie even begins with her as a helpless widow initially helped by her friend, then the Rats of NIMH who would have made excellent heroes. They were bigger, smarter, and stronger possessing knowledge of technological gadgetry and could have adequately resolved the plot by rescuing the Brisby family through scientific wizardry. The first half of the film follows this path. Mrs. Brisby looked for help from those most capable of heroics. Halfway through, the story took a detour; Mrs. Brisby could no longer rely on the rats who were so willing to support her. In order to enact their plans, Dragon (the farmer’s cat) needed to be drugged and Mrs. Brisby was the only rodent small enough to sneak into the farmhouse and spike Dragon’s food. While inside, she was caught and held in a cage.

While trapped by the famer’s kids, Mrs. Brisby overheard human plans to exterminate the rats. So she did what any woman would do: she got to work. Mrs. Brisby escaped the cage and farmhouse through her own strength. She made her own way back to her home where the rats were beginning to work. She warned them of their impending doom even though it wasn’t her responsibility. Then she navigated the infighting among the rats, and fought off an attacker. When the rigging designed to lift her home from the mud failed, Mrs. Brisby continued to fight even when all others had given up hope. She demonstrated courage not possessed by any of the rats. Through the power of determination, it was Mrs. Brisby who saved the day. Sure there was a little magic involved, but it was a magic owned by a woman that no man could control.

image courtesy MGM

When a woman needed help, she turned to the world of men. When the men failed, she rolled up her sleeves and helped herself. This was (and still is) an uncommon children’s story. Kids my age rarely saw feminine heroes like this. Most animated features underuse their heroines as a love interest or a princess in need of rescue. Even when women are the main character, they’re infrequently the hero. The little kid version of me needed to see a woman save the world, even if the lady was a mouse. On the foundation of The Secret of NIMH, I’ve always seen my mom as a woman who would storm the gates of hell if it meant saving me. The real hero of NIMH inspired me to admire the girls who were in my classes and social circles. Today, I still see a little bit of Mrs. Brisby in every woman I meet. And I hope to raise my daughter to be one of those feminine warriors who’s not afraid to be the one to save the day.

I don’t have patience for armchair bandits and keyboard commandos complaining about female driven stories from Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman to The Last Jedi. If these pathetic misogynists are so desperately clinging to the patriarchy they feel the need to campaign against the rise of women in cinema, then I only have one suggestion for them. Perhaps they need take a break from trolling Reddit and the YouTube comments section to devote an hour and twenty minutes to watching The Secret of NIMH. It might do them some good.

3.24.2019

After the snap

Last April, comic book movie fans flooded theaters to see their favorite superheroes go to war against Thanos, the mad Titan, and his horde of Outriders. Earth’s mightiest heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy versus the most powerful villain in the universe. One perused unlimited power and the rest fought to prevent disaster. Then it ended with a snap.

In a single moment, the antagonist won. Victory was his. Thanos wished to eradicate half of all living creatures in the universe. He thought it would bring balance to every planet in every solar system. It was his radical solution for over population and resource scarcity. Once he collected a cosmic set of gems - the infinity stones - he used their magical qualities to manipulate time, space, and reality to achieve his destructive plans. He snapped his fingers and half of all life turned to dust.

The movie ended with death on an unimaginable scale. Marvel fans (at least those unfamiliar with comic book lore) found themselves in tears while watching their favorite characters parish. They left the theater knowing half of the characters in the MCU were dead and gone. The fate of the remaining heroes was grim. They were left facing a dire future. The producers and directors and executives at Marvel Studios planned this cliffhanger ending to linger for a year before fans and audiences have a chance to learn how the few survivors rise to the challenge of saving the universe from the depths of despair.

We go through seasons in our lives like this. Time and time again, it seems like we have things under control. We slay our demons and conquer our foes. We are the heroes of our own narratives. Our greatest villains never rise above our abilities and life goes on with us celebrating victories. Then something happens and our world crashes. There’s a devastating loss and we walk through our world like ghosts. Something dies, turned to dust before our eyes. We feel as if all hope is lost.

If art imitates life (or life imitates art) there’s more to our stories than these long dark nights of the soul. There are valleys but there are also mountains. Where we face defeat, we also have opportunity to start over, to rebuild, to heal, to try again. If we have an Infinity War, we also have an End Game. Success is constructed on a foundation of collapse. The masterminds behind the MCU have a plan for their Avengers to rise again after the pain of failure and grief. That’s good news – especially for me. Lately, I’ve been feeling half dead and I’m ready to fight back to regain all I’ve lost.

In a little over a month, The Avengers return to the big screen to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and bring the fight back to Thanos. They’re eager to finish the war. I don’t know about you, but my son and I are going to be walking into our local cinema like this:

courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney

Maybe we need to go into life like this too. Not every day though, just when life has us dumped in terrible and unfortunate circumstances. Are you bruised, beaten, in pain, discouraged, lost, overwhelmed, or losing hope? Suit up. Gather your friends. Get ready for battle. And smile as if you know you’re going to kick adversity’s ass. Then fight, because your life is worth fighting for.

3.08.2019

Trumpianity

Today, Donald Trump did something decent: he visited an area of the country devastated by a recent natural disaster. It is an act any American President should do. When a populace is shaken by great tragedies - whether from a hurricane or a mass shooting, it is normal for people to look to their leaders for hope. In our darkest hour, we want to know that our government hasn’t forgotten us, that they are on our side, and that everything is going to be OK. So Trump went to Alabama to see the havoc caused by tornados and speak with the citizens dealing with the loss of life and property. This is a good thing. It is presidential.

In the middle of these commendable events, Trump’s behavior took a wild detour. He did something I have never seen any other president do. While speaking with storm victims at a church in Opelika, he started autographing bibles.

image courtesy of Carolyn Kaster/AP

This might come as a surprise to some people, but Donald Trump did not write a single chapter or verse of the Bible. He’s not even one of the characters found in those holy pages. If you want a copy autographed by the author, you will need to wait until the afterlife.

Are you as skeptical as me?

Whatever this is, it is not Christianity. You might call it religion but it has nothing to do with Christ. This is not the worship of a humble carpenter from Galilee - it is the glorification of an unrepentant and immoral fool. Other than money and power, what Trump craves most is the adulation and adoration from the masses. We are just giving it to him. This is Trumpianity.

Please do not misunderstand – I am not opposed to people asking Trump for an autograph. Collecting signatures of celebrities is an American tradition. I have some autographed liner notes in my CD collection and a few books signed by the author. Nor do I object to people writing in their Bibles. If Christians are to study it and learn the precepts contained in its pages, highlighting words, underlining passages, and scrawling notes in the margins is the most reasonable thing anyone could do. People should feel free to personalize their Bibles, anything that makes the word of God more real and living for them. My Bible is unmistakably mine - decorated with stickers, comics, and photos on the cover and in the blank spaces of pages inside. On the spine, there’s a hand drawn design I want tattooed on me someday, and a picture of Lajon Witherspoon precedes the book of Galatians.

In Deuteronomy, God commanded the Israelites to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Many scholars in Jewish tradition took these words literally - wearing phylacteries (little leather boxes containing scripture) tied to their arms and foreheads during prayer services. In Christian tradition, we apply this verse more figuratively - binding scripture to our hearts and minds through familiarity and memorization. If you want to learn more about scripture, you should do whatever is needed to help you - excessive note taking, doodling, adding color. If it makes it easier for you bind it to your heart and mind, do it. I am a fan of creative biblical study.

But to see a politician scribbling their signature onto the Word of God? It seems offensively wrong. Blasphemous. Sacrilegious. Heretical. The Bible is a wonderful collection of stories, poems, and letters about God, how the authors understood and related to the divine. Signing your name in someone else’s Bible changes the narrative. With the stoke of a pen, you’ve made the story of God all about you. It is perhaps the most heinously narcissistic thing you could do. It is apostasy.

I am not God. Neither is Trump. When a bunch of people are clambering to have their Bibles autographed by the President of the United States of America, we should call it what it is: idolatry. If we actually read our bibles, we would know the scriptures instruct us to only worship one true God. Those words would be bound to our hearts.

3.01.2019

A Presidential Goat

This is Trumpet. He’s a goat. And he has some fantastic hair.


A few days ago, while doing barn chores, Annie had a revelation about Trumpet’s hair: it’s a combover. His hair has a certain presidential quality to it. Maybe not presidential in a traditional sense, more like it reminds us a little of the man currently serving as president. Then we got thinking and the more we realized our goat and our president have a lot in common. And it’s more than just the floppy coif on the tops of their head. Consider the following.

They can’t stay faithful. Donald Trump initially gained fame and notoriety through tabloid headlines highlighting his marriages, mistresses, divorces, and remarriages. He has five different kids with three different women. He’s cheated on every woman who married him. Trumpet is just as much of a philanderer. A couple weeks ago, Viola gave birth to twins. Trumpet is their dad. Meanwhile, he also got Didgeridoo pregnant and she’ll be going into labor soon. If you think two baby mamas are enough, you’d be wrong because he’s also been getting frisky with two of our other lady goats: Ukelele and Kazoo. We’re going to have a farm full of goats and he’ll the daddy of all of those kids.

Trump has a weird and creepy obsession with his daughter. I’ve lost count of how many cringe inducing and inappropriate things he has said about Ivanka. Like when Trump said he’d date her if she wasn’t his daughter. Or when he asked a writer if it was wrong to be more attracted to your daughter than your wife. Or when he gave Howard Stern permission to call her “a piece of ass.” Or when he awkwardly groped her hips at the RNC convention. Trumpet also has an incestuous fascination with his kin. Let’s just say we try to keep him separated from his sister.

For Trump and Trumpet, rules don’t matter because they do whatever they desire. You want to try and contain Donald Trump? Good luck. I’m guessing his unpredictability and subversion has contributed to the unusually high turnover in the Trump administration. Likewise, Trumpet shows little interest in what you want from or expect of him. He goes where he wants. If you try to contain him, he will jump over gates and fences to do what he should not be doing.

We all know that President Trump is a raging narcissist. His sociopathic behavior is mirrored in Trumpet the goat. As far as Trumpet is concerned, everything that happens around our farm is about him. When we go out to the barn, he jumps to greet us as if we only made the trek to see him. Then he circles around us until we acknowledge him. Should any smaller creatures stand between him and his destination, he will trample straight over the top of them. If Heartsong Meadow had a daily newspaper, he would demand constant front page mentions. He poses for our trail camera. He smiles when we catch him acting naughty. And don’t ever call Trumpet a goat – he might get confused and think you’re calling him the greatest of all time.

When we feed the chickens, Trumpet thinks we’re feeding him. When we feed the horses, Trumpet thinks we’re feeding him. It doesn’t matter what animal is being fed. Trumpet assumes all food is for him. He loves to eat, much like President Trump. What would Trump be without a bucket of KFC, his extra scoop of ice cream, or a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo? Trump and Trumpet share an insatiable appetite. Neither of them, man or goat possess the will power to resist a Big Mac.

They have so much in common: megalomaniacs, obnoxious, loud, and constantly in search of a meal. At least in the goat’s case, the hair is real.

2.17.2019

Then It Happened (Mea Culpa)

Monday was a long day. The previous Saturday brought heavy snowfall and blowing winds. The wind created massive drifts covering many of our area’s roads and messy driving conditions. Snow continued throughout the day Sunday, and by the time I headed out to do barn chores Monday morning, there was over a foot of snow on the ground. My work commute was double my usual travel time so I was not the happiest of campers when I finally reached my office.

I couldn’t get out of the office at my normal time – there was a project that needed completion and I had to get it done before heading home. I headed out to my truck about 20 minutes later than usual, and needed to brush more snow off my truck. As I started to pull out of the parking lot, I discovered the worst possible malfunction to happen during a snowstorm: my windshield wipers weren’t wiping. Additionally, my blinkers didn’t work either and my seatbelt was stuck in the retracted position. It would not be safe for me to drive home. Luckily, my truck is like a computer, all I needed to do was turn it off and back on. After restarting (rebooting?) the engine, everything was fine.

By then, I was tired, frustrated, hungry, and facing a long slow drive back to the farm. All I wanted was to be home with the woman I love where all the stresses of the day were irrelevant. Then I found one more obstacle in my way.

After driving through the parking lot, as I approached Ironwood, there was a red SUV stuck in the snow between me and the main road. The driver had it turned sideways blocking the parking lot exit. He was spinning his tires so I assumed it was some Californian transplant who didn’t know how to drive in the snow so they bought a vehicle with four wheel drive to overcompensate. Everyone knows – or at least should know – spinning your tires on snow and ice is a bad idea. It packs down whatever has you stuck into smoother and slicker ice. In turn, it becomes more difficult to get un-stuck. On top of violating commonsense rules of winter driving, this guy popped the hood for his engine compartment and started poking around in there. His actions left me aggravated and confused. I can be a judgmental jerk sometimes.

In order to cement my moment of jerkiness, I did what any perfectly self-righteous pompous ass would do. I ranted about it on facebook for anyone to see.


After clicking the share button in facebook, a more civilized version of myself resumed control. I couldn’t safely navigate around him and wasn’t going to be able to leave until he was out of the way. I shut off my engine, turned on my hazard lights, and got out to see if he needed any help. Perhaps, I thought to myself, all he really needs is someone who knows how to drive in snow to get him out of his jam. Even in my generosity I was selfish with an added bonus of superiority.

“Are you having some problems?” I asked the world’s dumbest question with the most obvious answer.
He chuckled, “Yeah, you could say that. My front axle is locked up.”
“Do you have it in four wheel drive?”
“Yeah.”
“Did you try taking it out of four-wheel and putting it back in?”
“Yup.”

This is the moment when I finally felt like an asshole. First, because I’m not a mechanic. In fact, I am embarrassingly lacking in mechanical skills. This stranger stuck in the parking lot presented me with a problem I didn’t know how to fix. Second, and perhaps more urgently, I heard the rest of his story.

His girlfriend was running late for work that morning so he let her drive the Xterra. It was safer for her to take it than their other car. She dropped their kids off at the daycare next door to her office then went to work. With the day over he dropped their junker car off for her to drive when her shift ended, then he picked up the kids to head home. I looked in the back window of his rig and noticed three young children sitting shoulder to shoulder in the back seat. He was on his way out from the day care parking lot when his vehicle shuddered and everything when haywire.

“My girlfriend must have done something to it to mess it up. The back wheels are turning but not the front. I can still steer but those wheels won’t rotate no matter what I do.” He closed the hood and jumped back into the driver’s seat. Then to demonstrate as if he had to prove it to me, he attempted acceleration in both forward and reverse. The back tires spun in both attempts, but the front tires remained motionless.

Mea culpa.

With my ego completely deflated, I only had one more question to ask. “Do you need me to call someone for you?” At last, I was trying to be helpful.

“Naw.” He declined. “If I can’t get it to go, I’m gonna have to call a tow truck.”

In reverse, he could get enough traction to drag the Xterra backwards – even with the front tires locked in place. He managed to move far enough out of the way for other drivers to pass through. There was nothing I could do to remedy his situation so I returned to my truck and drove away.

I’m sure he called a tow truck. He and the kids eventually made their way home. He and his girlfriend are now reduced to one car between them, one vehicle to transport them both to two different jobs with no clear answer to when their Xterra would be fixed. I know how hard that is because I’ve been there before. Even though I’ll probably never see this man again, I felt a little bit of a kindred spirit in him. He’s a dad trying to take care of his kids just like me. And we live in a world where things tend to go awry. The struggle is real. He’s there, and I’ve been there.

Consider this a long winded explanation of a lesson we all should have learned as children: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Despite my best efforts to not be a judgmental jerk, my inner asshole rears his ugly head every now and then. Perhaps I feed him a bit too much.

ps: if you happen to be the driver of that red Xterra, I apologize for my arrogance and impatience. I hope things worked out for your good. And I owe you a drink.

2.08.2019

A Halftime Show that Won’t Disappoint

It seems some people were not impressed with Maroon 5’s performance last Sunday. Buzzfeed compared Adam Levine’s shirt to household upholstery, and several ladies swooned when he took off the same shirt. The majority of songs they played were from their 17 year old debut album, Travis Scott’s guest appearance was heavily censored, and Big Boi represented his home town with a fur coat and a Cadillac. Annie thought Levine looked like Ernie from the trailer park. I thought he looked like the bastard offspring of Eminem and Justin Bieber.

Regardless of whether you were bored or entertained, one thing is clear: the NFL doesn’t know what they’re doing. Year after year, they recruit big name artists to play the Halftime Show and more often than not, those acts end up lackluster. Social media annually floods with complaints over the suckage Super Bowl viewers just endured for 15 minutes. Other than the exception of Bruno Mars, there hasn’t been a universally praised halftime concert since Prince in 2007.

The wonderful citizens of the internet have a solution to this problem. They have a superstar in mind who could satisfy audiences of any age and fans of any genre. Someone who has been performing with the same band for over 30 years, a four time Grammy winning performer, and a very weird man. So weird it’s even in his name: Weird Al Yankovic.


It’s not just a couple a of randos on Reddit who want this to happen. There are some big names championing this cause including Patton Oswalt.



I can get behind this idea. Imagine the possibilities. While Patton suggested a guest appearance from Madonna, I have some other ideas. If it was up to me, here’s what you would see at the 2020 Pepsi Halftime Show.

The performance starts with only the band on stage. They play the opening riff of their Queen Parody. Yankovic’s voice sings from off stage: “Another one rides the bus. Another one the bus.” The lights go out and a lone spotlight shines down to the entrance where Al rolls in on a Segway for a rap medley. White & Nerdy is up first followed by All About the Pentiums. The first guest star jumps on stage during this second song: Dave Grohl playing the guitar. Grohl was the guitarist on All About the Benjamins - the Diddy song Pentiums parodies. The medley ends with Coolio and LV joining Al for Amish Paradise.

Next, the band plays their spoof of a song from a previous Halftime performer: Perform This Way – a parody of Lady Gaga’s Born this Way. Even better, Weird Al wears sparkly shoulder pads as a tribute to Gaga’s Super Bowl fashion. Perform this Way leads into a second song from the same album, Party in the CIA which parodies Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus. Naturally, Miley would Join Al for the spoof of her song.


As Miley exits the stage, another famous face enters: Steven Tyler. The two guys sing Livin’ in the Fridge, a parody of a song originally written by Tyler – Aerosmith’s Livin’ on the Edge. As Tyler sings the final chorus, Al disappears for a costume change. Crowds cheer as the Aerosmith front man bows.

Lights dim again and Al emerges carrying a light saber and wearing a brown robe. The next song is a sing-along for the whole stadium – The Saga Begins. “A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away …” Joined by fans dressed in Star Wars cosplay, they lead the crowd singing “My my, this here Anakin guy. May be Vader someday later - now he's just a small fry. And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye. Sayin' "Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi.” Episode 9 should still be in theaters so this would be a great cross promotional opportunity for Disney.

Finally, or Al’s last few minutes on the stage in Miami, he strips off the Jedi robe to reveal his signature Hawaiian shirt, a stagehand delivers his accordion. Al is known for his polka collections which mash up bits of popular songs into one track - all accompanied by accordion riffs and polka beats. For the NFL, Al unleashes a new collection unheard before: The Super Bowl Polka – polka renditions of tunes performed in previous Halftime Shows: hits from Coldplay, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé. As the song ends, surprise – he’s not done yet and neither is the polka. Lin-Manuel Miranda arrives for the grand finale: The Hamilton Polka. Fireworks. Lights out. Commercial break.

It’ll never happen but a boy can dream. Right?

2.05.2019

A Fowl Tale of Horror and Survival

The attack happened in darkness. The morning sun revealed carnage none of us were expecting.

Nemo and Dory were the original residents of our barn – a pair of Chinese geese who first lived in the yard behind Annie’s old house. We stuffed them into a carrier and they rode in my car for a noisy transport to the new property. At first, they didn’t care much for the farm life; they made frequent attempts to run away. Within weeks at our new residence, Annie had lost them only to find them at the neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor. The poor lady was scared to go out her back door because our geese camped out there, honking at her and refusing to vacate the premises. Last spring, they hatched a few eggs; we sold two of their chicks with the intention of doing the same for the third. Instead, it lingered with us where she became fond of our kids. All of our water fowl are named after Disney characters, but we never picked one for the little goose – our friend Pam lovingly called her Peepers.

We also had a collection of ducks. Rouens, pekins, khaki campbells. They were a mixed bunch – two drakes and four hens who stuck close to each other. If you ever saw one, the others were close behind, all squawking and quacking and waddling between the house and barn like the happiest flock you’d ever meet.

Between the geese and ducks, our farm was constantly noisy. The geese would honk anytime another creature approached. The ducks quacked as they walked; the only time they ever shut up is when they were sitting still. Our environment was exuberant and dominated by our birds.

It was over in one night. When the boys and I headed out to the barn for morning chores the air was silent – an unnatural absence of sound. JJ noticed something out of the ordinary before any of the rest of us, pointing toward the fence and asking what was over there. I dismissed it at first, but then I looked closer: two motionless white lumps in the grass didn’t belong there. On closer inspection, it was Nemo and Dory, slain and left side by side. Closer to the barn we discovered Peepers. The ducks were also quiet. I opened the barn door, fearing the worst. Inside, two ducks started quacking at the site of us humans and they scurried into a side room. But there were only two, the other six were gone.

We suspect the predator was a cougar. It killed indiscriminately, stole away what it could carry, and left behind the extras as if it planned to return to collect the rest at a later time.

Heartsong Meadow has been a great learning experience for the kids. They’ve learned how to care for animals and manage the land, how to be good stewards, how to enjoy and appreciate the natural world. Along with the good, there is tragedy. We live in bear country. And cougar territory. And near coyote habitats. Possibly in the midst of wolves. Falcons, hawks, and owls patrol our air space. Raising farm animals in lands inhabited by nature’s savage killers, it’s only a matter of time before one of our beloved creatures fall victim to a predator. Our time ran out. The ducks were gone and the geese remained to be buried. Christian and I dug their graves and laid them to rest. Our plans for the day were sidelined as the kids figured out how to grieve.

However, the final count of the deceased was not as bad as we originally thought. Later the same morning, I found Tadashi in front of the house. He was disoriented and having trouble walking; he found his way into the garage where I caught him and held him for a while. There were no signs of injury but he demonstrated the effects of trauma.

As evening approached, we found another reprieve from our loss. It started with a light quacking in the distance, coming from the far side of the horse pasture. It came closer and closer, the squawk of distress growing louder until we could determine its identity. The larger of our two pekins: Merida. The cougar must have carried her to the gully at the back of our farm. Attempted murder yet Merida survived. When she reached the barn, we picked her up for inspection. She had puncture wounds in her neck, blood streaked through her white feathers, dirty and disheveled but otherwise unharmed. We brought her to the house where we had a makeshift hutch built in the garage. Merida and Tadashi stayed there for a few days while we nursed them back to health.

Unfortunately for Merida, the battle with a cougar had lasting consequences. The bite in her neck damaged a nerve. Within weeks, it was apparent she had lost most of her vision. Before long, she was completely blind.

Merida is still with us. We added new ducks to our flock and she enjoys the extra company. She waddles around the farm sightless; she listens for the quacks of her duck pack and follows where ever their sounds lead. She finds food and water by smell. Sometimes, she walks into solid objects, bumps into other birds, or trips over obstacles. Other times, the main flock walks out of the barn and turns right but Merida will turn right before leaving the barn – ending up lonely in the corner unsure of how to join her companions.

There she is, the one in white, walking into Mulan.

She’s alive and she’s the sweetest thing. Christian has adopted her has his own – his duck. Any time he picks her up, she snuggles into him in a way she doesn’t do with any other person.

She’s also my favorite duck. Then again, I have always had a thing for the broken ones, the odd ducks, the weirdoes, the outcasts, the ones who aren’t normal. I root for the underdog. Always. Merida is all of that. She’s also a fighter and a survivor. There’s no reason she should still be living, but there she is, every morning when I throw out seed. Every time I go into the barn to check on our pregnant goat. In the evening when I feed hay to the horses. She follows the other ducks’ quacks in a search for food, often stumbling over my feet while impatiently waiting for grain. Merida is determined to thrive against all odds. Or, Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm said: “Life, uh, finds a way.”

1.25.2019

Truck Yeah

A couple weeks ago, a coworker caught me on my way out the office door. "Headed home?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered. "Well, actually to the store first to get pig food, then home." He looked at me funny and asked why I'm getting pig food. "For a pig. I have pigs." He looked even more confused so I added more. I live on a farm. We have pigs, horses, goats, chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

He started laughing. "For real?" I nodded. He said, "So you're telling me our super geeky system access administrator lives on a farm. That might be the most North Idaho thing I've ever heard." Our farm might not be in Idaho but it's close enough and his point is legitimate. This region is where nerds get a little dirt under their fingernails.

If you've been following along over the past year and a half, you'll know this has been a season of change. I left the apartment and relocated into the country. My family lives on acreage and we're raising an assortment of furry and feathered friends. I got a horse of my own and frequently wear my cowboy boots to work. While I'm still a giant nerd, I'm now a rural nerd. I am becoming equal parts giddy up and all your base are belong to us.

Last weekend, I did something I never imagined doing. As a result, my farmer transformation is almost complete. I traded in the sedan and got myself a truck. But not just any truck, I bought one with a lift kit.


There's some grief and loss here. I miss the Honda's gas mileage, heated seats, sunroof, defroster that doesn't take 20 minutes to warm up, remote keyfob for keyless locks, soundsystem with a decent subwoofer, and windshield I can easily reach when it's frosty outside. But we needed a truck. We need something to tow the horses during rodeo season and a way to haul hay for the animals so we can avoid paying extra to get it delivered. And it'll be nice to drive it out behind the back pastures on a warm summer night, park it, climb into the bed, lay down, and appreciate the beautiful and vast expanse of galaxies stretched above us.

Don't worry though, I'm not going to become a complete redneck. Everybody knows you never go full redneck.

As we drove home from the dealership, Annie asked me if I'd be her geeky farmer. I think I can handle that. Country living is alluring with this strange and inexplicable romantic feeling. I am being assimilated. Resistance is futile.

1.14.2019

Six

Last Monday was your birthday. On Wednesday, we celebrated with our family. And on Saturday, we threw you a big party. You're now six years old and this last week has been all about you.

How you like carrot cake far more than a typical kindergartner.
How you're excited to participate in simple household chores.
How you sing when your favorite Jojo song starts to play.
How you squeal at the sight of the dogs after being gone at school all day.
How you jump when you're happy.
How you exude joy even in sickness.
How balloons can fill you with wonder.


Every day with you is a gift. You see the world from a peculiar perspective where there is always reason to laugh or dance or speak gibberish. You have a superpower - the ability to bend this universe to your imagination where anything is possible.

There is a light in your eyes that refuses to be dimmed. A song in your soul that will not be silenced. A bounce in your step that cannot be discouraged. We hope to teach you how to navigate the complexities of existence, to lead and guide you through your childhood to a fruitful life. However, watching you has shown me how much we have to learn from you.

So shine bright. Dance and laugh and play and be wild. Happy birthday, Joylyn. May your sixth year be the greatest yet.

1.10.2019

Hip-Hop & Me Part 2: I Love Rap Music

As a 19 year old kid working in a record store, I selected a Master P album from our display racks and started reading out loud through the track listings. After each title, my friend Jeff and I would take turns making a joke about the song. When I got to the song 'I Miss My Homies,' Jeff shouted across the store, "Then you shouldn’t have shot him!" We thought of it as light hearted humor at the expense of our homophobic coworker who also happened to be Master P's biggest fan. We mocked an entire genre for cheap laughs without understanding anything about the music or culture.

I quit the record store job early in 1999 and by June I was contemplating if Seattle had any purpose in my future. In August, I moved away from my folks and relocated to the Boise area. I got a job stocking merchandise for Old Navy, unloading the delivery trucks and folding stacks of clothing to be displayed for customers to peruse in the morning. After the store was closed, we would turn the radio up for the graveyard crew - most frequently tuned to an urban music station. Jay-Z, Ludacris, and Outkast were huge at the time - their songs played often while we stacked jeans and t-shirts into neat piles to be toppled and torn asunder by the time we returned for our next shift.

But it wasn't their music that helped me fully celebrate rap music. Instead, it was a sextet of albums which turned me into a real rap fan - four of them released from the same label. Common's Like Water for Chocolate, Mars Ill's Raw Material, Tunnel Rats' Tunnel Vision, MG The Visionary's Transparemcee, Sup The Chemist's Dust, and Dilated Peoples’ Expansion Team. These six records challenged the way I thought about rap songs, hip-hop culture, music composition, racial reconciliation, and the disparities between urban black communities and the world in which I was raised.


As I got older, I related more and more to hip-hop. The circumstances of my life exposed me to tragedies and people and environments I had never seen while growing up in Marysville, Washington. I saw the effects of poverty, drug abuse, broken homes, and racism. Gradually, rap made more and more sense. When they talked about struggle, I knew what it was like. When they talked about justice, I looked from their perspective. All those elements of hip-hop I previously despised took on new meanings.

Finally, I understood all of it. For many rap artists, their talk of violence and criminal activity was an explanation of their situation and not a justification of their actions. They were telling listeners about the challenges they faced. They were not glorifying their flaws, they were looking for a way out. They were describing the world around them. The objectionable lyrics focused on the lives they had, not the lives they wanted.

I could relate. Even white boys from the suburbs can comprehend when life doesn't turn out the way you dreamed.

These days, my youngest son wants to be a rapper when he grows up. Either that or a professional athlete. Maybe a police officer if his first two options don't work out. I carefully filter his musical options; I’d rather steer JJ away from destructive voices and curate instead a collection of superior aptitudes, attitudes, and messages. There are some awful rappers out there and always will be, yet there are many more talented artists out there trying to change the culture. JJ and I will geek-out over some of his favorites: Lecrae, Social Club Misfits, Canon, KB, Derek Minor, Tedashii, and NF. Today, I'm more encouraged by the state of hip-hop than ever before.

If you see me bobbin my head, there’s a good chance I’m listening to Propaganda. Or Chance the Rapper. Maybe Sho Baraka, Talib Kweli, Pigeon John, or Kendrick Lamar. I’m not just listening to their music, I’m hearing their perspectives. And I’m learning. Because of these artists, I can return to the hook of the very first rap song that got me hooked. I love rap music. I always have and I always will. Come listen with me. Maybe you’ll love it too.

1.06.2019

Hip-Hop & Me Part 1: Can I Kick It?

Dad was raised in Kansas and Mom grew up in Wyoming. Collectively, their childhoods were surrounded by corn fields and cattle ranches. Their westward migration brought our family to Seattle where Aaron and I spent our youth in a small, predominantly white suburb 45 minutes north of the city. We attended a conservative Christian church that prohibited dancing and looked at pop culture with disdain.

My parent's vinyl collection contained albums from ABBA, Keith Green, Simon & Garfunkel, Amy Grant, The Carpenters, and Chicago. Sunday mornings, before church, we listened to Seattle's Christian music station, or as I called it: the Sandi Patty station. During the week, Mom's radio was permanently tuned to oldies, but Dad flipped between sports radio where we'd listen to Dave Niehaus announce Mariners games on KJR or the lite rock station which played through the hits of artists like Phil Collins, Peter Cetera, and Richard Marx. Dad occasionally listened to classic rock and one of his favorite stories to tell was about a time he set the song 'Wipeout' on several consecutive replays through a jukebox at the local diner before leaving the building.

Aaron had different tastes in music. He was a huge Stryper fan in the 80s; as he got older, his music preferences got heavier. My brother also introduced me to what became some of my favorite musicians. Poor Old Lu, Guardian, Five Iron Frenzy, MxPx, and The Swirling Eddies.

When the grunge scene exploded, I was in seventh grade - the perfect age to be drawn to the sonic playground and angsty lyrics of bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots. Many of my friends started bands wanting to be the next Nirvana and I buried myself in alternative music. If it isn’t already apparent, allow me to be blunt: my musical roots are about as white as it gets.

My parents were not overly restrictive. We were never the "Christian music only" kind of family like many of my churched peers. While they permitted us to listen to anything, there were artists they actively discouraged: Michael Jackson, Mötley Crüe, Tupac Shakur, Van Halen, Smashing Pumpkins. Stylistically though, there is only one genre my dad made known would never be approved: rap. For the most part, that didn't bother me. Aaron was a metal head and I was a grunge baby. For a long time, my dad's anti-rap bias was never challenged because we never tried.

Until I was in the youth group at church.

The evangelical culture of the early 90s insisted there should be an appropriate Christian substitute for any form of popular music. If you liked Bon Jovi, the church would recommend Petra. If you like New Kids on the Block, the church would recommend Audio Adrenaline. If you like rap music - anything from De La Soul and Arrested Development to NWA and Snoop Dogg, CCM marketing had one group it would suggest: DC Talk.

In 1992, DC Talk released a music video compilation called Rap, Rock, & Soul which featured all the singles from their first two albums. One of our youth group leaders played the videos at a Sunday night event; it was my first real (ish) introduction to hip-hop. The song that stood out the most was 'I Luv Rap Music.' Even today, I still get the chorus stuck in my head with little provocation: "I love rap music, I always have and I always will. There ain't no other kind of music in the world that makes me feel quite as chill." The music intrigued me but I still had a hard time shirking my dad's attitudes about rap.

When Wu Tang Clan and Public Enemy started getting popular with my peers, I eschewed it. Dad taught me rap music was bad, and these two groups seemed to exhibit everything my dad said was wrong with the genre. Aaron dug into hip-hop before I did. He stuck within the Christian subgenre and shared the albums he bought. He played records from ETW, S.F.C., Gospel Gangstaz, and T-Bone. I liked the music but felt guilty about listening.

Something in me believed Dad would not approve even though the artists were all Christians. I overcame that fear because of DC Talk. Aaron took me to see them live when they were on tour with Michael W Smith. When I bought their 1992 album Free At Last, it had already been out for a couple years. As a band, their music had shifted to a more pop-rock sound but TobyMac still rapped in every song. I finally had a rap album I was brave enough to play around my dad. He told me he didn't like all the rapping but he thought it was good music.

By the time I started my sophomore year of high school, I still loved grunge music and started getting into the punk scene. However, there was only one radio station allowed on the bus ride to school and our driver avoided alternative rock. The station she selected played the same two songs every morning: Sheryl Crow's 'All I Wanna Do' and Seal's 'Kiss From a Rose.' In my junior year, the two songs played each morning were TLC's 'Waterfalls' and Coolio's 'Gangsta's Paradise.' The Coolio song is the first rap song from outside Christian culture that I embraced. 23 years later I can still recite the lyrics like an educated fool with money on my mind.

Even then, I didn't consider myself a real rap fan. The biggest musical influences in my life were Billy Corgan, Steve Taylor, and Tim Taber - all singers, songwriters, and producers. I was still bothered by the subject matter and vulgar language of hip-hop hits. I was flirting, but not quite in love.

In 1998, I got a job at a record store. One of my coworkers loved rap music. He was also homophobic. My other coworkers and I mocked him relentlessly for both. I used to criticize him when he didn't ask his customers to say "Uhh," a reference to his favorite rapper, Master P, whose biggest hit was a song called 'Make'Em Say Uhh!'

My attitudes about music began to change while working at that store and my coworkers love for hip-hop began to rub off on me. I bought two rap albums during this time; the first was Wyclef Jean's The Carnival, the other was Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys. I was hooked and started listening to more hip-hop. Still, rap was only a mild fascination, but I wasn't a fan. I enjoyed the music but didn't understand the culture.