5.22.2023

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Writing a Novel

Hero was in love with the girl next door. Unfortunately, she was courtesan pledged to be married to a famous soldier who was on his way home from war to claim his new bride. Not all is hopeless for romance; Hero’s family has a slave named Pseudolus who will do anything to earn his freedom and he’s willing to lie or cheat to get it. Pseudolus sees this star-crossed lust as his chance to escape slavery.

The two boys hatch a plan. Pseudolus will help Hero get the girl of his dreams. In exchange, Hero will grant Pseudolus the freedom for which he yearns. The scheme is complicated and does not turn out the way they hoped. High jinks, and supposedly comedy ensue.

This is the gist of the 1966 movie, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” I was a kid the first time I watched it: junior high aged, perhaps younger. At the time, it was the weirdest film I had ever seen. My undeveloped brain struggled to follow the quick dialog and musical numbers. I failed to see the humor or purpose of the elements of slapstick and farce. I was unable to understand the satirical social commentary. I was soured by the 60s sounding score and the dated Romanesque costumes. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is not a kids movie and I was far too young to enjoy it.
courtesy of UA/MGM

Now older and more appreciative of movie history I’ve grown into a connoisseur of a wider variety of film styles. I’m no longer appalled by the shenanigans of Pseudolus and Hero in their quests for freedom and love. Upon review, I’ve found myself relating to the slave Pseudolus. I’m not the liar and cheater like the movie character but I understand his motives. Playing matchmaker for Hero and Philia was his one opportunity to seize everything he ever wanted. He saw this as his one shot and was not going to miss his chance to blow because this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

That makes sense to me.

Pseudolus was a slave to Hero’s parents and he wanted a new and better life. I’m also a slave to our modern world: a nine to five job, child support payments, a mortgage, grocery coupons, rebellious teenagers, and a limited budget. For nearly a dozen years I’ve felt like writing was the only available ticket to my new and better life. If my outlook was dismal, I would write my way out. I don’t have any star-crossed friends who want to be lovers in need of my help, but I did write a book. Sometimes it feels like my one shot, one opportunity. If I can’t turn my authorship into a career, there is no plan B. Like Eminem said, Success is my only mother(expletive) option.
courtesy of Universal Pictures

Like Pseudolus and his ill advised trip to the forum, a funny thing happened to me on the way to writing a novel. Several years ago, when blogging was still the next big thing, a friend of mine got a two book publishing contract with one of the big five. I was excited for her, along with our little blogging network. After the debut of her first novel, she started blogging less and eventually stopped updating her blog. It’s been over a decade since she’s posted anything on her blog. I understand why she did what she did so I’m not holding any grudges. At the same time, I swore I would not fall to the same fate when I wrote my first book. But here we are. Ever since I started working on “Kingdom of Odd,” my blogging output has dwindled.

Now is my time to hustle, edit and refine, and dive headfirst into the world of shameless self promotion. Keyboard fail me not this may be the only opportunity that I got.


More to read:

Me and that Eminem song
Why I write
My novel in process

5.16.2023

Be Weird

Do you remember the first time you realized you were weird? I do.

It happened during the 1983/84 school year and I was four years old. My best friend in preschool was a kid named Marcus. While I thought I was friends with all of the kids in our class, Marcus was the only one who really treated me like I was his friend.

Show and tell was always a highlight - being able to see all the cool stuff other students brought. Their swag was always so much cooler than anything I had to share. Marcus proved it one week when he brought in the Millennium Falcon play-set. It was the big one that opened up and had space to stand action figures inside. It was so large he had to carry it with two hands.
photo courtesy Kenner


My mom and aunts took me to the theater for a Return of the Jedi showing the previous summer and I thought it was the best movie ever. I was obsessed with Wookiees, Ewoks, Sarlaccs, and Kowakian monkey-lizards (Salacious B. Crumb was my favorite character).

The most exciting Star Wars toy I owned was a speeder bike that exploded into four pieces when you pushed a button behind the seat. Then my best friend walked into our classroom with the most epic toy my young brain could have imagined. I was legitimately jealous. When it was his turn for show and tell that day, I spoke the word that Keanu popularized a decade and a half later. “Whoa.”

Was it really that awesome though? I thought so. And Marcus was proud of it. Unfortunatly, we were the only two students who had positive feelings about the Millennium Falcon. The other kids in our class were unimpressed. When our teachers asked if anyone had questions for Marcus, I was the only student to raise a hand. No one else cared. I watched Marcus deflate, his pride slowly evaporated.

These days, the same toy now sells for anywhere between $300 and $400. In hindsight, Marcus and I knew something about the magic of a galaxy from a long time ago and far far away. We were ahead of our time. Or rather, we were geeks out of place. Return of the Jedi might have been the most popular movie of 1983, but in our conservative evangelical ran preschool in our corner of suburbia, being a Star Wars fan made you a weirdo.

Marcus’ anticlimactic moment in the show and tell spotlight was the first time I realized I was weird. All our peers disapproved of his special interest except me. If he was weird for what he liked, then I was weird too.

Countless interactions with my church peers throughout my childhood and adolescence reconfirmed my oddities. I was the short kid, uncoordinated, and the last one picked in all of our competitive games. I was the theater geek, the quirky and socially awkward kid, the only one in church who read comic books. I was the lone fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I was never elected into the leadership team even though I was one of the few kids who showed up to every event, entered every talent show, played every puding-through-the-nose game, attended every camp and retreat, and participated in every work and witness trip. By the time I graduated high school my role of the outcast was clear, I would never be a part of that inner circle.

Marcus was still around, as weird as always. But he was at peace with his weirdness. He found a way to lean into it and embrace it. He knew the cool kids in our youth group would never accept him, and he didn’t care. He and I walked away with his preschool show and tell defeat with different lessons. He was determined to never let the opinions of our church peers bother him again, while I desperately and fruitlessly sought their approval. It would take me another two decades to find the happiness in weirdness Marcus developed as a teenager.

Grandpa Budd’s funeral was last week. I watched online as Grandpa’s friends and my family entered with a pizazz rarely observed at such somber events. Many wore red clown noses, track suits were abundant, a few people walked into the sanctuary on stilts, and nearly everyone wore bright colors. After the funeral, they held a party with calisthenics and dancing. In the atmosphere of grief and loss, the room was filled with joy and energy. That’s the way Grandpa desired it. He wanted his family to be as loud and as fun as he was.

This is the side of my family who treated me to my first movie theater experience to see Return of the Jedi. This is the side of the family who taught me to enjoy Batman, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Matrix - but also "normal" things like travel and volleyball. Grandpa was an athlete and educator with an irrepressible thirst for knowledge and a goofy sense of humor. He gave me my passion for continuous learning and my insatiable wanderlust. He also gifted our whole family the freedom to be weird. Or as my cousin Wendy said, “Thanks Grandpa for being a total weirdo and ensuring that your family followed suit.”
photo courtesy my cousin Wendy


My life has been so much better since I learned the skills my friend Marcus and my Grandpa Budd had already mastered. Weirdness is an asset. My family has always been weird and it took me far too long to appreciate it. I’ve always been weird and I wish I gave myself permission to enjoy it sooner.

Be weird. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace your weirdness. If I have one mission in life, it’s to live out my God-given weirdo personality to help others find joy and peace in their own weirdish ways. To help you live weird.


More to read:

Marcus and Black Hole Sun
Marcus and cold weather
Remebering Grandma Budd

4.07.2023

Can’t Take You Seriously

When I was growing up, I was taught by parents, teachers, and pastors how honesty was one of the most worthy virtues a person can possess. You’re only as good as your word. Politically speaking, I was raised to believe Democrats were all liars but Republicans were honest. Then as a teenager, watching the news of Clinton’s affair was supposed to cement my belief in the fundamental dishonesty hardwired into the Democrat party.

As an adult, I know better. I now know there are more deceitful politicians than there are trustworthy politicians. Regardless of political party, people lie to get elected. Or, at best, they make promises they can’t keep. Once in office, they will manipulate facts to fit their agenda and take credit for achievements they originally opposed to make themselves look better. I have seen this happen time and time again, from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and others.
If the last seven years have taught me anything, the bombardment of political lies (or as one once said … “alternative facts”), one party has turned dishonesty into an art form. The abundance of deceitfulness has become weighted heavier toward the party of so-called honesty. At this point, it’s out of control. To demonstrate what I mean, you should watch this. Actually, you only need to watch the first 29 seconds. The rest of it is biased punditry.



How do people like this get elected? How do her constituents take her seriously? How does anybody take her seriously? How am I supposed to trust the opinions of anyone who supports her? While I realize Marjorie Taylor Greene does not represent every conservative I know, she is influential within the GOP.

That said, let’s look at her claims from this very short statement.

1. When she was in 11th grade, Joe Biden made schools gun free zones. 2. A student brought guns to her school after her school was made a gun-free zone by Joe Biden. 3. There was no good guy with a gun to protect them and there should be armed personnel in schools to prevent stuff like this.

Great. Is there any truth to her statement?

In the fall of 1990, MTG was a junior at South Forsyth High School. On September 7th, a gunman entered the school with a pistol, shotgun, and a rifle. In other speeches, she’s said that this was one of the scariest days of her life which is understandable. There was a law passed in 1990 to make schools gun free zones so she seems to be talking about things that actually happened. But is she?

Who was the president when this happened? George HW Bush. Who signed the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 into law? George HW Bush. Who introduced the bill in the Senate? Senator Kohl, a democrat from Wisconsin. Was this a liberal attack on the second amendment? It passed the house with strong bipartisan support 313 to one and was signed by a conservative president. Did Joe Biden make it happen? Well, he was a senator at the time so it’s likely he voted in favor of it but that’s about the extent of his involvement.

There’s more though. The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was signed into law on November 29th 1990 - almost three months after a gunman held students hostage at MTG’s school. Her school wasn’t a gun-free zone when the gunman entered her campus. If there weren’t any good guys with a gun present, that would have been due to her school district’s policies, not due to federal law.

There’s still more. How did the incident in her school end? No one was injured. No one was killed. Who stopped the bad guy with a gun? An unarmed good Guy. A teacher risked their own life, physically taking the rifle out of the gunman’s hands. Without the rifle, the handgun used to hold other students hostage and even then it wasn’t a good guy with a gun to end the crisis. The ordeal ended because the bad guy with a gun lacked stamina, he turned himself in after feeling dizzy.

Let’s re-examine her claims. 1. Joe Biden did not make schools gun free zones when MTG was in 11th grade. 2. There was a gun related incident at her school before schools were made gun-free zones, not after. 3. A good guy with a gun wasn’t needed to protect the other kids at her school.

In less than 20 second of talking, she spouted off a demonstrably false statement. Anyone with basic google search skills can look up the facts of her claim and realize the speech flowing from her mouth is a word salad of horse shit.

This is why I can’t take the GOP seriously. This is worse than the “all politicians lie” trope. If you’re going to make up your own facts, at least make it believable. If you’re going to be a lying liar who tells lies, pick a story that isn’t so easily disproven. The modern GOP has elevated dishonesty as if it’s some sort of virtue. MTG isn’t the only blatant liar in the Republican roster. It’s her and Lauren Boebert. And Matt Gaetz. And Ted Cruz. And George Santos. And Josh Hawley.

I’m a believer in having conservative voices in government. I think they help temper the wildest ideas of liberals in elected positions. But in the current state of American politics, I would gladly accept the worst of the DNC’s proposals over the constant barrage of deceit and grift that has permeated the GOP.

If there is to be any sanity in conservatism, they need to reject the charlatans who have become the spokespeople of the Republican Party. Until that happens, I can’t take you seriously.

3.30.2023

Good Will Through Older Eyes

In the fall of 1997, 18 year old me had this massive crush on a girl I met through church. She wasn’t one of the popular kids from our youth group, a trait we shared. She could have been if she wanted to but I think she didn’t want to be a part of that inner circle. An outsider by choice. We hung out a lot and she was flirtatious. She was one of the few girls at my church that didn’t treat me like I was a weirdo. Did I need a sign to know if she was into me? Maybe. The sign was lit up in neon lights with all arrows pointed at her. If I had asked her out on a date, she would have said yes.

If.

The question of our romance remains hypothetical. A really big if. Why? Because I never asked her out.

The reasons are many. I was young and stupid. Naive. I might have had the ego and invincible arrogance of any normal newly minted adult, but I also struggled with soul crushing insecurity - a malady that would grow into diagnosed depression and anxiety as I got older. While I was 99% sure she liked me and would be willing to date me, that 1% chance was holding me back.
What if I was wrong? What if she wasn’t flirting? What if that’s just her personality? What if there was no meaning to her giggles and hair twirls while she stared at me? What if there was no emotion to the times she touched my arm or placed her hand on my back? Like a criminal trial, there was reasonable doubt. I couldn’t find her guilty of infatuation so I couldn’t sentence her to my adoration.

Like I said, I was young. And dumb.

My best friend, Jeff and I worked at a record store at the time. When the girl mentioned needing a job, I suggested she come work with us. She applied and with a good recommendation from me, she was hired. I was twitter-pated. Now I could see those eyes gazing into my deepest being six days a week instead on once a week. I could have longer conversations and feel her lingering touch more often than I had ever expected. We worked well together, occasionally took lunch breaks in tandem. I’d drop by when I wasn’t scheduled to see if she was still there; anything for a little extra time in her presence. Yet I still never asked her out. This awkward reciprocal flirting and unrequited romantic tension went on for months.

After work on Friday, December 5th, 1997, Jeff and I opened the store. He and I were the only two people employees for the first few hours of our shift. There weren’t many customers visiting that morning, so we had a lot of time to chat and goof off. When he and I talked our conversations were deeply philosophical, even if immature. Our topics usually fell into one of three topics: God, girls, and geekery. After all, we were straight dudes trying to figure out our places in this world. As for the nerd talk, Jeff was the dude who got me into comic books back in junior high. We bonded in high school drama club. We were both fans of horror and science fiction. After graduation, he and I were practically brothers, going to concerts, movies, and poker night together nearly every weekend.

That Friday, the girls topic narrowed down to one girl. The girl. The one I had been enamored with for most of the previous six months. He wanted to know why I still hadn’t asked her out. Even he could see she wanted me to ask her on a date.

I told him I couldn’t. He said I was an amateur. I told him she was beautiful, smart, fun, and different than any girl I’d ever known. He said he’d ask her out for me if I didn’t do it. I balked. I explained she was too perfect and I didn’t want to ruin what I had. He smacked the back of my head and said “Maybe you’re perfect right now” and suggested it was me I didn’t want to ruin.

How do I remember the exact day and date that conversation transpired? Because it’s the day the movie Good Will Hunting was released. After Jeff and I clocked out from work, we drove to the theater in Lynnwood and watched it. That was common for us, catching the movies we were most excited to see on opening night. We did it with everything from The Matrix to The Big Lebowski to The Mask of Zorro.

In the movie, Will (Matt Damon) told his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) about a recent date with a girl he liked. Sean asked if they were going on another date and Will said he didn’t know because he hadn’t called her back. Sean called Will an amateur.

Then Will said “Don’t worry about me. I know what I’m doin’. Yeah, but this girl was, like, you know, beautiful. She’s smart. She’s fun. She’s different from most of the girls I’ve been with.” Sean urged him to call the girl. Will continued, “Why? So I can realize she’s not that smart? That she’s fuckin’ boring? You know, I mean, you don’t. This girl’s, like, fuckin’ perfect right now. I don’t wanna ruin that.”

Sean replied, “Maybe you’re perfect right now. Maybe you don’t wanna ruin that. But I think that’s a super philosophy, Will. That way, you can go through your entire life without ever having to really know anybody.”
In the darkeness of the theater, Jeff and I turned our heads to look at each other. His expression matched mine. Jaw slack and wide eyed. Our earlier interaction matched the movie nearly word for word, just with less swearing. It’s as if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were time travelers and they eavesdropped on our future discussion when writing this scene. We walked out of that theater questioning ourselves. “Did that really happen? Did we recreate the movie before even seeing in it? Was our life imitating art? And how could we recreate art with no prior knowledge of the art we copied?

The movie also made me cry. Seeing Matt Damon break down into tears as he and Robin Williams’ embrace at the end of the film is enough to melt the coldest heart. Good Will Hunting impacted me in other ways. Lines like “How do you like them apples” and “Go with the wrench” and “It’s not your fault” have become permanent parts of my vocabulary. As an autistic person I’ve always used song lyrics, movie dialog, and literary quotes as substitutes for original communication as a way of masking my social awkwardness. It’s called scripting.

It shouldn’t need said, but Good Will Hunting remains one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it.

My oldest son has been struggling lately as he is trying to figure out how to adult. After he got some discouraging news recently, I figured he and I needed a movie night. Something to help him feel better. A reminder that it’s not his fault. Naturally, I chose Good Will Hunting. He’s roughly the same age now as when I first saw the film: halfway between 18th and 19th birthdays. He is, like I was, going through transitions, trying to discover who he is and what he wants from life. Confident yet insecure. Opinionated yet confused.

Thankfully, he really liked the movie. I don’t think my ego would have survived if he said it was dumb. Then we talked for a bit. Thomas already knew about the girl and the saga of me never asking her out. I’ve told him the whole story before because it includes one of the few times I believe I audibly heard God speaking to me. When the movie was over, he asked me if I regretted not asking the girl out, much the same way Will asked Sean if he regretted meeting his wife. I told my son no. I have a lot of regrets, but not asking that girl on a date isn’t one of them. We talked about a couple other things and Thomas let me know he felt better after watching the movie. Mission accomplished.

Aside from getting my son’s impression on one of my cinematic favorites, I also had an unexpected observation about myself.

The first time I watched this movie, I identified so much with Will. Unlike him, I wasn’t abused or shuffled around different foster homes. I had parents who loved me. I was not as violent. I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink alcohol. But I was insecure and angry like Will Hunting. Both Will the character and Nic the kid were well above average intelligence failing to live up to our potentials. I saw him as a more delinquent version of me. Repeat viewings never changed the connection I felt to Matt Damon’s creation. But something different happened last night. For the first time, I related more to Robin Williams character. I felt more like the therapist Sean than the patient Will.
It’s not 1997 anymore. I still need to improve myself. But I’m not the lost, insecure, and directionless kid I once was.

During the same counseling session where Will and Sean talked about Will’s date and the possibility of more, Sean said “You're not perfect. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you met isn't either. The question is, whether or not you're perfect for each other.” I feel this in my soul these days. Annie and I both know we’re not perfect people, but we are perfect for each other.

When Will challenges Sean, the therapist replied, “I teach this shit, I didn't say I knew how to do it.” If there was a line from Good Will Hunting that resembles who I am today, that would be it.

11.20.2022

In Twitter We Musk

If you’re on Twitter, you have probably witnessed the pandemonium. Employees fired. Employees quitting. Accounts deactivated. Fake accounts. Parody accounts. Spectators predicting doom. Senators threatening regulation. Declarations of the end of the world. Ahem, I mean the end of Twitter. All because the son of a wealthy apartheid era South African emerald mine magnate used his massive grifted fortune propped up with substantial loans to purchase a popular social media site with 436 million users for some weird experiment in chaos theory.

It’s been a few interesting weeks watching Twitter’s dumpster fire erupt in real time. I don’t know if it’s more appropriate to compare this disaster to Twitanic or Twittergeddon but either way, it’s fascinating. As I’ve read news articles, studied reactions of those I follow, and continued to tweet as if everything is fine, I’ve gathered a few pertinent observations. If Twitter is a microcosm of the real world, here are some lessons we could all learn from this theoretical demise of Twitter.

1. Irony is lost. There is something oddly surreal about the phrase #twitterisdead being a trending topic on Twitter. How can it be dead if we’re all using it to find out if it’s dead? It might be dying but it is not dead. At least not yet. Even Elon Musk recognized this contradiction and tweeted this photo as a response.  
courtesy of the manbaby Elon Musk

2. Humanity is gullible. We (generally speaking) will believe anything with a blue check mark next to it. We’ll believe anything spoken on our favorite news channel. We fall for conspiracy theories and propaganda bots like we’ve been brainwashed. Perhaps it’s confirmation bias - we believe the things that solidify the things we already wish were true.

3. Humanity is brilliant. While this point seems to contradict the latter, we must realize life is not a strict dichotomy. Humanity is so smart because it is also incredibly stupid. We see the weaknesses of ill-advised decisions and exploit them. Who else would pay $8 a month to create a billion dollar stock loss for an evil corporation? Only someone with high (even if devious) intelligence.

4. If the apocalypse was to begin tomorrow, it will be both terrifying and hilarious. Whether alien invasion or solar flare, polar shift or zombie hordes, humanity will be unprepared to survive. However, we will have jokes. We will battle the literal end of the world with memes and GIFs. There is no plan B. We can’t even come up with a suitable replacement for Twitter, how are we ever to survive global annihilation?

5. Wealth does not equal competence. Elon Musk is the richest person in the world yet becoming the CEO of Twitter might be his undoing. Being insanely rich hasn’t made him a good boss. Being able to swim in his money like Scrooge McDuck hasn’t made handling the twitterly reins any easier. Affluence is not the same thing as business acumen.

While we’re at it, perhaps allowing the richest people in the world control everything is a bad idea. The end of Twitter is nothing more than the obvious result of oligarchally influenced unfettered capitalism. But what do I know? I’m just a poor boy, nobody tweets me.

9.05.2022

The New Breed

Kids these days. When I hear that phrase in normal conversation, it’s usually uttered with a scowl and a hint of disdain. It’s always a complaint about the younger generation. They’re weird, disrespectful, and don’t follow any of the rules. The irony is often overlooked - the people voicing their ire against the youth are regurgitating the same complaints older folks had about them when they were teens.

Kids these days. When I say it, it’s spoken with awe and hope. They are weird, and it’s wonderful. They’re brilliant, smarter than their elders want to acknowledge. They’re devious by necessity. And they don’t do anything the way it’s always been done.

There is something different about how they rebel than generations before them. My parents’ peers rebelled with bell bottoms and long hair. My generation rebelled with ripped jeans and feedback fueled guitars. At the end of our wild days, from the elder millennials upward through the baby boomers, we found our way into the workforce just like the generations before us. We hashed out our need to be different then learned to be the same.

Kids these days don’t have the liberty to do what we did. They rebel because they don’t have any other choice. From education to business, into every corner of entertainment from sports to art, to the way government functions, kids these days are taking a different approach than the way we’ve always done it because our paths are not available to them.

Kids these days watched the concept of a career and job security evaporate for their parents and grandparents. They’ve observed the decorum of the general public devolve in recent years. They know the economy the rest of us enjoyed doesn’t exist anymore so they’re doing things differently. If they must work with the public, they’re doing it on their own terms.

20 year old musicians have never lived in a world without American Idol. Teenagers don’t know what life was like before YouTube. The idea of break out viral stars has been a part of their collective consciousness since birth. The days of mailing demo tapes to record labels is ancient history to them, and kids these days are using social media to release music whenever they want.

Literary publishing is adapting to meet younger trends. Kids these days never typed out a manuscript on a typewriter, never waited at a Kinkos while their book was printed, and never used snail mail to query agents. It was never required of them. Technology has made it easier for young writers to self publish, connect with agents, find editors, and sign deals with publishers through Twitter and TikTok.
Kids these days are accomplishing mind boggling feats in athletics, destroying nearly every record that ever existed. Technology and science has made sports safer, kids more adaptable, and injuries easier to heal.

Politics are wild for kids these days. It’s been 23 years since the Columbine shooting. New voters registering to vote for the first time in their lives have grown up with active shooter drills. There’s never been a time in their lives when mass shootings were not a thing. They’ve spent their whole lives in a post-9/11 world. The only thing they’ve experienced from our government is nepotism, deep partisan divisions, culture wars, and the ever growing wealth gap. If they seem politically radical, it’s because we created an environment that fosters racialism.

Old folks these days. Some of y’all look at kids these days the same way Anakin looked at the younglings in the Jedi Temple after he turned to the dark side. Y’all fear what you don’t understand and want to destroy anything you can’t control.
courtesy of Lucasfilm

You think kids these days are weird because they are. We made them this way. Kids these days are a new breed of human, diverging from the way things have always been done because we gave them no other choice. For better or worse, the future belongs to them. Once we’re gone, this world is theirs.

There is one thing clear to me about these younglings: they are going to change the world. They’re doing it with or without us. The rest of us need to be more like Obi Wan, less like Darth Vader. If we’re not ready to help kids these days, it’s time for us to get out of their way.
courtesy of Lucasfilm

8.12.2022

Looking for Care in All the Wrong Places

A few weeks ago, I bumped into an old coworker at Walmart. Yes, Walmart. I don’t like shopping there but it’s the closest store to our farm and they usually supply what we demand so funds are exchanged for goods. It’s capitalism 101. Hate it as much as you want, Walmart won’t cease to exist if my family stops shopping there. This is not a story about the deeds or misdeeds of America’s largest brick and mortar retailer. That’s a conversation for another time.

Rather, it’s a story about how we got here. A consumer and an employee, both former colleagues and cogs in a machine who have found peace and happiness in new and wildly different machines. Our former lives were spent within the confines of a call center. He a supervisor and I an administration analyst. We were both in leadership roles, the only difference being he had direct reports and I did not.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, call centers are businesses with one sole purpose - to be the telephone point of contact of a multitude of industries. From your bank to your utilities, airlines to insurance, and everything in between. If you call the 800 number advertising “how’s my driving?” on the back of a semi truck or the “dial for assistance” sign when stuck in an elevator, those calls go to a call center. Inbound and outbound calls, customer service, collections, telemarketing, tech support, all of it is call center work. As long as people want to know why their bill is so high or complain when things aren’t working like they should, there will always be a demand for call centers.

During the course of my professional life, I’ve worked in three different call centers - a major television provider, a credit card company, and a telecommunications corporation. Not everything I endured was bad; my experiences varied from curious sheer luck to something torn from the pages of Dante’s Inferno. Most people I know who have suffered call center work probably identify with the latter - it’s pure hell.

As an industry, call centers have a 30-40% attrition rate. Out of every 100 employees that get hired at a call center, 30 to 40 of them quit or get fired within their first year. There are some call centers with 100% attrition rates, constantly striving to backfill vacant positions. I’m not sure what the attrition rate was at my office, but I do know the “now hiring” sign out front was never taken down during the seventeen and a half years I worked there.

There was a recurring joke I told throughout my tenure: “By the time I finally quit this place, I’ll be able write a book filled with true stories so outlandish people would think it’s fiction.” Now that I have quit, I feel like there are some big expectations to fulfill. I might write that book some day. Oh the stories I could tell. Tales of drugs, sex, lies, murder, nazis, theft, and the pain caused when general incompetence is given the reins of power. All in due time.

Back to Walmart.

I was making a late night venture to pick up some bird grain and pig feed. As I walked from the pet food isles toward the grocery department, I noticed a familiar face stocking the shelves with paper towels. Just a glance but I kept walking as my brain tried to reconcile a Walmart uniform covering the body of someone I’m used to seeing dressed in business casual. Once my synapses realized the unmistakable face I spotted three steps behind was indeed who I thought it was, I pumped the brakes in a cartoonish halt, then walked backwards to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.

“Howdy stranger,” I said.
“Oh hey.” He replied.
“How long you been here?”
“Oh, I quit (the bad place) shortly after you did.”

He went on to tell me Walmart paid him the same salary he made as a supervisor and he didn’t have to worry about making his incentives every month. Less stress, no longer responsible for the management of a large team of employees, a schedule that fits his personality better, and he makes the same amount of money.

Some people would look at what he did as a step backwards. It’s easy to make that assumption. From a supervisor with some degree of control and influence to throwing freight and stocking shelves at Walmart with no control or influence. But if I were honest, that night in Walmart is the first I’d seen him smiling in years. Abandoning misery in exchange for better mental health is never a step backwards, even if the peace and happiness is found inside Walmart’s evil empire.

This weekend, my wife had some abysmal interactions with call center employees. It was a (more than) 12 hour ordeal with our road side assistance company attempting to get our van towed to the tire shop after one of her tires blew out on I-90. One guy tried telling her our policy didn’t include towing (which it does), one dude sounded like he was so stoned he probably couldn’t read the script on his computer, and a few of them had accents so thick they couldn’t be understood. She was hung up on twice - once after asking for a supervisor. And she had to explain to at least six different people her vehicle was parked on the side of the freeway - all were confused because we couldn’t provide a specific street address.

At the end of the saga, my wife was in tears. “No one cares.” She said, “No one gives a damn that I have to get to work today or that I have kids, or that we had plans for things to do and that they could be ruining those plans. They don’t care. Nobody cares.”

She’s correct. They don’t care. It’s not their job. Even if it was their job to care, they don’t get paid enough to care. How do I know? Because I wasn’t paid enough to care either. Same for my former coworker who’s now found bliss stocking shelves at Walmart - he wasn’t paid enough to care.

This is what customer service looks like within the confines of unfettered capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t care about hurt feelings, it cares about money. Capitalism doesn’t care about consumers, it cares about shareholders. Capitalism doesn’t care about doing the right thing unless the right thing earns a profit.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a customer calling in for help or employee clocking off to go home… Call centers are a business and businesses exist to make money.

There are several ways that call centers can increase revenue.
• Leaner statistics. Shorter call handle times mean more calls are getting answered. More completed calls are generally better for the profit line. As a result, call center employees are incented to reduce the amount of time they spend on the phone with you; the more complex your issue the less interested they are in helping you. It is more fiscally responsible for call center employees to handle the next customer in line then it is to resolve their current customer’s reason for calling.
• Reduce overhead. Computers are expensive to fix and replace. Most call centers operate on equipment that would’ve been cutting edge a decade ago, using outdated software that can barely keep up with today’s technology, and equipment is constantly breaking. If you call anyone in customer service and they apologize because their computers are “updating” that means something is broken. None of this would be a challenge if IT departments were fully staffed. Unfortunately IT support is also an expense. Telecom, tier 1 and tier 2 support, desktop and software support, programming - call centers everywhere are intentionally short staffed in their information technology departments.
• Eliminate non-essential staff. Who is non-essential in call centers? Everyone who doesn’t take a phone call. Trainers, human resources, quality assurance, janitors, receptionists. These roles are pure expense to call centers and nothing they do makes the business money. These days, call centers operate with a skeleton crew everywhere except the call center floor.
• Remote hiring. One of the benefits of the Covid pandemic was the growth in work from home availability. Unfortunately, not everyone is good at working from home. Productivity is often lower for remote employees compared to those working on site. Supervision and accountability is also more difficult when employees are not working in the office.
• Skimp on education. It costs money to train people. Less time spent in new hire training means it’s less expense to hire new employees. Companies are interested in getting butts in seats faster even if that means employees are less prepared to handle calls, less knowledgeable, and more prone to making mistakes.

Take these considerations then add the stress of constant belittlement from both customers and managers, all for low wage compensation. Call centers don’t pay more than they have to. But they often pay enough to trap people. That’s the idea that you’re not qualified for a better paying job but if you did get a different job, you’d probably have to take a pay cut. Somehow, I got lucky and found a better job for better pay. My former colleague found similar luck at Walmart.

Sorry this tale didn’t include anything salacious. It was rude of me to tempt you with such possibilities. Maybe next time. Still there is a lesson to be learned, a moral of the story. If you’re looking for someone to care about your circumstances, call centers are the worst possible location to find that level of concern. I assure you - they most definitely do not care about you.

7.21.2022

The Hateful Faith

Growing up as a church kid in the 80s & 90s, I’m aware there are aspects of my youth most would consider abnormal. I’m OK with that. I have come to terms with the weirdness of my evangelical roots. Even though I’ve flown away from the nest, it’s still the beast who raised me.

While rote memorization of scripture is common in many religious communities, mine focused on recalling a select few verses stripped of context and prioritized word for word accuracy over a thorough understanding and the complete text. One of those verses came from the gospel of Matthew: “You will be hated by everyone because of me but the one who stands firm until the end will be saved.”

Unfortunately, like many other things, the focus on this verse was dumbed down and twisted. Many of my youth group peers interpreted it to mean “People hate us because we’re Christians. If people don’t like us, it’s because we’re right!” Rather than using this as a command to relax when mistreated, it became a self fulfilling prophecy. We can see it happening today: Christians who are hostile and rude to nonbelievers then celebrate victory when their vitriol is returned with anger.

“Hah!” They say. “I told you so. See, they hate us because we’re Christians.”

It’s as if those church kids I grew up with wanted their struggle to be against flesh and blood because it’s more tangible than the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms described in scripture. I used to hang out with guys who wanted a little more physical combat in their metaphysical spiritual warfare.

By the time I was in high school, I was prepared with years of reminders - they’re going to hate you. I was fully prepared for my non-Christian classmates to treat me like shit because I believed in Jesus.

Then something unexpected happened. The people who supported my faith the most were people that didn’t share my faith. Instead of hating me because I was a Christian, they were accepting of me, as I was, Christianity included.

Against all logic, those who hurt me most were people who supposedly shared my faith. I was never truly welcomed or accepted in my youth group. There, I was a weirdo, the outcast, the last one picked, the often picked on. The churches who taught me we were strangers and aliens in this world made me feel like an alien among them. Those who claimed the banner of Christ acting so unlike Christ.

Being a teenager is confusing for most everyone - my church home made those years even more perplexing for me. I was loved and respected by people who were supposed to hate me, but mistreated by the spiritual family who should have been my safe place.

I still believe following Christ is following an idea that miracles happen. My continuing faith in God is a true miracle as life has given me every reason to run the opposite direction. It’s for this reason I understand how and why anyone else makes that choice.

This has been the heart and soul of my deconstruction. How do I continue to love a God served by the same folks who have wounded me so deeply? How to I practice my faith when those who taught it to me act contrary to the doctrines they gave me? How do I heal from the wounds inflicted by people who should have loved me unconditionally? None of it makes sense yet I’m convinced answers are out there.

Some things never change. 25 years after graduating high school, the harshest and most hateful treatment I receive still comes from Christians. These people tell me to follow Jesus, and when I say I am, they reply “No, not like that.” These people trained me to love my neighbor but constantly remind me which neighbors they don’t love. They instructed me to act humbly while they pursued power. If I say “I love God,” they reply “No you don’t.” I tell them I’m leaving toxic communities and they respond with toxic behavior.

I get it. Deconstruction is the evangelical boogie man du jour. Celebrity pastors (a thing that should not be) rant about it being “sexy” or demonic. Even Christian musicians rant against deconstruction between songs. Speaking of which, when did John Cooper (of Skillet) stop preaching the gospel and become an asshole for Jesus?

These people cause so much pain, division, strife. Yet, if I take my faith seriously, I’m supposed to love them too. I’m obligated to love the friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and former mentors who curse, ridicule, and condemn me. I don’t know of any way to do that except love them from a distance.

My original plan for this blog post was to wrap it up with an observation about the anger and madness demonstrated by Christians in the public square of media and politics. The odium they display doesn’t surprise me because I’ve experienced their ire my entire life. If Jesus told his followers to prove their discipleship through their love for one another, the hateful behavior of mainline evangelicals is anti-Christ. That’s how I thought this post would end. Then something funny happened.

These days, it takes me a couple weeks to compose a blog entry. Writing the first draft, revisions and re-writes, grammatical editing, beta reads and feedback, a final round of corrections and adaptation, finally the selection and formatting of imagery - all before I click the publish button. Somewhere in the middle of this process, I managed to ruffle some feathers on social media because I shared a quote from a Lutheran minister. Predictably, it was my church friends who were most offended. Here’s the quote:

One of the hateful faithful is a former coworker and ex-Mormon. She felt it was her religious duty to rebuke me, condemn me, and eventually unfriend me. The weirdest part of the exchange is how her arguments against me were all built on false assumptions. She kept leveling accusations against me with no basis in anything I said or posted. Those claims she made include the following:
• That I’m violating scripture because I’ve given up meeting with other Christians.
• That I’m ignoring what God is telling me to do.
• That scripture is absolutely worthless to me.
• That I think the church is all bad.
• That scripture has nothing to do with my decisions or ideology.
• That I’m creating God in my own image.
• That I’m looking for the world’s approval.
• That I’m playing the victim.
• That I’m being led by feelings and bad theology.
• That I claim to have access to a higher spiritual plane no one else can reach.
• That my god is myself and my opinions.
• That I’m a part of a cult.


Her crusade against me is as meaningless as it is invalid. But that’s OK, she’s free to believe whatever she wants about me. The timing of her attacks were peculiar though considering I was in the middle of writing a blog about her kind of Christianity. Without realizing the irony of her own behavior, she was proving why I posted what I posted. The Bible told me I would be reviled because I follow Christ and so far, it hasn’t been wrong - even if the hatred is coming from other Christians like my former friend.

What’s the point of all of this? Well, if you tell me you feel like Christians hate you, it’s OK - they hate me too. If you don’t want anything to do with the institutions who claim to be followers of Jesus while acting nothing like Jesus, I get it. Me too. You’re not alone and I believe in a God who loves you even if their followers don’t. And no matter what people think of me or my theology, I will chose to love when everyone else chooses the opposite.

7.09.2022

Life, Liberty, and They’ll Never Take Our Freedom

Earlier this week, we in The United States of America celebrated a holiday indulging the pursuit of beer, brats, and things that go boom in the name of ‘Merica and freedom. Some called it the 4th of July and others called it Monday. My British friends call it Treason Day, but its official name is Independence Day.

After the seemingly unending string of mass shootings, controversial Supreme Court decisions, financial struggles of hyper-inflation, and revelations from the January 6 hearings, I know a lot of people who aren’t feeling patriotic. These events and emotions they stir make honoring the most patriotic of all holidays complicated. I had friends boycott it - not going anywhere or spending any money, no barbecues or fireworks. For those friends, I get it. Other friends decided to trudge on, not allowing the dismal state of our union to derail their traditions. They’ve always blown shit up (often with contraband purchased on reservations and ignited in placed banned by local governments) and will continue to do so. For these friends, I also understand.

This is not an easy era as we’re watching the events of future history books unfolding in real time. Being an American is convoluted right now. Actually, being a human in any nation is messy on its own, but the special mix of jingoism, xenophobia, faux patriotism, oligarchy, religious extremism, and the downward slide into fascism muddies the human experience even more. When it comes to holiday observance, I won’t judge anyone for their revelry or abstinence because there’s a lot of emotion and conflict going into these decisions. I also know it’s possible to be a proud American while being angry about what’s happening in America.

With these mixed sentiments in mind, I sat down Monday morning, opened Twitter, and shared my long winded thoughts which are far too verbose for the character limit of their typical constraints. I had some thoughts about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which needed to be shared. The result was a tweet storm of my own bullet pointed design. These are those thoughts.

1. Freedom isn’t free. There are soldiers who died for it in war. And there are civilians who have died for it in protest. Freedom always comes with a price tag. In America, our freedom was built on the backs of slave labor and broken treaties with indigenous peoples. The scars of these sins are long and terrible, in some ways they still haven’t healed. The reward of freedom depends on what you’re willing to pay. Healing requires acknowledgement and repair. If ignorance or denial of history is your worthless payment, the rewarded freedom will be shallow and superficial.

2. Freedom isn’t universally applied. It seems easy if you’re a straight white Christian male like me. But that’s a vacant freedom. I might be free but what about others? Misogyny is liberty for men but oppression for women. Racism is liberty for the majority demographic but oppression for people of color. Homophobia is liberty for cis people but oppression for the queer community. Capitalism is liberty for the wealthy but oppression of those burdened by poverty. Christian nationalism is liberty for evangelicals but oppression of Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, or anyone of other faiths. How dare I celebrate a freedom not awarded to people I love unless I’m willing to fight for their freedoms too?

3. Freedom is not uniquely American. I’m aware my friends in the UK, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Japan experience freedom too. Even under different forms of government and tax structures, freedom exists outside of the United States. Sure some foreign laws might be more restrictive than in the US, but some of their laws are more permissive. American exceptionalism isn’t patriotic. It’s not even free. It’s a lie and it’s arrogant.

4. Freedom isn’t the liberty to do whatever you want; it’s the ability to do justice when necessary. Sometimes, doing the right thing comes at the cost of self sacrifice. This concept should be familiar to soldiers, first responders, doctors, nurses, and anyone who has ran toward danger to save someone else in peril. Sacrificing my own freedoms for the benefit of others makes me freer. I’m grateful I live in a country that allows me to advocate for underprivileged and underrepresented communities. I might lose friends for taking a stand for equality (wouldn’t be the first time) or piss off people who love maintaining the status quo, but my government can’t stop me. I will be loud when it comes to Pride, anti-racism, neurodivergence, and deconstruction and don’t care if it means you respect me less. That’s the true cost of freedom.

5. Freedom cannot be promised by the temporary. Empires rise and empires fall. As much as I don’t want to live anywhere other than the USA, I’m fully aware this nation could easily crumble. If my hope for freedom rests in the hands of my nationality, then what am I to do if my government restricts my freedoms? Or if my country descends into civil war? Or if my homeland is invaded by a foreign enemy? I do not find freedom in America, I find it in Christ. This is a freedom I believe is available for anyone. From Communist China, to the war-torn Middle East, to favelas in Brazil. I’ve had the liberty to choose this freedom and I know not everyone will make the same choice. Forcing my beliefs on others isn’t freedom either. That’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this is the direction I see America heading. It might be nice for the rich & powerful, but it’s hell for my African American friends, for my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, for many women I respect & admire, and for people who struggle with mental health.

I love being an American. But I also grieve for America. All these cosplaytriots, MAGA warriors, and religious right extremists are destroying the country I love. They have hijacked my faith to destroy my nation. They’ve hijacked my country to warp my religion. Every day I pray for this madness to end. This is why I am who I am. The scriptures I read says faith without works is dead. Because of that, I cannot rest in the security of my freedoms. I am obligated to support and fight for the least of these. It is my duty to speak up for the voiceless.

My freedom is a commitment. I will not shut up until the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is afforded to all of my fellow Americans, including those who don’t share my religious beliefs, skin tone, gender, or sexuality.

4.21.2022

Imposter Syndrome

Somewhere out there, a debut author is struggling. They can’t believe they were lucky enough to find an agent, let alone get their book published. If you ask them, they’re not really good at writing: their story is weak, their characters are derivative of other works, and their sales numbers are a fluke. They don’t think anyone will ever read a second book from them, especially if readers understood what a hack they are.

Someone out there, a songwriter is making a living playing the music they created. They’re standing on stage in front of an audience that’s singing along. Yet they don’t understand how so many people know their music. There are hundreds of better singers and better guitarists. They wonder how they got so lucky to have fans in attendance and songs on the radio when better musicians can’t even get a gig at a seedy bar. If only people knew how talentless they were, they’d have to abandon the music industry for a normal job.

Somewhere out there is a thespian surprised to be offered a lead role after auditioning for the part. Despite acting in professional theater for decades, receiving dozens of rave reviews, and getting critical praise from local media, they don’t feel like they deserve any of it. They memorize lines and dance routines, wear stage makeup and change costumes, and faithfully attend every rehearsal and performance. Yet somewhere deep inside, they feel like a fraud.

This is what it’s like for people who experience imposter syndrome. No matter how often they’ve proven their skill and competence in their chosen craft, regardless of the level of success they achieve, they feel like an imposter. They believe themselves to be unworthy, undeserving, and incapable of the recognition they receive. They often feel guilty for their successes and deny any complimentary description of their work. Unfortunately, no amount of book, album, or ticket sales can cure imposter syndrome because it’s not an actual diagnosable disorder. It’s a reaction to external stimulation, possibly a symptom of other disorders like depression or autism.

If you feel like you’re an imposter in your occupation, rest assured you’re not alone. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “if they ever found out what I’m really like, my career would be over,” you’re in good company. Those who have publicly admitted their struggles with imposter syndrome include some people who were the best at what they do.

Like poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
Or one of the stars from the Harry Potter franchise, Emma Watson.
Or the prolific writer, Hugo award winner, and delightful weirdo Neil Gaiman.
Or former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Or the 10th (and my personal favorite) Doctor, David Tennant.
Or the enigmatic and brilliant front man of Radiohead, Thom Yorke.
Or one of the celebrated and busiest stars in Hollywood, Tom Hanks.
Or the master of horror, Stephen King.

Those of you suffering with imposter syndrome can also include me in your ranks. As a writer and a DJ, I have severe doubts in my talent. No matter how frequently people tell me they enjoy my writing, I still think I’m skeptical I have what it takes to be successful. Regardless of how many clients leave positive reviews of my gigs, I don’t believe I’m that good as a DJ.

It’s not just my creative pursuits either - I feel like an imposter in almost every aspect of my life. If my kids do something amazing, I don’t understand how I got so lucky to be their dad. If someone compliments how well behaved my kids are, I think they definitely didn’t learn it from me. Almost daily, I think to myself that my kids deserve a better dad. Or my wife deserves a better husband. Or my parents deserve a better son.

I’m a farmer with imposter syndrome too. I frequently walk out to the barn thinking to myself how completely clueless I am about all of it. I’m just a nerd from the suburbs, what the hell do I think I’m doing out here taking care of chickens and goats and horses. Every time something bad happens on the farm, even if it was an act of nature, I blame myself.

I don’t need pity or sympathy. I don’t expect anyone to fix this broken spot in my brain. Rather, I offer kinship. You are not alone.
But there’s more. While I want to offer the raised fist of solidarity, I also come with a challenge. There is another place where I experience imposter syndrome, and it’s a place where I shouldn’t feel this way. While no one can cure the voices in my head telling me I’m a fraud everywhere else, this one location can be resolved: church.

Despite believing in the same God, loving the same Jesus, trusting in the same saving grace, I feel like an imposter every time I step inside a church building – like their beliefs are completely incompatible with mine. Or maybe my beliefs are incapable with theirs.

When I attend church, I sit in the pews (or a chair in a neatly arranged row) and contemplate the possible qualms the people around me might have with me. While the pastor preaches, I wonder “what if they really knew?”

If church folk knew I agree with Black Lives Matter, support athletes who kneel during the National Anthem, and think Christians are failing miserably in racial reconciliation, would they want me in their church?

If church folk knew I think the money they spend on TV monitors, soundboards, websites, video graphics, and bouncy castles could be better spent on feeding the homeless, would I be welcomed?

If they knew I was not only accepting but also affirming of the LGBT community, would they kick me out?

If they knew I disagreed with the way they presented the gospel, or if I think the way they teach biblical principles is incorrect and possibly harmful, would they call me an apostate or heathen?

If they knew I refuse to vote for a Republican, would they excommunicate me?

If they saw me drinking a mojito, or dancing while I’m DJing, or buying tickets for an R-rated movie; if they heard me cuss, or sing along with some of that “devil music,” or promote deconstruction; or if they didn’t hear me proselytize in conversations with my atheist, Muslim, and pagan friends, would they keep their distance or shun me?

I say this can be fixed because I shouldn’t have to feel like an imposter in church. That should be the one place where I belong. Since I don’t feel that way, there are two solutions.

1. I stop attending church.
2. Christians everywhere openly and honestly examine their beliefs and why they believe what they do.

The latter option would require people to change - a process that can be uncomfortable for many – even scary for some. If this were to happen, it would transform the physical spaces where Christians meet, turning them into safe spaces for members and visitors to doubt their doubts and believe their beliefs. It would be a home for those who are wandering, lost, hurting, or broken. Churches should be accepting of where and who we are now while challenging us to grow and improve. Churches should welcome and not condemn sincere questions. Diversity of thought should be invitations to productive discussions instead of angry debates.

The first option would be a whole lot easier. As tempting it is, I love God so much that I am moved to care about God’s people, even if they don’t care about me.

So I go. I feel awkward and out of place. Until American evangelicals pull their collective heads out of their collective asses, I will continue feeling like an imposter.

But what’s new? I’ve been an outcast my entire life.

4.10.2022

Who’s to Blame?

Allow me to overstate the obvious: everything is getting expensive lately. The burdensome costs of basic needs are crippling the average American and if things don’t change soon, we will see a new boon for poverty and crime rates. Welcome to the third world ‘Murica. Was it worth it?

I’ll skip the statistics because I’m sure you’ve seen them. Those graphs comparing tuition rates and average annual incomes make it easy to see how working your way through college is a thing of the past. Access to higher education is increasingly unattainable without entering a lifetime of crippling debt. Or the charts showing the increasing new car prices year after year. Gone are the days of purchasing a reliable vehicle for a thousand dollars. You get what you pay for and many new cars cost more than their owners make in a year. More debt.

What about the necessities? Food, clothing, housing – all of it quickly becoming unaffordable for the average citizen. While a rich person and a poor person will pay the same amount for a gallon of milk, it’s more expensive for the person who makes less than $30k a year than it is for the person who makes $30k a week. Gas prices are making pedestrian commutes appealing. People with limited means are turning thrift shops into haute couture. And don’t even get me started on the real estate market, mortgage prices, or average costs of rent.
As someone who was weaned on Reaganomics then came of age in the relative peace and prosperity of the Clinton era, none of this makes sense to me. Well, actually, the numbers and statistics make sense. The natural unintended consequences make sense. The “I told you this would happen” makes sense. The functions of economic policies make sense (even if absurd). But the logic of it all doesn’t compute. The fact we allowed things to get so wild and out of control befuddles me. The believable concept of hard work being the keys to your future isn’t ancient history. I was raised in a world rewarding ingenuity and initiative. We don’t live in that world anymore. Our founding fathers’ ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness now has a qualifying addendum: as long as you can afford it.

Why? How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame?

You could blame the president. He creates policy regarding foreign trade, interest rates, and where we get crude oil. You could blame Biden for not acting fast enough to hold back the tide of hyperinflation or for enacting laws you think exacerbate the situation. So sure, blame him but he’s only a small part of the problem.

You could also blame past administrations. The effects of presidential policies don’t end the day they leave office. Decisions made by one individual could have consequences that last decades. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Congress for passing legislation detrimental to the common interest of the average American citizen. Or criticize them for being so preoccupied with infighting and partisan chicanery they end up doing nothing to help the people they represent. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame special interest groups and lobbyists financing our representatives who enact laws that benefit them but no one else. Big oil, big pharma, big banks, big tobacco, big guns, all prosper and escape accountability while the rest of us suffer. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame massive corporations for abusing and controlling the market. Huge conglomerations buy out their competition and diversify their offerings so everything we buy is sold by a select few of these giants of consumerism. Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan, Comcast, Luxottica, Pfizer, MetLife. We don’t like monopolies in theory but in practice they exist. They control the prices we pay for nearly everything. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the ultra-rich. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. They use their massive wealth to enforce their desires and avoid legal ramifications of anything shady they have (maybe, possibly, allegedly) done. Their riches protect them from the turmoil of our economic crisis – completely detached from the reality of normal American struggles. They manipulate our culture to fit their dreamscapes while the wealth gap grows wider. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame utility companies. They continually raise rates, testifying before regulatory commissions these price hikes are urgent needs to remain in operation. Meanwhile, they’re raking in record profits and their CEOs live lavish lives on generous incomes. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Wall Street. These investment bankers, stock traders and analysts, hedge funds buyers, aggressive investors, corporate raiders, and people who profit on the misfortunes of others. They live, work, and play in a fantasy land where all of the rules are made up. They’re able to succeed while the rest of the economy crashes. And because our nation’s economic health is based on the winnings of the stock market gambling, they’re a protected class. These white collar crooks make money while the rest of us struggle. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the regulations that make it more expensive to operate a business. Or the businesses that exploited our environment and flaunted our safety making such regulations necessary. Or a workforce demanding livable wages. Or the staffing shortages in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and other hospitality jobs. Or the mistreatment of low-wage workers. Or the supply chain issues. Or increased shipping costs. Or crumbling infrastructure. All little issues that contribute to the rising cost of goods and services. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame our culture. For generations, we have lived beyond our means with expenses greater than our incomes - living off credit. We have transformed keeping up with the Joneses into a lifestyle. Our rampant consumerism and demands for instant gratification returns a self-sabotaging cost. The suppliers of the things we want and need know we will pay any price to get what we want and need. So sure, you could blame us but we’re only a small part of the problem.

The fact of the matter is we can’t blame one individual or a single group. Or at least we shouldn’t. There isn’t any one person or group of people responsible.

How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame? It’s all of the above. It’s the system that governs our lives. It’s unfettered capitalism. It’s rampant greed. It is flawed and corrupted. It only benefits the rich and powerful. We believed the myth of trickledown economics. We voted against our own interests over and over again. We did this to ourselves. We allowed it to happen.

If you insist on blaming something for our economic woes, make sure you blame *gestures wildly* everything.

3.21.2022

Institutions

Perfect systems do not exist. Unless you’re talking about the 1981 Oingo Boingo song, then Perfect System is absolutely real. Otherwise, a system without flaws is only a figment of our collective imaginations.

Anything that can be institutionalized has room for error and the longer it exists, the more its defects and limitations are likely to show. Systems can be great in theory. Maybe even damn near perfect. That mere perfection vanishes the moment people get involved.

On paper, communism works. Same for capitalism. And feudalism. Orthodox churches are just as reasonable as progressive churches as long as it remains an idea. In theory, private small businesses should be as viable as publicly traded corporations. Yet human intervention hinders all of it. Corruption doesn’t come from the system - it is in us. We the people are the cause of every road to hell from every good intention. Humans have a way of breaking everything we touch.



When progressive winds of change begin to blow, those who speak first are often seen through heretical lenses. Think about the early abolitionists who spoke out against the African slave trade. Or the French revolutionaries. Even America’s founding fathers were viewed as rebels. What about the suffragettes, American civil rights leaders, the scientists who first warned us about climate change, the Indian Citizens Who gained independence from British rule, anti-apartheid demonstrators, the first kids to accuse the Catholic Church of sexual abuse, the Tibetan peoples still fighting for freedom from China, or anyone who dares to say “black lives matter. Each of these are (or were) proverbial middle fingers held up to the status quo. Each demonized in one form or another.

The heroes of history tend to be deviants. Without them, systemic changes would never happen. Unfortunately, some of these heroes were beaten, arrested, or murdered. All of them faced ridicule. These brave souls refused to accept their world as it was and demanded it do better. This thing here? It needs to change. This taxation without representation? This slaughter of indigenous people? This invasion of a sovereign nation? This widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor? This restriction of voting rights? It’s not Ok and we should do better.

There are a lot of institutions in need of systemic change. Speaking from a US centric perspective (because I am an American) these are common topics in the public square. We talk about it a lot but never do anything, and those with the most radical ideas are mocked. We need criminal justice and health care reform. We need to change the way we look at gun safety and LGBT rights. Our school systems and corporate tax structures need to be redesigned. Churches and businesses and government offices need more accountability. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and pretend everything is all fine.

Change is slow and difficult because people are resistant to change. Some people fear it. Yet when we talk about broken institutions, we speak in broad terms because we know we’re fighting against a system and not individuals. Still, the mention of change offends some people.

With that in mind, I’m going to be blunt.

If someone talks about the need for change within an institution, and you are personally offended, you’re part of the problem. The system is broken, and it’s broken by people like you.



We can do better. We must do better.

3.15.2022

Light in the Darkest Hours

It was a song from an underground hip-hop collective: lo-fi beats, heavy turntablism, and cypher styled rap verses: “The Night We Called It a Day” by Deepspace5. This song (along with the rest of their debut album) helped me fall in love with the art and culture of rap music. The track opened with a melancholic acoustic guitar sample and the static of vinyl before the DJ starts scratching records. In the scratches, there’s a single spoken line, broken up with the flick of the DJ’s fingers.

“Those who need light - light-light - for those who need light in they darkest hours - in they darkest hours”
It’s like a grown up version of “This Little Light of Mine” for those who enjoy coffee shops and old school beats. Millions of kids listen to hip-hop as a means of escape. They enter it like a refuge - an oasis in the desert of urban violence. I understand them. I once used grunge and punk rock as a safe place from the torment of the bullies who verbally and physically abused me through my teen years. It was my light in my darkest hours.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the song, I still get this Deepspace5 phrase stuck in my head, repeating like a mantra. I walk around with those nine words on repeat. For those who need light in they darkest hours. They darkest hours. Light in they darkest hours. Then I see those in their darkest hours who need some light and feel moved to speak up, to do something.

These days, those who need light in they darkest hours are easy to find. Between school shootings and police violence, natural disasters and pandemics, extreme politics and foreign wars, there’s a lot of light needed for a daunting number of people in their darkest hours.

Not everyone seeks light from darkness. Many seek light in darkness. While it seems counterintuitive, there are those who find light through scary stories. Whether told around campfires, read in pulp novels, listened to in true crime podcasts, or watched on the big screen, the elements of horror can distract us from the frights of real life. Somehow the darkness of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and aliens are brighter than homes filled with abuse and addiction.

Kids will watch a slasher movie and think “if the final girl survives the masked serial killer hunting down teenagers, then I’ll survive my abusive parents.” Those in pain will read books about an exorcism and think “if the demons can be cast out from this possessed child, perhaps I can conquer my own demons.” Laughing at jump scares in video games help some kids feel less fear when police arrive to defuse a domestic disturbance.

So why do I love the horror genre? I was raised in a safe community by two parents who loved each other with no darkness to escape. My parents were not abusive. Despite being poor, they fed me and kept a roof over our heads. They supported my creative endeavors. I did not endure any major adolescent trauma. I never got into legal trouble. I was socially awkward but still had a few great friends. My parents didn’t even allow me to watch scary movies. Aside from being bullied, I had a decent childhood.

And I have a good life today. My parents are still together after nearly fifty years of marriage. I am married to a woman who loves me more than I knew was possible. I have a great job. I’m DJing and writing and farming and raising kids and have a life so full I could burst. Between the dogs and the horses and the family, I am surrounded by a loving support system and many reasons to celebrate. Yet I still crave books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m enraptured by movies from Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro. I’m still thrilled when a creepy book or game keeps me awake all night. It seems I seek darkness in my brightest hours.

Thanks to the world of podcasts, I think I understand my unique proclivities. While driving around the INW for work, I’m listening to storytellers do what they do best. Hood Politics, Murder Myth & Mystery, The Secret Room, Haileywood. If iron sharpens iron, I hope to hone my own abilities to craft engaging tales.

In a recent episode of Morbid, Alaina Urquhart and Ashleigh Kelly shared stories of haunted lighthouses in America. One of those spooky landmarks is the Bolivar Point Lighthouse in Galveston Texas.

When a hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico in 1900, H. C. Claiborne (the lighthouse keeper) wasn’t worried. He had purchased enough food to last through the season so he and his family could remain at Bolivar Point for a few months, and the lighthouse structure was strong. Claiborne was confident it could withstand any storm.

image courtesy of Lighthouse Friends

As you could imagine, meteorology was not as technically advanced at the beginning of the 20th century as it is today. No one was sure where the hurricane would make landfall. The big waves thrust into the shores of northeastern Texas became a spectacle with thousands of curious people crowding the beaches of Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Many of the onlookers ignored the warnings of local officials urging them to move inland and seek higher ground. By the time the storm surge reached land, it was too late. They were experiencing the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

It could have been deadlier - and would have if it had not been for Claiborne. The rising waters stranded a train with more than 300 passengers near the Bolivar Point lighthouse. They waded through the waters to reach the door of the tower. Claiborne opened it up and let in at least 125 of the passengers before he had to close and barricade the door.

Those who sheltered in the stairwell of the lighthouse found safety, but not comfort. Two or three people sat on every step of the spiral stairs, from the flooded entrance to the top level where Claiborne continued to perform his duties keeping the light shining to guide wayward ships into Galveston Bay. In the dark of storm and night, Claiborne rationed his family’s food supplies to make sure the storm’s refugees had something to eat, and the crowd drank rainwater to sate their thirst. What they didn’t know of until after the storm had passed were the bodies piling up outside the lighthouse door.

The Bolivar Lighthouse was a bright spot along the Texas coast. It was a beacon for sailors seeking safe harbor. Yet its greatest moment came when the tower was plunged into darkness and one selfless man saved 125 souls from a hurricane that killed 8000.

Within a week of hearing this story, I listened to a remastered episode of Lore about more lighthouses. The show focused on the reason tales of haunted lighthouses are so prevalent. These landmarks were designed to offer light, guidance, and hope. Yet throughout history, lighthouse buildings have been filled with the loneliness of isolation. They’ve been sites of grief and tragedy; homes to mental anguish, injury, and death. Ghosts may not exist but the reasons people believe they are real are valid.

Then the show’s host, Aaron Mahnke said something that was an a-ha moment for me. From this perspective, it all makes sense.
My interests and pursuits seem unlikely. A good boy raised in a stable Christian home should have never taken a liking to the horror genre. Yet I’ve found myself thriving somewhere between The Tell-Tale Heart and 30 Days of Night. I’ve lived a blessed life while reveling in the macabre.

The book I’m working on features characters enduring some dark events. When I’m done with this, I will begin working on a Christmas themed ghost story about a man haunted by his mistakes. The stories I’m crafting are filled with grief, loss, tragedy, and death - the basis of many of the monsters which lurk in the myths and fables of scary legends and modern lore. It seems Mahnke’s hypothesis is proven in me - my tales of horror come from where my light shines brightest.

In this way, I hope to become what God created me to be: a lighthouse. A place of light and a shelter in storm, often plunged into the agony, muck, and mire of human existence. Then from the darkness, continue to illuminate a way for others to survive the strife of their own lives.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, for those who need light in they darkest hours.