10.14.2021

Nietzsche & the Kool-Aid Man

whoever fights monsters
should see to it that in the process he (or she) does not become a monster
and if you gaze long enough into an abyss
the abyss
will gaze back into you

10.10.2021

Deconstructing Love

True love waits. At least, that’s what I was taught when I was growing up. My adolescence began with the birth of grunge and graduated with the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In the years between 1991 and 1997, purity culture took root in evangelical churches, leaving its well intentioned mark (ahem, scars) on my generation. Looking back, I am fairly confident this is the source my emotional baggage and the reason I am a psychological mess.

My experience isn’t unique. Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Twitter are littered with the wreckage of grownups like me, who lived through the 90s, and flailed our way through the last 20 years wondering what the hell happened to us. One testimonial after another, first hand accounts, teary-eyed disclosures, secrets people kept buried for decades. Even the author of I Kissed Dating Goodby disavowed his book as garbage, apologized for the harm he caused, and delivered a TED Talk admitting he was wrong.

But why? What was so misguided about the pursuit of purity? How did messages about abstinence and love lead to an abundance of former youth group kids trying to navigate adulthood through sexual dysfunction, broken marriages, depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and abysmal self-loathing? I have some thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Gratisography

1. It used confusing terminology. Dating was discouraged as if it was sinful. They taught us dating and breaking up only to date and break up with someone new created an unfaithful pattern we would take into marriage, ultimately leading to an inevitable divorce. Instead, boys were told to court girls. The emphasis in courtship was to prepare you for marriage. Unfortunately, neither term (dating or courting) are in the Bible and such teaching completely ignored biblical wedding traditions. Sexual lessons resembled American Puritan values more than those of the first century church. Besides, there really isn’t any actual difference between the two. You can still break up courtship just like a dating relationship. Dating can prepare you for marriage just like courting. Courting is nothing more than a fancy term for dating. Condemning one in favor of the other is like kicking your own ass.

2. It misunderstood human biology and brain chemistry. As a result, boys were provided excuses and girls got assigned blame. The church took scientific ideas about hormones and attraction, made dozens of assumptions, then spit out restrictive rules with neither scientific or biblical basis. Boys like me were instructed to avoid all temptations, but we were also told we were helpless to resist our urges. Girls were never cautioned against their temptations, rather they were warned to not be a temptation for boys. When boundaries were pushed and broken, the same people who claimed boys will be boys also asked the girls what they were wearing.

3. It demonized everything. The music we listened to, the nooks and magazines we read, the movies and television shows we watched, all of it was painted with a broad brush of being inherently evil. Any mention of sex was taboo, depictions of romance in pop culture, and secular descripdeclarations of love were deemed the devil’s attempt to lead us astray. We were encouraged to boycott everything from Disney to Levi’s for their unholy embrace of love outside of God’s design. This fostered an unhealthy “us vs them” mindset which festered into the isolationist beliefs currently staining our world.

4. It turned modesty and purity into idols. The Bible frequently talks about having a pure heart. The lone biblical reference to dressing modestly was about about wealth - modesty over extravegance. I don’t want to claim that either are bad things. However, these admirable goals become problematic when they become the most important thing. Christians should strive to be Christlike above all other things. What good is remaining sexually pure if you’re dishonest? Does dressing modestly matter if you’re cruel to those who don’t? The book of 1 Peter says “be holy because I am holy.” Not “be pure.” When you preach “don’t have sex” more frequently than “pursue God” purity is an idol. When boys can wear tank tops but girls can’t, modesty is an idol.

5. It failed to teach the true meaning of love. The 13th chapter of Corinthians listed off qualities of love - the things it is and the things it’s not. You know what word isn’t there? Pure. Neither is the word modest. Yet somehow, the pastors and leaders running youth groups when I was a teen seemed to to preach and teach modesty and purity as if they were the essence of love. And waiting? The phrase “true love waits” was inescapable. While the first definition provided in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth says “love is patient,” true love is more than just waiting. I love French fries but if I wait to long to eat them, they’ll get cold and gross. There is so much variety in both the meaning and application of love glossed over or deemed unimportant. Perhaps it’s the laziness of the conservative evangelical movement or the unfortunate inadequacies of the English language, but the depths and power of love were never discussed with my generation. We never pondered the mystery of how the word we use to explain how we feel about a romantic partner is the same word describing our appetite for pizza. True love doesn’t just wait. It’s committed. It’s a bond of friendship and intimacy. It’s familial and erotic. And it is a long suffering which ensures hardships and continues to love when everything else has given up. These truths were never a part of the Wednesday night youth group discussions at Marysville Nazarene through the 90s. Judging from conversations I have had with friends across the US; from stories told and retold through books, blogs, seminars, and videos by exvangelicals, I know my experience isn’t an anomaly.

Why does any of this matter? How did these teachings of purity culture warp how my generation viewed ourselves and approached relationships? What led these good intentions to cause so much damage? We can follow purity teaching to its furthest logical conclusion and we see this in the behaviors and outlook of my peers who, like me, grew up in 90s era churches.

Using confusing terminology creates confusing boundaries. At many Christian colleges, there was an impression that any boy asking a girl out for a date – even something as innocent as getting a cup of coffee – meant the boy was interested in marrying the girl. It left people clueless about the intentions of anyone thinking they’re cute or even saying “hi.” It made maintaining friendships with members of a different gender difficult, if not impossible. It led to numerous unhappy couples who rushed into marriage without learning the kinds of things you learn while dating.

Giving boys excuses for their behaviors while blaming girls for the same actions creates an environment where rape and sexual assault thrive. It fosters men’s worst proclivities, allowing them to be abusers with a free pass. This is why #yesallwomen, #metoo, and #churchtoo have all been trending topics over the past few years.

Demonizing every product of pop culture teaches kids to be ashamed for liking the things they like. They feel bad for listening to their favorite songs or watching a popular TV show. They hide their interests and nothing good happens in hidden shame. They grow up developing guilty pleasures and destructive addictions. Make the topic of sex taboo and you get people embarrassed to discuss it – even in the confines of an intimate relationship.

The focus on purity and modesty distract from other essential qualities: kindness, humility, fidelity, affability, honesty, and perseverance. Kids were instructed to be sexually pure but they weren’t taught how to be good people. They’re awkward and malicious but at least they’re virgins.

When the only message kids get about sex and love is “true love waits until marriage,” you get young adults in a hurry to get married just to have sex – like it’s the only reason to get married. They’re ignorant of the nuances, commitment, and passion it takes to have a healthy and happy marriage. They’ve been told to wait but not what to do when the waiting is over.

My generation took the tenets of purity culture and thought we had the secret to lasting wedded bliss and yet so many of us still found our marriages ending in divorce. Many of us abandoned the ideas of purity culture, evangelicalism, and even Christianity due to the harm caused by the faulty teachings of our youth. However, what hurt me the most and twisted my psyche in ways I’m still trying to untangle were the incompatible and contradictory elements of what I was taught.

One of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith is God IS love. From the youngest ages, we were taught this through song: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Over and over, teachers and pastors and church elders reminded us: God loves you unconditionally. According to scripture, there’s nothing we could do that could separate us from God’s love for us. Then as we got older, we began hearing different messages from the church. Leaders started telling us we were unlovable. We were taught that we did not deserve love – especially if we didn't adhere to purity rules. God loves you but you’re worthless. God loves you but you’re undeserving.
Photo courtesy of Gratisography

This is one of the many reasons why I deconstructed. Despite a crippling deprecating image of self, I did everything right. I believed God loved me and I didn’t deserve it. I waited for marriage. I married a Christian woman. I remained faithful. I was active in church. I followed the doctrine of purity culture. And I still got divorced. Doing all of the “correct” things doesn’t guarantee success. Purity doesn’t inoculate you from the pain and suffering of broken relationships. Even the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye ended his marriage. Purity teachings doesn’t work. Looking at the tattered lives of my generation, it’s safe to say it did more harm than good.

Now I’ve deconstructed what I thought love was. I meditated on 1 Corinthians 13. I studied every mention of love in scripture. I read all of the Bible stories of sex and marriage from Genesis to The Song of Solomon to Revelation. I concluded the evangelical church led me astray.

The Bible teaches all people – men and women were created in the image of God. If (as I was taught) we are unworthy of love, then God would also be unworthy of love as we reflect God’s image. This idea of being unconditionally loved by a worthless lover is illogical; I refuse to believe it. It is also completely unbiblical. The book of 1 John tells us “God is love.” If we bear his image, then humanity was created to love and be loved. We need love and deserve love.

It’s time to reclaim the definition of real love. The type of love that is selfless and kind. The love that is devoted in the midst of hard times.The love that celebrates the successes of others. The love that lifts and elevates their communities. The love that flourishes in equality and justice. Love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love that loves the way God loves us. A love that loves when it waits and loves when it doesn’t wait. A love that deserves love.

The kind of love that craves Chinese food on a stormy night. That too.





ps: I love you

9.29.2021

The Open Mic

If I have a fatal flaw as a DJ, it is how I sing along with 90% of the music I play. I am the kind of dude who would lose most ‘try not to sing’ challenges on the very first song. However, I do not have a stellar singing voice. It might not even be semi-decent. Simon Cowell would critique my voice with the most eviscerating vocabulary imaginable were I to audition for whatever show he is currently judging. I am a crappy singer yet I love singing.

My lyrical knowledge is deep and wide. I do not know everything, but I know a lot. From the Brat Pack to Wu Tang, Johnny Cash to Cash Money, Rednex to actual rednecks, new wave to nu metal, disco to digital, indie folk to arena country, Men in Black to Back in Black, Livin' on a Prayer to Livin' la Vida Loca. Pop rock, pop punk, and electro pop. Classic rock, modern rock, and hard rock. All three waves of ska.

I can “celebrate good times” and “party in the USA.” They say “play that funky music white boy” and I say “it’s getting hot in herre.” Ask to go “fishin’ in the dark,” my answer will be “I want it that way.” You could tell me to stop, but you will have to explain if it is “in the name of love” or because it is “hammertime.” Either way it will not matter because “the wave can’t stop” and I “don’t stop believin’.”

It is more than singing though. I join wedding parties on the dance floor for the Cha Cha Slide or Cupid Shuffle. I wobble and do the YMCA. I wave my arms “from the windows to the walls” and slowly drop to the floor when “shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low.” I also shuffle a little two step dance move through most gigs from behind the safety of my table where no one can see my awkwardness. My dancing ability is just as abysmal as my talent for singing. I am the stereotypical white dude – zero sense of rhythm. Still, I love to groove. Music is therapeutic and I find myself helpless to resist the beats and vocals which accompany such therapy.

You do not have to be good at an activity to participate. Most people who tell me they enjoy golfing are terrible golfers. They will never be PGA material, they hook and slice nearly every drive, and spend more time in sand traps and the rough than on the fairway. Between throwing clubs and cussing at water hazards, these people will insist the game of golf is the most relaxing thing they do all week. I get these people. They need a handicap for golf; I need one to sing and dance. I suck at my musical pastime yet still consider it the most relaxing thing I do, even if I am exhausted by the end of the night.

However, unlike those supposedly happy golfers, you won’t find me cursing my mixer or throwing microphones. Instead I leave the mic on and turn down the volume when it is not needed. The microphone sits in a boom stand, stretching from the side so I can talk into it while clicking buttons and twisting knobs. It is not in constant use, only there when I need to make announcements or introduce dedications. I assume people would rather “dance to the music” than hear me “talk too much.”

This last weekend, my habits caught up with me. I played through the ceremony and cocktail hour without an error. Dinner was great and guests were complimenting my selection of music. Then it happened. About an hour and a half into the gig, I turned and looked at my microphone. In that moment, I realized the volume was still on. I spent all that time singing and dancing next to an open mic.

Oops.

9.12.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 4, Fuel

My forced lifestyle change moved me into an apartment closer to my office, allowing me to walk to work. With shared custody, I discovered free time I never had before. I had freedom to cook, write, clean, and exercise. I met some new friends and built a support network I never had before.

Newfound freedom. New diet. New habits. New friends. This revised life required a remixed way of thinking. I needed motivation to keep moving forward. If music carried through my awkward childhood and the mess I made of my adult life, then music would lift me into who I wanted to become.

Social Club: “Losing Sleep
Insomnia. That was the worst symptom of my single life. Actually, the insomnia started before the divorce but got worse after. I was losing sleep. The time alone gave me time to think. No marriage, no education, no transferable skills to get me out of my day job. “Stuck in the spotlight, I'm talent-less, Life is like a circus and I'm just balancing.” Fern’s time as a thug and inmate lasted as long as my marriage: “10 years lost, can't get 'em back.” If I couldn’t sleep or get back the time I lost, the best I could do was hustle. I wrote like my life depended on it.

SPZRKT: “Better Off
I’m not a fan of divorce. If I know of a couple struggling in their relationship, my advice is usually to make it work and fight for love. Despite experiencing a less than pleasant marriage, I still believe that the bond between married couples can be a wonderful thing – when it’s done right. I failed the first time around. While I champion making marriage work, I also know ending one can be incredibly healing. When it was over, I had to start thinking like SPZRK (pronounced spazzy rocket): “I’m not thinking of you when I’m thinking of my life.” Such a mindset was freeing. I could finally pursue my passions, what made me feel alive, and become who I believed God wanted me to be.

Fort Minor and John Legend: “High Road
Not all this newness was sunshine and roses. I heard secondhand stories about myself that were not true or twisted to make me look like the bad guy. I was criticized for doing things I never did, even to the point of false complaints to the police and baseless accusations of child abuse. I received texts from her friends calling me a “shitty dad.” However, I had to speak positivly of Bekah because she was still the mother of my kids and desere nothing less. This song kept me focused on being the better person. “I’m trying to be bigger than the bickering, bigger than the petty name calling, under the breath talking, rumors and labels and categorization.” The attitude was empowering, “the bullshit you talk might work a lot, but it’s not gonna work today.”

Everclear: “The Swing
Speaking of old friends, cutting them out of my life was one of my wisest decisions. I know exactly what Art feels in this song when he sings, “All your friends, they can kiss my ass. They only see the simple things they want to see.” I needed to take back all the power I had previously forfeited. The power Bekah used to manipulate me, the power her friends used to discourage me, the power circumstances out of my control dictating how I felt about myself. For me, The Swing represents reclaiming my place in that dynamic. “Sometimes I think the power is better than a hard drug.”

Embodyment: “Greedy Hands
Divorce brought grief and disillusionment, like something inside me died. Then this song sings “It’s gone, my innocence” and I feel like I know exactly what it means. There are parts of me erased in divorce that I won’t ever recover. Yet listening to this song doesn’t remind me of all I lost, it motivates me to become a something better than I ever was.

Linkin Park: “Nobody’s Listening
My greatest fear is irrelevance. It’s the sense of not being heard or not making any difference, as if I don’t matter. When the person spreading lies about me was also charming and eloquent, it was a struggle to get anyone to believe me, let alone listen to me. I connected to this Linkin Park song so deeply, “I got a heart full of pain, head full of stress, head full of anger, held in my chest.” From the rumors and false reports to the police, to secret code words devised behind my back and use of therapists to manipulate me, I was dealt one losing blow after another. I needed this song to remind me of a way forward: “Because all of this stress gave me something to write on, the pain gave me something I could set my sights on. “

Oleander: “I Walk Alone
The chorus of this song breaks down a simple truth of my life post divorce. “Everybody and everything I've known never taught me how to stand up on my own, had to learn it from the one who let me go, now I walk alone.” That was my predicament. I had to figure out my path on my own and I never would have been able to do so if Bekah had not let me go. It was the best gift she ever gave me.

Seether: “Breakdown
After a decade of being lied to and manipulated, followed by another couple years of innuendo and baseless accusations, I began to understand the ways in which she controlled me and confront the reality of never being me when I was with her. “I could have tried and devoted my life to both of us, but what a waste of my time when the world we had was yours.” I had to determine the difference of how Bekah saw me and the truth of who I was as a person. I reached the point I no longer cared where her next attack was coming from. If that’s what she needed to do to make herself feel better, there was nothing I could do to stop it anyway.

Panic! At The Disco: “This is Gospel
There’s freedom in the words “If you love me let me go.” I never felt loved but I know the freedom of being let go. Brendon Urie sang these words as gospel for the fallen ones locked away in permanent slumber, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells, and insufferable bastards. Those kinds of people are my tribe. If he was addressing them, then he was singing on my behalf too. “They haven't seen the best of us yet.” Those words were gospel to me.

John Reuben: “No Regrets”
We’re all familiar with the Serenity Prayer commonly used in 12 step programs: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. I used No Regrets for a similar purpose, to find serenity. “To the future in the palm of God's hand, to the past as of now that I can't understand, to the future uncertain unclear, to the past I left to bring me here, I stay I pray.” I didn’t understand my past and couldn’t predict my future. The best I could do was to “live right and pass on what I believe” and be “secure enough to admit my insecurity.”

8.27.2021

The Vows

We did a thing this week. After our wedding a month ago and our reception last Friday, Annie and I entered a courtroom in the Public Saftey Building in downtown Spokane to make our marraige legally recognized by the state.
We intentionally kept our ceremony small with only a handful of the most important people in our lives sharing a place on the beach with us as we dedicated our lives to each other. There is a video of the ceremony but the crashing of ocean waves drowned out most of the audio. Thankfully, we wrote down our vows. For those of you who did not attend in person, the vows we exchanged are transcribed below. As we forge our way into our future together, please know that Annie and I appreciate all who have been here to support and encourage us over the past few years. We value your friendships more than we could ever describe.



From me to Annie:
Andria, I give myself to you today to be your husband - your partner, lover, companion, and friend. To have you by my side and hold you in times of comfort and distress so we may build our lives and pursue our dreams together.

I promise an unwavering love through the worst days, for it will make our better days sweeter. To cherish you regardless of status or wealth, when we have money and when we don’t. To love you when life brings us sickness and health because we know we will endure both. To be faithful in times of sorrow and joy, because we know we will experience both.

I will support you in any endeavor, celebrate your successes, and carry you when you’re too weak to walk. I will forever be your biggest fan. I owe you everything and you owe me nothing.

Together, we will demonstrate a love which cannot be burned by fire, nor washed away by flood. We will overcome any challenge as a team, equally devoted. We will fill our home with laughter and hope. We will set an example of a vibrant marriage for our kids and our friends to follow. I have no greater honor than to share this journey with you.

Our bond will be strong for as long as we are alive as death will be the only thing capable of tearing us apart. This is my lifelong promise. You are mine and I will always be yours.

From Annie to me:
Nicholas Casey, I love you endlessly. You have made my life better by just being you. You are my rock and my heart. You support my dreams even when I struggle to believe in myself.

I vow to be giving and forgiving; to make you laugh and to laugh at myself. I vow to love you as you love me through our hardships, darkness, and pain. I vow to reach for our joys, our hopes, always with honesty and faith. I vow to keep dreaming with you.

Our marriage will be perfect because it’s ours. I promise these things until I am no more. I’m ready to show you how much I love you everyday for the rest of our lives.

(side note: as a surprise to both Annie and Joylyn, I also wrote some vows as a step-dad becoming dad to his new daughter)

From me to Joylyn:
Today, your mom and I are exchanging wedding vows. A vow is a promise, one to be taken seriously and never be broken.

As I make a vow to love and cherish your mom forever and always, I am also making the same promise to you. As your dad, I promise to love you just as I have always loved Christian, Chloe, and Josiah.

It will be my job to teach you, protect you, and support you every day for as long as I am alive.

Now and forever after, you are my daughter.
                            with love,
sincerely
Mr & Mrs Casey                   

7.02.2021

Sedona

Two years and a half ago, we got Sedona intending her to become Chloe’s new barrel racing horse. Our daughter needed a step up horse, a steed who could help Chloe reach her full potential as a rider and a competitor.

Chloe rode Sedona bareback the first day we had her. It’s one of the happiest moments I have ever witnessed. The two made a quick bond and practiced together any chance Chloe could find. Sedona was a little overweight so we placed her on a strict diet and had her exercising in the round pen daily. We took her out for walks and runs on trails and roads. Sedona worked her muscles walking up and down a hill we affectionately refer to as “the butt kicker hill.”
photo courtesy of Susan Shouse Photography

Sedona competed with Chloe through most of the 2019 rodeo season and we watched as both the girl and her horse made improvements in their skill. After the Covid pandemic ended everyone’s rodeo season for 2020, Chloe continued to ride and work with Sedona. She had her eyes on the future. She knew that one canceled season was not the end of anyone’s rodeo career. If she was going to compete again, Sedona would need to stay in shape.

Chloe hustled. Sometimes she begged to do it and other times we bribed her. With the 2021 season approaching, we hired a trainer to work with Chloe and it looked like Sedona was going to be the perfect partner.

Then April 22 happened.

Like many other days preceding it, Chloe and Sedona were in the round pen working. My daughter stood in the middle directing the speed and direction for her horse to run. Some occurrences come out of nowhere, freak accidents you are unable to explain even as you watch it happen. One moment, Sedona was running like a race horse, the next she was spooked and tried to jump the gate. Sedona is not a jumping horse and she was too short to clear the gate. Instead of landing on the other side, Sedona’s front right leg slipped into the smallest space possible: directly between the wood post, the end of the metal gate, and the chain looped to keep the gate closed. Sedona’s sudden predicament scared her even more and she started thrashing around, aggravating any potential injury caused by her dreams of flight.

Chloe, Christian, and I made quick efforts to free Sedona while JJ ran in the house to get Annie. The next few hours were spent trying to calm the horse and clean her wounds. Phone calls were made to the emergency overnight veterinarian who gave us practical advice and we arranged to bring her in the next morning. We feared she would need to be put down. Chloe feared losing the bond she spent two years building with Sedona. We worried about the potential costs about the veterinary care Sedona would need.

In the end, all our fears were relieved. Miraculously, Sedona did not break any bones. Her official diagnosis was a complete degloving. This is a severe injury where she did more than tear away her fur – she also ripped off the outer layers of her skin and connective tissue. She managed to deglove a solid ring around the lower part of her leg, requiring multiple stitches and isolation while she healed.
This picture is her wound several weeks after the initial injury. The first photos we sent to the veterinarian are too gory to share.

Results were better than we imagined possible. However, Sedona still had a long road ahead of her. The next few days were chaotic and filled with sleep deprivation for both horse and humans. She would need regular bandage changes for several weeks, requiring sedation for her to allow us to wrap fresh bandages around her leg. The vet prescribed antibiotics and pain medications, both of which Sedona hated consuming. Finally, she would need to miss out on the 2021 rodeo season.

Instead of forfeiting the season Chloe chose to train Renegade; the result of her decision is a beautiful and victorious story deserving a blog post of its own. Sedona slowly recovered, eventually rejoined the heard, stopped exercising, and ate a bunch of hay. She regained a bunch of weight but she would live, nay … thrive.

Sedona’s injury did more than complicate Chloe’s rodeo season, it threw a wrench into our wedding plans. Annie and I had arranged two horses to go with us to the wedding: Sedona and Roxy. After exchanging vows on the beach, we hoped to ride off into the sunset together. With Sedona’s injury, that possibility was cast into doubt. Renegade has a habit of bucking and throwing riders and we only have one other ridable horse – the mare Annie planned on using.

We kept Sedona healthy and fed. We let her walk the pasture at her own leisurely pace. Gradually, she built up her strength. Her wounds were scabbing over. It was clear I would need to begin working with her soon, shed some of the belly weight she added while in recovery, and build a bond with her so she trusts me when there are ocean waves crashing next to us.

Sedona’s most common recent interactions with me were through the ritual of medicating, sedating, and changing bandages. None of those activities were experiences she enjoyed; she actively attempted to avoid it as much as she could. She wanted nothing to do with me but she didn’t keep that attitude. First she let me approach her while she was munching on hay. Next she allowed me to scratch her neck and ears. Then she started lining up with the other horses when she saw me walking from the house to the barn to feed them. She would follow me as I dragged a bale into the pasture and stood patiently while I broke open the twine. As soon as I threw a flake of alfalfa, she’d turn away from me to go eat. Finally, on a Monday night a few weeks ago, I took a bale out to the horses while all the horses were grazing in the back half of the pasture. I looked up and saw this running at me.

Instead of waiting for me to toss some food in her general direction, she walked up to me and invaded my personal space. I spread out several flakes; the other horses found their own personal pile and started to dine. Not Sedona. She stayed with me. I picked up her feet to check her hooves, rubbed her back to see if she had any sore spots, and patted her neck to let her know she’s a good girl. As I was running my fingers through her mane, she rested her jaw on my shoulder and turned her neck to place her head behind mine – the closest imitation of a hug a horse can give.

I knew then it was time. It was time for me to start working with Sedona in the round pen. I knew it was time for her to have a rider. I knew it was time for me to (figuratively and literally) get back on the horse.

Last Saturday, we did a thing. While the family completed morning barn chores, I got Sedona into the round pen and strapped a saddle to her back. We walked around in circles in the round pen for a while, both of us reacquainting the experience of riding (me) or being ridden (Sedona). Feeling brave, I followed Chloe out to the back half of our property. It’s the first time in a couple years we’ve rode horses together. We did some practicing in our arena and I had Sedona walking through a pole bending pattern. I even got her into a trot.

Three weeks from now, Sedona will be introduced to a new environment: road trips and beaches. A couple weeks ago, I was feeling nervous about how she would handle my weight or how I would manage to control her in the sand. Now I feel much more confident and prepared. I think Sedona and I are going to enjoy our time together.

6.09.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 3, Acceptance

Michael J. Fox built a successful career in acting; then at the height of his fame he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. As his symptoms worsened, his ability to perform became more difficult. This devastating medical condition could have destroyed his livelihood, his identity, and his passions. Instead, he figured out how to transition from a Hollywood star to an activist and an advocate for people with disabilities. He was already a hero of mine for portraying Marty McFly, but I admire him even more for the dignity and hope he embodies off screen. How did he do it? Fox accepted his circumstances. He once said, “Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it.”

I appreciate Fox’s philosophy. While getting my feet back under me, I followed his example. As a man trying to get healthier, as a single father and gainfully employed individual trying to figure out the work/life balance without a partner to assist me, as an adult trying to forge new friendships and build a support system from scratch, as a member of a ministry team, as a human rediscovering who I was and what I needed to do with my life. I had to accept my “is what it is” circumstances so I could find my way through it. These songs helped me find acceptance.

Fuel: “Leave the Memories Alone
Before I could create new memories, I had to deal with a decade worth of old memories I didn’t want to remember. “So I find me in your garden now, a sad smile for the scene and all the flowers that we planted now taken by the weeds” Confronting my reality, it was easier to recall the bad than the good. So leave it alone. Don’t bring it up. Don’t remind me of what used to be. Tell me what is and what could be. I knew it was time to rebuild and start dreaming again.

Coldplay: “Ghost Story
You never really realize how much churches are geared to minister to married couples, especially young couples with kids until you’re a divorced parent. You never realize how much community supports are designed to help and support single moms until you’re a single dad. Losing my marriage and all of my friends in one swoop was a weird enough feeling. I felt invisible. “What's the point of feeling love for you when you don't believe I'm here?” Then it’s complicated when culture views single dads as an oddity at best, like some kind of myth, or a second class citizen at worst. Society tells men to be strong and know everything and dudes like me who fail to meet that criteria often feel invisible. Divorce is hard enough, but explaining what it’s like is harder when no one listens. “What's the point of trying to raise your voice if no one ever hears?”

Smashing Pumpkins: “Being Beige
Billy Corgan’s lyrics are intentionally vague, left open for the listener to interpret. When this song came out, it felt like an honest assessment of my ‘it is what it is’ outlook. The blunt look backwards, “I don’t love you for what it’s worth.” The cynical appraisal of current affairs, “The world’s on fire so …” This song recognizes the remorse for what was, yet it is resolved to accept what is and is to come.

Staind: “Trippy
The most important thing I did after the divorce was determining what BS I was willing to endure, and what I would reject. You can hear that thought process in this song: “I don’t want this, and I don’t need this.” Therapists call it setting boundaries. “I can’t fake this, and I won’t take this anymore.” After ten years of being manipulated and criticized, I was done. Boundaries were made and I was finally able to feel free.

Third Eye Blind: “Motorcycle Drive By
I began to see divorce as the best gift Bekah ever gave me. For ten years, she always discouraged my dreams and mocked my hobbies. “And there's things I'd like to do that you don't believe in. I would like to build something but you never see it happen.” As soon as the constant critic was gone, I was suddenly freer than I’d felt in a long time. I began to write more. I started hiking and playing video games again. I stopped worrying if my music was too heavy or of the shows I watched were too geeky. The song claims “I'll get over you, you'll wonder who I am.” I had to accept my circumstances so I could become a better version of me. I’ve grown and changed so much since then. Sometimes, it seems like Bekah doesn’t know who I am anymore.

5.25.2021

For the Aspiring Performer

My oldest son has a plan for his future. Which is good because he’s sixteen and finishing his sophomore year of high school. Two more years stand between now and graduation. Adulthood is creeping up on him quicker than the ghosts lurking over the shoulders of unsuspecting characters in one of the Conjuring movies. A plan is a great thing for a kid his age to possess.

Christian will be taking some construction arts classes next year and intends to focus on electrical engineering after completing high school. He knows electricians make good money and the career is fairly recession proof so he plans on doing his apprenticeship, working as a journeyman, then becoming a master electrician. If reality was a D&D game, electricians are wizards and he aims to max out his character’s stats.
image courtesy of vforvegard

However, if he was a D&D character in real life, there’s a bit of a bard deep inside his spirit, waiting for its time to shine. Last fall, Christian participated in competitive drama. He and his partner won second place in their district and fourth place in the state of Idaho. Much like I did when I was his age, he’s found freedom in the theatrical world. He feels he can most be himself by pretending to be someone else. In addition to his dreams of working as a master electrician, he also want to continue acting after he graduates high school. He added a new item on his bucket list - he wants a role in a major studio movie, even if it is as an extra.

Electrical work to make money. Theatrical work to bring him joy. If you ask me, it sounds like a good plan.

On a recent trip to Seattle, Christian and I had a couple hours to break away from the rest of the family and spend some time together, just the two of us. Our schedule wouldn’t allow us to drive up to Marysville for a tour of my hometown so I thought the next best thing would be an introduction to a former classmate of mine. As an added bonus, this old friend has been active in the Seattle theater scene for most of the past quarter century. I messaged Dan and asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee and let my son pick his brain. He enthusiastically agreed.

Dan is a great guy. I knew my son could learn a lot for him and I hoped to share a few laughs reminiscing about the times we shared in the MPHS drama club. What I got (and didn’t expect) was to hear him dispense advice for me as well as my son. We had a great conversation that lasted longer than I thought it would. While my 42 year old brain can’t remember everything we discussed, there are a few key bits of guidance Dan contributed which I found helpful, if not inspiring.

Much of what he shared came from the perspective of an experienced actor. However, his counsel is applicable in any artistic or performance industry. From musicians to photographers to writers, he provided personal anecdotes and recommendations worth consideration.

If you or your kids are performers - either as an amateur or a professional, take some time to absorb these highlights from the time Christian and I spent with Dan.

1. Don’t stop learning. Christian mentioned interest in studying karate and asked if it would be helpful. Dan said absolutely. He participated in competitive fencing and his experience there led to roles he might not have gotten without learning how to fence. He also talked about how being bilingual opens up opportunities nonexistent for English only speakers. Dan informed Christian any specialty skills gained make you more valuable to people who want to hire you.

2. Fail in a safe place. Everyone makes mistakes - especially when starting out as a performer. Find ways to hone your craft in a small space before going big. Join student or small community productions, film videos for YouTube or TikTok, livestream on Twitch, attend open mike nights, book shows at dive bars where the dozen in attendance are probably drunk and don’t care if you are terrible. Those places offer low stakes with minimal consequence for failure and give you the freedom to screw up and keep going. Successes in these small spaces build confidence you need to be great when greatness matters.

3. Get involved. As a student, Christian has plenty of chances to be involved with theater and arts programs through his school. Yet for those of us older than a teenager, there are still ways we can participate in our chosen crafts. For those wanting to act, Dan suggested community theaters are a great place to start. Writers have blogs, singers have YouTube. Involvement in civic organizations help you learn how things function behind the scenes, the etiquette, the traditions, all the things unseen by the audience. You don’t even need to be performing to be involved. Dan told Christian he should volunteer as a way to get his foot in the door.

4. Find a mentor. Mentors could be a teacher; Dan and I both had a phenomenal mentor in Mr K when we were at MPHS. Outside of school, there are coaches and trainers available to hire. If you’re involved in community organizations, it’s possible to find someone there who is older and wiser willing to usher you to bigger and better things.

5. Do the scary stuff. “As an actor,” Dan said, “if there’s something that scares me, it’s a good sign I should probably do it.” He wasn’t talking about the dangerous or potentially harmful king of scary - rather he was speaking of the roles and challenges that seem intimidating. He gave us the example of taking on comical parts after spending years considering himself as nothing more than dramatic actor. Doing things that seem daunting helps you grow and creates greater opportunities in the future.

6. Watch for red flags. Dan has learned to watch for troubling signs about producers and directors to avoid taking roles or participating in shows potentially problematic. For example, if they’re disorganized during an audition, the rehearsals and production will probably be disorganized too. If multiple friends and colleagues are warning you to not work with a particular person, there’s probably a valid reason for their words of caution. If people make too-good-to-be-true promises, it probably is too good to be true.

7. Learn when to say no. This was Dan’s answer when I asked him if there’s anything he would do differently. He talked about how not every opportunity is a good one. As a young or beginning creative worker, it’s easy to say yes to everything. You’re hungry for a gig and eager to prove yourself. Inevitably, everyone ends up working on projects they shouldn’t have accepted. Learning to say no helps reduce the number of times you look back in hindsight and regret doing this job or that gig.

8. Remember your power. In creative industries, there are people who think they possess all of the power as if they’re little demigods in the world of arts and entertainment. Agents, publishers, directors, producers. They act big and tough, presenting an image of unquestionable authority giving artists the only option to shut up and take whatever is offered. While it is true they have power, they don’t have it all. You have power too. They will research you before they offer you anything, you have the power to research them too. Study them, ask around for others who have worked with them to see what their experience was like. Look into the quality or other work they’ve done. Everyone has power and no one is more powerful than anyone else. If a director or a publisher uses their power in a way that is abusive or manipulative, you have the ultimate power to say no and decline working for or with them.

If you know Dan and have the chance to spend some time with him, I’d encourage you to do so. He’s filled with wit and wisdom. You will probably walk away from the conversation encouraged or motivated. Possibly both.

If you’re in the Seattle area, Dan will be a part of the cast for GreenStage’s return to live in-person performances with Shakespeare in the Park this summer. Please go see one of their shows and enjoy some of the culture the city has to offer.

Finally, regardless of where you live, please support your local arts community. Starving artists everywhere do what we do for people like you. After a year like 2020, your patronage is more important than ever.

5.05.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 2, Contemplation

If divorce was the lowest point in my life, everything that followed would be an uphill climb. The emphasis here is with the word climb. While my health and happiness improved, it wasn’t an instant or easy transition. It involved a lot of contemplation and introspection. For a while, the only prayer I could manage to pray was “help this all make sense.” So I prayed it over and over until things started making sense.

Before I could become who I am now, I had to rediscover who I was. There was deconstruction and reconstruction. I argued with myself. I argued with God. If I were to build a better me, I had to uproot my flaws and admit my failures. These songs helped me find ways to express my weakest parts.

Wideawake: “Greener
Scott Leger opens this song with a common adage: “They say the grass is greener on the other side.” We all fight against comparison to some extent, and Scott described his battle in the second verse. “I struggle to make progress, it's a never ending fight.” He also says he has “doubts to fill the sky” and “an ocean full of failure.” I can relate.

Showbread: “Age of Insects
Walking back into church as a recent divorcee and newly minted single dad forced me to confront the weight of my mistakes. I often felt small, like a bug walking around “on insect legs beneath an unforgiving sun.” Thankfully, I was surrounded by a community filled with grace. They gave me the freedom to rediscover God and overcome my insecurities. This song brought me full circle, beginning with my circumstance at the time. “Thought you wouldn't recognize me in the black of soot and ash, Don't turn deaf unto my voice, there's one thing I want you to know: I have always loved you, though my life has never said so.” Then it returned me to my first love. It closes with a chorus we sang at church when I was a kid, “I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worship you, oh my soul rejoice, Take joy my King in what you hear, may it be a sweet sweet song in your ear.”

Heath McNease: “'Til We Have Faces
Disclaimer. I don’t like Heath McNease. Because of things I know about him, I don’t want to promote him or his work. I’ve unfollowed all of his social media outlets and deleted any music I’d previously purchased of his. All except this one song. I can’t escape it. Even though I struggle to separate who his is with the art he creates, there’s something about these words that haunted me. “Dead and buried, no respects, and no one cares, none there accept me. I haven't done enough for love, How could love accept me?” Before I could rebuild myself, I had to recognize the self loathing I allowed to take over my identity and embrace the loneliness of divorce as a gift that brought me closer to God. “It's cold and snowy nights that slowly fade from lonely days, but it's worth these frozen veins to see a perfect face. So dig the words right out of us 'til this cage of fragile ribs protecting us is shattered, gladly ground it back to dust.”

Listener: “Wooden Heart (Sea of Mist Called Skaidan)
The person who introduced me to this song described it as a song about grace – something I was in desperate need of at the time. This raw need for grace is laid bare in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever heard, “I am the barely-living son of a woman and man who barely made it, but we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts, we all have the same holes in our hearts.” This is a song I keep coming back to every time I feel like I’m not good enough. It has made such a huge impact on my life especially the line, “This war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors. Pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors.” Those words will be my next tattoo, with an anchor on one side and a cross on the other.

Demon Hunter: “I Will Fail You
My affinity for this song can be traced back to my brother who was the first to share it with me. As I sought to rebuild a new and better me, this song was my rock bottom looking up. It was on my mind as I forged new friendships. It echoed in my mind every time I made a mistake at work or didn’t live up to my kids’ expectations. I was even humming it to myself as I drove to my first date with Annie. “I will fail you of that I’m sure.” Perhaps I realized the knowledge of eminent failure would push me to do better. Knowing I would fail could have made successes sweeter. Or maybe my mindset took away the burden of trying to be perfect so I wouldn’t beat myself up for failing to attain perfection.

5.02.2021

How to Insult a DJ in Three Easy Steps

Do you want to insult a DJ so badly they laugh at you? Do three things:

1. Offer them a job 
2. Burden them with a majority of the overhead cost 
3. Keep most of their earnings for yourself

Yay capitalism.

I am speaking from the perspective of a former professional DJ and an audiophile who has friends currently working as DJs. Over the last few years, I’ve also had the opportunity to return to the profession supporting one of my best friends as he’s launching his own entertainment company.

Music has always been therapeutic for me. Being able to share it is like a drug - simultaneously calms me and makes me feel high. The DJ environment is a safe place for me. If there is a way I could make a little extra money on the side, I would welcome the opportunity to return to the world of wedding receptions, school dances, and house parties. Secretly speaking (after writing) my dream job would be working as an in house DJ for a stadium or arena playing the music during baseball or hockey games.

With these ambitions in mind, I created a job alert for “disc jockey” on Indeed. If I could find a way to maintain my current employment and supplement my income through music entertainment, how could I ever turn it down?

This last week, I discovered how I could turn it down. For the first time since I created the job alert, I got a notification of an available disc jockey job. Let’s call this a hard pass.
Image courtesy of Indeed

On the surface, this sounds like a great opportunity. Yet it falls apart under closer examination. Let’s dig deeper.

When I DJ’d for a similar company in 2002/2003, my starting wage was $70 a night with a raise to $80 after my introductory period. They also paid an extra $50 bonus if a client requested me when booking their event. In comparison, $150-$500 per gig appears to be better than what I was paid nearly two decades ago. For people who hire their entertainment through branded companies, this pay rate might be surprising. Parents of the bride routinely handed me $750 dollar checks incorrectly assuming most of that money would go to me. Johnny B’s is probably the same - whatever they pay their DJ’s is probably a small fraction of the total bill.

The job posting’s description of benefits and schedules are contradictory ideas. When you’re a DJ, you work weekends. This is a fact of the industry. No one gets married on a Tuesday at noon. School dances are not held on school nights. Company gatherings and holiday events are strategically scheduled to allow employees to get drunk at the party and spend the rest of weekend sleeping off the hangover before returning to work the following Monday morning. I’m curious how they can promise a flexible schedule when you're guaranteed to work Friday and Saturday nights and only those nights. Furthermore, there is no flexibility in your start and stop times. Your gig starts when your client demands. There’s no wiggle room or space for bargaining. You don’t get to tell a bride or CEO, “that time doesn’t work well for me.” If any flexibility exists, it’s either you work or you don’t.

These are not conditions I object to as it’s the nature of the beast. I understand companies who contract DJs have to pay for advertising and office space, so it makes sense to me how a majority of what clients pay goes to the company and not the DJ. I realize events hiring a DJ are only booked on weekends. Such scheduling would make it easy to maintain my regular job while making a little extra money entertaining strangers. I also posses the skills they require. I have DJ’d for corporate events, weddings, and private parties. When in front of an audience, I have the attitude and personality to keep a party bouncing.

Within this want ad, there is one line transforming it from an interesting possibility to a laughably insulting proposition. Five words: “Must have your own equipment.”

This single phrase disqualifies me from applying. I satisfy all of the other qualifications. A driver’s license, reliable transportation, over a year of actual disc jockey experience. However, I don’t own my own equipment. Therefore, I’m not a viable candidate.

Here’s the true insult: if I did own my own equipment, I wouldn’t want to apply for this job. Why would I want to work for another company and only get a small portion of the money paid for my services if I could do the same work and keep 100% of the profits for myself? Why would I bear the brunt of the overhead costs so someone else can make money off my labor?

Annie and I have discussed saving up money to buy equipment for myself and starting my own company. I did the research and math. It would take roughly $3000 dollars to build a basic yet functional set up to do my own gigs. If I charged $700 per night, I’d need to book five clients before I’d recover the start up cost. If I made the same investment and went to work for another company making $150 per gig, I’d have to work twenty events to pay it off. The choice is logical.

There is one small benefit to working as a contracted DJ for companies like these. They promote you for you. You don’t have to engage in any shameless self promotion. People hire the company, they assign the gig to you, client gets to know you by luck of the schedule, then hopefully they tell their friends about you. You become known by sheer force of contract. Unfortunately, companies like these ask their DJ to sign non-compete disclosures legally prohibiting them from working for another company or for themselves should their employment ever be terminated.

Establishing yourself as a disc jockey is a lot of hard work. Building your brand is time consuming and exhausting. Regardless of your talent or personality, customers can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist. Working for a company to help you build name recognition is an easy shortcut, but personally I’d rather put in the effort to do it myself.

So it looks like I won’t be working as a DJ on my own any time soon. However, if you need a DJ in the Spokane/Cd’A area, I know a guy. He’s a phenomenal DJ.

4.22.2021

Through the lense of a former 90s youth group kid.

If you're a long time reader you probably know I grew up in a conservative evangelical church. I was also a teenager in the Seattle suburbs during the grunge era. Those years were the Wild West of youth ministry. Youth pastors today want to be relatable and relevant. Youth leaders back then wanted to know how much crazy shit they could get teens to do before the kids revolted. If youth pastors were mad scientists, we were the guinea pigs.

One of the most predominant highlights of any church youth event during the 90s is what I’ve lovingly (and regrettably) described as pudding through the nose games. They didn’t actually consist of slurping pudding through your nose, but the nasal consumption of a Snack Pack was always a possibility. These games were designed to induce a gag factor, inspire PG-13 levels of comedic violence, or encourage what modern youth leaders call “purple.” No idea what I’m talking about? Allow me to provide some examples.

The Toothpick Lifesaver relay. Teams lined up boy/girl/boy/girl with toothpicks in our mouths. Without using our hands, a package of Lifesavers had to be passed toothpick to toothpick from one end of the line to the other. And we had to start over if the candied fruit flavored ring was dropped. First team to pass along all 14 candies through every member wins.
image courtesy of Sterling College

Or The Chip Race. In this game, a boy and girl held a potato chip between their lips while trying to reach the finish line before the other couples. If the chip broke or was dropped, the pair had to start over.

Or Wink’em Blink’em. Everyone of one gender stood in a circle while kids of the other gender sat in front of them with one empty seat. The person behind the empty chair winked at someone who tried to escape the grasp of the person standing behind them to sit in the empty seat. Originally, the rules stated the fleeing player would be stopped with a tap on the shoulder but my generation never liked rules. When we played this game (it was a favorite at Marysville Naz) we played it like a full contact sport. The standing player could use any means necessary to stop the runner. Nights with Wink’em Blink’em on the itinerary usually ended with pulled hair, scratches down the back, torn t-shirts, and rug burns on the knees and elbows. Ironically, the popular kids were more likely to be tackled or dragged than the uncool kids like me.

Or the Caterpillar Relay. Teams laid face down and shoulder to shoulder on the beach to form a human caterpillar. (Note: I said caterpillar, not centipede. That's something wildly different.) The person at the end of the end of their team's line rolled over all of their teammates to the front of the line where they resumed the face down position as other players rolled over the top of them. New competitors began rolling as soon as they were the last in line. First team to get their whole caterpillar across the finish line won.

Or Eat That Food. This was played like Name That Tune but with food. Teen versus adult volunteer took turns claiming they could eat a food item in a certain number of bites, each challenge lower than the previous. If that number reached a point where one player couldn't eat the food in fewer bites than the other, they dared the other player to "Eat it." If a player scarfed the item within the promised number of bites, they won. They would lose by failing to complete the challenge or throwing up. I saw people eat a whole can of spam in one chipmunk-cheeked bite, pour an entire tin of Altoids into their open maw, chomp a foot long raw carrot with a diameter of their in three bites, cram a king size Snickers in their mouth while drinking a can of Pepsi, and chug a large jar of applesauce in a single gulp. There was always a garbage bin on stage for vomit.

And Shaving Cream Wars. A section of the football field was cordoned off to separate spectators and warriors. Teenaged campers and adult leaders purchased hundreds of cans of shaving cream to battle each other in a one vs all battle royale. Combatants ran around with aerosol cans of shaving cream, filling their hands with foam, and smearing it into the faces and onto the bodies of other willing participants. Extreme players Duct taped their shaving cream cans into their hands with fingers hovering above the spray triggers.
image courtesy of Baltimore Sun

Between the inappropriate entertainment, the purity culture teachings, and attempts to dictate what kinds of movies we could watch or music we could listen to, my generation was subjected to an ongoing clash of contradictions and double standards. It is no surprise why so many of my peers have left the church in the decades since then.

Youth group was weird enough bit summer camps is where it got really awkward. Teen camp had a different theme every year and games were tailored to match the theme. One year our theme was “The Doctor is In.” Bed pans (if you couldn’t already tell where this was going) were used in a majority of the games that year. One of those bedpan games was a root beer relay. Teams lined up 20 yards away from a bedpan filled with root beer. Everyone was given a straw to hold with their mouth. First person in their team’s line ran to the bedpan, laid face down with hands behind their back, and drank through their straw. As soon as they sucked up as much root beer as they could, they ran back to their team and the next person sprinted to lie down and chug through their straw, then repeat until their team drank all of the root beer. First team to finish a half dozen 2 liters won.

If you’re thinking it would have been funnier for the camp organizers to use Mountain Dew, I agree. However, despite the shades of violence and confusing sexual boundaries, there were still lines that Nazarenes were not brave enough to cross.

I thought this game would be easy. I could guzzle a can of Dr Pepper in one shot - proved it a couple times before. Drinking soda should be easier with a straw, right? Wrong, so very wrong.

When my turn came, I ran the 20 yards as fast as my scrawny teenaged legs would carry me. I laid down in the prone position, hands clasped behind my back, dunked my straw into the warm brown liquid, and began to sip. Then I discovered something: I couldn’t drink. I could barely breathe. Gravity pulled my body weight down onto my lungs and I lacked any alternative to support that weight because my hands were clasped behind my back. The position of my hands also stretched out my chest cavity and tightened my pectoral muscles making it difficult to expand my rib cage. My ability to draw a breath was smothered.

Instinctively, my brain knew breathing was more important than drinking soda. My desire to live outweighed my hopes to win a pudding through the nose game. I couldn't drink even if I wanted to. I got up, ran back to my line, and hoped everyone else on my team had better luck than me.

To be clear, while I was scrawny weakling, I was also healthy. I kept fit by spending summers hiking all over the Northern Cascades and walking/biking everywhere during the school year. I didn’t have asthma, didn’t smoke, didn’t suffer any underlying health issues. I was a normal (even if socially awkward) teenager, spry and energetic. Yet despite everything in my respiratory favor, I still struggled to breath when laying prone with my hands behind my back. I can’t imagine doing the same thing with a police officer kneeling on my neck.

I have frequently pondered this story from my youth while watching the Derek Chauvin trial over the last couple weeks. It’s been heavy on my mind. Watching the videos, listening to testimony and cross examination, I keep imagining myself in George Floyd’s place.
image courtesy of Dazed & Confused Magazine

Laying prone with your hands behind your back isn’t like getting a back massage as Chauvin’s lawyer claimed during closing arguments. If it was difficult for me to breathe in that position as a healthy teenager with no weight on my neck, logic leads me to believe it would impossible for George Floyd to do the same under the weight of Derek Chauvin.

That is a conclusion any reasonable person should be able to understand. Thankfully, the jury agreed.

4.10.2021

Coffee & Road Trips

Dad’s stories used to be one of my kids favorite things but they make the request less frequently these days. Listening to me reminisce about my wonder years isn’t as interesting to teenagers. I’ve also reached the age or reruns. “I’ve heard this one before, Dad.” Still, when they request me to entertain them with tales of my youth, I oblige. I won’t be able to do this for much longer.

Last weekend, they wanted crazy driving stories. Most of tales I have to tell about diving wild involve my brother, Aaron. I told them about the time he picked me up from school and we scared a student driver by head banging to some metal music turned up to full volume while heading down the long driveway from the MPHS campus. Story time ended with an anecdote from a road trip we took to Cheyenne in the summer of 96.

It was an ill fated trip. The original plan was a non-stop drive straight through from Seattle to Cheyenne, but it was nearly midnight when we reached Billings and Aaron was too tired to continue. He got us a hotel room and we slept hard. In the morning, we discovered I had accidentally locked his keys in the car and we had to wait for a police officer to pick the lock for us. On the way back home, we spent the night with one of our dad’s college friends in Meridian. After they woke us up for breakfast, news broke about the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. Then Aaron’s car broke down on the freeway after we passed Caldwell. He took the next exit and his Ford Lemon sputtered to a stop on front of a gas pump in Sand Hollow. There was a mechanic there who took a look at the car. He didn’t have the parts to fix it and it would take a week to get it if he placed an order. Instead, he duct taped some hoses together so it would hold long enough to get to a fancier mechanic in Ontario. After the car was fully repaired, we got lost trying to get out of Ontario. Attempting to make up time, Aaron got caught speeding by a flying radar trap somewhere north of Umatilla. The ticket was for driving 15 mph over the limit.

I didn’t tell the kids about any of that though. Instead I focused on our arrival in Cheyenne.

Aaron and I agreed it would be funny if we were blasting west coast rap while driving through the city of cowboys. I selected our entrance music as we rolled into town: Gospel Gangstaz. Windows down, volume up. The bass bumped and thumped the whole way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

There was one necessity visibly absent during our hip-hop ride: coffee shops. Growing up in the Seattle suburbs, America’s coffee Mecca, we were accustomed to seeing drive-thru coffee stands in parking lots at every major intersection. It felt weird driving through Wyoming’s biggest city and not seeing a coffee shop. Or any big city without seeing a single latte stand.

Granted, this was 1996. The concept of espressos were still an American novelty abundant on the urban coasts but foreign in the heartlands. Small town USA had yet to discover the joys of breves and americanos. In mid-90s Cheyenne, if you wanted coffee, you brewed it at home with the ground Folgers you purchased at the grocery store, or you bought a cup with unlimited refills at 24 hour diners like Sheri’s.

Still, Aaron was a coffee addict and I was coffee curious. We wanted to get some real good caffeinated brew, The first question we asked when we arrived at The Budd house: where can we find a coffee stand? Of the many aunts and uncles gathered, only one knew where we could seek our treasure. There was only one drive-thru shop and it was located on the other side of town. Aaron got the directions and we jumped back into his car for the cross town drive in hopes to find the glorious java.

It was there. As promised. No other vehicles were in line when we arrived so we drove up to the window without a wait. My order was simple, a single shot mint latte. Aaron placed an order for his usual: a quad shot mocha mint. Unfortunately, what was a normal drink in the Seattle suburbs was unusual in Cheyenne. How unusual? Well, they had never heard of it.

“What’s that?” The barista asked.

Aaron asked if she knew how to make a mocha. She did. Then if she knew what a double shot was. She did. By this time, he had the attention of both baristas.

“Well,” he said, “if it takes two shots to make a double shot, then it would take four shots to make a quad shot.”

“Four shots?” said one barista. “Can you do that?” asked the other.

Aaron nodded and instructed the ladies at Cheyenne’s only drive through coffee shop how to assemble his quad shot mocha mint.

Today, there are at least seven Starbucks in Cheyenne (more if you include those located inside of grocery stores) and a couple dozen other cafes, drive-thru stands, and boutique shops offering a variety of fancy espressos. If you’re ever in Chy-Town, I’d recommend stopping by Rail Yard Coffee Haus.

It’s a new age where coffee is holy water and every caffeine craving American has their favorite spot to get their fix. 25 years ago was a different time, we were not quite so obsessed. The plentiful options available now were once nonexistent.

I’ve told this story dozens of times. My Seattle friends don’t believe it ever happened because coffee shops have been a fixture of our culture since the grunge era. Younger kids don’t believe me because they can’t remember anything before the ubiquitous latte stand. As I relayed this tale one more time with my kids, I had a revelation.

The first quad shot mocha ever made in the city of Cheyenne was made for my brother. This as an indisputable fact.

The baristas working at the coffee stand we visited had never made a quad shot before. They didn’t even know it was possible which means such a strong coffee had never been brewed in their shop. Since that lone latte stand was the only coffee shop in Cheyenne, there was nowhere anyone else could have previously ordered such a monstrosity. Therefore, it is only logical to deduct my brother’s order was the first time a quad shot had been made in the entire city of Cheyenne.

In previous iterations of this story, I never considered the monumental implications of what my brother accomplished the sunny July day in the summer of 96. To be the first patron to order a quad shot mocha in the entire city makes him a legend.

There should be an award for such feats.

Four years after our trip, Aaron and his wife became residents of Cheyenne. They’ve made the city their home. And it’s become easier for Aaron to find espressos with more than two shots.

4.03.2021

Not your typical Easter post

Elvis died a couple weeks ago. Not the Blue Suede Shoes Elvis, he left the building a long time ago. Elvis was a fluffy black feathered bird, a silkie with a pompadour, the first rooster to live at Heartsong Meadow. He was everyone’s favorite chicken, practically our farm’s mascot. The girls loved him most and together we grieved. Then the next day, one of our mama goats gave birth to quadruplets. From mourning fatality one day to celebrating life the next. It’s like we were living God’s promise to make all things new.

Inspired by events on our farm, I posted the following on facebook.

Seemed fitting as we entered the Easter season to experience death and birth in quick succession, as if we could explain the crucifixion and resurrection through barnyard animals.

I had a plan, much like I do around major holidays, to compose a blog post in honor of Easter. I had great ideas to speak of the jaded cynicism living in a world where everyone is quick to shout “crucify him” at the littlest provocation, while confronted with the relentless optimism of Palm Sunday. I thought about the devastation of Good Friday and the hope of resurrection and how I could tie it all together through the cycle of human emotions we all experience. Joy, sorrow, expectation, disappointment, surprise, and relief.

To be honest though, I just don’t have it in me this year. Instead, you’re getting an unedited, first draft, random stream of consciousness, screaming into the universe at 4am jumble of raw emotional pain spewed out in the form of words on a screen.

Of the four baby goats, the kids found one cold and motionless but barely hanging on to life. We spent a week tube and bottle feeding the kid, trying to nurse her back to health. Unfortunately, she failed to thrive. At the same time, we had to grieve the loss of one of Annie’s childhood friends and two extended family members. Then yesterday, we had to put down our buck (and my second favorite goat) after he was attacked by an animal, and my parents left for a two day drive to Oklahoma City to visit my Grandma who was rushed to the hospital on Thursday. Barring any miracles, this will probably be the last time my dad will get to see and talk to his mom.

Sure, I could try to be eloquent and compose something inspiring. Just not today. Not tomorrow either. While Christians will be filling church pews tomorrow (or watching online because COVID), I’ll join them. We’ll partake in the traditions and rituals of Easter – the holiday to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. Over the past few weeks, my family has seen enough death. It’s too much. We need a little more life, resurrection, hope, and second chances.