Time Traveling Loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Art of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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