What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 2, Insecurity

For most people, their teen years were awkward. Even the cool kids go through a bumbling gangly phases at some point between the ages of 12 and 18. In my life, that phase started a little younger than most and lasted a lot longer.

Insecurity dominated much of my adolescent years. I was bullied throughout junior high. I was the shortest of the boys in my church youth group. My friends were all taller, cooler, and wealthier than me. They lived in nicer houses and dressed in trendier clothes. I could never compare - a fact of which I was painfully aware. My self esteem suffered and I developed kinship with other geeks and outcasts like me. Through the years, I found solace in music that reassured me I wasn’t alone.

Goo Goo Dolls: “Naked
There are songs that you adore from the first moment you hear it. This was that kind of song for me. John Rzeznik’s lyrics spoke to awkward loneliness. “No one hears me, never been, never felt, never thought I'd say a word.” Whoa. I knew that feeling. His second verse repeated that sense of alienation. “They don't need me, don't want me, don't hear a word I say.”

King’s X: “Sometime
Being a teen is confusing. You’re going through biological and chemical changes. You get contradictory instruction from parents and teachers. Everyone has different expectations of you. You’re trying to create a sense of autonomy separate from your parents. You’re unsure of who you are and what you want. You emotions swing from one extreme to the other. “Sometime” reminds me what it was like to experience this constant state of flux. It’s a vulnerable song with no resolution as Doug Pinnick sings of divergent desires. Sometimes, he wants to give. Sometimes, he wants to take. To run. To stay. To live. To die.

Collective Soul: “Goodnight, Good Guy
Despite being a nerdy kid and socially awkward, I still wanted people to like me. Even on my worst days, I aspired to be a decent human being. Above all else, I wanted to be a good guy. I wanted other people to look at me and say, “yeah, he’s a good dude.” It’s a noble ideal, but it’s exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to always appear to be good. And more effort to actually be good. You hear this sense of weariness in the song. “But days are longer as my heart gets weaker and I can only stay so strong. Well I'll just sit here like a wounded soul who's finding it difficult to just let go.”

Blue October: “Weaknesses
My insecurity always seemed entwined with an acute (and sometimes painful) self-awareness. I knew exactly who I was and what I was capable of doing. The inverse was also true: I knew who I wasn’t and what I was incapable of doing. Those were my inadequacies, failures, and weaknesses. It’s this self-depreciative view of the ego behind Justin Furstenfeld’s lyrics, “My weaknesses - With their ugly faces on a day to day basis.”

Switchfoot: “Let That Be Enough
Switchfoot has always held space for communicating my deepest hopes and fears in ways I could never express on my own – and in ways more beautiful than I would have ever invented. In “Let That Be Enough,” Jon Foreman described loneliness as being a “plane in the sunset with nowhere to land.” While the words he sang seemed to meet me where I was at that moment in my life, the second verse seemed to be prophetic. “It's my birthday tomorrow, no one here could know I was born this Thursday 22 years ago.” I was 19 when this song came out, and I was still living with my folks. The following summer, I moved to a different state with some friends. A year later, one friend moved back home and the other moved in with his girlfriend. By the time I got to my 22nd birthday, no one around me knew it was my day. And it happened to be on a Thursday.


Protect Ya Neck: Sanity in the Age of Social Media

The internet is a weird place, both beautiful and ugly. It has given us the gift of social media, connecting distant relatives and old friends in ways we could have never predicted. That same gift is also a curse. The new possibilities that allowed people new methods to communicate gave other people freedom to communicate with the worst possible conduct. If you’re not careful, it would be easy to lose yourself as either a perpetrator or a victim in this wild west of online culture.

If you want to navigate the world of Social Media with your sanity intact, you need to follow the advice of the Wu Tang Clan: protect ya neck. Or as a decent therapist would tell you, set some boundaries.

These boundaries are a figurative fence around you, designed to protect your emotional state from those who would revel in provoking you. It looks different for everyone. What works for you might not be good for me, and what I do might sound absurd to others. Wil Wheaton deleted his twitter account to preserve his happiness – that was his boundary. Despite thousands of disappointed fans, he’s maintained this boundary because his well being is worth more than appeasing people who have zero vested interest in his personal life. I don’t need to employ those extremes, but I still need boundaries to prevent the ugliness of the online world from discouraging or demoralizing me.

To maintain my boundaries, I follow two rules. 1: I report spam, 2: I block trolls. That’s it. Pretty simple. These two rules help keep me healthy and happy.

Strangers send me ads or post suspicious links? I report them. An Instagram user tags me in a post letting me know how to get free followers? I report them. I’m followed by a Twitter user who is scandalously dressed in their profile picture? I report them. I get a Facebook friend request from someone I don’t know and all of their public posts promote their multilevel marketing business? I report them. I don’t have the time, patience, or energy to tolerate unsolicited shameless self-promotion.

Reporting people takes a little effort. Just a few mouse clicks and I feel like I’ve done my part to make social media a happier, healthier, and safer. Even if those goals are not achieved on the macro scale of society, it is accomplished in the micro scale of my soul. For my own personal sanity, all spam is reported.

As for trolls, it gets a little more complicated. I define trolling as a stranger making remarks or comments to someone they don’t know with the specific intention to provoke. It’s important to specify (for me) this is an act committed by strangers. Within the context of friendship, a little mutual teasing is expected and acceptable. I don’t object to friends or family making a harsh joke at my expense. A shared laugh is a great way to bond. However, if I don’t know you or understand your sense of humor, the space to joke around is more restrictive. The threshold between having fun and trolling is too easily crossed. When people abuse that line, I block. No questions asked. I do not have the time or energy to engage. If you’re the kind of person to make personal attacks against me without knowing me, then I don’t have any interest in what you have to say. Nor do I want you to have access to see what I post on social media.

When a friend recently posted praise of Kanye’s newest album, I replied to share my perspective – that the album really isn’t that good. Rhyming patterns, lyrical complexity, production values, all of it in my opinion is a lower quality that what Kanye is capable of creating. The only reason anyone is excited about it is because of Kanye’s professed conversion to Christianity. If it wasn’t a gospel album, none of these people would compliment it. One of the claims I made in that long thread was how I don’t believe Christians should have to tolerate bad art just because the art was made by other Christians. Apparently, my statement was unpopular. About a half hour later, a stranger to me (but a friend of my friend) replied back to me with an accusation and a link. He doubted my claim to dislike bad music and linked to one of my public Facebook posts which contained a video of John Mayer performance. In essence, he was saying I didn’t have the right to call Kanye’s album trash if I liked a song from Mayer.

Consider this. Some random dude on the internet was so offended by my opinion about Kanye West that he dug through eight months of my public posts searching for anything I might have said to use against me in some sort of gotcha-styled straw man argument. This is a perfect match for the definition of trolling as described by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: “creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. … someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.” He didn’t like what said so he sought to create discord. Start a fight. Get a rise out of me. Why should I reward him by defending myself or retaliating? It’s far more responsible to bock the troll.

These are the boundaries I’ve set for myself to protect my mental health. I don’t expect anyone else to follow the same rules, but I would hope everyone has their own boundaries. It’s good for us. As my friend Jen frequently says, “I have healthy boundaries for my benefit and yours.”

Be prepared though, once you create guidelines for how you maintain your boundaries, not everyone will understand or appreciate them. In fact, some people will be offended. I could return to the kerfuffle over Kanye as an example. I had a private chat with the trolling stranger’s mutual friend later that evening when he asked about our interaction.

I have a different opinion. If you’re so angry at someone else’s opinion is that you have to dig through nearly a full years worth of random post to find something that you think contradicts their claim? That’s childish. You don't have to agree, but I'm gonna protect my neck.


What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 1, The Things That I Could Be

‘In the Beginning’ is the first section of the soundtrack to my life. These songs are my beginning, either reminding me what it was like to be a kid or representing in some way my life from adolescence through young adulthood. Those years are weird and magical, uncomfortable and awkward, carefree and careless. For most kids, this is the time of their life when anything is possible and everything is new. These are the years you begin to identify who are as a person and what you want to be when you grow up.

When I thought about the things that I could be, my biggest dream was to become an architect. But by the time I graduated high school, I wanted to be a DJ with my own morning radio show. The dreams of youth are fickle and complicated. This first group of songs from my ‘What It’s Like to Be Me’ playlist look at those dreams I had as a kid, the things I hoped for and longed to become true.

Skee-Lo: "I Wish"
My dad used to joke about how all he ever wanted to be when he grew up was six foot tall. He never got his wish. Neither did I. However, I did receive a theme song in 1995 when Skee-Lo released his biggest hit "I Wish." If I was a pro-wrestler, this would have been my walk-in music. This song is a short dude’s anthem – we all know the chorus but his verses spoke to my soul: “Her boyfriend's tall and he plays ball so how am I gonna compete with that? 'Cause when it comes to playing basketball, I'm always last to be picked and in some cases never picked at all.” It’s like he knew me.

Steve Taylor: "Hero"
What kid doesn’t want to be a hero? I loved to read, from comic books and horror novels to the bible and history books, I was the kind of kid Stave sand about in this song. “In a storybook land I could dream what I read. When it went to my head I'd see. I want to be a hero.” Yet heroes aren’t perfect and I grew up in an era where our heroes kept killing themselves, Kurt Cobain, Bradley Nowell, Shannon Hoon. Taylor addressed this fallibility of heroes: “Growing older you'll find that illusions are brought and the idol you thought you'd be was just another zero.” It made me want to save our heroes.

Elvis Presley: "If I Can Dream"
I’m not a big Elvis Presley fan. His music was far before my time. But I love this song. Even as a kid, I could recognize something was off in this world. While I didn’t always know what that something was, I knew it could be better. This is the longing you hear in Elvis’ voice as he sings this song. “There must be lights burning brighter somewhere. Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue. If I can dream of a better land where all my brothers walk hand in hand, tell me why can't my dream come true?” Elvis gave me a hope for a solution to this dream: “As long as a man has the strength to dream, he can redeem his soul and fly.”

Wideawake: "Misunderstood"
My brother went to school with a kid named Scott. They played basketball together and became friends. That's when I got to know him. After they graduated, Scott joined a band called Common Thread. I went to a lot of their concerts, even ran sound for them a few times. They eventually changed their name to Wideawake and put out a couple albums. One of their most popular songs sang of a common thread among teenagers – especially kids like me who didn’t always feel like they fit in. “I wish I could read your mind, be one of your kind. I missed you in my time, misunderstood. I wish I could somehow be all that you want from me.” I was a misunderstood kid. All I really wanted is what every other kid wanted: to belong.

Coldplay: "Fix You"
My brother and I grew up with two different dads. Technically, it was the same person, but Dad changed after a massive injury he sustained while I was in fifth grade. He was strong, sporty, and confident while my brother was in junior high. By the time I reached that age, his strength and confidence had vanished and his athletic ability was confined to being a fan. My brother grew up with a social butterfly; I grew up with a wallflower. I was 26 when this song came out but it transported me back to when I was still in school and every dream I ever wished on behalf of my father. “Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones. And I will try to fix you.” All I wanted was the impossible. I just wanted to fix my dad.


A Soundtrack for My Life

If your life was a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

That was a challenge given to me by a therapist several years ago. At the time, my marriage was falling apart and I was working for a tyrannical micromanaging boss. All I wanted to do was hide in my home office with the lights out and watch Netflix. Recognizing my need for help and that the help I needed was beyond what I could provide for myself, I took the scary step into a counseling facility and signed up for weekly therapy sessions.

As I returned week after week, two things became apparent. First, my depression wasn’t a chemical imbalance or biological condition. She diagnosed me with situational depression, which meant if my situation changed my depression would lessen and possibly vanish. The other obvious thing was how my emotional vocabulary was prohibitively stunted. I knew the main emotions: happy, sad, mad – basically, the main characters from Inside Out. But the finer feelings, the nuanced variants were harder to comprehend. I couldn’t express the difference between frustrated and confused or the escalation from eager to thrilled. Afraid to show that which I couldn’t describe, I’d often bury my emotions. Anything I couldn’t hide spewed out in over-dramatic fashion.

Knowing I wasn’t able to change my circumstances, my therapist instead sought to expand my emotional vocabulary. She had me list every emotion I could think to label and sort them according to those I felt capable of expressing versus those that challenged me. Then she asked me about my soundtrack.

“What songs would be on your soundtrack?” She asked.

I was excited. As an audiophile and music junkie, this was the type of question I’d been preparing my whole life to answer. Even in the depths of depression, I found refuge in the songs that spoke to my soul.

“Well,” I said, “There’s a lot.”

“Define a lot.” She said.

“I have a playlist in iTunes titled Soundtrack to My Life

She chuckled then asked, “How many songs are in that playlist?”

“Over 600.”

“How about you whittle it down?”

I stared at her without replying. The task seemed too daunting to contemplate.

She continued, “Think it through, if someone wanted to know who you were, what it was like inside your head, and you could only play them a song, what song would you play for them?”

“I don’t know if I could only play a single song.” I said.

“Maybe narrow it down to five.”

She gave me homework. Over the week, she wanted me to sort through my list of more than 600 songs and pick out the five I felt represented me the most. The five songs that best explained who I was, how I felt about myself, and the story of my life. She wanted me to bring the list with me into the next session. The following Tuesday, I gathered my results, scribbled onto a sheet of lined notebook paper. Only, I couldn’t break it down to five. The closest I could get was 25.

Over the next few weeks, she asked me to play one song from that list. Then we would discuss why I selected that song and how it made me feel. We did the same thing the next week and the week after. Slowly, I discovered new ways to express my emotions. I found verbiage previously foreign to me. Months passed and circumstances changed. Those situations causing my depression were altered and I slowly worked my way back to better state of mind.

Even after my therapist gave me a clean bill of mental health and graduated me out of counseling, I kept that handwritten list of 25 songs. I never stopped thinking about the assignment she gave me.

Music is therapeutic. It has always been my safe place. Songs written by other people have always helped me understand myself. When I couldn’t find a way to express myself, a talented lyricist gave me words I couldn’t invent on my own. Time and time again, I’d hear a song for the first time and think to myself, “Yes, that’s it. That is what I’ve been struggling to say all this time. That perfectly describes how I’m feeling.”

In the years since compiling the 25 songs representing me, I’ve intentionally deliberated the content of the original 600 track playlist. Using my list from therapy as a foundation, I curated a new playlist. I culled songs from the big playlist and added new songs to reflect my current phase in life. Then I sorted them thematically to help me make sense of this expanded list. Finally, I gave it a title: What It’s Like to Be Me.

This is the true soundtrack to my life. If anyone really wants to know who I am, they could listen to these songs and know more about me than I could ever tell them in conversation alone.

Throughout the next twelve months, I’m going to share this list in small increments. Little by little, I’ll take you on a musical journey through my life from childhood through today. The songs themselves will not follow a chronological order as their release dates don’t always align with the era of my life it describes. But in the end, I hope it all makes sense.


Narcissism Speeding

Highway 195 connects Spokane to Pullman as a two lane roadway for most of the distance between the two cities. Northbound and southbound lanes of traffic occasionally diverge, and in some uphill stretches one lane splits into two to allow faster cars to pass slower traffic. With good weather, clear road conditions, and other drivers maintaining the speed limit, a student at WSU could walk out of a classroom and make it to the downtown Spokane in an hour and a half.

People also tend to speed on this highway. The scenery isn’t the most interesting vista in the world, just gentle rolling hills covered with farmlands. From one small town until the next, it feels like driving through emptiness where you’re more likely to see tumbleweed than speed traps. However, the speed traps do exist and the road is often patrolled by Washington State Patrol and sheriffs from both Spokane and Whitman counties. We were able to witness both the speeder and the cop on a recent road trip.

An impatient driver attempted to pass me in one of those uphill sections. I had cruise control set at the speed limit but still moved into the right hand lane for slow pokes because it is the courteous thing to do. A white SUV came up fast behind me but not fast enough. The two lanes merged into one while I was still out front. I remained set at the speed limit so I didn’t feel any shame or guilt making him slow his roll. He tailgated me for a few miles until the road split again, the last of the two lanes for southbound traffic before Rosalia. He started merging into the slow lane prior to its actual existence and passed me before I had a chance to move out of his way.

OK, fine, whatever. At least he wasn’t tailgating me anymore. By the time I drove past the Rosalia exit, the white SUV was out of site, but it wouldn’t be the last time I saw him. Up another hill and around the bend, I saw some flashing red and blue lights. Someone got pulled over. As I got closer, that unknown someone became someone I recognized: the white SUV. I laughed. He was pulled over for speeding, obviously. If I had to guess, I’d wager the officer clocked him at least ten miles an hour over the limit. This occasion would not be the last time I saw that white SUV.

Driving on, the twinkling lights disappeared from my rearview mirror. Out of site, out of mind. Annie and I continued our conversation and our trip to the Pullman area. I didn’t think much of the speeding/tailgating driver exchanging his license and registration with the WSP officer – none of my business. Or at least I temporarily gave up my thoughts of him.

image courtesy of Inlander

Less than ten minutes later, he provided reason to ponder his presence again. I glanced in the rearview and noticed a white vehicle coming up behind me at a high rate of speed. Another couple seconds and his identity became clear – the white SUV again. I was still using cruise control. Still set at the speed limit. I moved into the slow lane as soon as one became available and the white SUV immediately zipped by me. I couldn’t help but hope for another speed trap in the miles ahead of us.

I understand that roads have speed limits and speeding is an infraction of which law enforcement has the right (duty?) to pull over and fine offending drivers. I also realize speeding is the most common traffic violation. People speed. It happens. They get pulled over and receive tickets. Sometimes they show up in court to dispute the charges. This is all normal.

However, returning to the same offence immediately after being penalized for it isn’t normal. A normal person would think “Oops, I got caught; I should check myself before I wreck myself.” Or something like that. Most people would recognize the error of their ways and correct their behavior, even if temporarily. Normal behavior would be learning from the mistake of speeding, and drive within reasonable speeds with hopes to avoid another ticket.

Narcissism doesn’t operate with this logic. One of the most common signs of pathological narcissism is a failure to learn from your mistakes. Instead, they would think it is their right to speed and the real problem is the police officer. Or they might think there was nothing wrong with the way they were driving. “It’s not my fault,” they say, “it’s not a big deal.”

In that brief interaction and observation of the lead-footed captain of a white SUV on the way to Pullman, I recognized the real problem in America: pathological narcissism. It infects every corner of American society. From schools to office buildings, from churches to marketplaces, and at every level of elected position from municipal councils to the President of the United States of America. We, the people are a little too self-absorbed. We feel entitled, like we deserve everything we want and our desires are insatiable. We overestimate our talents and embellish our achievements. We are obsessed with wealth and power, filled with greed and envy. We belittle people we don’t like, attack those who disagree with us, and fear those who are different. We are arrogant and demanding, expecting more from others than we are willing to give.

Welcome to America, what can you do for me?

Or maybe, just possibly, I’m reading too much into one lone speeder along highway 195. It is conceivable that I’m projecting my frustrations with the current state of our nation onto this one excessive driver.


Holiday Tidbits


I’ve been told I have eclectic tastes in music. I know this. It isn’t a surprise to me. So when Annie told me my Christmas playlist was filled with weird songs, I agreed. It includes tracks from albums like Punk Goes Christmas, Let It Snow Baby … Let It Reindeer, and Family Force 5’s Christmas Pageant. I listen to holiday tunes from MxPx, Sufjan Stevens, Barenaked Ladies, and Chance the Rapper. Annie’s claim is more statement of fact than it is an opinion. I have some weird music in my Christmas collection.

She wasn’t the only one to let me know this year. One by one, each of the kids told me the same thing: “Dad, your Christmas music is weird.” However, JJ had the best way to reveal this non-revelatory statement. He paired the accusation with a request.

“Dad,” he said, “you listen to some really weird Christmas songs. Can you play The Night Santa Went Crazy again? I like that one a lot.”


We celebrate Christmas Eve with Annie’s side of the family every year. Their tradition is a white elephant exchange with an expectation of everyone bringing something of $50 value to contribute. Inevitably, a theme emerges every year. No one plans it yet it seems like we coordinated our gift plans prior to the party.

Last year, the theme was pots and pans. Not every gift could be used for cooking and baking, but several were sets of pots, pans, fancy skillets, or stoneware. This year, the theme was blankets and knives. At least five people included a blanket in their gift. Several, including Annie, brought knife sets in a kitchen block or hunting knives. Considering booze is a recurring gift every year, I told Annie and her sister that we all had the same plan: to get drunk, murder someone, and stay warm while doing it.


Giving gifts to others generates the feelings of glad tidings and joy. It might also reward you with a sense of deep satisfaction. My parents flew out to visit this year – that alone is the best Christmas present I could have received. Seeing them open the gifts we gave them was so much greater with them here than if we had seen pictures through social media after the fact. Dad immediately put his hat on and wore it for the next three hours. Mom squealed at the sight of her sweatshirt. She even declared it to be “the best present ever.” Clearly, we won Christmas.


2020 has arrived. New Year’s Day comes with New Year’s resolutions. I generally eschew resolutions as they tend to be unreasonable or abandoned within the first few weeks of January. This year is different. I’ve determined this is the year I finish my book. Actually, a complete (and rough) first draft. This is a goal requiring significant time and focus. It also needs planning and breaking the end result down into tiny achievable steps to get me there. So excuse me while I step away from the internet for a while and work on my manuscript.