What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 4, Not Quite Cool Enough

I never was one of the cool kids. Looking back on my teen years, I was a nerd. Still am. But back then, I tried so hard to act cool and fit in. No matter how hard I attempted though, there was a hard lesson I learned over and over again: I could never try hard enough. Because no matter how cool I could be, it wasn’t quite cool enough.

I was always one of the shortest kids in my class. Most of my friends were better looking, more talented, had wealthier parents, lived in nicer houses, and didn’t have to try so hard to be the thing I wished I was: cool.

Joy Electric: “Never Be a Star
Most kids dream of fame or prestige in one form or another when imagining a future career. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll hear answers like movie stars, pro-athletes, firefighters, chefs, models. I wanted to be an architect. As I got older, I surrounded myself with artists and musicians. I longed to be a part of that world. However, I never had that thing it takes to be a star. This Joy Electric song demonstrated that bittersweet balance of pursuing a dream in the face of realistic expectations and the motivation behind both, “More than anything I want is the feeling of some worth.” For me, I never wanted to be famous, I only wanted famous friends.

The Police: “King of Pain
“There’s a little black spot on the sun today.” When Mercury is in transit, it appears as a little black spot as it passes between earth and the sun. Sting was contemplating his lot in life when he observed this phenomenon and said “That’s my soul up there.” That inspired one of the most iconic opening lyrics in rock music history. With my melancholic disposition and social status at the bottom of the totem pole, it was easy for me to relate to Sting’s perspective, feeling like a speck cast against something bigger and brighter than I’ll ever be. Or like a rag hung from a flagpole fluttering in relentless winds. Or a dead fish frozen in an icy waterfall. Of course, his expression of despair is far more poetic and graceful than I could have ever composed myself.

Resurrection Band: “Dark Carnival
It’s a short song in the middle of a concept album about being disillusioned with the cruelty of life. Surrounded by the cruelty of my peers, the sixteen year of version of me found it easy to relate to every song on the record. After a few bluesy rock songs, the tempo slows for the band adopts a waltz cadence and something that sounds like circus music. Glenn Kaiser begins to sing, “A handful of tickets already paid for, a heart full and jaded, taken for too many rides. I'm still looking for somewhere to spend these dreams on the midway between my heart and my mind.” Damn. His voice was so pained yet eager and hopeful. Young me was incredibly jaded and hearing this song for the first time helped me learn it was OK to not be OK.

The Dell Griffiths: “King of Almost
The band named themselves after John Candy’s character from Planes, Trains, & Automobiles Their one and only album “I ... I Like Me” contained a tribute to Annakin Skywalker, Edward Scissorhands, abusive girlfriends, and celebrity crushes. They had a cover of The Cars “Best Friend’s Girl” and Split Enz “I Got You.” It’s a delightful and weird record that no one has ever heard. Too odd for Christian markets, and never released to mainstream markets. Their sales were not good enough to justify a sophomore effort. It’s so rare it’s not available on any streaming platform. And I can’t find a single song on Youtube. If I ever have the right to call myself a hipster it’s because of how much I love this album. Halfway through is a beautiful bittersweet ballad that so perfectly defined how I felt about my teenaged life. I even ordered a custom t-shirt for myself with artwork from the liner notes and lyrics from the first verse printed on it: “There’s no need to cry, no need to ask why. Life simply slips by on its way to someone else.”

The Verve Pipe: “Hero
When you grow up an outcast, when you’re young and bullied or abused, sometimes you crave being the center of attention. That might be why you see so many comedians emerge from broken childhoods. The trauma makes us funny. Or we use the humor as a coping mechanism. This attitude is demonstrated in Hero, “I doubt that anybody got their money's worth but the attention sure felt great.” I was lucky to grow up with supportive parents who bent over backwards to make sure I knew they loved me. But when I walked out the door, the world away from home was hostile. I look back at my teen years and count far too many instances where I tried too hard to get that brief spurt of attention to compensate for the negative treatment I got from my peers. Sure, it felt great for a moment but I probably looked ridiculous doing it.


Pay Up

A little over a year ago, I posted a list of who I would want to see cast in the MCU version of The Fantastic Four. If you missed it, you can read part one HERE and part two HERE. As a quick refresher on one character from the F4 universe, this was my pick for the actor I would love to see join the Marvel roster. And it seems someone at Disney was reading.

Rami Malek was (and still is) who I think would be the best option to become the Silver Surfer. And he's been busy. After his Academy Award winning role in Bohemian Rhapsody, he joined Iron Man Robert Downey Jr in Disney's Doolittle. In a couple months, we'll see him as the villain in the newest Bond movie, No Time to Die. Between his talent, success, and experience with an MCU alumnus, Malek would be the perfect fit inside the world of Marvel films.

If the rumors are true, the casting team at Marvel Studios took my suggestion to heart. What rumors? Watch:

Well, Disney? What do you have to say for yourselves? I'm ready to discuss my consulting fees. Or you could just hire me. Please?


What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 3, Trying My Best

Insecurity dominated my adolescent years. Those days were filled with fear and struggle and discovery. No matter how uncomfortable or out of place I felt, I couldn’t allow that pitiful feeling to control my life. At some point, I had to embrace the awkward.

Or at least I tried. Bullied and beat up, teased relentlessly, I tried my best to keep my head up. I did all I could to maintain my own sense of identity. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed miserably. Either way, I learned and moved on. I grew up. And along the way, little bits of my personality solidified. Notes of who I was could be found in the music playing on my Walkman, blaring through my headphones as my volume control was always set to the highest level possible.

Smashing Pumpkins: “Muzzle
While trying to figure out who I was, Billy Corgan’s opening lyrics to “Muzzle” spoke one of my greatest worries: “I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone.” The song also balances an odd mix of cynicism and optimism I’ve seen manifest in my own outlook on life. One moment he sings of the dismal admission that nothing lasts forever, “all things must surely have to end, and great loves will one day have to part.” Then he takes on the expert arrogance common to many teenagers, “I knew exactly where I was and I knew the meaning of it all.”

Blindside: “Superman
Blindside’s debut album is one of my all-time favorite records. This song struck a chord in my soul. I recently posted a story about its enduring significance in my life. You can read it HERE.

Grammatrain: “Humanity
Growing up as the target of bullying and ostracization, I longed to exorcise these demons of abuse. I heard that desire echoed in this Grammatrain song, “no more monsters to live in my head.” I hoped for a day I could sing along with confidence, “all my tears that used to drench me have faded into blue.” Call it jaded. Call it cynical. Or some combination of the two. My experiences robbed me of any confidence in the goodness of humanity.

Pearl Jam: “I Got Id
Eddie Vedder’s collaboration with Neil Young resulted in this visceral ode to unrequited love. As I repeatedly endured one romantic rejection after another and another, this song resonated with me. “I got memories, I got shit,” yeah, I know how that feels. This song was a cathartic release that helped me feel at peace with my unsuccessful teenaged dating life.

Guardian: “Sweet Mystery
A song looking back at younger days rather than living them, Jamie Rowe sings of the mystery of how friends from his younger days still remain: “But after everything's been said and done I'm glad you are my friend.” He also recalls how much his family’s love meant to him at an age when he didn’t understand it: “Little boy that my momma knew became a full grown man. I live my life like you taught me to. You know I try the best I can.” There are very few people from my school days who I still consider friends. And I know I was not an easy child to raise. I feel all the feels when I hear this song these days.


Pepperoni Pizza Flowers

Years ago, a bunch of my single friends and I had an anti-Valentines party. Everyone brought food and candy and candy to share. We played a lot of Mario Kart. Hoping to impress, I found this recipe and it was a hit. Four years later, I have my whole family with me and decided to try it again. Result? They liked it. Here's how you can make it too.

First, gather the ingredients.

However, the crescent rolls are perforated into triangles. For the flowers, you need to transform them into rectangles.

On each rectangle, add a little bit of sauce, some pepperoni slices, and a pinch of cheese. Make sure half of the pepperoni is on the dough, while the other half protrudes above it.

Next, fold the bottom of the dough up over the pepperoni so the cheese and sauce does not leak out.

Take the folded strip and roll it up. The pepperoni sticking out at the top become flower petals.

It should form a swirl of nothing but dough on the bottom.

And, because my daughters don't like pepperoni, I made a few flowers with sliced ham.

Place each roll inside a greased muffin pan.

The oven should be preheated according to the instruction on the crescent roll packaging. Stick the pans in the oven. You'll need them to bake a few minutes longer than the instruction suggest.

And then they're done! Pull them out when the dough turns golden brown. Use the extra sauce for dipping and serve with a veggie side dish.

Whether you're cooking for friends, family, or yourself, I hope you enjoy these as much as we did at our house.



Playing Superman

In my pre-preschool days, my favorite pair of pajamas was this Superman outfit - complete with cape (the toy stethoscope and doctor’s glasses were not a part of the outfit, but somehow I managed to combine medical care with the world of superheroes). My cousin and I used to pretend that we were Superman and Lois Lane. Of course, at that age, we didn't understand that Lois was a romantic interest of Clark Kent. I just thought she was an accident prone girl who always needed rescue.

Ah, the lessons we learn as we grow up.

Shortly after graduating high school, I purchased Blindside's self-titled debut album. During some difficult times, I often found solace in this brutally crushing album. Even now, in a more stable place in my life, this is a record I can listen to over and over - one of those albums I can play at full volume through my car's stereo and scream along with it while not feeling remotely silly.

One song has become an anthem for me, a song titled “Superman.” Not because I have an unhealthy megalomaniacal self-image, but because the song touches that strange dichotomy between who I am and who I once was. The lyrics clearly recognize weaknesses in our humanity: "Just like you with my hands I can make mistakes. I wish that I could stop playing superman. I have decided to let the case drop. I'm not superman." The four year old version of me had high hopes, but today, I realize I'm not Superman.

It's strange how, as kids, we wanted nothing more than to be heroes. We want to save the world. Why is it as adults, we lose that dream? Is the real world too heavy a burden?


Step One: Know Yourself

Five years ago, a social networking expert invited me to participate in her 365Awesome project - a series of blog posts about how to be awesome all year long. Below is my contribution. In the years since, she deactivated her blog and the post I wrote for her migrated into the void of 404 errors. Since my original post vanished from a website that no longer exists, I’m reclaiming it.

Step One: Know Yourself

When my phone receives a call from an unknown or blocked number, the default ring tone blares out a couple distorted power chords and a warbling synth riff, followed by a chorus familiar to anyone who watched CSI or listened to 70's era rock music. "Whooooo are you? Who Who? Who who? Who are you? ..." This gives me an automatic recognition that I don't know who is calling me. And I really want to know, who are you? Are you someone I want to talk to? Or should I let you go to voice mail?

Looking at the relationships in my life - family, friendships, colleagues - answering this question is essential. As a storyteller, I want to know who you are. I want to know your story. What excites you? What defines you? What makes you you?

Can you answer those questions? Who are you? One of the most fundamental elements to human existence is the desire to know and be known. Such knowledge is the foundation to intimacy. Who are you?

It is a simple query, yet complex enough to make it a challenging question to answer. It is easy to fall back on token answers, to rely on job titles or social status to define our identity. Or our hobbies, our finances, our romances. We tend to allow inconsequential tasks or labels determine who we think we are while our true selves are buried or forgotten.

That is the path I took. Afraid of criticism and ridicule, I stuffed my personality in a box and hid it in the attic of my mind to gather dust and cobwebs. The result was unpleasant. Not only was I chronically unhappy, I forgot how to experience true joy. The people that were most important to me suffered. Emotionally, spiritually, socially, I was a mess.

Thankfully, that was not a permanent affliction. I began to unpack my baggage and examine myself. Who am I? I sought to answer that question as thoroughly and honestly as possible. I didn't want to be miserable. I wanted to know myself. My desire was to discover someone awesome.

Along the way, I reclaimed my love for hiking and live music. I connected with an encouraging and vibrant community. I indulged in my geekiness. I took responsibility for my actions and choices.

I also learned a critical lesson. If you want to chase your dreams, if you want to be a leader, if you want to achieve your life goals, if you want to engage in any measure of personal growth or self-improvement, the question of your identity is one that must be answered. Who am I? Who are you? A complete answer to this question is the first step to bigger and greater things.

When you are interviewing for your dream job, launching an entrepreneurial venture, beginning a healthier lifestyle, or heading out for a first date. Knowing yourself makes the journey easier and more rewarding.

This is not a new concept. 18th century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith recognized this same truth. He said, "The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer."

You need to know yourself first. Before anything else. This self examination gives you the ability to embrace the parts of you that you love and provides opportunity to fix the parts in need of repair. Your core identity grants you a baseline for self worth. It is the platform upon which you can accept healthy criticism or reject unwarranted discouragement.

To know your innermost self is power. Use it wisely. So, who are you?


The Diz-Files

Ever since Disney acquired Fox, rumors are swirling. Marvel fans have been speculating when the Fantastic Four and X-Men characters would be making their cinematic debuts under the official banner of Disney. Movie buffs are speculating which Hollywood stars will be portraying our favorite mutants. I even contributed my fan casting for a new Fantastic Four. The studio merger award a lot more to Disney than comic book heroes though. One of Disney's biggest gains was the original content Fox has produced over the years. With the launch of Disney Plus last fall, they heavily promoted one Fox property more than any other: The Simpsons.

It's cool. I can watch The Simpsons any time I want. Any episode from any season. All of the “Doh!” And “Eat my shorts” I can handle. To be honest though, I haven't watched The Simpsons in years. Despite seeing their thumbnail every time I open the Disney Plus app, I really haven't thought much about it.

Until this morning. For the first time since the deal between Fox and Disney was finalized, I pondered the marriage of the two companies. "If Disney owns Bart and Homer now, who else to they own?" I wondered. Fox created some amazing and groundbreaking shows over the last 30 years since The Simpsons debuted in 1989. What other incredible programming is available under the Disney umbrella?

I started thinking about some of my favorite shows from years passed. Does Disney own 24? Quick google check: yes they do. What about MadTV? Check google again ... nope. Fringe? Also no. The X-Files? Google says yes! Is The X-Files available on Disney Plus? It was one of my favorite shows when I was in high school. My parents didn't let me watch it so I'd have to sneak in episodes when they were busy or away from home. I'd love to introduce my oldest son to it - he'd probably dig the show.

Disney Plus, do you have The X-Files? Looks ... and ... no. Bummer.

Now that I realized the ownership of one of my all-time favorite shows belonged to Disney, my mind flooded with more questions.

Will The X-Files ever be available on Disney Plus?
How does Chris Carter feel about his creation changing ownership? It's like his career went full circle since he started his screenwriting career at Walt Disney Studios.
What if Disney hired Carter to write and direct for a Marvel film? He could do something cosmic like Nova. Or the sci-fi horror blend of Moon Knight would fit his style.
What does the future hold for The X-Files? Chris Carter has ideas about what is next but it's dependent on the participation of Gillian Anderson who has said she is permanently done with the show.
Reboot? Is that possible? What would a Disneyfied reboot of The X-Files be like?
What about crossover appeal? Between Marvel's shared universe and the Unified Pixar theory, Disney is big into interconnectedness. Just imagine what kind of synergy we could get from the FBI investigating the unsolved cases of Disney's paranormal phenomena. Could you see Mulder and Scully flying to Hawaii to search for a furry blue alien? I can.

image courtesy of Discussing Movies

Speaking of Mulder and Scully, are they Disney princesses now? Please tell me they're Disney Princesses.

Whatever Disney does with The X-Files, I'll be watching with no lights on. I hope the Smoking Man's in this one.