Sunday, August 4, 2019

Colorado

When I was nine or ten years old, my mom began a serious relationship with a man - Jim - that she thought would lead to her second marriage. We all went on many camping trips together, mom and I and Jim and his daughter, Julie. My memories of those trips make up some of my most vivid childhood memories: camping in Cuyamaca, water-skiing on Trinity Lake, fishing at June Lake, tenting at Pismo Beach. I learned to fish, pitch a tent, light a fire, cook a camp meal and how to snipe hunt on those trips.

I began to consider the very real possibility that Julie might one day soon be my stepsister. For a variety of reasons, that never happened. My mother's relationship ended with Jim one summer day in 1976 in a surprising and very sudden way. I didn't see it coming. I don't think Jim did, either. What happened next though was one of the best memories I have of my mother, despite a relationship that had way too many bad memories to recount.
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My wife's daughter and two grandchildren are on their way to Colorado, a giant road trip through CA, NV, AZ, UT and CO. They're in Utah tonight, and will be with friends in Colorado tomorrow. It will be a great trip for them, with memories that will last a long time.

Their trip is what brought back the memories of my mother and Jim.
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One mid-summer night in 1976, my mom told me we were going to Jim's, and we got in the car and headed to their house in north Fullerton. I trundled along as a dutiful son, and when we got to Jim & Julie's, I had no clue that anything was different.

"I'm breaking up with you, and I'm leaving tomorrow with Stan and we're going back to Colorado."

Those were the words she said to Jim. My words were - and 43 years later I'm pretty sure about this - "We're What?!" I don't recall what Jim or Julie said. I'm sure they were as shocked as I was.

In retrospect, and knowing my mother through adult eyes now, I think she wanted to deliver something that was designed for the greatest possible drama. She wanted to get back at Jim for... God knows what. My mother was theatrical to the core and seemingly incapable of distinguishing between perceived slight and actual harm; everything was an attack.

What she had planned in advance was a two-week summer vacation for us, a road trip to Colorado. She seemed to want to scope out the possibility that we might move back there, to the place where she had been happiest in her life, the place where she and my dad had adopted me. But she didn't tell me that, let alone Jim. Instead her words just sat there in the room. We left awkwardly, and she told me about the vacation the next morning.
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I kept a notebook of that trip. I wish I still had it. I was (and still am, to a point) a nerd when it comes to maps, geography and statistics. But in it, I keep a log of:


  • Every city/town we drove through
  • It's population
  • It's altitude
  • The passes we drove over
  • The longest stretches we drove
...and a bunch of other things that have been lost to the desert of my memory. Here's what I do remember, though, as clear as a bell:
  • Our first stop was Las Vegas. In Caesar's Palace, she sat down at the slots in a hallway. I begged and she gave me 10 nickels. I found a quiet machine, put the nickels in, and won $10. I was 12. Luckily, I was tall and no one batted an eye.
  • The next day, on the road leaving Vegas, she pulled over and told me that I needed to know how to drive on this trip in case something happened to her. I drove three miles on a desert stretch, my first driving experience.
  • This was the only time I've ever seen the Grand Canyon. On the trip, we also saw the Royal Gorge bridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde and Four Corners.
  • This is embarrassing, but for years the address that showed up for various mail-marketing/TV ads was in Pueblo, CO for some reason. I was sleeping as we drove through Pueblo. When I woke up and saw I'd missed it, I cried and was angry at my mother, who was undoubtedly completely unaware why I'd care about Pueblo. To this day I haven't seen Pueblo. I think I'm OK with that now.
  • She wanted to see the place my dad had worked in Denver (12yo yawn) and the house I was adopted into (wish I knew where it was now.)
My mom somehow arranged a tour of the chapel and grounds at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (A few years later she somehow managed to get us onto the USS Enterprise in Oakland/Alameda Naval Station, too.) She had her strengths.
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When we got home, my mom seemed happier for awhile, and I had a lifetime of memories to carry along with me. As I think about S, G and A heading into Colorado, I hope they have that kind of trip: one that heals and that gives G and A a trove of lifetime memories that they will always be able to draw back on.

When my mom passed in 2009, Lynda and I took her ashes to the place where I knew she had been happiest: Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though I've lived all but the first 6 months of my life in Southern California, a piece of me remains in Colorado. That piece didn't come from my birth certificate or where mom is resting. It came from that trip, the only tie I had during her lifetime to the place I was born. Thanks, Mom.

And to S, G & A - make memories: beautiful, lasting transformative memories.


Friday, May 10, 2019

When does 2 + 2 = something other than 4?

"Does 2 + 2 = 4?"

This was the question I got asked one night after playing a solo gig at a coffeehouse in Yorba Linda, many years ago. I played my set to a crowd of 15 people or so, 6 or 7 of whom were sitting at one table talking while I played. They were polite, clapped when I finished, liked some songs more than others. When it came time to pack up, one guy from that table offered to help me load the gear into my Explorer.

As we did, he told me about his group. They were a bible study group from a local church. He began to veer into familiar but uncomfortable territory for me, and I knew where we were headed. He began to ask me about my faith, and I demurred, knowing that no answer about my searching would suffice. I held him off for awhile. About the time the last bit of gear was stowed in my car, he said something about how it all just made logical sense, his religious story. I explained that my faith was more complicated than that. That's when he said it.

"Does 2 + 2 = 4?"

I was, perhaps for the first time in my life, perfectly clear about what was wrong with his theology. I said, "Are you trying to reduce the complexity of the universe, the human condition, and everything the entire human race believes down to a first grade math equation?!"

He immediately backtracked. I said good night and got in my Explorer as quick as I could and drove away.
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"But it's OK that we just go on killing babies."

"...they send their rapists, their murderers..."

"Abortion will be punishable by prison.: - The State of Georgia, 2019.

The first of those statements was by a guy I went to high school with, back before I realized that Facebook showed the worst part of the people we know, people we called "friends." (He's not that anymore.) The second, of course, was by the guy who won the vote of enough Americans in 2016 to be sitting in the oval office. And the third is my paraphrase of a law just passed in the U.S.A. in 2019. Ever since Roe vs. Wade - my entire life after toddlerhood, basically - people against abortion have crafted arguments to try to defeat it.

Some people like to see things in black and white, shun shades of gray. The problem with that is you tend to find yourself painted into an indefensible position in a corner, hemmed in by your own unwillingness to acknowledge clearly obvious facts. If you use the bible to cry against homosexuality, you are forced to come up with a rationalization for eating shellfish or wearing certain fabrics. If you take the hard line against abortion, you are forced to rationalize the forced birth of women who were raped, which is why Todd Akin was never a U.S. Senator (thank God.)

Or, if you are Georgia (or Alabama - it's coming), you enact a law that "recognizes" the life of a 7-week old fetus and rationalizes penalties for abortion that open up the most ridiculous possible outcomes.

Can a woman who is 7 weeks pregnant get child support? Can the fetus sue? Can a mother use the carpool lane? What to do with women who have ectopic pregnancies, or who miscarry? Full weight of the law and prison? Who decides?

This is how stupid we have become.

Abortion is a complicated issue. No one WANTS abortion, save for the lunatic fringe on the left. The vast majority of humans would rather fetuses be carried to full term. But the THINKING humans also understand that there is a vast difference between a baby and a zygote, or even a fetus at 7 weeks. People who are not infected by anti-abortion fundamentalism can live with a gray area, with the mother's right to choose on one side of the gray and a viable child on the other side of the gray. This is not hard.

But that's not where we are in 2019. The lunatics are in control, and they are arguing from the right. They are screaming "2 + 2  equals 4!!!"

To which, I scream back: "How dare you try to condense the entirety of the human experience to a first grade math equation."

These people have to be stopped.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Why I Write

In a writing workshop recently, I shared a story about how when I told my mentor (Frank Pooler - there are stories/posts here on my blog about him) that I was writing a blog, his response was "What on earth for?" It took me aback, as I hadn't really thought about it. But I knew I wanted to write, be a better writer, so this seemed like a good medium to do that. It's not that I feel that my thoughts or musings are that important, it's that I want to be better. I want to be a better human, a better musician, a better man, a better husband, a better pet owner, a better artist, a better American,... and a better writer. Working on the last one moves me farther down the path of all the former.

Today, a woman replied to one of my posts on Facebook with "Seems like you want everyone to agree with you." No, I replied, that's not true. But I do hope that we can agree on some things: civility, love, kindness and compassion should rule all of our decisions. I also have held some strong beliefs over the years that have guided me: being educated is better than not; being empathetic is better than being un-empathetic, etc. And most of all: the truth is better than a lie.

That last one is the most important to me. Honesty is my plum line. If I feel someone is being dishonest with me, or if I know they are, I feel a sense of betrayal that I often cannot overcome. Sometimes it's clear dishonesty, such as when a friend once said "never tell people the truth, tell them what they want to hear." (That person is now out of my life.) Sometimes, though, it's a much subtler form of dishonesty, one that might even be a person being dishonest with themselves, rather than me.

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So when I get to the comment "seems like you want everyone to agree with you," I take stock: do I? What is that I want? Why do I post things? Why do I write?

The truth is that I post a lot of political commentary on social media. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, although I hope that the articles I post will be enlightening to someone. I certainly have no illusions, however. I take care not to post memes (which are usually out of context and/or misleading) and not re-post articles from clearly biased sites. Fox News, MSNBC, The Daily Caller, ShareBlue are too far from the center to bother with. (I know that a lot of people would disagree with some of the sites I think are fair, even calling some "fake news," so I won't mention them here to avoid getting off track.)

But at the end of the day, I keep going back to those core beliefs I have: civility, love, kindness and compassion should rule all of our decisions; being educated is better than not; being empathetic is better than being un-empathetic. Honesty above all else.

So, yes, I believe that the Trump administration is inept, corrupt and dangerous to the core, and that the GOP is complicit in the ills that he is inflicting on us. I believe that because I saw Trump as the con man he is WELL before he rode down that fucking escalator. That others didn't see it, or chose not to look at it, shocks me still to this day. That some people STILL choose not to see it is dumb-founding.

For now and on this topic, this is why I write: because I want to practice being a better American. I can't be a better American if I don't at least attempt to make the case for honesty, civility, kindness, empathy and the rule of law. If you don't want those things or if you can't see what's happening, that's on you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

To All the Women Who Said "Me, Too"

The last few days, the proliferation of "me too" posts on FB and Twitter has been staggering. One of my beliefs has always been that men are pigs, but... holy shit. The math of the "me too" revelations is staggering. It means that a man I know, or multiple men I know, are guilty of the harrassment, groping - or even rape - of women.

I have known men who were probably guilty of all of the above (short of rape,... I think). In every case, I have distanced myself from them. I recently had a discussion with a good friend over a series of comments about going out with "the boys" on a day last winter when it was raining cats and dogs. I said I'd stay home, and the comments I got back were of the "what a pussy" and "ask your husband if you can go" variety.

I'd seen these before. But this time was different. I told my friends that I would not be going, that the safety and health of my wife was more important. Furthermore I said that I didn't appreciate the negativity toward anything feminine. I explained that I owed my entire life to the women in my midst: my birth mother, my adoptive mother, her sister - my Aunt Jean, the first pastor who changed me, Mary Ellen Kilsby, ...and my wife, Lynda, who has more strength and courage than any man I have ever met. To his credit, my friend understood and agreed.

So, as I watch these protests against the patriarchical BS that has destroyed so many lives, I feel many emotions. I feel anger against the men who have done this. I feel sadness that it has happened and that I couldn't help or didn't realize how bad it was. Mostly I feel compelled to fight for the things that Mary Ellen, my mothers, my aunt, or Lynda would need.

But I'm also scared that I, at any point, unwittingly was part of this. Because of the huge influence of women in my life, I have bent over backward to be good to the women in my life. But all of this makes me wonder, ...what if I failed? What if at some point I enabled a "me too" moment? What if I was part of one? In all honesty, I don't remember a moment where any of that happened. But I am aware, and if at some point it happened before I was aware, then all I can offer is my deepest apologies.

So, then, to the women in my life today, this: I have always been in your corner, because I would not be here but for the women who carried me here. I owe substantially nothing to men, save for my mentor, Frank, but his main influence on me was artistic. I have no illusions about his relationships with women.

I say not "me too", but that I stand beside every one who has said that. But for you and your sisters, I would be nothing.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On "Senseless" Violence

I keep seeing politicians and journalists using the phrase "senseless" violence. Today it hit me that part of our problem is exactly that. We somehow decry violence like that which happened on Sunday in Las Vegas as "senseless", when in reality, we need to just admit that we are a very violent society and it is precisely the attitude towards "accepted" violence (as an antonym to whatever "senseless" means in this case) that has brought us to this place.

Is there ever such a thing as "senseful" violence? So are we saying that some acts of violence (war, maybe? self-defense?) are OK in the eyes of society, but "nah, we gotta draw a line somewhere, bruh"? We worship football and our soldiers, and shrug our shoulders when police kill citizens.

It seems to me that all violence is a symptom of failure. When violence occurs, it is because there has been a breakdown in the communication and understanding prior to that point. Violence occurs when something is broken or damaged. Maybe it's something that could have been prevented with conversation, or intervention in mental health issues. The guy who killed in Vegas, everyone is saying that "he seemed so normal." Really? How can that be? Someone else said that he was withdrawn and never spoke. And no one thought that was odd and tried to step in or offer help or friendship? I don't know, I wasn't there and I certainly couldn't know what I would do in their shoes. But certainly society failed him, which is why he in turn failed society in such a spectacularly horrible fashion.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that his friends and family were responsible for the shooting. He owns that alone. But we all are responsible for the ways we fail each other. One of the greatest stories in the Christian tradition is the story of the Good Samaritan. And yet "christians" time and time again walk on by on the other side of the road. "It's someone else's problem." "He seemed normal enough to me."

Every time a shooting occurs in our country - every, single, time - it is a failure on all of us. We have failed each other. And until we step up and take responsibility for each other, we will continue to do so.  And there will be more killings, more "worst mass shooting in US history", more Columbines, Sandy Hooks and Pulse nightclubs. Gun control is part of the solution, but not the only one.

The only thing that is senseless is us.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Some Days Define "Life is Hard."

When you reach a certain age, you recognize that the cliche "life is hard" is not really a cliche, but actually is a truism. On a daily basis there are things that challenge the notion that everything is OK, that look you in the face and tell you to kneel over in pain, because of this, that or the other.

And then there are days like today, which are a thousand times worse.

One of my musical guides died today suddenly. And that was only the second worst news of the day - by far - as we learned what happened in Las Vegas, where my wife and her friends had been partying on Friday night, a matter of yards away from the horror of Sunday night.

And I found out the news on Monday morning, the day after attending the joyous music festival envisioned by my late friend Joshua Fischel, Music Tastes Good.

...and then the mind says, "it could have been us. It could have been Lynda, staying an extra day, it could have been both of us and all our friends here in Long Beach had the lunatic chosen our music festival instead.  It could have been my five friends that were there in Las Vegas at that festival, but who escaped unharmed, it could have been them."

Yes, to all of that.
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But Tom Petty died today, of what appears at the moment to be a cardiac incident (although I add that when rock and rollers are concerned, you shudder when the autopsy report is released days later. Nothing is certain.) But what we do know is that his death was not expected. And of course, all those who died in Las Vegas were ENORMOUSLY unexpected.

But does anybody expect it? I'm not saying this to be morbid, or to alleviate the horror of what happened in Vegas or pretend the shock about another music hero dying. There is no alleviating any of that. (I'll come back to Vegas in a moment.) I'm only saying it to point out that, not only is life hard, it's short. Way too short. We know this, all of us. Sometimes the reminders are hard and painful and cause you to double over in horror.

A man yesterday chose, yet again, to pull out a gun to alleviate some sort of pain he had and use it to make himself feel better for a moment, more powerful, more in control. That he chose to do so in a way that ended the lives of 58 people (or more) and cause suffering for thousands means that his death and his entire life was in vain. It was for naught. At the end of his life in that hotel room, there was no glory or light. There was only darkness.
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And then there was Tom Petty. I listened to his music from the throes of adolescence in the back seat of my friend's cars all the way until a few weeks ago. His music filled me - filled all of us - with joy, with longing, with wonder. I remember, after 9/11, hearing TP sing "I Won't Back Down" on that telethon that followed and marveling at how the song that he had written years earlier had so much relevance to that pain, and that helped a nation get back on its feet. And I understood so much more deeply that night that a songwriter is there to provide hope, solace, joy, when it is most needed.
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Which brings me to Las Vegas and Sunday night. I'm going to be blunt: I think the election of Trump was the death knell of our country. We were sorely lacking in a way to fix our societal ills before he was elected, and I fear we lost our last chance to do so. Instead, we elected a narcisstic attention whore who has no intention, knowledge or desire to lead.

And let's be honest: when 23 school children were killed in 2013 at Sandy Hook, and WE DID NOTHING to address our assinine gun laws, the writing was on the walls. There is absolutely ZERO chance that Trump, McConnell, Ryan or any of the rest of dipshits in DC will do anything about what happened in Las Vegas. We are screwed.
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So, what now?

We fight where we can, we win what goals we can, and we never surrender our nation. We hope that the only functional branch of government left - the judicial - will save us before RBG dies. We insist on the ideals, principles and morals of the American Idea, and hope that enough people on the other side finally begin to see the light. (The guitar player for one of the bands last night posted that he has changed his mind on gun control after yesterday. Let's pray that a lot of other people did, too.)

And we follow the principles of the lights that went before us. Honor their ideals, principles and morals.

I, for one, "I won't back down. I'm gonna stand my ground."

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dreams of Writing, a Conversation with Andrew Sullivan. ...sort of.

I had a dream last night that I ran into Andrew Sullivan at a bookstore, and he and I had a deep conversation. (There was a third person with us, who kept changing identities, but all of the identities were people who I know that have some layer of illusion in their lives.) We talked a bit about his years at Oxford, and eventually we got to the topic of the election last year and the state of our country.

I told him that I've only had one real take away from it all so far, and that is that I have come to re-evaluate humanity, not necessarily our politics. As I scratched the fur on his trademark beagle sidekick, I said that I downgraded my estimation of where we are a species in our spiritual evolution. As the third person in the conversation changed to someone I know very well whose illusions run very deep, I woke up.

When I started this blog, Frank asked me aloud, "why?"  (If you don't know who Frank was, scroll down and read some of my older posts from January 2013.)  He chuckled at the seeming narcissism of writing a blog. "Who will read it?" he asked, and "what is the point?"  I answered that I felt it was mostly about the practice of writing and honing your thoughts. Whether anyone read it was probably less important.

I've fallen out of practice. And I think the appearance of such a noted blogger as Sullivan in my dreams, someone who helped shaped my current outlook on life, society, culture and politics, is my subconscious telling me that I need to keep doing it. I need to do it for me, not for any mythical person who might read it. (Read on, unicorn.)

So, I'm back.  Thanks, Andrew.