Paddock vs. Petty: If You Had to Pick One

I’ll declare at the outset that what I’m about to propose is a false dichotomy. This world is not divided into Tom Pettys and Stephen Paddocks. But I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is a false dichotomy worth exploring, holding our introspective discoveries in check with an anchor in the greyscale reality of infinite possibility between extremes.

Image courtesy of

October 2, 2017 will forever be marked by the saddest pair of bookends any day could ever hope to claim: Stephen Paddock shot approximately 600 people, killing 60 of them, including himself. One guy in a little over an hour. At the end of the day, Tom Petty died after being rushed to a hospital having been discovered in full cardiac arrest. He affected more lives than Paddock and did so in a diametrically opposite way.

From one perspective, these two men influenced people in ways almost every single one of us cannot relate to. Shooting into a crowd of concert goers from a self-constructed military outpost high above in a hotel room with no expressed motive . . . writing, recording, and performing songs that added beauty, understanding, enjoyment, and life to the experience of uncountable millions . . . almost no one in the world knows what it’s like to do that.

But the reactions I read on social media, heard on the news, and felt in my soul after hearing of these two inexpressibly sad events fell into two very different compartments.

After the shooting, the reactions were filled with anger, raw pain, shock, arguments, accusations, judgments, and hatred.

As the news of Tom Petty’s impending death leaked across the wire, the reactions were more poignantly phrased memories of his music, quotes of his lyrics, links to his songs and videos and photos.

Paddock incited our emotions to violence while Petty caused us to wax poetic.

And I was left wondering which approach I really want to take.

Look, I know there’s a place for debating/extolling the need for gun control. I know there’s a belief out there that guns without restrictions are necessary for defending ourselves against the government . . . especially this government. I know that discussions about mental illnesses and how we deal with them as a society are probably vital.


Please don’t forget to add beauty into the world. I’m sure there are plenty of Facebook fights and controversial posts that have led to great improvements and personal/community revolutions that have changed society for the better, but it’s a lot easier to remember the songs, stories, plays, works of art, photos, films, and random expressions of kindness that were a bit more effective at sweeping away the clouds and reminding us that the sun shines on us all.

Beauty is a right. Beauty is a privilege. Beauty is a responsibility. Beauty is a necessity.

Beauty is a renewable resource. Let’s get to it.


The remains of a noble tree
The remains of a noble tree
I’m still standing. The tree, notsomuch.

A tree fell on my car.

Well, that’s a terribly self-centered way to look at what happened on Tuesday morning. The car was a 2003 Toyota Corolla. It was a machine, assembled ten years ago out of glass, metal, and plastic. It wasn’t without sentimental value; it had carried me through a journey of well over 100,000 miles and ten years of life . . . and it was pretty and comfortable and mine. But it was a car that had been a part of this world for ten years with limited expectancy for continued usefulness. It is now of lesser value than the sum of its parts, or so I’m expecting Liberty Mutual’s assessor to inform me.

But in the grand scheme of things, the car is insignificant, let alone the fact that it was mine. Here’s a better way to say what happened Tuesday morning:

A tree fell.

It was a grand, noble maple tree. A sugar maple, I think. I can’t say precisely how old it was because the high winds that tackled it to the ground ripped the core of the trunk out of its stump and left a jagged, illegible record of its life. But it was an old, old tree. Older than me, I’m sure, and probably older than my parents or even my grandparents. It was a big old tree.

So for me to link that tree’s demise with that of my car just because it’s my car . . . that just seems impossibly screwed up to me.

I can think about why the tree fell in terms of how it affects me or, worse, how I may have affected it. And isn’t that how we’re tempted to think? Why did this happen to me? What might I have done to bring this ginormous tree crashing onto my car? But it didn’t happen to me. I was there. Well, I wasn’t even there, my car was. It happened. For me to wonder for even a millisecond what role my existence played in the atmospheric struggle that brought this tree to the earth . . . or to my Toyota, ending its considerable life atop my insignificant vehicle would be nothing short of self-absorbed.

Superstition isn’t the belief in something bigger and invisible, it’s the belief that one’s own influence in the universe is bigger and more powerful than it really is.

Because my car was there in the street when the storm played Paul Bunyan, a lot of people have gazed at the wreckage and expressed their grief over my loss. I admit, I’m one of those people. But the big loss is not my Corolla. It’s not my need for a rental. It’s not the bits of glass still peppering the street.

A tree fell. A grand and noble tree that has been a part of this spot on the landscape of our world for generations has been broken, dismembered, and carted off. In the vast configuration, that’s the story. It was a beautiful thing, and I’m sad to see it die.


Sometimes (most of the time) I don’t care what the song means. I really don’t. Not for my personal enjoyment, anyway. If I’m going to discuss a song with someone else, I usually feel assume some ridiculous need to explore the lyrics and find a deeper meaning than what comes to mind right away.

Except, that’ crap. The musician’s intended meaning isn’t the deeper meaning, that’s the most simple explanation of a song. The concept of some string of notes and words and interwoven sounds and silences arousing an emotion within my soul independently of the author’s intent? That seems deeper to me than a conscious reason behind the song. So go ahead and tell me what this song means if you’d like. I know what it means to me. Can’t quite express it in words. But I’ll try:

I want to cry.
I like these tears.
You can’t see what fears my eye
imagines    on the other side
of the great divide between you and me and now and then and where we are and the far-away together

so. i wait but not
i love you now and see you later

I just like the song and how it feels like I’m with you.


And honestly, I don’t even know what that means.

How to Shovel Snow without Dying


Nobody wants to shovel snow, and everyone’s going to die, so this post might qualify as the least useful thing ever written. But if you have to shovel snow and don’t feel like dying quite yet, here are the tips I’ve found help kill both birds with one stone . . . without actually killing any birds . . . or using stones . . . okay, forget the metaphor; here’s how to shovel snow without dying:

Do NOT Bundle Up

The big temptation when preparing to shovel snow is to layer up with long underwear, sweat pants, snow pants, three layers of socks, boots, five t-shirts, a thermal, a fleece, a sweatshirt, a sweater, two coats, a scarf, a ski mask, a toque, a third coat with a hood, ear muffs, and all the gloves in the house. Well, no, the big temptation is to put off shoveling until early May (which isn’t the worst plan in the world), but the moderately large temptation is to bundle up. Don’t.

You’re going to be shoveling snow, dude. That’s a workout. Working out makes you heat up and soak all your hot furnace of undergarments and overcoats with the bittersweet nectar of perspiration. Which is gross. Layers also restrict your movement, which makes you work harder, which, in this wearable hothouse you’ve created for yourself, could kill you.

Cover your skin to avoid frostbite. Coat over a t-shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and a hat work for me. Notice how I’m not dead?

Spray Your Shovel

This is a must. WD-40, you got that? Spray your shovel with WD-40 to keep the heavy, murderous snow from sticking to the blade, forcing you to do extra work, and trying to kill you with every scoop. I promise you, this will add 600 years to your life. Give or take. It will also save you from doing about 600 pounds of extra snow-removal work (that’s not really an exaggeration . . . I may have understated it).

Shovel Uphill

When you’re shoveling your driveway, your standard inclination might be to use gravity to your benefit. Move the snow down the hill as you shovel, save yourself some work. Your back has a message for you: Stop it, jerkface!

When you shovel downhill, your placing the shovel a few feet in front of (and several inches below) your feet. This means you are bending over even more than shoveling would otherwise require. You don’t want to bend over more when shoveling. It hurts your back. You know when your back will stop hurting if you keep shoveling like that? When you’re dead. That is counterproductive.

Instead, shovel uphill. You will have to bend less, which will make the shoveling (and the not dying) easier.

Move Your Feet

Some people might think you look goofy, but I don’t mind looking goofy (I apologize if the shock of this kills you; you not dying was the purpose of this post; I really hope it hasn’t backfired). I don’t mind you looking goofy, either, as long as you’re breathing. Where was I? Oh, yes. Goofiness. I like to use my momentum to make shoveling a bit easier. I shovel from the middle of my drive out to the sides, and take a bit of a run/shuffle approach toward the snow. I get one or two steps in before my shovel hits the snow, I drive through the line of powder I’m hoping to clear (this is not a drug reference), and then, with the momentum of a few steps, I send the snow in my shovel on its merry way into the yard. Then I turn toward the other side of the driveway, flip the shovel in my hands, and get a shuffling start toward the next heap.

Basically, it looks like I’m running back and forth across my driveway, like a modified shuttle run from the Presidential Physical Fitness tests back in grade school. It’s a nice little workout. Not too stressful. Won’t kill you. And in the winter, shoveling snow is often the only workout I get. I find that it helps alleviate the stress on my arms and back while also allowing me to stretch my legs a bit. It also speeds up the shoveling without shortening your life.

Okay, do with this as you will. I don’t have the right to tell you how to shovel or whether or not to die, but that’s so funny because I think I just did. You’re welcome.



Stuff. There’s an awful lot of it around here. Toys. Tools. Appliances. Gadgets. Clothes. Bric-a-brac. Implements of organization. Electronics. So much stuff. And now, apparently, we need more.

We need fun. We need beauty. We need distractions. We need proof that we love each other. We need pants. We need status. We need peace. We need order. We need power. We need newness. We need vintage. We need answers. We need Siri.

It’s Christmas time. The days when we can officially stop being thankful and start wanting more without shame or restraint. I’ll spare you the moralizing. I wasn’t that thankful. I’m not so satisfied that I don’t want more stuff. I don’t blame the media. I don’t blame companies who want to sell stuff. I don’t blame people who want deals. I’m just bored with the fact that our favorite stuff is crap, our perceived benefits are reconfigured problems, and our gifts suck.

Right now I’d be fine to go without presents. Give me none, expect none. Except that’s the real crappiest gift isn’t it? The gift of a condescending message? Oh, yeah, that’s brilliant and cheap.

This is probably the point of the post where it would be good to have . . . well, a point. I don’t know that I have one. I wish we didn’t feel the need for more stuff. I wish we gave gifts at Christmas out of an overflow of appreciation for each other instead of an insatiable lust for an easier, more presentable, more entertaining life.

Maybe the point is that it’s not a terrible idea to just work hard at satisfying each other. Make the people you love feel loved. Make the people you like feel loved. Make the people you don’t like feel loved. Try not to throw garbage at the people you hate. Oh, and give gifts that show how much you appreciate people. Gifts that mean something. Gifts that don’t come in plastic bubble packaging of death. Because that stuff is evil.

Friday Randomnity

There has been snow around here. That’s great. Totally ready for it.

At our parent/teacher conference, Addison’s teacher used the word gobsmacked. How awesome is that?

Some things you just can’t stop thinking about. You want to, but you know they’re of greater import than anything you might focus on instead.

And then you have to move on, because holy crap.

The song stuck in my head this morning: alarm clock buzz. That “nahhhh, nahhhh, nahhhh” sound. I don’t even use my alarm that makes that noise anymore except as a backup. Grrr, Memory. Grrr, Brink of Consciousness.

Cash. What’s that about?

Sometimes people say and believe dumb things. Can we just let that kind of thing go, or is being the Right Police that important?

Because I say some dumb stuff.

And by we, I almost always mean society.

If you don’t watch or have never watched Friends, the cultural gap that exists between us can be crossed only by hard work, commitment to understanding, love for each other, and/or mad dumb luck.

I’ve loved the Cubs for a long, long time. These days, I’m really starting to like them.

The Muppets movie can’t get here fast enough. Which is weird, because the days and weeks are flying.

We’re having a baby.

And by we, I don’t mean society.

It’s 11/11/11, if you don’t mind swimming in the waters of pre-Y2K nomenclature.

Is this a long enough list to just post? I hope so. I don’t feel any more random things coming up.

Oh, wait! No. Never mind. I got nothing. Maybe I’ll add to this later.

No, wait again! 11/11/11 is a palindrome and . . . whatever the word is for all the same number. That won’t happen again until long after we stop caring that this happened today.

Also, coffee.

UPDATE: One more thing. It’s a terrible thing to evaluate your day based solely on whether or not you’ve showered. Showering is overrated.

Also: today you may want to stand just a bit farther away from me than you normally would. No reason.

Random Sobriety

Or sober randomness.

Usually I try to make these lists of random thoughts kind of funny. If it happens this time, it’s entirely unintentional.

Writing to one person at a time has been far more intriguing to me than writing on this blog . . . which has been known to draw as many as two readers at a time.

I’m a sloppy prayer, but I try to keep it going.

Colin has taken to effusively expressing how much he’ll miss Heather and me when either of us is getting ready to go anywhere. It’s the nicest, most heartbreaking thing.

Addison has that friend at school. The one who teaches him what the bad words and rude hand gestures are. I’m so happy about this.

When I worry about him being too young to be exposed to that type of thing, I remember I was a couple years younger than he was when I took my Vulgarity 101 survey course. But Christian schools are advanced like that.

I was second in line at the CPO (Campus Post Office) here at Moody last week. The person in front of the line had a rather lengthy issue he needed resolved. When he finally departed the counter, no fewer than 8 students pushed past me to turn in package request slips, and one to just plain cut. I was amazed and impressed by their uniform rudeness. I won’t say they’re all going to hell. But they obviously have a way of bringing a little piece of hell with them wherever they go.

Don’t we all.

Seriously, we all need help. So help somebody.

By all means, eat food that is good for you. Just remember to feed your soul ice cream.

We got our goldfish a new fish tank. Our first fish was too big for the tank he had. Then we adopted a second, so . . . it was the ghetto of fish dwellings. They’re moving on up.

People love their pets, man.

Life is really one big lesson in how much I don’t know.

Facebook is becoming something other than Internet. It’s not even commerce or community. It’s like the new government. I’m afraid.

I’m writing stuff you can’t read yet.

Not because you’re not smart enough, I’m just not showing anyone.

I have long believed that you see a person differently when you look him or her in the eyes. If you’re having trouble relating to someone or taking them seriously or understanding them, the eyes have it. If they don’t, move on.

If you don’t understand what aposiopesis is . . .

Hate  is a strong word. But that doesn’t mean you should never use it. And just because you don’t use the word doesn’t mean you aren’t guilty of hatred. You’re just as likely compounding it with dishonesty.

I don’t know when you’re reading this, but I’m hungry. Trust me.

Here’s a playlist. If you don’t have spotify, I’m sorry. It’s part of the new government.

Delayed Response

In my sophomore American Lit class in high school, Mrs. Maesch (I may have spelled that wrong . . . or gotten her name wrong . . . or made this whole thing up in an elaborate web of deceit that has fooled even my own subconscious) gave a test (as American Lit teachers are prone to do) over The Great Gatsby. This was one of the questions:

What was Gatsby’s redeeming character trait?

There were four multiple-choice options: his generosity, his loyalty, and two that were far too ridiculous for me to remember. I answered “generosity,” but when I got the test results back, a red pen had indicated “loyalty” as the correct answer. Total crap.

So I asked Mrs. Maesch about it. Or Mrs. Meisch. Or some other spelling. Or some other person. It kills me that I’m getting these details wrong. Literally. Or literarily. Whatever. She told me I could get credit for the point I missed if I typed up an explanation of why I thought “generosity” made a better answer. Did I say, “total crap,” before? Because this crap was even totallier. I didn’t want the point that bad. And on principle, I didn’t think I should have to do extra work just to correct the problem on her test.

Believe me, the last thing I cared about was my grade. The administrations and staffs of the institutions at every stop along my educational journey made somewhat of a point of noting how little I cared about my grades. I just wanted to be right. And to not have to do extra work.

But this unresolved dispute has hovered over my head ever since. So here it is, Mrs. Maesch (or whatever your name is . . . I’m really sorry about this, you were one of my best teachers ever, I just struggled with the spelling of your name at the time, so recall is next to impossible at this point), my reasoning for answering C instead of A:

Gatsby’s loyalty was closer to an obsession. While one could argue that his generosity was really just a veiled manifestation of his greed for Daisy, whom he regarded as a commodity, such a conclusion would also force us to admit that his loyalty was simply greed. Not very redeeming. To whom besides himself was Gatsby truly loyal? To Nick? Meh. Nick was just kept around so someone could narrate the thing. Plus, Nick didn’t really ask must of Gatsby compared to other folks. I’m not sure where this accusation of loyalty finds its source.

But Gatsby was generous. Misguided as his obsession with Daisy was, all his other possessions were of little value to him compared to her, which shows at least the redeeming value of prioritizing people over possessions (even if his downfall was his penchant for objectifying his love interest . . . who also happened to be married). Isn’t that what generosity really is? To care more about people than things? Sure, he cared about people in the wrong way, but he was happy to share the abundance of his wealth with those who couldn’t really help him get what he was truly after.

Kudos to you, Gatsby, you messed up Redford role. In your largess, you managed to get something right.

Now, where’s my point? I want my point. I did the extra work. Gimme.

Random. The past tense of rundom.

I’ve got nothing to say. Must be time for a blog post.

Many times I wonder what it’s all about. Then I remember to put my whole self in and put my whole self out. After a a bit of shaking, the world has new meaning.

Upon further reflection, the antecedent of the word it in the chorus is probably the Hokey Pokey, in which case we’re back at square one in the study of the purpose and meaning of the universal it of our existence.

Whatever it is all about is undoubtedly more perplexing on roller skates.

Roller skating. Now there’s a mating ritual I don’t mind leaving behind. The entire trip to a roller rink was one long demonstration of virility on wheels. Although it was also a chance to try to find rejected silver dollars in video game coin returns. I didn’t realize until today that they were metaphors of my own existence.

I really like a good metaphor. They are Swiss Cake Rolls in the sack lunch of life.

How does Little Debbie stay little?

Debbie Downer was the most peculiar SNL character of all time in that the first sketch was absolutely hysterical, but no future iterations were ever very funny at all. I suppose we should be thankful it didn’t have enough momentum to become a movie.

Coffee is like oxygen in that when I run out of it, I turn blue.

That reminds me. I need coffee. Now.

Random Acts of Commas

As fantasies go, fantasy football is really rather short on unicorns.

The funniest four words ever spoken on film came from the lips of Andre the Giant.

And yes, I do want a peanut.

No, I don’t dream of large women.

The title of this post means nothing.

But I am rather fond of the Oxford comma.

People in glass houses should have hired a better Realtor.

I’ve never smoked anything. If I were to take it up, I’d start with a brisket.

I don’t drink alcohol. If I were to take it up, I’d start with vanilla.

Tom Hanks.

Tony Randall!

I swear, if anybody gets all of these references, we are so friends.

Frank McCort’s Teacher Man is a great book with one lesson I always try to remember: let people be. You can love people without trying to fix them.

When I overedit a sentence, I usually leave a typo behind.

The surest way to avoid misplacing your smartphone is to be veraciously addicted to it.

I really kinda hate the word marketing.

The more people I meet, the more people I care about, and the more people I care about, the more I realize I just can’t care about everybody, and the more I realize I just can’t care about everybody, the more I feel broken.

Because run-on ain’t nothing but a number. Yes, I know, it’s not even a number.

When it comes to true friends, Doc Holliday and I have much in common.

Is this long enough to be a post? I’m running out of random stuff.

Okay, honestly, I’m just running out of time. I don’t ever run out of random stuff.

Dobby the house elf made the redemptive transformation from annoying character to painfully endearing hero that no amount of technological wizardry could ever help Jar Jar Binks to duplicate.

Someone, somewhere along the way should have stopped that Mission Accomplished banner from being printed.

There’s no reason not to eat ice cream every day. None.

Okay, that’s it. Go home.