TCB

Remember that episode of Seinfeld when Kramer got a job? (If you don’t remember, I put a link there so you can watch it, wait a minute, and then remember back to what you just watched. I’m a facilitator. I facilitate.)

Yeah, so . . . that’s me right now. I got a job. I start Tuesday. I’ll be working at Moody Publishers. Back in the city. Back in the carpool. Back in the proverbial saddle. Again.

No more will my commute consist of nothing more than a trip down the stairs. No longer will showing up to work in my pajamas be borderline acceptable. Gone are the days of eating breakfast and lunch with my family, every day. But you know what? I got to enjoy that for three years. I will miss it.

But I won’t miss working essentially on my own every day. I am glad to be back working with a team. And while I’ve never been in love with the commute to Chicago, I am in love with Chicago itself.

So here I go. Back to a real job. And while you might think that means less time with my family, nothing could be further from the truth. The time I spent working from home, near Heather, Addison, and Colin every single day, is time I’ll never lose. Yes, technically I will not be spending as much time at home with them as I used to, but the time I had with them I will carry in my heart always. It is a deposit into an account from which I’ll never have to withdraw. Less time? No way. Those moments will never diminish. The memories will never dwindle. And I will never feel sorry for having hoarded them greedily.

So, if you’re wondering if I’m disappointed, the answer is Hell no. I’m excited. I’m thankful. I’m ready. And I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me again.

Writer’s Block: Honesty in Action

Now that’s an honest picture.

I love this picture because it is as honest a portrayal of my family as I can imagine. Addison is about 75% posing for the camera and 25% laughing at Colin’s refusal to sit still. Heather is about 25/75 the other way. Colin has just lost his 1% interest in posing, and I, in true 100% don’t-take-my-picture fashion, am holding the camera.

The wonderful and the imperfect get along quite nicely within this frame. As a photographer (I’m not one, except by the most rudimentary definition) it can be pretty difficult to capture an honest image. As a writer, it can be paralyzing.

I have always felt that good writing demands adherence to two fundamental disciplines of human nature: 1) Keeping your eyes open to all truth; 2) Honestly telling the story of what you see. I call them disciplines of human nature because writers aren’t alone in the need to follow them both. Everyone should be compelled to observe and tell with honesty, but a writer must mind that responsibility especially severely because the lies we tell persist in posterity. We can either skew or straighten the sight of our readers.

Herein lies a potential downward spiral of circular reasoning. Being honestly aware is no small burden for the depraved. I might be able to live with my own ignorance, but perpetuating it in someone else through the power of the written word stops me in my tracks. When I begin to write, I begin to notice, to open my eyes to the painful realities I have conveniently ignored for as long as writer’s block has allowed. For the record, writer’s block is a most forgiving accomplice.

As long as I am unwilling to tell the truth about who I am and who we are as people, the more comfortable I am in illusions and half truths and dreaminess, the longer I will go without fully opening my eyes. And the longer I go without honestly surveying the situation, the worse it gets. The worse the situation, the greater the sense of loathing that accompanies the prospect of writing.

So the part of me that’s really good at rationalizing (which, incidentally, is the same percentage of me that hates to be photographed) tells me that not writing is at least a way of being honest. Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies, you know?

But silence may be the worst lie of all because it forces observers to fill in the blanks without any help from me, making a liar (or an unreliable guesser) out of their own imaginations. So I suppose writer’s block is just an excuse to procrastinate facing or telling the truth. The only cure for that is intensified vigilance in observation and repeated acknowledgment of the trouble made plain before my eyes.

To improve I must write. If I don’t write, I will regress. Even in inaction and silence, there is no idle state. Get writing.

What Is a Picture Really Worth?

I’ve been spending a good amount of time (and the time has been mostly good) playing with the face identification feature on Picasa 3. Even with over 6,000 people yet to be identified, Picasa has shown me that I have more than 1,000 pictures of each (or both) of my sons. Scrolling through the years’ worth of memories enshrined in digital glory has propelled me to almost weepy levels of happiness.

But then I start to wonder: how many of these pictures are true? How many pictures in the world are true? Are they as valuable as we all think they are? Is a picture worth a thousand words or a million lies?

If the statement these photos make is, “My kids are cute,” then it’s all kinds of true. Most of the time. But my kids aren’t always cute. They’re not always smiling. They are often engaged in less than photogenic behavior. I don’t take those pictures. I don’t save the blurry ones or the ones where I’m making an unflattering face or the ones my wife tells me to delete “or else.” When it comes to pictures, truth isn’t usually the goal. Personal photography is usually more a study in PR than an exploration of reality. Does that make them more valuable or less?

On some level, I guess there is tremendous value in having pictures that remind me how much I love my family, my friends, all my extended relatives, and all else who line up to face my camera lens. I’m not as pleased with the fact that my finicky emotions respond better to forced smiles than to portraits of slobbering rage. Part of me wonders if memories are worth the visual preservation if we save the good ones and delete the bad.

Is holding on to a memory all that valuable, or does it prevent us from forging new ones? Can a bogus smile from yesterday make us too complacent to make genuine smiles today? I don’t know. I try to envision myself in another time when photography wasn’t an option. Did people with no photos have poorer memories of their loved ones, or was their dependence on story telling and camaraderie enhanced by the lack of props? Something that happened yesterday made me think the latter was true.

We were driving to church (late, as usual) and passed a gorgeous, radiantly white swan swimming alone in a pond. My second thought was, “That is beautiful! *gasp*” But my first thought was, “I wish I had my camera.”

That turn of events kind of depressed me. It brought to mind all the times I have seen my kids doing something truly memorable and thought, “Where’s the camera?” My desire to preserve the moment too often outweighs my need to embrace it. I think of how much time I’ve spent lining up for pictures at family gatherings instead of actually enjoying each other’s company.

I don’t think photos are evil. I don’t think they do justice to their subjects, either, but they’re not bad. I just wonder if they make us lazy with our memories as we’re making them.

All I know is, from now on, when I don’t have a picture of a memorable event, I’m going to remember the joy  of escaping my own self-imposed paparazzi. And then, I’ll smile for real.

Reach

I have an intense fear of heights. For instance, when I look up at a water tower—from the ground, mind you—I panic a little bit just imagining myself standing up there. I’m not afraid of falling so much as I just feel like I don’t belong up there. Just writing that freaked me out.

I’m a man of irrational fears. Sometimes I’m afraid of writing. If you want to know why I haven’t posted here in so long, it’s because of that. It’s not precise enough to say I haven’t felt like it. I have felt like it. But when I have thought about it, I have frozen. I think about writing, about being up there on the internetial platform, and I just feel like I don’t belong here. I’m afraid of the permanence of words. Once anything I write is out there, I can’t really pull it back. I can never scale back down the mountain.

That hasn’t stopped me from writing altogether, but . . . it’s stopped me from writing a lot of things. Things I know I should be writing. I guess I’ve just been afraid to reach the things I really want, feeling like they belonged in my dreams, not in my grasp.

It’s so very silly.

A Victim of a Selfish Kind of Love


I’ll get this out of the way: I was terribly saddened to learn that Michael Jackson died today. My first thought: No way. My second thought: On the list of People Most Likely to Fake Their Own Deaths, Michael Jackson is at the very top. My third through thousandth thoughts: Damn.

It’s hard enough on a normal day to know how to feel and what to think about Michael Jackson. His music is stamped on our souls. His personal life . . . we can’t wash away the stink of what we’ve heard about that man. It’s impossible to know how much of it is true, but it’s tough to prove a shred of it false. Besides, the maelstrom of shocking doubt and bizarre intrigue seems to be the image MJ wanted anyway. But I don’t think he wanted exactly what he got.
The thing about death is, it’s the personification of everything bad in the world. When someone dies, you remember the good stuff and the bad—no matter what the optimists say to the contrary—you remember it all, and it comes in a flood.
You remember the disagreements that never got settled. The regrets. The questions that never got asked, or were asked without a satisfactory answer. You remember unkind thoughts. Faults that won’t get mentioned. And the good things, they just turn sour when you remember that the person who brought you happiness is gone.
And when someone dies, the full weight of all that is wrong with the world converges at one point that pierces your heart, the chronic pain of life uniting in an acute moment of agony.
So Michael Jackson presents a little problem for us, don’t he? The loss of the musical master, the entertainment icon, the moonwalker (I didn’t exist when JFK died or Armstrong leapt for mankind, but I remember where I was when I first saw MJ moonwalk); the nonexistent childhood and the troubled family; the mountains of abuse that categorized his life . . . MJ died, and I felt like I had to process it all while watching The Tale of Desperaux with my two sons.
I’ll remember where I was when I heard about Michael. It was an awful moment. But I will carry with me the music, the moves (they live on in me, Michael, rest easy), and the memory of every “don’t do this” child-rearing lesson he ever taught me. I still don’t know how to feel. I don’t know where MJ is now. I just know that whatever people say about him, whatever he might have done, we all need a lot of grace. We’re all lucky ever to shine. And we all . . . well, we all die. There isn’t anything good about that.
Still, when it ends, mourning the loss of what’s good is less painful than crying over trouble that never got resolved. So I’ll just say that waiting to make peace is the worst kind of procrastination. To MJ, I hope you finally found the peace that so long eluded you.

Missing the Blah Blah Blahs

I’ve got 14 days of work remaining before I leave my current job and start this new adventure called “paying for your own insurance.” And I’m pleased to tell you I’m not having second thoughts. Every moment that passes is a reminder that I’m doing the right thing.

But it is not the easy thing. And beside all the financial worries that accompany a move like this (and the self-doubt that never ever goes away), the hardest thing about leaving the place I work is saying goodbye to everybody there. Let me take you through the typical day, and you’ll see how good I’ve had it in the people department.

I start the day with the carpool, which includes my dad. That’s pretty special, despite the fact that I snore the whole way there. We walk across the plaza together like we own the place. We don’t own it. But . . . well, yeah, we kinda do.

When I get to my department, there’s no one else there, normally. People straggle in as the day goes on, and I try to greet everybody at one point or another. I talk a lot. A surprisingly huge part of my day is spent in unplanned (but not entirely coincidental) conversations. I try to cheer people up. It’s a sort of challenge. I don’t always succeed, but . . . it’s kind of an extension of my job.

When you write – no matter what you’re writing – you’re always writing to a real person. You’re trying to connect, to make them glad they just read what you wrote. So . . . that’s kinda what I try to do all day long, just in person and without a pen. It’s not wasting time, it’s practice.

And it’s fun. It makes meetings fun. It makes lunch fun. It makes playing wallyball fun (and yes, I still owe you a post about the greatest indoor sport of all time). It makes coffee taste better, it makes walks through the cold feel a little warmer, and it makes long, nasty drives back home through Chicagoland traffic seem entirely endurable.

I’ll miss that. Now, I’ll totally enjoy doing the same thing with my family. But still . . . I’ve done it at Moody for so long, and everyone I’ve wasted the day away with has given me so much of themselves . . . I’ll miss that. But I’m still leaving.

Truth vs. Reality

There’s a big difference between truth and reality. Sometimes, it makes all the difference in the world. Actually, the world is all the difference.

Today, I heard someone talking about college students–in a positive light–having an invigorated sense of vision and passion yet to be doused by the reality of life outside the shelter of a dorm room. It was the positivity that caught my attention, because it was a successful person speaking. This was someone who had realized some of his dreams, so he didn’t dismiss the naive dreams of kids with no clue about reality.

It was at this point that I saw the difference between truth and reality. Truth is extrauniversal, not confined to the boundaries of our experience. But in our lives, something becomes real when you can experience it–see it, touch it, taste it, whatever. When your senses can take it in, it’s reality. When all you can do is imagine it (or have faith that it exists) it’s not real . . . but that don’t mean it ain’t true.

A lot of truth has no basis in reality. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not real. I think courage is the ability to make truth a reality, or at least hang in there until it materializes on its own. I’ve got some dreams that I’ve been waiting to come true. But now, I think they’re already true. I just need them to become reality for them to be worth anything. Or maybe, the possibility will be enough to keep me going.

So, why Voltron? Because I added to the sidebar an automated news generator that pulls up stories containing the word of your choice. I chose Voltron because A) that show freakin’ rocks, and B) I thought it would be funny. As it turns out, C) there really is Voltron news. So here’s my invitation to go check out all the happenings in the world of lion robots.

Not Nice

I am not a morning person, but I appreciate 5:00. As much as I hate to roll out of bed (and I relive it with multiplicity each day, depending on how many times I go all Rick James on the snooze button) there’s something special about those first few moments of the day when I’m the only waking person in the house. It is that window of time when I have convicting thoughts. There is clarity in the morning, and clarity almost always reveals something I’ve been doing wrong for years. But unlike the regret that creeps in at nighttime, morning clarity has a certain positive spin . . . I think it’s equal doses of reality and hope.

Reality is the nerve-shredding buzz of the alarm that gets you out of bed, and hope is the hot shower that convinces you it’s worth it to try a little harder.

But this morning’s dose of reality was a little stronger than that of the typical day. I realized that most of the nice things I do for others come at absolutely no sacrifice to me. I get accused from time to time of being nice, but the more I thought about it this morning, the more convicted I became that I don’t do it enough . . . or at least, I’m not usually very selfless about it.

It’s like this. In life you have three different types of activities: things you’re supposed to do (responsibilities), things you want to do (desires), and things it would be really nice if you could do for other people (good deeds). I would guess most people’s lives are pretty full of responsibilities, and I tend to fill in the rest of the blanks with desires. As for me, when I decide to squeeze in time for good deeds, it’s not my desires that take the hit. When I do something nice, it’s usually at the expense of responsibilities. Not always, but . . . usually.

So that sucks. And it’s pretty obvious what the change for today needs to be. It won’t be easy. I think I know where to start. I know, I’m not the only one with this problem. And it could be worse. But, it’s gotta get better. I believe it will.