I was asked to make a short TikTok to advise young people. “Don’t set yourself on fire!” seemed too obvious. Advising young people – or anyone else for that matter – flies in the face of the truth that we don’t listen until we are either ready to listen or forced to. The one I did as part of the challenge didn’t fit directly. It does, however, imply the superpower of silence in the face of argumentative accusation or criticism. The last few years seem to have made it apparent that we all must practice the fine art of allowing information to penetrate our idiotic heads. To give people the benefit of the doubt when we want to judge them. To know that despite the consequences of our actions, most of the time, our intentions didn’t lead us there. To know that idle gossip is fun (of course it is), but it also perpetuates misinformation. This happens both in our personal lives and in our society in general.
I’m as guilty as anyone else of doing it. We all recognize the dragonfire of defensiveness when we hear people repeat things that are wildly untrue. Or worse, when they are actually true!
I have no right to advise anyone, regardless of age. I’ve learned so many lessons that I obviously can’t consistently implement. I guess you could say Life Lessons are algebra. You’ll learn it but never use it again.
Erika’s brother drew the original. I spent an inordinate amount of time meticulously creating and editing a png version of his artwork. I started with a picture I snapped of the artwork. There’s something intangible about this Santa, rendered with hundreds of deliberately layered scribbles. It seemed like I owed it to Chris, even though he’s gone and I never met him.
This Santa captures the unkempt fatigue of attempting to reward everyone with the Xmas gifts they deserve. (Much less the horror of knowing who has been naughty or nice.) I joke that Santa could make a fortune selling the naughty list to certain people!
As I do every year, especially now that it’s Black Friday… Don’t let the season distract you from enjoying it the way you want. For some, it is a religious celebration. For others, it is a social season, one punctuated by gatherings, bacchanalian feasts with friends, family, and events. Some sit quietly and simmer in melancholy of bittersweet remembrances of the people who’ve left them.
Xmas is what YOU want it to be. Not the traditions you don’t cherish, not the obligatory exchanging of gifts. You are housed in a body that is a gift in itself. Being yourself and radiating your wit, humor, and affection is more than enough for the people who appreciate you.
Of all gifts I enjoy, I like the goofy, surprising ones. And most of those are moments, not things.
Don’t get me wrong, I love someone surprising me with an ornate toilet seat, a collection of foul-tasting novelty candies, or even a ream of colored paper. It means that person likes me enough to have taken the time to surprise me. It also means that they are happy enough to want to share a sliver of that with me.
Giving people are rarely joyous. Have you noticed that?
Many people loathe that Xmas starts early, especially the music that often accompanies it. They complain about trees showing up in houses “too early.” The stores loaded with commercial offerings. I don’t understand that. To each his own.
The Xmas season is when people can surprise others without the pretext of a reason. Even a hug and a “Merry Xmas,” or whatever salutation you prefer.
I’ll put a picture below, one I made a long time ago – and one that surfaces on the internet with frequency.
Yesterday, I thought I was in line for free pizza. Much to my surprise, I turned out to be in the voting line. I’m not sure I trust a world in which I’m able to vote. This time, despite dropping my license behind the table and next to the window (where it was almost unreachable), I relentlessly repeated my name and address as if I were being interrogated. I’ve voted early for so many cycles that I forgot how different it is to vote on the actual day.
I voted at Sequoyah UM Church. It was fast and efficient. Remarkably so. Whoever is in charge there did an outstanding job. Other than letting a couple of loons on the ballot. Whenever I see obviously unqualified candidates, much less fringe ones, I remind myself that maybe I, too, could get elected without much sense or qualifications.
Don’t worry about my vote counting. I am still so liberal that I might as well be voting in Finland as in Arkansas.
After voting, I wandered the back half of the property. It was not well-maintained, but I had some moments of beauty walking back there. The weather was uncharacteristically warm and calm for November. It was odd to sit on the benches in front of the rudimentary cross, feeling the sun filter through the trees and listening to the birds sing. Not too far away, the hectic comings and goings of voters might as well have been a mile away. It was a contemplative place, one that I alone owned for several minutes. I admit that it was a bit strange thinking that the ballot contained an initiative for religious freedom; it’s obvious that the intent is anything but motivated by freedom. Had I been in that mindset, I’m sure I could have felt the presence of a creator in those trees and on those benches. Please don’t fault me for not feeling such a presence. It was sufficient to be there, seeing the beautiful world around me.
When I walked across the dilapidated bridge walkway and emerged from the trees, a man exiting the voting place asked me what was back there.
“Five minutes of peace if you search for it.” I smiled.
“I’m in a hurry, but I’d really like to see.”
“You only live once. Just tell them a crazy guy at the church where you voted told you to take a moment.”
He laughed. “Deal! They will believe that.”
As I walked toward my car on the opposite end and side of the building, I turned to see him traverse the wooden bridge and disappear behind the treeline.
I’m certain he found something worthwhile back there. . . I rendered myself transparent in the picture because I felt a little other-worldly in the retreat behind the trees.
Though I’m not dogmatically religious, I’d like to write an incongruous post that merges the Black Eyed Peas with the Christian Bible.
The aforementioned group has a current hit called “Don’t You Worry.” It’s vibrant, energetic and a call put away your worries and concerns. It’s one of those throwaway songs, full of pop momentum and repetitious lyrics. It’s also delightful in a way that belies its formulaic lyrics. I’m certain they weren’t inspired by a call to remember that control and worry are the provinces of people unfocused on what’s essential to happiness, especially from a spiritual viewpoint.
I have a lot of issues with religious texts. Sometimes though, truth is where you find it.
Whether it is Matthew 6+, or a verse from my favorite book of Ecclesiastes, among several others, one of the essential truths of most religions is that we are forces living inside bodies. And we’re not supposed to be mental prisoners to the outcome of our worries.
Not to ignore them or blindfold yourself; rather, to rejoice at this moment and to dance with joy. It’s something that older people forget to do as if such a thing is only an option for the young.
The Black Eyed Peas song evokes a reaction in me. Something about it strikes a call to action to remember that for everything, there is a time and place. Maybe it’s because I love the book of Ecclesiastes.
And if your head is cluttered with worry and concern, no matter how justified, you might be distracting yourself from the opportunity to remember to live. To give up control and surrender. To dance, sing, and feel the physical world. But not to such a point that you forget that everything that makes your heart sing can’t be quantified.
Erika told me that I MUST have more hair. She gave me some dubious “vitamins” with skull-and-crossbones on the bottle. The back label had testimonials from probable probationary or parolee people. I’ve been taking them for a week. I look like an aging English rockstar now that my hair is growing faster than the mustache of my neighbor Susan. Let me know what you think of my new locks – and the color streaks. It will probably grow past my hips in another week.
If you look closely at my goofy picture, you’ll see that my eyes are a little teary. A really good man died this morning. He has so many friends that I wouldn’t want to count the number of memories that will be retold in the near future. Jim’s sense of humor was different from mine in some ways, but the spirit of his humor was massive. We used to joke and speculate about what he might want to be told at his service. I’d write some of it here, but it would shock, amuse, and horrify, and probably some people simultaneously. When a force of nature like him dies, it is a sure sign that all of us will line up soon enough for our turn. No one can look at his life as a friend, pastor, chaplain, counselor, or husband and father and think he had anything other than an outstanding life. He was a rare mix of education, faith, music, and humor. He never once made me feel less than for my skepticism.
I decided to go ahead and post these words despite the fact that most people think they are so dissimilar and disparate.
Jim would appreciate and see the connection.
Life is both stupidity and solemnity, hunger and satiation.
If I had donned this wig and entered the church he founded, the one that held its last service last Sunday and the one I wrote about last Sunday afternoon, he would look up from the piano, smile, and then say: “X is a much better-looking woman than he ever was as a man.”
The building soon will be repurposed as a real estate school.
The people who called it their church home had open hearts to me. Especially the pastor. He thought nothing of the fact that my heart was skeptical and doubtful. Humor was our language. It is difficult indeed to find a pastor who can relate to people as different and fascinating versions of the same imperfect template.
I didn’t attend the last service this morning, for reasons of my own.
The building will remain idle and empty only for a short interval.
The church members will carry on as friends. They plan on continuing as a virtual body.
I was lucky that I was welcomed there.
Everyone was, no matter their hue, hyphenation, language, denomination, or orientation.
That’s rare too. It reflects the attitude and character of Jim. He’s not doing well. But if there is anyone who walks the line between spiritual and the mundane, it is him. He’s one of those people who deserves another 50 years. Heaven can wait for him. He doesn’t care that my idea of the afterlife deviates from his; he carries his certainty openly and with a ridiculous laugh to accompany it.
All things must end.
And if we are lucky, we won’t forget the spaces or moments shared.
Online therapy isn’t as satisfying as in-person therapy.
But cognitive therapy from a practical focus is amazingly effective for me.
One of the things I loved about in-person therapy was having the things I’d said or written repeated back to me.
It’s a stunning thing to SEE my own rationalizations exposed and repeated. It’s part of the reason I softened toward my dad. To recognize a small part of him inside of me was not a welcome realization. This kind of insight takes a while to accept, much less deal with.
There’s a huge difference when you’re talking or writing to someone who has dealt with hundreds of people and has heard every rationalization under the sun. Unlike friends and family, they experience your version of truth for what it is.
I can recap and summarize the difference quickly: I know an awful lot about human psychology and have learned a book of insights and lessons, yet, my biggest failing is not applying them to my life.
If you focus on behavior and set aside your thoughts and words, everything gets distilled to its essence.
It reminds me of one of my favorite examples. If a person never tells anyone that he or she is Christian yet lives a love-and-compassion-filled life, observers can see that your worldview is in action through your behavior. Because lovingkindness is the essence of what Jesus taught. One of my biggest problems with evangelicals is their certainty and rigidity – and focus on dogma and judgment. Live the example. That applies to me, too, in case you think my hypocrisy is something I don’t see in myself.
Likewise, if you are a loving and insightful human being, people over time should easily find that behavior consistently and clearly evidenced in your life. The things you do will be reflected in your daily life and mirror what’s in your head and heart.
When these things are not reflected? That disparity signals a problem with either your self-perception or a significant failure of behavior. If you know your motivations and what you value, the best practical approach is to examine your behavior critically.
If you are what you do, then when you don’t, you aren’t.
If you want to be satisfied or happy, you must work to remove behaviors that interfere. Happiness isn’t a realization; it’s a constant process of doing the hard work of choosing to spend your time and life finding a way to live the way that you know you want to be.
When you are closer to the sunset than the sunrise as you age, everything just looks different.
Otherwise, it is all talk, smoke without fire, and pretense.
Before: I’m not one to engage in dream recounting. This one, however, was beyond hyper-realistic. I woke up and expected to be in the world and The Event precisely as I dreamt it. I sat down shortly after waking up and wrote it feverishly, without edit.
I derived the title after hearing Justice Carradine singing “How It Ends.” The melodic syncopation strikes a literal chord in my head and heart.
Here’s the story, unchanged from when I sat and wrote it… . . .
I’m not sure why I’m writing this. You were there the day it happened. That Tuesday started like any other. We all started our day drinking coffee, working, or taking care of our kids. At 10:03, everything changed forever. The news started trickling in that navigation systems were malfunctioning. Planes scrambled to make emergency landings all over the world. Scientists believed that the sun emitted a massive electromagnetic flare that interrupted communications. The military went to DEFCON 1. Every talking head with an opinion emerged from their lairs to spout a theory.
By noon, most major communication networks, except the rudimentary ones, failed. No internet, no radio, no cellphones. Covid had amplified the paranoia of so many. Even the worst conspiracists felt like something significant was happening. No one could explain it, though.
Fifteen minutes later, vehicles stopped working.
We didn’t know at the time that all these things transpired to keep us safe.
At 12:46 p.m., an odd feeling of fatigue washed over me. I sat down on the floor at work. Within a minute, I was almost catatonic. Flickers of indistinct images began to fill my head. Galaxies, models of atoms, time-shifting rainbows of complicated mathematic formulas. It didn’t alarm me. I felt peaceful. This was followed by a voice in my head, a melodic androgynous voice, lulling me into calm.
“We’ve done this a million times. Don’t be afraid. We have perfected our first contact. You’re safe, all eight billion of you. It’s time you joined us if you wish. You will experience a flood of images and information. After which, the choice is yours.”
The images were dozens a second. Yet, I felt my brain envelop them without effort—exotic planets, technology, art, languages that required no voice, faster-than-light travel. Finally, images of alien races, some of which no longer required bodies. I’m not sure how long this really lasted. Some people later said it only lasted a few seconds.
At 12:50 p.m., I woke up, my legs crossed on the floor. I felt full of energy and enthusiasm. I did not doubt that an unseen alien presence offered us a gift, forever telling us that we weren’t alone in the universe.
All communications were restored. Vehicles and navigation systems worked perfectly again. My co-workers joined me in the upstairs conference room to watch the network news channels scramble to explain what every living human had just experienced coherently. It was chaos.
We all held our breath, assuming that whatever had just contacted us would do so immediately. It didn’t, though. You were there.
Within minutes, several world powers began to threaten military action against one another. We watched as Russia and China fired nuclear ballistic missiles. The United States launched almost all of its missiles in response. The news host shouted in disbelief, warning us to take cover. “From what?” we all whispered. We were in shock. Most of us felt as if we’d just experienced a whisper of the meaning of life. Seeing our militaries respond in a way that might end all of our lives didn’t feel real.
We waited. Nothing happened. None of these missiles exploded or made contact. It was as if they had disappeared. News reports came in that the missiles went off the radar—all of them. Most countries began firing any available hardware they had remaining. None exploded.
Within two minutes, the President of the United States pre-empted the news channel. Joe Biden was obviously inside a bunker below the White House.
He immediately began to speak.
“We don’t know what has happened. All of our defense systems are down. You must prepare for further attack. Effective immediately, martial law is being declared.” As he cleared his throat, the monitor went blank.
A blue square filled the screen.
Words began to cycle across it in large indistinct letters.
It started with the word “No,” in multiple languages.
Images of entire fields of corn and oats and clear streams filled the monitor. They were followed by the same photos with towering alien structures behind them. We somehow knew that those same images had been transmitted to us while we were almost catatonic. Those structures were solar and wind generators, desalinators, and communication hubs.
“You failed the first phase,” the monitor said, again in multiple languages.
“We assume control of all threats against one another for the entire planet. No military can harm another. Any country trespassing its borders will be rendered incapable of action. We wish you could have figured this out for yourselves in the last hundred years. Humanity is a collective. Life will never be the same as you know it. We mean you no harm. We are not gods. We were once like you. We owe our origins to a common ancestor. Please go about your lives without fear.”
The screen went blue and then returned to the President. He was standing slack-jawed and in shock.
The screen went dark.
I stood with a dozen co-workers, trying to grasp what had just happened. It felt like God had finally intervened in our lives.
When the network news channel returned, it was chaos. Nothing similar had ever happened. The younger news anchor motioned for the camera to focus on him, and he began to speak.
“I don’t know what each of you experienced this morning. I feel like the meaning and purpose of life were just handed to me. I’m glad that whatever is doing this took control of the world’s military forces. We can’t trust people with power to make good choices. I ask that each of you take a moment and wonder if the future we glimpsed is worthy and attainable. For the first time, we don’t have control. I don’t think we ever did, frankly. Be calm if you can, and take a minute to hug and talk to the people around you. If you…”
The station cut to a digestive health commercial.
We turned to one another in the conference room and hugged one another. It was eerily silent except for the blare of the monitor on the wall.
“We have to go back to work. That hasn’t changed.” I don’t know who said it, but his voice propelled us to walk out and quietly back downstairs to our department. Nothing seemed important. Oddly, everything seemed monumental. You were there and might understand what I mean. The minutes and hours passed in a blur.
By the time I finished work, people were coming out of their shock. Almost all the major churches in the world were reacting to the morning. The Vatican issued a statement indicating that whatever was communicated this morning wasn’t godly and that such interpretation violated the church’s canons. Most of us felt like it had been, though. Whatever it was that had talked to us individually in our heads felt like a universal presence. Church attendance increased dramatically in the first week. By the second week, it dropped constantly. Within a month, it had fallen to less than 10% of what it had been before The Event.
In the following weeks, there was no more overt communication from whatever had contacted us. Reports began trickling in of scientists, engineers, botanists, and doctors having sudden breakthroughs in their fields. An engineer from NASA figured out a way to increase solar energy generation by using living organisms as a living battery. The same batteries could power vehicles and homes with no emissions and harmful byproducts. A doctor in Mexico City researching viruses discovered that most cancers were caused by previously undetected DNA structures hidden inside cells. A graduate student in Oregon invented a desalination system using no outside energy, which returned the extracted salt to the ocean without affecting the environment. Linguists in Japan wrote an AI that could learn and translate any known spoken or written language to any other almost in real-time.
World governments continued to bicker and argue over laws and resolutions. Canada proposed a new direct democratic system that required no governmental body, using a new AI that allowed every citizen to formulate ideas and submit them. China and Russia attempted to invade several countries. All involved equipment became inoperable.
One morning, I realized I was only sleeping about two hours a night. Many of us gradually began to sleep less, thinking it only affected us. We found ourselves with more free time and energy. Most of us read more, exercised more, and spent more time with friends and family. Though the world seemed to be in turmoil, the truth is that most of us were slowly becoming happier and at peace.
Unfinished… because something stirred me into wakefulness.
I’ve written personal stories about my dad Bobby Dean. He was violent and loved alcohol. He went through at least a few years smoking marijuana, too. As did mom, who would be mortified to see me write this. For people with multiple DWIs and violence issues, it’s still odd to me that they were worried about something like that. As I’ve aged, a lot of the hardness I had toward dad dissipated, in part because of the human overlap I share with him. Including base emotions. He was responsible for a lot of carnage. Paradoxically, he infected me with a sense of humor that I like about myself. There were times he genuinely helped people. The same is true for mom. It’s a struggle to separate the dichotomy of that realization.
Especially because of my multiple and ongoing surprises with both DNA and genealogy, my belief that it’s stupid to fight the disclosure that history drags with it. It doesn’t change history; it merely mirrors it. Talking openly about someone or what they did or didn’t do doesn’t change history. Revelation should not be shunned because of the possible ramifications of needing to adjust your viewpoint or opinion. Truth is truth. You can turn away from it, but it remains, whether to illuminate or to tarnish.
No matter what personal mistakes a person makes, they might otherwise have monumental or mundane accomplishments. Dumb people sometimes say intelligent things. Someone might surprise us with their dedication toward a social or religious cause. Smart people? They are the worst about careening into the abyss in their personal lives.
Behind it is a human being. They have vices, anger, sexual issues, or be terrible spouses and parents. When we get to know someone, we go beyond the easy socialization and familiarity we have with people. There’s a lot hidden behind most people’s curtains.
Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world in so many ways. Yet, as history peels back like an onion, we discover that he had numerous affairs. He was with another woman the night before, and the day he was assassinated. He smoked and didn’t like the image it portrayed, so he kept it a secret. Times were different back then, and though the FBI violently tried to tarnish his reputation and mitigate King’s accomplishment, news outlets didn’t take the bait. Because he was also a minister, it adds a level of incredulity to most people’s heads when they dive into everything hidden behind his public persona.
JFK followed the same trajectory. He was a political visionary but also had a torrid personal life.
Gandhi? He had some wildly racist views. History indicates that he had some strange views on sexuality and was undoubtedly bisexual. You can find reputable sources and look them up yourself. When you read these words, please remember that I’m a liberal. If people are consenting and wish to live their lives the way they choose, I am without criticism. Gandhi didn’t always express his life with consenting people.
Mother Theresa? It’s almost sacrilege for most people to hear reminders that she had so much baggage that I don’t even know where to start.
I wrote earlier in the week about Dr. Seuss, a writer who gave the world a love of words and fundamental poetry. He was not his public persona.
We all write our biographies each day with the choices we make, the words we say, even the things that we believe to be hidden.
I don’t have a premise, theory, or moral to this post either.