Reponse to a friend re: taking a knee

There’s a lot swirling around in the world these days, and it’s difficult to keep up with the collective conversation when it seems to shift on a daily–sometimes hourly–basis.  But this topic is important, I think, so it deserved some closure.

Eons ago (at least that’s how it feels…really it was a week-and-a-half ago) I posted this on Facebook about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.  Well, it generated some conversation that ended with this comment from a friend (who is a devout Christian, thus the religious bent of my comment) back in my homestate of Minnesota:

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I wanted to respond, but I got a little distracted.  You know…life.  And when I finally sat down this morning to gather my thoughts on his comment…well (surprise, surprise) it got a little long.  Considering I’ve been meaning to spin up the old blog again, I thought what I wrote might make for a better blog post than Facebook comment.

And I can’t think of a better way to nudge this old blog awake than to talk about something important.  Here is what I had to say:

There is a lot to unpack here, but I am going to try to respond as efficiently as possible.  The three main points to address, I think, are as follows: 1. The notion of Black Lives Matter being not “a truly peaceful organization,” 2. The notion that there is some competition between Black Lives Matter and the idea that “all lives matter,” 3. What constitutes an appropriate versus a “disgraceful” act in terms of protest.

Let me address #1 and #3 first.

Per the Book of John: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Was this a peaceful or appropriate act of demonstration on Jesus’ part?  Was it disgraceful?  Because at the temple, Jesus didn’t get down on a knee and silently and peacefully protest what was happening.  He got angry.  In fact, he got violent.  And I guarantee the Pharisees didn’t think this was either a peaceful or appropriate act in the face of their cultural status quo.  And I bet they also thought that Jesus’ actions were both disgraceful and selfish as he pursued his singular agenda.  Finally, though scripture doesn’t talk about it, there certainly had to be property damage and even some injury as a result of Jesus’ actions that day.  So…was Jesus right or wrong in this instance?

The New Testament lands squarely on the side of Jesus being right.  That sometimes tables need to be overturned in order for positive and necessary change to happen.  Is Black Lives Matter always peaceful?  No movement—including Jesus’—is completely peaceful.  Sometimes people need to be driven from the market with whips and tables overturned, at least according to the Bible it does.

In this case, though..?  Kneeling at a football game..?  How on earth can it be deemed either violent or disgraceful?  It was among the most peaceful and non-disruptive of acts.  No one stopped the national anthem from playing.  No one stalled or disrupted the event.  No one drove fans from the stadium.  No one did anything.  Except to respond against norms while the anthem played to draw attention to a critically important issue in our country: the rampant and longstanding tendency toward mistreatment of black Americans, in particular when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.

Yet, even if Kaepernick stopped or upset gameplay, does that somehow reduce the validity of the injustice and unfair treatment he is trying to bring to light?  If your answer is yes, then you have to also say that Jesus was wrong at the temple and that the validity of his agenda was diminished or negated that day.  A former pastor at a church I used to attend in Minnesota once said to me, “Christianity is not safe.”  Sometimes you need to turn over some tables to be heard.  I agree with Jesus’ actions, and I agree with Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.  Moreover, I think what they are doing is among the most American—and the most Christian—of actions.  The only disgrace is siding with the proverbial Pharisees.

On point #2.

At no time has the Black Lives Matter movement ever said that their movement is defined as “black lives are the only ones that matter.”  Quite the opposite is the case.  The movement is a call for recognition that “black lives matter ALSO.”  It’s not a message of exclusiveness.  It’s a call for inclusiveness.

To their point, I am a white male who has never, ever feared for my life during a routine traffic stop.  I have never worried that an interaction with a police officer would turn violent and end in injury or death for me.  I am not saying that police are bad or anything of the kind, but here is a dose of reality…

Consider my friend, Ted, who is a well-known and respected Hollywood actor.  Ted is also black.  When he was a young Shakespearean actor in San Francisco in the 1960s, he and his friends feared driving together in a car to simply get from point A to point B because four black men riding together in a car nearly guaranteed they would be stopped.  It didn’t matter that these were all peaceful artists types.  The color of their skin was the only factor in play.  And they feared what would happen in such a situation because so many of their friends had already been harassed or harmed for no cause or reason when stopped by police.

Consider my friend, Bernard, who is also black.  Growing up in Philly, Bernard would use his white friend, Jim, as a shield to avoid police confrontation.  Recently, he told me a story that whenever they wanted to grab a six pack to drink together, Jim always went in to buy it because the liquor store owner didn’t like black people “hanging around.”  He’d call the cops immediately, which had ended badly for other guys just trying to buy a little beer.  Does wanting to buy beer make you feel any less sorry for Bernard or the other guys?  I mean, I like to buy beer.  I bought some last night, and no one called the police.  No one beat me up.

Finally, consider so many of the young black men I interact with at the college where I teach.  Being a dad, I also call all my students “my kids.”  Because they are.  I feel very protective for their well-being.  Because they are all great people.  Some of my favorite kids—some of the best and brightest and most peaceful of kids—are young black men who trust me enough to tell me stories of their interactions with police.  How they tense up and are so afraid every time they even see a police officer because they have been harassed or harmed, or had a friend or family member harassed or harmed in the past, simply for being wherever they were when a police officer happened by.  Where these young men always in the right place?  Of course not.  Sometimes they were partying, sometimes they were doing dumb stuff kids do.  The same stuff we ALL did when we were younger.

Contrast that experience with the story of another young man–a young white male, who one day in my class bragged about drag racing with his other white buddies up a local highway at 140 mph and “didn’t give a shit if they got stopped by the cops.”  Why?  Because these young men knew the worst that would happen if the police stopped them was they’d get a ticket or maybe their license suspended.  In no way, shape or form did any of these young men fear for their lives as they wantonly disobeyed the law and put others’ lives at risk as they did so.

Like the young braggart in my class, when I did dumb stuff as a kid, I never carried the fear that I might die at the hands of law enforcement as a result of my dumb decision.  This is what Black Lives Matter is trying to tell white guys like me.  Not that I’ve gotten a pass they deserve instead.  That I’ve gotten a pass that they deserve ALSO.  That we are all just people, and we all deserve a break.  We all deserve to get home safe to our families and loved ones, even if we’re a young guy doing a dumb thing every once in awhile.

I want that for all my kids.  And I have too many times seen the unnecessary fear and stress put upon these young men, especially.  Some of them have literally cried on my shoulder because they don’t understand why white people hate them or are afraid of them them simply because of the color of their skin.  On top of that, they want to be proud—they are proud—of their heritage, as they should be able to be.  They want to stand tall, but they are afraid they’re going to get shot if they do.

Again…this is not about whether or not police are good or bad.  I have a deep respect for law enforcement and believe the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good people who have good intentions.  The point isn’t what’s specifically wrong with law enforcement.  It’s that what happens when black people–particularly young black men–interact with law enforcement is a(n often injurious or deadly) symptom of a larger cultural issue that we all need to recognize and deal with.

So…do all lives matter?  Of course they do.  But we don’t need to talk about how the lives of white America matter at the moment.  Because our safety and, in particular, the safety of of our sons isn’t threatened in the way that these young mens’ safety is threatened on a daily basis.  So right now we all need to shine a bright light on how Black Lives ALSO Matter.  That all of our kids…especially our kids—regardless of whether or not we’re their actual parents, and regardless of whether their skin is white or black (or brown or any color, for that matter)—deserve to grow up in a world where they feel safe and proud and cared for.

And we white people?  We do have some work to do to help people who look different than us feel all of those things that we simply take for granted.  Things that we have never questioned in our own experience in American culture.  Safety, security, a sense of belonging.  If we’re being good neighbors, and if we are all part of the same American family, why wouldn’t we want to go the extra mile to help everyone feel like they also matter?  Especially if they’re feeling frightened and downtrodden and put down.  It seems to me that we’d want to give folks feeling this way a little special care and attention.  Or at the very least to acknowledge that we see them and feel compassion for them and their concerns.

It’s not too much to ask.  And in my own experience, recognizing that Black Lives Matter has not diminished my life or identity one iota.  In fact, it has enriched both.

So…I not only support and applaud taking a knee, I am right there with my brothers and sisters.  Because Black Lives Matter.

I’ll see the light

I know this isn’t the topic of the day, but it’s what’s on my mind right now. Haunted by this clip more than I imagined. I’ve tracked this movie, wondering if–no…knowing it was going to be a difficult watch for me.

My dad was a disciple of Hank Williams. And he was a first-rate country crooner in his own right. When I hear my dad singing in my head (and I do more often than I ever thought I would), I hear this song. And Cold, Cold Heart and You’re Cheatin’ Heart. And, of course, I Saw the Light. But of all Williams’ songs…this one…he sang this song the most.

I’ve lost track of how many times people have said I should tell the story of my family, of my relationship with my dad, of my parents’ near-miss with country greatness, of it all. I’ve felt guilty because, you know…I’m the writer. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Yet, I haven’t been able to wrap my heart around it, much less my head. Too many loose emotional threads still dangling. Too many questions still unanswered.

Not questions about the external history, though plenty of those swirl in the air, too, some titillating and tantalizing, some ludicrous and laughable, and some almost too scary to ponder. It’s my own questions…how I feel about it all. I’ve yet to land on that, and without that critical perspective it’s unfathomable to contemplate diving into the deep end of my own past and my history, much less forging it into story form.

I loved my dad. I love him still. Five years after his death, I can finally say there is no question about that. I’m sure it’s as strange to read as it is to say I had to take time to figure that out upon his passing, but there you have it. Five years out from my father’s exiting this world, however, I’m also still more mad at him than I am at just about anyone in this or any world. But that was my dad…the most lovable and infuriating person you’d ever meet. And I’m using euphemism here.

All that falls away when I hear him singing in my head. Tears come to my eyes in those moments, as I am swept up, awed at the beauty and the honesty as I remember him immersed in song. When my dad would sing (and play guitar) he didn’t merely perform. He became the song. You’d be hard-pressed to delineate between where the music ended and my dad began. He was truly at one with it. Fully and completely invested, and unabashedly so. This is one of the positive lessons my dad taught me in life, I realize now. Not through words, but by example…the way a parent should teach a child, I guess. Throw yourself into something. Your whole self. Forget embarrassment. Forget the existence of anything called “embarrassment.” Allow yourself to carried away by your art, and speak the truth when you do it.

My dad threw up a lot of walls to his true heart, but they all just melted away when he was singing. The real and vulnerable and honorable and good person at his core would, if only briefly, cut through. Shine through. In spite of all the negative things, the hurtful things, I could say about my dad, I know this also to be the case…that his heart was true.  I know this as much as I know anything, if only because I bore witness to it through his music.

I know my dad’s ghost haunts me not because he has unfinished business with me. He was done with this world before he left, finally contented to be reunited with his own father, who was his absolute best friend. I was there, near the end, at my dad’s side when his father’s spirit came to him, hovering at the edge of my dad’s consciousness, but visible to my dad’s mind’s eye. He beckoned my dad, his arms outstretched. I’d never seen my dad so much at peace before the moment when he felt the presence of his dad welcoming to the other side. So why does my dad haunt me? Because I have unfinished business with him. He hangs around because I keep him here.

So I suppose I should thank him for that.  Thank you, Dad, for sticking around and for giving me time and space to get it all figured out. For listening to me rant about and curse you, for holding steady as I compare our relationship unfavorably to the ones other people have or had with their parents, for being present when, in spite of all my anger and animosity, I still weep because I miss you so damn much.

I suppose when(?)…if(?)…I ever get it all resolved, I’ll finally see the light.  Then I’ll be ready to tell my family’s story.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE SILENT MAJORITY

You were hopeful, weren’t you? No babbling on about Apes! Apes! Apes! for weeks now, so you thought, Maybe he’s finally done with all this monkey business.

You, my friend, thought wrong.

TRUE confession time here: I intended to post this many moons ago. After a feverish afternoon of typing (and reading the half-comprehensible manifesto I’d vomited onto the page), I wanted to take another stab at my making my point before inflicting it upon the rest of the world. I kept saying I’d get to it tomorrow.

That was August 19.

Oh yeah…and I know the burning question in your head right now. The answer is “yes.” It’s still a long-ass post. As if that’s not enough, I see your long-ass post and raise you endnotes, even! I do so uncharacteristically unapologetic. You can’t change the stripes on a panther, people. TRUE LIFE it or lump it, says I. So…it’s still kind of a manifesto (isn’t it strange that the simplest points often require the most involved arguments?), but hopefully it’s more than half-comprehensible.

During the recent unrest in Ferguson, I was kinda surprised some pundit didn’t draw a parallel to DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The thematic connection was clear to me. In the throes of discord it seemed there was something to be gleaned from the cautionary tale that DAWN bespoke.

Okay…before I continue, here’s a warning. This post may contain mild SPOILERS. If you have’t seen the movie yet, you might wanna stop right here, pardner. If you’re a brave soul and want to continue, I promise to keep my references relatively vague, so as to not spoil the whole thing for you. That said…why the hell haven’t you seen this freakin’ movie yet?!?

Over and over again, people (including me) have hailed the DAWN story as “Shakespearean.” On one hand, it’s an over-used trope that’s meant as a compliment, right? Like being an “Einstein” means you’re smart, “Shakespearean” means people identify it as a quality work. And DAWN has the street cred to back this up. It got pretty great reviews across the board, word of mouth was strong and it was heralded as this summer’s “thinking person’s action movie.” It’s important to note this because the implication is that, unlike other movies chock full of 70s hits, feisty raccoons and talking trees, which are meant to be enjoyed in the moment and then “phffffft!,” DAWN is a movie to ponder. We sense there’s a life-impacting message in there that begs for deeper consideration.

So what is that message? I think the first stop in figuring this out is back at the “thinking person’s action movie” designation. Now, one could look at flicks like INCEPTION or THE SIXTH SENSE and say they’re also “thinking” movies, but they’re far from Shakespearean. Aside from puzzling over their Sudoku-like plots, neither of these movies has much else to offer. DAWN, on the other hand, isn’t a mere brainteaser. It’s heft isn’t in unpacking the logic, it’s in unpacking something even more complex: emotion. It challenges audiences’ emotional intelligence and plays on their feels. If you have any doubt about that, just try and keep a dry eye as Blue Eyes, drowning in guilt for turning his back on his father, falls over himself to apologize to Caesar after learning of Koba’s betrayal.

It’s in this feeling space that the connection to The Bard of Avon is realized. Shakespeare was no Nolan or Shamylan. The entertainment value in his work didn’t hinge on some shocking reveal at the climax. Like those of the Greeks before him, Shakespeare’s tragic characters were fated. Most of the time we knew exactly what was in store for them from the get-go, and the fun was in the clusterfuck journey through emotional and gut-wrenching terrain in the course of reaching a final destination that was already foreshadowed, if not foretold. Moreover, the magic was in the Shakespeare’s keen observations and commentary on fallibility and the frailty of the human condition. And the guy was known to spin a cautionary tale or two.

You want to take it one step further? Consider this…a general is dispatched to the wilderness in order to save his people. There, he discovers a noble, but savage tribe. Though war between the general’s kind and the savages is pre-destined, the general has compassion for the savages. The savage king returns the general’s compassion. Thus, the two push through their individual biases and see past their differences in order to achieve a win-win and avoid a deadly confrontation between their peoples. Misinformation, misinterpretation and revenge-fueled malice, however, rule the day. Each side is whipped up in a hysterical frenzy. The war is coming in spite of the general’s and the king’s best efforts. In the end, all our tragic heroes can do is part friends. As they say their final good-byes, they’re sadder but wiser in the realization that the voice of reason drowns in the cacophony of hysteria.

Kinda even sounds like the plot of one of them Shakespeare plays, don’t it?

There you have it. Our comparing DAWN to Shakespeare means we view is at a quality work that deserves our attention. Further, we get that, through all the monkey business, a light is shone upon ourselves. It’s revealing something about our human experience, and we should pay attention to it.

If you’re still with me and saying “Get to the point, already!” here it is: I interpret the core message of the movie as in order to stave off doom, reasonable people need to do a better job at making their voices heard.

Okay…here’s where I could get into some hot water by wading into the whole Ferguson issue. To be clear, this isn’t a post about Ferguson, per se, and I am not trying to tie what happens in the movie with what happened in Missouri this past summer. The Ferguson experience does, however, bring into sharp focus something that DAWN has a lot to say about. As mentioned above, that something is hysteria.

Before anyone pounces, I’m not making an argument that there wasn’t a justification to protest. For the purposes of my argument, in fact, I am specifically NOT taking a side. What I want to highlight is that, as in DAWN, voices in all quarters during the Ferguson unrest whipped up a tempest (unnecessarily, in my opinion…obviously) that threatened to wipe out an entire town and rip through the fabric of our society to boot.

If you don’t want to talk about Ferguson, then let’s talk about Washington, D.C., shall we? Talk about whipping up hysteria!

Of course, neither Ferguson nor D.C. created the problem. It was already there. The hullabaloo is an acute symptomatic manifestation of a much larger cultural affliction, which is that we, the people, seem to be caught up in an epidemic of hysteria. Even worse, our hysterical reactions dull our empathy and amplify the radical, angry voices at the fringes of the spectrum. As a result, the voice of reason is cancelled out, and we break down. Or at the very least we lose ground on the “savage versus civilized” scale. It’s likely I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, and I’m guessing you sense the same thing I do: it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse.

Though DAWN is a cautionary tale, we root for Caesar and Malcolm because their personal journeys are that of seeing beyond themselves to achieve peace. It’s an admirable lesson that says if you really listen, you’ll hear the voice of reason. Again…it’s all about compassion. But in the end, it’s not enough. It’s two voices amid the bedlam. Caesar’s and Malcolm’s voices never even register, so fear, panic and vengeance are all there is. That, and the inevitable war, death and devastation to follow.

So we, the audience, leave the story with a truly tragic realization that the simian flu epidemic wasn’t the real apocalypse. Hell! You can see it in Caesar’s eyes in the final shot! Despite the relative calm as Caesar is reunited with his family and tribe, this is the moment everybody’s screwed.

Caesar and Malcom’s example is a beacon for the rest of us. When we’re lost in the fog of our self-centeredness, we don’t have to crash into each other. Avoiding a devastating of collision in the heat of the moment, requires us to will ourselves to be calm and see beyond ourselves. We must be guided not by our hurt or fear, but by our compassion. We must do the difficult work of both trusting and being trustworthy for the sake of everyone. That is the virtue extolled in DAWN. That is the real evolution. But again…it falls short. In order for this virtue to take root, the voice of reason must be heard.

Two things occur to me as I contemplate all that. First, conventional wisdom suggests that the loudest and most radical voices (hence, the most hysterical ones) from the fringes scream so loudly because, in fact, their numbers are few. That means the vast majority of folks are largely compassionate and reasonable people. They want to be uniters, as opposed to dividers. Second is that somewhere along the way we’ve equated being compassionate and reasonable with weakness. It’s not exciting or sexy. We rarely shout our calls for reason and compassion from the rooftops or exalt the most reasonable and compassionate among us. What a paradox it is that we live in the middle, yet celebrate the extremes.

Of course, I know I’m grossly oversimplifying things. It’s a tangled web we weave* when it comes to why are are the way we are. Why “type-A” personalities, misbehavin’ Kardashians and reality shows like NAKED AND AFRAID are things we revere. Why “loud” and “busy” are the only things that seem to cut through lately. Why we seem to be addicted to hyperbole. Why, though we are supposedly more advanced and “civilized,” civility seems to fall be the wayside. I have my own thoughts on the why, which I suppose could take up an entire book (you can breathe…I’ll spare you that). One is that as we sought to master the basics of feeding and sheltering ourselves, we simultaneously overdid it (think Agent Smith’s speech in THE MATRIX, where he talks about the first matrix. It was scrapped because humans couldn’t deal with being too comfortable) and created an overly complex machine we can’t effectively manage, which leaves us stressed-to-the-max and bored at the same time. Another is that the pursuit of leisure has supplanted good works a primary an ambition in our culture (don’t get me started). Yet another is our misguided belief that passion and impulse are more attractive and innately indicative of the core human condition than is discipline (and I don’t mean spanking your kids here, I mean the zen thing). The bottom line is it’s big and pervasive, and no one’s completely immune to these hysteria-inducing effects. I’m sure not. I struggle with it every day.

By the way, I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to anyone here. Like many, I’m just trying to figure out what exactly the hell “virtue” is in the face of tectonic shifts in our radically changing social landscape. It’s like this is the moment the gods decided,” Hey! Time pick apart the cultural tapestry thread by thread.” And they’re weaving it back together in ways virtually unrecognizable from when I was a kid, even. Okay…talk about hysteria? That’s not only confusing, it’s scary. No wonder we’re all a little panicked. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed I tend to pull inward. The trick is to not stay inward and shut down. We gotta figure it out, or…I don’t know…

That said, there is good news in all of this swirl, I think.

The first bit of good news comes from legendary economist Peter Drucker, who, in his prophetic 1993 book, Post-Capitalist Society, pretty much called it. He said we’re straight-up in the middle of an apocalypse. Wait…that’s good news? It is when you consider how Drucker defined apocalypse, which was drawn from the Greek root and means basically to “lift the veil.” He talked about it in terms of society coming into a new realization and said that the process is generally a pretty rocky one. He also said it’s not the first time we’ve been through something like this. In fact, Drucker asserted Western Society sees similar “apocalyptic” events every 300 years or so, with the most recent one being the Age of Enlightenment around the end of the 1700s. Anyone know what happened then? Was there some kinda turbulence? The gist of Drucker’s message is that all this tumult isn’t a harbinger of our demise; it’s a nexus.

The second bit of good news is there is one virtue that’s stood the test of time. It’s withstood apocalypse after apocalypse and remains as potent today as it ever was. Even better, it seems to be the once, constant virtue. I’m talking about compassion, of course. Even in the haze, when long-standing social contracts and constructs are in upheaval, compassion is still the constant. The Golden Rule is still golden.

Okay…I gotta stop myself for a moment here before everyone rolls their eyes. Trust me, I’d be right there with you. “He’s going there?!?” Yes. I am going there. Of course, I get that we live in a big, complicated world with big, complicated problems. People are hurting people; People are crying out for help–real, tangible help right now. I get that mere compassion doesn’t get the job done. Or does it? I mean, compassion is the first step in reaching out to others just for the sake of lifting them up. Compassion is the first step in seeking justice–not vengeful justice, but TRUE justice–for those being oppressed. Compassion is the first step in reaching outside our personal bubbles, even when there’s no profit to be had. Even when it costs us. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…some other guys said “All you need is love” long before I did.** And some other guy, about ten apocalypses back, said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”***

Because that’s what compassion is, isn’t it? It’s the engine of love. In fact, if you subscribe to M. Scott Peck’s love as a verb philosophy****, it’s a pretty short hop to saying compassion and love are synonymous.

The bottom line is that, everything else considered, compassion is the key. I mean it certainly was the foundation of Malcolm in Caesar’s relationship, wasn’t it? It was the heart of their virtue. What makes them tragic is their failure to translate their compassion into meaningful social change. So they threw up their hands, gave up and accepted the world was screwed. And ending worthy of the man from Avon, himself.

What I am saying is that maybe it’s time embrace the work we need to do turn our world around before it’s too late. I’m saying that if we really view Caesar and Malcolm as virtuous, maybe it’s time we inject a little WWC&MD (What Would Caesar & Malcom Do?) in our cultural experience and speak up about that. Cultural tumult be damned, maybe it’s time for the silent majority to stop shaking its collective head in silent dismay (it’s not working, by the way), put its money where its mouth is and sing in unwavering chorus for a change. Maybe it’s time to get radical…about compassion. About love.

This. This has been the most pressing thing on my mind for I-don’t-know-how-long now. Even so, I can’t say that I’m particularly good at it, either. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is a lot more lately, though, and I’ve been working every day to be a more compassionate and actively loving individual. It’s not always easy, especially when I come face-to-face with others’ insecurities. It’s even more difficult when I see people knocking other people down. I get mad, and I want to lash out. Sometimes I do. But I’m getting better at taking a deep breath and asking myself, “What’s the compassionate, loving move here?”

I’m not necessarily talking about the, “What’s gets me and everyone else walked all over here?” move, though there was that thing that one dude from Nazareth***** said about turning the other cheek. There’s something to that.

It takes real thought and real contemplation–and real courage–to practice compassion. It’s the simplest thing and the most difficult thing at the same time. Yet, we have to do it. Now. And loudly. And proudly. We must intentionally and deliberately engage in compassionate interaction. We must demand it from ourselves and from others. We must be disciplined about being patient with each other, especially in times when we disagree or our respective self-interests are at odds. We must love each other, even as we stumble along, until the lessons of our apocalypse (read: social evolution) finally sink in, and the human spirit can embrace them as a matter of course. But the next step isn’t up to the fringe.

It’s up to the middle. It’s up to you and me.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? We can’t wait for others to go first. It’s not up to the fringe; it’s up to us. We have to hold it together. Even more important, we have to bear the burden and save the world. We can do it, people. We have the numbers. We just need to take the first step. And keep taking them. If we don’t, the fate of the Planet of the Silent Majority is the same as the one in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Okay…BIG spoiler alert (if you haven’t already guessed): it doesn’t end well.

Are we already screwed? Personally, I don’t think so. I see hints of this evolution every day, in moments that restore my faith in humanity and give me hope that we have a brighter collective future. But moments aren’t enough. Listen, evolution is a messy business, but if we really want to move forward and thrive, much less survive, we really do need to try something different. There are worse plans than practicing compassion and just loving each other.

Will there always be radicalism, malice and hysteria in the world? Probably. Maybe I’m idealistic, but I believe these are the exception–even today. I firmly believe in the inherent good in the human heart. Malice and hysteria and radicalism are just loud. When we, the no-longer-silent and reasonable majority decide to come together and make our collective, compassionate and loving voice heard above the noise is when we’ll make TRUE progress toward the peace that has alluded our species for as long as we can remember. And, you know, it might just stave off our own apocalyptic demise.

And to that I say, “Ooo! Ooo! Yah! Yah!”******

As promised…ENDNOTES!
*Yep. I know Shakespeare didn’t say/write this. It was Sir Walter Scott, and it is commonly (and mistakenly) attributed to William. For some reason, only half-known to even me, it seemed ironically humorous to use this quote here. I dunno.

**If you don’t catch this reference, there is no hope for you. Or you’ve been in cryogenic sleep for the past 50 years.

***Corinthians 13:12-13. Paul said that. He’s pretty much my favorite biblical figure. Also, it’s always good for writers to quote Scripture in their work, especially if they are agnostic, like me. Not only does it make you feel cool, but it shows the world that, though you have risen above (see what I did there?) the fiction of myth-based theology, you still glean meaning from the metaphor and underlying philosophical lesson. It also helps you feel relevant, edgy, superior and clever. You basically can’t lose with it.

****Peck talks about love in his groundbreaking book, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. In the book, he defines love as such: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” That definition blew my mind and changed my life when I read it [muffle, muffle] years ago. It seemed the perfect antidote to the disturbing existential truth encapsulated in the first sentence in the book: “Life is difficult.”

*****Don’t quote me on this, but I think the dude from Nazareth’s name was Jesus. His take on hitting and cheeks can be found in Luke 6:29. I also think that after his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, Jesus gave his followers a new commandment that cancelled out all the other commandments. It was something like, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) And, you know, that’s just stuff about love from the Christian tradition, which I grew up in and with which I am most familiar. My understanding from pals who’ve grown up in and/or practice other traditions is that their dudes pretty much say the same thing.

******Vocalization that accompanies the “Simian Step,” invented circa 1975 by Michael Arthur Popham and Wilmont Jame True III. This primitive dance was intended to convey joyful excitement, particularly as it related to all things PLANET OF THE APES. The dance consisted primarily of Popham and True jumping up and down on someone’s bed and shouting “Ooo! Ooo! Yah! Yah!” at the top of their lungs, much to the dismay of parents and siblings, or anyone within a half-mile radius. Over time, the dance, itself, diminished in prominence, leaving only the call remaining. Today, the call is used in moments when the caller wants to convey a general feeling of joy, excitement or approval.

Leave the guns at home

So…something happened yesterday that really got to me.  I pondered whether I should say something about it in a public forum.  Was torn, really, because I was afraid to say something about it, for fear of possible backlash.

This morning, though, I realized I HAD to say something.  I had to put it out there.  It’s my responsibility (not to sound too hokey) as a citizen.  It’s also my responsibility as a parent.

So I started with this post to Twitter, which bounced over to Facebook:

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I have been scared to look at both sites all morning for fear of the reposes I might get for posting it.  Fortunately, the comments have all been very supportive.

My good friend, Rob, who hails from the other side of center from me on the political spectrum, had a great comment.  I always respect his input and perspective, and this morning it made me realize that a LOT of people probably feel the way I do.  People from all over the political spectrum, by the way, who are probably afraid to say anything.

So in response to Rob’s comment, I said what you see below.  I’ve wanted to say it for a long time.  It is my opinion, based on my understanding of our Constitutional rights and responsibilities.  It is also what my heart tells me.  Here goes:

I’m with you, Rob. I am definitely NOT anti-gun. I went through gun safety as a kid, I’ve hunted and think it’s okay if people own guns. That’s not the issue. The issue is one of public safety. I am not ashamed to say that it really scared me. I have no idea how stable this guy is, and he’s sitting there with a big frown on his face and a Glock on his belt. AND THERE WERE KIDS IN THE STORE!

Not sure what happened in Chicago this past weekend. Did I miss something?

Anyway…there has to be some way to bring sanity to our collective take on guns and their presence in our society. The 2nd Amendment, though it uses the word “bear” with respect to “arms”, doesn’t explicitly state or even imply that citizens have a “right” or should feel free to carry guns anywhere and everywhere they want. The amendment qualifies the usage of this “bearing” of “arms”, anyway, to ensure the republic (not an individual, not a fraction of the citizenry, not a group that disagrees with the democratically elected officials in office) has a well-armed militia as “being necessary to the security of a free state.” One can pick that apart all one wants, but there is no implication there that individual citizens–in order to participate in a pro-state (meaning in defense of the republic as our democratically elected officials have designed, organized and manage it) militianeed to HAVE THEIR GUNS WITH THEM AT ALL TIMES! It should be enough that people can own guns, which they have a right to do in this country. The right to bear arms is NOT infringed upon. And the Constitution, itself, DOES imply that the only time citizens should “bear” these “arms” is, well, when the government tells them to.

The act of flaunting guns, however, is not a right, nor is it protected by our Constitution, in my opinion.

There was no threat to our state at the bookstore, nor did this man’s country (as represented by our elected officials) call upon him to bring his gun to bear for the protection of our nation. As such, the gun should have been left at home where it belongs.

Self protection is not a 2nd Amendment right. It is, however, every citizen’s Constitutional responsibility to “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.” This being true, it is most UN-American, in my view, to willfully and wantonly disregard and degrade other citizens’ sense of safely and security in favor of some selfish notion that “I want to carry a gun, so I should be able to.” Taking care of and looking our for each other–above all–are the premises upon which our republic was built. THAT is American.

Leave the guns at home.

My top five memories of Moose


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1. Singing “Consider Yourself” as a duo in fifth grade. I had no idea who Roland Sigurdson was until Ms. King said I should do a duet with him at some districtwide talenty-thingy. I played Artful Dodger to his Oliver. Of course, it foreshadowed our honest-to-goodness “Oliver!” experience a couple years later. Most important, though, it was the time I met this farm kid from North Branch. He was goofy and funny and liked all the stuff my other pals (Michael Popham and DL Anderson) liked. He was our kinda cool. All the rest of us guys knew that once 2013 came along, and the world was destroyed, we were gonna beat it outta here…headed “Beyond the Stars” on the Centauri 3. We never, ever considered adding another guy to the crew…until we met that kid, Roland Sigurdson. There was never a question, and he hopped onboard with gusto.

2. Hanging out on the couches in the theatre workroom during our “study hall” (Thanks, Hanover [aka Deanna Lindenfelser]) and lunch. All of us guys would sit around and give each other endless shit. Insults were our second language…it was (and still is) the official language of our brotherhood. Even then, I knew whiling away the hours razzing Roland about being a “social leper” and thinking girls were “sissy boys” was about the most fun I’d ever have in my life. And that even if time and space separated us, these guys would always be my family.

3. Singing “Elivra” at the CHS talent show. Shit…we wanted to have nothing to do with that, but these other guys (I can’t even remember their names anymore) really wanted to do it, and they didn’t have enough people. And Mrs. McDonald was very convincing (read: guilt trip). Our one stipulation: Roland and I demanded that we got to wear bandanas over our faces…like outlaws. I can’t even begin to quantify the amount of junk the other kids threw at us on the stage, nor can I count how many insults were flung at us. But I do know that we had waaaaay more fun than we would admit to anyone else.

4. When all us guys resumed playing Traveller…this time “with beer!” We were all in our late 30s by then, and I was thinking about how much I missed my brothers. So we stocked up on supplies (i.e., steaks, chips, coffee, cigars, and lots and lots of beer) and rendezvoused at Roland’s posh North Branch lair. It was the night of galactic debauchery and “tri-breasted” women (you had to be there…or not). And the next morning, which was even better, as we all sat around and read the Minneapolis Tribune papers Roland had salvaged from his attic. They were the insulation for his ancient abode. We all parked on the floor of his living room, drinking coffee David had conjured from his mad scientist vacuum coffee contraption. The four of us shared articles we’d read, time traveling together through the 1930s. It was one of those transcendent conversations, where you analyze and solve all the world’s problems. We were a veritable think thank that morning. I remember what a perfect moment it was…how much I didn’t want it to end. How much I respected these three guys. How smart and cool they were, and how much I was honored to be part of this little band.

5. Roland, Mike and me…and the mystery of MOOLATTE! One August weekend, about 10 years ago, David couldn’t make it to one of our weekend retreats at Roland’s farm. It was just the three of us. For some reason, we ran to Walgreens in town and bought pipe tobacco and corncob pipes and decided to smoke ’em all night long. Oh yeah, and then there was the matter of beer. All night, the three of us played out this movie we were making up on the fly: MOOLATTE! Most of the scenes existed as an excuse to yell out the line, “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT MOOLATTE!!!” This cracked us up to no end. There is photographic evidence of this, in the form of grainy, black and white “movie stills” I shot with my Nokia. I will spare you the actual visuals. I can’t remember much more about the movie story, except someone got impaled on a pitchfork as they made love with Charlize Theron. It was a classy movie. I do remember, though, that it was another of those moments when I thanked God for these guys. For their creativity and intellect. For their ability to play and be silly. In your 30s and 40s, that is a balm on your life. It sure was for me.

AND A BONUS!

6. Another Traveller weekend…though I think ZOMBIES!!! had supplanted Traveller by then. We were at Mike’s place this time, and Roland needed to bug out early the next day. All night he wouldn’t tell us why, no matter how much we razzed him. It was maddening. He wouldn’t crack. The next morning, he was acting “weird.” It suddenly hit us. “Moose…do you have a, a date?” His blushing said it all. He was going on a ski date with this gal he’d met through his work with the DNR. Her name was Stacey. We hadn’t met her yet, obviously, but we already knew her. She was the girl Roland was gonna marry. It was right there on his face: contentment, happiness. Of course, we weren’t gonna let him get off that easy, so all through breakfast we made fun of him about it. (“I thought you still thought girls were sissy boys?!?”) That was our way. But after he left, a quiet settled over the rest of us. I remember smiling, truly glad for my friend.

– – – – –

I don’t know how much more I can say.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve thought a lot about the movie, STAND BY ME. About how much that movie is about my friends and me. Those kids were us. Roland would hate the idea that the rest of us thought of him as Vern, but Vern turned out to be the coolest of ’em all. And he grew up to be Jerry McConnell…so get over it, Moose!

As I think about my friend, Roland, today, I keep coming back to the scene where Gordy sees the deer while everyone else is sleeping. “The freight woke up the other guys and it was on the tip of my tongue to tell them about the deer,” Older Gordy says. “But I didn’t. That was the one thing I kept to myself. I’ve never spoken or written about it until just now.” As I trace the path of my journey with Roland Sigurdson, there is so much more that I could say…but I kinda just want to sit here quietly and be with the memories. Because they are precious and fleeting. And they are all I or any of us have now.

That, and I find myself at a loss. What can I say, except I am so very fortunate that I got to be Roland’s friend? So lucky that I got to be a part of his life, his tribe. And that I got to know him.

I can tell you that he was the kindest person I ever met. I can tell you that he was a creative and goofy and admirable and inquisitive man. I can tell you he struggled at times to find his place in this world, and felt overshadowed at times by the rest of us in all our arrogance and insecurity. And I can tell you he succeeded beyond any of the rest of us.

And still, he was so much more than that, even. Our friend Mike wrote, “He was the best sort of friend you could ever hope to have, one of those rare people of truly sterling integrity. He really did leave the world a better place than he found it.” I can’t say it any better.

I can tell you I miss my friend. I feel for his beautiful wife and daughter, and his family and other friends, as they miss him so terribly, too. It’s strange. It’s not like death hasn’t touched my life before in profound ways, but today I feel a mourning I haven’t experienced before. A Moose-shaped hollowness in my gut.

Godspeed, Moose, as you blaze the trail “Beyond the Stars.” I love you.

ROLAND E. SIGURDSON

1965-2014

I’m a dreamer, and I’m a schemer

Dear Internets, Thank you.

When I was 15, my brother, Gene, gave me a mixtape for Christmas. The tape blew my musical world wide open. On it was the likes of Nick Lowe and Jim Steinman. And, of course, it introduced me to the master, himself, Elvis Costello. It was “Beyond Belief.” (See what I did there?) My life was never the same.

I eventually wore that poor tape out.

None of the songs on the tape, however, connected to me as deeply as the second song on the A-side of the tape. It became something of a theme song for me. It’s kinda funny that the title is Pity the Poor Boy, as I never saw the song as anything but optimistic. At the very least, I thought it celebrated spunk and moxie, which is what I was (and still am, I guess) all about.

As a Minnesota farm kid, pre-Internet, I had no idea who Alan Price was, and I never thought to ask Gene who the guy was that was singing the song (which at that time, I also had no idea what the title was, so I called it “Going Under”).

It took a number of years of nearly constant play in my car cassette player for the tape to die.  But die, it did.  In spectacular fashion, the tape broke and spewed out the front of the player as I was driving to work one morning.  It was all crinkled and bent and torn.  There was no fixing it.  Poof! No more tape, and no more song.

I missed my song, but it didn’t feel like a big deal.  I figured I’d ask Gene about it, and then I’d find it on CD somewhere. When I finally inquired, though, Gene had no idea what I was talking about. He couldn’t for the life of him place the song or the artist.

Shit! Now, mourning set in. It felt like a friend had died.

But at least I had the memory, right? The song never completely left me. It still buoyed me in tough times, those when I thought I was a “lonely boy who’s going under.” In the absence of any recording, I did what humans did in the olden days, before all this technological rigamarole. I sang it. In the shower, in my car, wherever I needed it. Sometimes just for the fun of it. Sometimes softly to myself, as an invocation. Sometimes loud and angry, like I was yelling at God. Any way and any time I needed it, the song was always right there. In my lowest moments, this song would still lift me up.

That was all well and good, but I really wanted to hear it again. More appropriately, I longed to hear it again.  For. Years.

Upon the advent of Yahoo! and then “The Google,” I would occasionally type in some of the lyrics. It never worked, but the search led me on some interesting wild goose chases…to books I’ve cherished, to other songs I’ve enjoyed, to articles that miraculously provided the “just in time” guidance I needed in the moment. In looking back now, I guess that’s another gift the song gave me.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself really needing my song. Nothing earth-shattering, just the garden variety disappointment that’s part of my chosen profession. Every once in awhile, though, you find yourself momentarily worn thin, or getting your hopes up about a particular possibility. In this case, it was a little of both. It was a week where the hits just kept coming, and they were painful ones. When I woke up that Saturday morning, the shock had worn off, and I all I was left with was the sinking “What the hell do I do now?” feeling.

It’s in these times that my first step is always to call out to the Google gods in hopes they will bless me with a link to my song this time. It’s never, of course, about actually finding the song because the song is nowhere to be found.  In fact, over the years, I began to wonder if the song really existed outside my own mind.  Maybe it was all my imagination.  I created the song and somehow had convinced myself that there was this tape and…  Okay…don’t go there.

Really, what the search had become was the first step to finding the answer to the life question that weighed on me at the time.  It was a reminder that the best answer usually came from the inside.

This time was no different. Except…

In the past, I had always typed in the first lyrics in the song. I had gotten into such a habit of focusing on that part of the piece, that I never thought to go deeper. I’d play around with strings and key words that went a little further in the piece, but that’s it. This morning, though, as I hummed the song lightly to myself, I had an epiphany. O! The irony!

In the search box, I typed: I’ll try anything yes I’ll do most anything to really make it lyrics. I hit Enter.

And there is was. After twenty years searching.

I wasn’t crazy.  I hadn’t imagined it.

I found a page to the song lyrics. And that’s when I learned that the real title and the artist. A quick search of the song title, artist and “YouTube” later, and…viola!

I coulda kicked myself.

I gotta say, I almost didn’t listen to it. I mean, it’s very strange. I’ve been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life, right? If I listened to the actual song—I mean, what if I had the song on my iTunes?!? Would I still sing it? Would having it somehow diminish its specialness for me?  Would my world implode?

Fuck it. I found an mp3, bought it and downloaded it.

I started to listen to it on my computer, but just couldn’t get into it. I knew what I had to do. I transferred the song over to my iPhone, popped the top down on my car and played the thing as loud as I could—over and over—as I drove around to nowhere in particular. I got to know my song again. Those strings at the beginning that nearly always brought me to tears, the kick-ass piano solo that made my heart swell.  The singer almost yelling out “Oh, I’m a dreamer, and I’m a schemer!” over and over again until the last one, which he holds…and then, in a beautiful glissando, it falls beyond the singer’s range and into nothingness. The experience of hearing to the song again was (surprisingly) everything I remembered it to be.  Everything I hoped it to be.

It’s been a couple of weeks now. I don’t listen to it every day. I don’t want to take having it at my disposal for granted. Barely a day goes by still, however, when it doesn’t play in my head. When it does’t pick me up and guide me. Thankfully, that hasn’t changed. Yet, it’s also nice to sometimes just get lost in the listening and touch base with that kid who fell in love with this song so many years ago. Other times, it’s nice have someone to sing along with me.

So…to Alan Price…thank you. Man…saying that feels lame compared to the impact your song’s had on my life. I don’t know where you are or if you’ll ever read this. And I don’t know if you’re feeling awesome about your life’s work or disenchanted by it all. I hope the former. Regardless, no one needs to pity this boy, because he isn’t poor, and he isn’t lonely. And he’s far from going under. And your song, Mr. Price…your song. Well, let’s suffice to say I’m still dreaming, and I’m still scheming. And your song has played a huge part in that over the years.

And to all the other dreamers and schemers out there…here it is. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it helps you even half as much as its helped me.

Celebrate TRUE LIFE

IMG_1486My awesome wife.

For the past I-can’t-remember-how-many weeks now, my wife’s and my prevailing description for life has been “weird.” At times, we’ve worried calling our life at the moment that would manifest even more weirdness, but we couldn’t help it. Because “weird” is just plain the most apropos word.

Yet, not weird as in “bad.” Just strange. Odd.

The biggest factor in all this has been that my professional life recently has been a study in waiting. And patience. I’ve pretty much clammed up about the happenings in my writing life because a.) nothing’s officially “happened,” and b.) it’s all stuff that people involved really don’t want me talking about until, you know…something “happens.” Yet, there are some really cool things that are right at the finish line, just waiting for someone to say “Yes.” To give the nod to cross the line.

For those of you who know me, “waiting” and “patience” are not strong suits for me. I have, however, done my level best to rise to the occasion. And. Do. Nothing. Allow the process to unfold without mucking around in it. Well…mostly. I’ve mucked a couple of times, but I’m learning to pick my battles better.

Okay…what does all this have to do with my awesome wife and the bottle of sparkling wine in the picture?

Anyone who’s ventured onto the “entertainment industry as career” path knows that it’s a marathon. There are false starts. Setbacks. And mostly being “in the business” feels like nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens until…something happens. I’ve told people for years that despair has got to be the number one reason why people quit the business. It’s hard to stay positive a lot of the time, and unless you’re complete bonkers, pretty much every day you’re asking yourself, “Do I keep going? Can I keep going?” You get frustrated. You get tired. Well…I guess I can only speak for me.  I certainly do.

And after running so long on this marathon path, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not you’re “winning” anymore.

That’s been the weirdness for me lately. I just didn’t know.

The further weird thing is that, if you ask the people around me, they would all cry out in unison, “Hell, yes! You’re winning!” My manger, producers with whom I’m working, friends, people I talk to on the street. They all tell me, “You’re right there, buddy!”

Logically, I know they’re right. I’m in a good space. I’m having a good Hollywood moment that seems like it’s gonna translate into propelling my career to the next big level. I see it, and I am grateful for everyone that has helped me get here. And everything that has happened to put me in this space.

But I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, the “weirdness” was really getting to me. Dragging me down. And it’s odd…I’ve thought more about quitting in the past couple of months than I have in a long time. My friend, Karl, keeps telling me that every other pal of his who’s “made it” has said the exact same thing to him right before they rocketed into the stratosphere. That’s helped. But all I can do is pray he’s right about me. That, in this case, I’m not the exception. Because right now I certainly don’t feel like part of the rule. Ack!

And then…enter my awesome wife.

We’ve made this pact. Don’t over-celebrate. On this path, you can easily do that. There are a lot of little wins along the way that are cool, but they aren’t really real. No one’s written you a check yet, and nothing’s gone into production. They’re hopeful moments…and represent potential and opportunity and forward movement. But they’re not the finish line. One can get caught up, though, in making too much of these incremental steps and start to mistake them for the finish line. That’s the danger of over-celebrating. It can give you a false sense of security, and it can stall you. So we tend to acknowledge hopeful moments but keep our excitement in check…and I keep my ass up and my beak down and keep moving forward.

But, of course, we keep a couple of bottles of sparkling wine in the fridge just in case. For that moment when the call comes in.

When my beloved got in the door from work last night, however, she made an announcement: “We’re gonna open one of our bottles of champagne.”

“Why? Nothing’s happened.”

“That’s not true,” she said as she grabbed the bubbly and started opening it. “I was driving home tonight and thinking about all of this ‘weirdness.’ I think a lot of it is there because we’re not acknowledging what has already happened. Look at where you are, Bill. Look at what you’re doing. Look at what’s happening. You’ve done it. You’ve won, and all that’s left is the living into it.”

She got out two champagne flutes and poured. Then she handed me a glass…and raised her own.

“And tonight I want to toast my amazing husband and all of his success.”

After a speechless moment, I was finally able to raise me own glass.

“Our success.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Our success.” Then she smiled. “Because you can’t do it without me.”

I smiled back. “I know. Nor would I ever want to.”

Then we toasted. And celebrated.

It taught us something. You can’t always wait to celebrate only at the end. Sometimes you have to celebrate the process. And the progress. Not all the time, but sometimes.

To remind yourself. Not your head. To remind your heart.

Life is good.

And it really is the journey that matters. And a great journey is, itself, cause for celebration.

After last night, the weirdness is all gone. We went for a walk this morning in the beautiful sunshine, and all we felt was free. And ready to take on anything.

Here’s to whatever comes next. Cheers!