In defense of Millennials

kidsThe recent activism by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the aftermath of the horrific shooting there has brought to light something I’ve known for awhile now.  Our young people got it going on.  They are civic-minded and passionate.  But they are also compassionate, and what they want is harmonious coexistence in a world where everyone is free to be who they are.  To live and love as they choose without judgement or assault.

Sound familiar?

Over the past few years, as I’ve taught at a collegiate level, I’ve had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with young adults.  The stereotype is that the Millennial generation is coddled.  That they are lazy and that they lack curiosity or drive.  I am telling you now, all that is 100% false, and to espouse it is to do so at your own peril.  They are wide awake, their bullshit detectors are finely tuned, and they don’t give the same shit you did when your parents’ generation judged you.  We can try to hold them back all we want, but know what?  They gonna do it anyway, yo.

And know what else?  I believe that if there is any hope for our species and our planet, this Millennial generation is it.

Are they confused?  Yes.  Do many of them lack the ability to engage in real critical thinking?  Yes.  Do they struggle to problem-solve, especially in emergent or confrontational situations?  Absolutely.

Why?  Because that’s what we, the generation before them, foisted upon them.  Who bubble-wrapped them?  We did.  Who largely ignored them, letting VHS and DVD movies, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and Nintendo and Xbox raise them and as we set out to simultaneously chase our leisure/bliss and prove our own parents’ generation wrong?  We did.  Who fed them the pablum of our own narcissistic obsession to remain ensconced in our childhoods long past actual childhood?  We did.  And when they gobbled all that up—just like we wanted them to—we gave them shit for not having an original thought.  For not taking charge.  For not following our social norms or displaying the etiquette we think they should.

We gave them few rules and virtually no boundaries.  Unlike our parents’ generation did to us, we didn’t really even give them much to push against until they grew into teenagers that were suddenly (and mysteriously!) rebellious and disobedient.  We were largely just…there.  We plopped them on an island, like the kids in Lord of the Flies, and let them figure it out themselves.  So know what they’re doing now?  They’re setting their own rules.  Is it messy?  Sure as hell is.  But they’re figuring it out…without us.

And we kinda hate them for it.

I’m not certain what it is in our human DNA that induces us to eat our young.  Why collective amnesia grips each successive generation, causing them to forget how they felt judged and oppressed for simply doing what human beings have been doing since the dawn of time—for doing what we seem to have been designed to do.  For pushing boundaries.  For moving our species forward.  For championing progress.  And in this forgetting, the former generation belittles, berates, and tramps down the latter instead of encouraging and supporting them.

One of the great pleasures of my teaching experience has been to show each new crop of young people that not all those in my generation are against them.  And to guide them—without judgement—to the tools of critical thinking and problem solving, so they can keep figuring it out.  Not my way.  Their way.  I gladly give them the benefit of my hindsight and experience when they ask for it, but all the while I also reassure them that their very human struggles aren’t weird or abnormal.  That they are all good.

And..?  They’re getting it.  They’re thinkers, these Millennials.  They’re philosophers.  And they’re also innovators.  They are dying to generate new ideas and create.  They just don’t quite get…how.  But they’re beginning to find their voice and learn how to use it.  They’re picking up the ball and running with it.

Listen, I know it sounds like I’m condemning my own generation, but I’m not.  I am, however, saying we are all complicit in propagating a culture where those that follow us are condemned.  Where the mistakes we made as parents are projected as faults upon our children.  Where we retreat to the familiar when we should be celebrating the strides the proceeding generation makes into new, unfamiliar, and even challenging territory.

I’m not going to play the condemnation game anymore, and I encourage everyone in my generation to do the same.

We should be supporting our Millennials.  We should be defending them with our lives.  They are the future.  For us.  For our progeny.  For our species.  And I believe they’re onto something.  They really want to save the world.  I think we should help them.

Make a promise

image1Thank you.  I really appreciate the outpouring of support for my “On despair and writing” post last week.  It was both gratifying and comforting to see it connected with so many people.  Thanks again for giving it a read!  I’m glad it helped many of you.

In response to the post, I got messages from people asking me what specific, everyday advice I had with respect to juggling one’s writing and personal lives at the same time.  Here’s my stab at trying to at least begin the conversation.

I hear so many people say they “can’t find time to write.”  Of course, they can’t.  If you’re always “looking” for time to write, something else that seems more urgent is always going to get in the way.  That’s because when you take the attitude that writing is something you need to “find” time for, you’ve already relegated it to a position of low priority in your daily life.  You’ve already decided.  It’s simply not that important to you, and unless you’re pushing against some external deadline, everything is always going to feel more urgent than writing.

But that’s not the way most writing works.  You can’t wait for or rely on external motivators because the vast majority of the time they’re not there.  Writing is most often solitary creation for creation’s sake.  It’s a discipline, which means the importance assigned to it and motivation to accomplish it comes from within.

The key, in my opinion, is a change in terminology, which, in turn, transforms intention.  Tell yourself, “I need to make time for writing.”  Carve it out of your day.  Make writing the most important thing you need to accomplish that day.  I said to an aspiring writer pal of mine on Twitter the other day, “Writers write.”  They do it when it’s inconvenient.  They do it to the detriment of other things on their to do list that day.  They do it as a first priority.  They plan their days around it…not vice versa.

Listen…I get it.  I’m not saying anything new here.  But writers that write say this same thing over and over again because it’s one of the fundamental aspects of the craft.

Does that work for me every day?  No.  Of course not.  Some days the rest of life necessarily takes precedence.  Some days resting my mind and body and soul is the best thing for me and my writing.  Starting each day with the intention that my most important priority is to carve out time to write, however, puts the choice to do the work in pole position in my daily planning.

Take today.  Today is a jam-packed day for me.  After not getting home until midnight last night, I got up this morning to see my wife off at the airport.  I have a meeting with an author in literally an hour to talk about a possible new TV project, and I head off to work on the play I’m directing (that opens Friday…yay!) right after that.  I will be immersed in all that until about 11 pm tonight.

I’m not bragging about my busy day.  What I am saying, though, is my first consideration this morning was carving out time to sit down and write this blog post, which represents the sum total of my writing output today (because what I said above).  I promised myself I’d get at least 500 words out today, and I promised myself I’d get this blog post out before the end of the week.  Well, as of now, I’m at about 600 words, and here’s the post.  I kept my promise.

Because that’s how I’ve come to view my writing work…as a promise kept to myself.  To do the work.  To move my aspirations and career forward.  To put words on the page.  To make my voice heard.  To contribute to the dialogue.

We can talk about what “writing everyday” means and what happens when you’re staring at an empty page and nothing’s coming another time.  For now, just make a promise to yourself.  And keep it.  Each day.

On despair and writing

A pal of mine who got his MFA in screenwriting from UCLA talks more about one lecture than any other when he reminisces about his time in the program.  Apparently, it’s a lecture that legendary UCLA screenwriting professor Howard Suber gave every year, and students present and past—some A-list writers—crowded into the classroom to hear it again and again.  To be reminded.

The subject of the lecture was “Despair.”  The upshot: it’s the number one killer of a writing career, budding or blossomed.  Here’s the other thing: it happens to everyone.  All writers experience despair over their writing, their careers, their writing life.  At times, they’re crippled by it.  The trick, of course, is to not succumb to it.

I guess the solution really is that straightforward.  But if my time and experience on this earth have taught me one thing, it’s that just because something is simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If you’re looking for a quick guide to avoiding or overcoming despair in this blog post, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed.  I don’t know how to avoid it, and I think the process of overcoming it is as personal as writing, itself.  This post is about acknowledging it.

I appreciate Suber’s lecture not only because he feels despair is so prevalent in a writer’s life it deserves an entire lecture dedicated to it, but also because writers of all stripes and at all levels of achievement flock to the lecture.  On a related note, one of the few things I appreciate about Twitter is other writers—especially working writers—who are courageous enough to  acknowledge and talk about their feelings of despair.  It lends credence to my own feelings.  It gives me solace.  It reminds me that I’m not alone or abnormal or a failure because I experience despair.  In fact, it shines a light on a fundamental truth about writing that evaded for years and freakin’ years.

Despair isn’t a breakdown in the writing process.  Despair is part of the writing process.

Here’s a weird thing about my own despair.  Yes, it tends to show up when I am already sad about something, and yes, it often sneaks up on me when I am exhausted.  But for me, despair most often shows up in what seems to me a very strange time…when I am on the verge.  When I’m about to step up to the next level.  It’s the meeting or the sending off the script and then the waiting to hear what comes of it.  It’s not all the time, though.  It’s the big moments that really get me.  It’s stronger the closer I get to a real breakthrough.  I remember telling my UCLA pal last year—literally in the same conversation I told him we’d just attached a kick-ass star to a TV pilot I wrote, and our target cable network was interested in the project—that I’d thought about quitting writing more over the course of that year than I ever had before.  At a time when most people would say all I had was “good problems.”

I know, for me, the feeling is partly the product of time.  And by “time” I mean the long haul.

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve made a living at writing for going on fourteen years now.  It’s officially the longest career I’ve ever had.  In that time, I’ve kept a roof over my family’s head, kept cars in the driveway, paid my bills, and sent kids through college.  I’ve developed lots of cool projects with lots of cool people.  I know how blessed I am to be able to even say that because I also know countless others who have striven longer and harder than I have aren’t so lucky.  But to date I’ve only had one thing (in the narrative space, at least) produced.  To top it off, nearly five years ago, at an age that would be considered quite sub-optimal to make a radical shift in one’s writing career and just as I was really getting my feet under me in the features arena, I abandon features to focus full time on breaking into writing for TV.  I feel great about that decision because the dream was always to write for TV.  The move, however, kicked the goalpost out farther for me.  What I’m trying to say is, though I’ve had breaks as a writer and have been lucky enough to make a living as a screenwriter for awhile now, I would not classify myself as someone who’s “broken through.”  Someone once told me that anyone can be an overnight success in Hollywood…and it takes about 10-15 years.  If that’s the case, I’m still a late bloomer.

I know about the long haul and the all-too-familiar so-close-yet-so-far cycle of elation followed by deflation when the thing you’re certain will push you over the line either a.) doesn’t come to fruition, or b.) doesn’t push you over the line after all.  A couple years ago, I was having lunch with a producer who said to me, “Wow…you’re, like, one Deadline headline away from really breaking through.”  I know he meant that as a compliment, but the statement kind of gutted me.  It reminded me of how much time I’d been pushing this rock up the hill, only to have it roll back down again.  How much life force I’d given to the endeavor.  How much I’d given up over years and years to keep in the game.  I’m not gonna lie…after the meeting, I sat in my car and cried for nearly an hour.  It all felt so…futile.

I mean, it’s embarrassing.  Yes, I know it takes a long time, if it ever happens at all.  But damn!  To have been at it this long, when so many others have broken through much faster than—

Okay…that’s one thing I knew I had to shut down ASAP.  Yes, I can’t help feeling the emotion of embarrassment.  I can’t even help feeling a little jealous for my friends and colleagues—even as I cheer them on and genuinely congratulate them—when they succeed.  I’m human.  And I guess I’m going to worry that I got too late a start and I’m too old to be only as far as I am no matter what my better angels have to say on the matter.  But letting it get to me was going to kill me as a writer.

That’s when I realized talking about despair was so important.  Giving voice to it.  Getting it out.  Exorcising it.  Giving it over to the collective.  Listening.  Hearing them as they give voice to their own doubts, to their own despair.  This is when I understood the value of speaking out about it.  Not to grouse, but to look at it.  To acknowledge it.  To friends and to the world.  To do so without worry that others will think you’re weak, or that it will somehow turn people off and derail progress you’ve worked so hard to make.

Because giving voice to it is the only way you learn the truth.  Everyone.  Feels.  It.  Everyone struggles with it.  That’s when you realize you’re not the exception.  You’re the rule.  Working through despair is part of all writers’ journeys.

Of course, knowing that isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s something.  It sure took the edge of for me this past year.

On top of that, reading tweets from Eric Heisserer in a moment when he was struggling with his own despair last year (after winning an Oscar, no less!).  Reading a response from Paul Feig to an aspiring writer who asked for advice for someone that feels like giving up, when Paul responded, “Don’t.  Never.  Never give up.  Don’t even consider it.  Don’t let negativity win.”  And finally, from one of my fave TV writers, Gennifer Hutchinson, when she reminded everyone to “Run your own race.”  Seeing that these writers, all of whom I respect greatly, struggled or understood the struggle helped give me strength.  And something else happened.  My despair transformed from a defect in my own personality to a something of a badge of honor.  “If I’m feeling it, I’m part of the club.”  In a strange, upside-down way, it made me feel more “real” as a writer.  Because writing is hard.  Even more, if you subscribe to Thomas Mann’s view, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

And here’s an interesting tidbit.  This past year, as I spent much of that time as a writer in despair…  When all the hurdles seemed so big, when I was exhausted from working two full time jobs (I also teach screenwriting), when I (like many of us) felt disheartened and discouraged at the direction our country and culture was headed.  When getting up and sitting in front of my keyboard was an act of will.  When actually tapping keys was even more arduous.  …it was also one of my most productive years as a writer.


Why?  I think it’s  because during that time, one thought kept running through my mind.  It showed up nearly every day, and it would often find its way to my lips and out into the world.  I kept saying, “I must really love writing.”  Each time I said it, it surprised me.  It was something of a revelation.  After awhile, though, I understood the real message underneath the message.  When everything else was stripped away.  When I set aside my hopes and expectations about my writing “career,” and when all there was left was the singular act of creation, I still enjoyed it.  That was the thing that got me up in the morning.  And when I got to the end of something…a line, an exchange, a scene, a script…I was reminded that these are moments when I feel most alive.  Most in tune with humanity.  Most plugged into the Universe.  Awash in gratitude for this thing I get to do.

This is a good thing to remember.

And here’s the kicker.  I don’t think I would have gotten there without my despair.  The darkness was a pathway to the light.

Over the past few weeks (and this weekend especially), I’ve have been revisited by despair.  It hasn’t been overwhelming, but it made for a rocky road yesterday.  Then again, I am tired.  Life’s been a little over-the-top lately.  And I’m a little sad over the death of my best friend a few weeks ago.  And, of course, I’m waiting to hear back on a couple big things I’ve got brewing.  All of this, I’ve come to accept, makes fertile ground for despair to take root.  I get that now, and I’m not shocked when I find myself wallowing in it.

In fact, yesterday that made me feel a little…relieved..?  Right.  My old pal, despair, reminding me that I am, above all, a writer.  So okay…maybe I’m not gonna write Shakespeare because I am not feeling too hot today, but dammit…I’m a writer.  So let’s do something.  I sat down in front of my computer and pulled up a script I’d written awhile back and wasn’t so sure about.  I’d pretty much given up on it.  Within the hour, I’d printed out a copy and was editing.  Madly.  By late afternoon, I got to the end and realized, “Wait!  I think I have something here.”  By the end of the day, I emailed it off to my manager to get his feedback.  This thing I thought I’d never show anyone.

So here is my take on despair: I’ve learned to neither avoid it nor try to overcome it.  I welcome it.  I feel gratitude for it, even though it doesn’t feel too great in the moment.  And so, to my despair, I say, thank you for being part of the process and for helping me feel the import of this work I do.  Thank you for being the reminder that I am making progress, and thank you for being a beacon that helps me find the way to the other side when worry and insecurity takes hold.  And thank you for your presence in my writing life.

Saying goodbye

The service is done, and Lori and I are waiting at the airport. Heading home. Exhausted…physically and emotionally, but glad to have had the opportunity to spend the day with so many people who also loved Jack.

There is much, I assume, that I will write about Jack in the future. So much I want to say. For now, here is the text of the eulogy I gave for Jack earlier today.

– – – –

When Rick asked if I’d like to say a few words, he couldn’t even get the question out before I’d blurted, “Yes! Please!” But then came my question: “So this thing’s only three hours, right? Because I could go on for three weeks about Jack and barely scratch the surface.”

But when it came to putting my thoughts down, I was at a loss. And if you know me, you know that’s a rarity. How do you encapsulate the magnitude of this loss? I can’t. Because in each of our lives, Jack Boniface wasn’t one thing. He was everything. To me he was friend, family, brother, uncle to my kids, Mac guru, movie buddy, connector, mentor, supporter, confidant. Those are just the things I can think of off the top.

But I can tell a little story. It won’t be as colorful or buoyant or educational as one of Jack’s stories, and certainly not as fantabulous, either. But it’s the story of the first time I met Jack.

It was on a film set, of course. I was there at the invitation of the DP for the production, a concept trailer for a project Jack’s friend, Barry, was trying to launch. I was there to observe, when all of a sudden some guy barges up to me: “What’re you doing?” I’m a little taken aback because I was trying to stay out of the way and be invisible. “I’m observing,” I say. To which he replies, “This is indie filmmaking. There’s no observing. Everyone pitches in.” Then he points to a box: “Grab that thing and follow me.”

I had no idea what exact job this guy had on the production, except that apparently, he did…well, everything. And he didn’t stop talking. He explained every single thing about every aspect of the production process. It was like a master class…that went on until three in the morning. And as I headed to my car, he jogged up to me… “See you tomorrow, right? We’re shooting all weekend. You don’t want to miss it.” My head was spinning as I drove away. But the next day, there I was, back again.

That was it. With Jack, you were never sort of his friend. It was full-throated, slammin’-jammin’ friendship. And before you knew it, this guy was family. You could barely imagine a time he wasn’t part of your life, and you certainly couldn’t imagine a time he might not be there anymore.

I can’t begin to explain what a debt of gratitude I owe the Universe for putting Jack in my path that day. For Jack in my life. When I got back into writing, it was his voice—actually, email…extra-heavy on the exclamation points—that gave me the confidence to pursue it professionally. It was his shoulder I cried on when my first wife was struggling in her cancer journey, and I didn’t think I could carry on another day. And his words that gave me the strength to keep going. When my life took a surprising and wonderful turn nine years ago, when my wife, Lori, and I found each other again after 24 years—a change that would take me over 2,000 miles away from my friend—he was the first one to say, “Bubber, you gotta do this.” And there’s a million more things I simply don’t have time or emotional fortitude to cover. All I can say is I have a great life, doing the things I love, wrapped up in love. Every day. When I look back on it all, every good thing in my life today has, in some way, shape or form, Jack’s imprint on it.

So one more story.

When I got Rick’s message about Jack’s passing, I was in the middle of rehearsal for a play I’m directing. Now, you need to know that last summer, when Jack I had a rare lazy day hanging out together on the banks of the Mississippi, drinking beer and eating pizza and talking about literally everything, I told Jack I was thinking of backing out of directing this play. I had too much going on and was worried I wouldn’t do the production justice. Again…”Bubber, you gotta do this. You have to!” Actually, I think that was prefaced with a “Are you out of your freakin’ mind?!?” And punctuated with one of Jack’s patented “Pull your head out” looks.

Well, that was that. I was gonna direct the play. There were no two ways about it.

Anyway, the message popped up on my phone in the middle of my cast running a scene. As soon as I saw it, grief washed over me. I contemplated stopping the scene and ending rehearsal. Hiding away. Screaming. Crying. I didn’t know what to do in that moment. But then I heard our Jack’s voice, plain as day. “Bubber. The show must go on.” Of course. Of course, it must. So my cast kept acting, and rehearsal kept going. Because that was Jack. What he demanded. What he’d do. No one that night had any idea what had happened. And the cast…freakin’ rocked rehearsal. I could see Jack smile. That heavy-lidded, nodding one. Looking upward, corners of his mouth slightly turned up. Blissful. Knowing. Ascendant.

A part of me is devastated that I won’t hear Jack’s voice in person anymore. That I won’t be able to sit next to him in a movie theatre. To hear him tell one of his stories, even for the umpteenth time. To grab him up in a bear hug and tell him I love him. I know you’re all feeling it, too. Because each and everyone person here loved him—and was loved by him just the same as I was.

But I also know this. We are Jack’s legacy. And the show must go on. In the midst of this overwhelming sadness, that idea makes me smile a little. That he gets to live on in the millions of little and not-so-little ways he changed my life. Changed all of our lives. Because life was just better with Jack in it. And for the rest of my days, as the show continues on without our most beloved of players, I will remember his lessons, pay forward his love. Because one day, this guy came up to me on a film set. Thank God for that. And it changed my life forever.

Big love, small package

It seems strange that it should take me so long to get this out.  Then again, maybe not.  Important and impactful things tend to take their time.  They require processing.  They require quiet introspection.  They deserve a bit of reverential silence, which, in this day and age, is unfortunately rare.

On the other hand, with everything swirling around in the world these days, to be so thoroughly affected by such a (deceptively) small thing seemed kind of silly.  But there I was.  Completely invested, all-in…and ultimately undone.

Back in July, we were blessed with a new family member.  A tiny and malnourished kitten our son, Casey, brought home from work.  Some maintenance guys had found him parked on a log with his eyes pasted shut from infection.  Sitting in the sun.  Abandoned.  Waiting for the inevitable end to his short and difficult existence.

He could barely walk when Lori brought him home.  He was probably a month or so old at the time, but he weighed a half-pound or less.  He was skeletal.  He was a mess.  In spite of that, he was alive.  And I don’t mean in the mere physiological sense.  He was bright and engaged and wanted to be playful.  And he was so affectionate and loving.

They say love sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it.  Man, oh man.  Are they right.  He had us at hello.  We named him Bucky.

Bucky had some difficulty the day after we got him.  He wasn’t eating, and–after rallying the night before–now he was sluggish and struggling.  I was on deadline, but working from home, so I spent the next couple days force-feeding him kitten formula by dropper and holding him on my lap as I wrote.  It was one of those touch-and-go things.  We brought him into the vet the third day in because we weren’t sure he was going to make it.  The vet said we were doing everything we could, and that time would tell.  In the meantime, he gave us antibiotic ointment to clear up Bucky’s eye infection and sent us on our way.

The next day, Bucky opened his eyes wide.  The infection had cleared, and for the first time we could really see them.  Bright.  Inquisitive.  And by that time, entitled.  This was his home.  We were his people.  He was king of all he surveyed.  And he was large and in charge, though luckily, he was a benevolent leader.  At night, he refused to sleep on the floor.  He insisted on sleeping with his head on my pillow, purr-snoring in my ear.

Geeze.  I was toast.

For the next few days, a whiff of anxiety hung in the air.  Neither Lori nor I could give voice to it, but it was there.  “What if he doesn’t make it?”  Then again, hour-by-hour, he was getting better.  Day-by-day he was stronger, bigger, more playful.  We got him on a Tuesday night.  By the following Monday, it seemed like he was out of the woods.  Our tiny guy was eating on his own and running around our bedroom like a champ.

And after he’d played himself out, he’d crawl up onto my shoulder and collapse.  Purring.  Loud.  Content.

The next day, I played with him in the morning and then had to head out do get some work done.  Around 1:30 in the afternoon, I got a text from Lori.  Bucky wasn’t eating (by this time, we had him on semi-solid food).  Could I pick up some more kitten formula replacer on my way home?

I got there an hour later, and he seemed fine.  I fed him a little–back to the dropper, but he lapped it all up.  So…good.  He crawled up on my lap, and we played for a few minutes, and Lori and I chatted as he rested for a bit.

When Bucky tried to get back up, his back legs wouldn’t work.  He flopped around, trying to stand.  He was frustrated and confused because he wanted to play some more and didn’t understand what was happening to him.  We didn’t, either.  But we knew we had to do something…immediately.  Fortunately, the vet was three blocks away from our house.  We hopped in the car and were there within five minutes.

The doctor we’d seen a few days before was on duty.  As soon as he saw us, he ushered us into an exam room.  By this time, Bucky was really struggling.  Something was terribly wrong.  The best case scenario, according to the vet, was his glucose level was low.  Due to Bucky’s size (and considering he hadn’t eaten much that day), it was a fine line between enough to function, and too little.  Too little could cause the type of reaction he was experiencing now.

Of course, there was a host of other things it could be, but we couldn’t begin to contemplate all that.  The vet tried to give Bucky a glucose injection in the exam room, but he fighting too much.  The doctor took him into the next room to get assistance from the vet tech.

He was literally just around the corner.  And it was only a few minutes.  When he stepped back into the room, he was solemn.  His eyes were misty.  All he could say is, “I’m so sorry.”

Bucky.  Our tiny guy.  He was gone.

I lost it.  I surprised even myself at tsunami of sobs that overcame me.  Wave after wave.  Spasms that gripped me, squeezed the air right out of me.  And then let go, filling my lungs again for the next wave.

After that, I was spent.  I haven’t felt that emptied in a long time.  We road home in silence.  Without Bucky.  A piece of our hearts had been left behind at the veterinarian’s office.

I thought about posting something about Bucky’s passing on social media, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  For one, every time I thought about him I would break out in tears.  My heart was so thoroughly broken.  I wasn’t even sure what I would say.  How could I begin to convey the magic this tiny little kitten, who was in my life for barely a week, had worked on me?  It seemed simultaneously overwhelming and kind of ridiculous.

But there was another thing.  I wasn’t ready to share the news with the world yet.  I wanted to hold Bucky there for awhile longer.  In my mind and heart, quietly.  Just us.  I wasn’t ready to share the news yet because it would really make it real.  Confirmation that he was truly gone.  And that he wasn’t coming back.

I look over these words now, and they seem inadequate in their conveyance of that tiny kitten’s impact on my life.  I do know this…at a time when I needed to be reminded of the gravity and the soul-deep import of love and loss, Bucky was a Heaven-sent messenger.  I will be forever grateful to him for being that.

Mostly, though, he just planted himself dead-center in the middle of our family.  Right off the bat.  And he reminded all of us of both the immense power of unconditional love and the terrifying fragility of existence on this mortal coil.

I still miss that tiny guy.  But I feel fortunate to have had in my life for even a week.  I am glad he got to experience love and belonging, if even for a short time.  It brings me comfort to know that he passed away wrapped in that love instead of dying alone on some log in the desert.

Even now, I am not sure what more to say.  What more needs to be said.  Except, perhaps, thank you, Bucky.  Thank you for being in our lives and part of our family.  I love you.  I carry you and the lessons of love and life you taught me every day.  And I will do so, I believe, for the rest of my days.


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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.07.16 AM.png

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.