Lucid – Hearts of Vengeance (ch 2)

II – Hearts of Vengeance

 

The desert

Wendyll woke with a mouth full of sand. He hated sleeping prone, really, he hated the resulting stiff neck he’d carry the rest of the day. He rolled himself onto his back, stretching his arms above his head as the moment saturated with the magisterial calm of the desert sunrise.

He appreciated it so much that he zoned out long enough to fall back asleep until he woke up covered in sweat and his own blistered skin.

“Oh… shfok,” he told noone.

At least his neck wouldn’t be as sore. Like a pair of conjoining magic beanstalks, he sprouted up on both feet and brushed all the sand off his washed-out green uniform. In front of him was a massive concrete complex, standing out like a wart on an otherwise pristine face of flat desert sand. Behind him he saw a lot of nothing, and a small dot that seemed to be a shapeless black cloud of mist and smoke.

“Must be 50, maybe 100 miles away,” he remarked, once again to nobody.

Aside from that there was nothing else, nobody else, except his campsite. There were four small animal hide tents placed closely next to eachother. They each had a cross scrawled on their sides in bold black paint.

“Oh, that’s right,” Wendyll really liked talking to himself.

He remembered there were four others. After the last encounter, there was only him.

They had been following a man they all called Vengeance, but his real name was Ryan. Wendyll always figured that if you’re going to have a leader, anything was a better name than Ryan; especially if this man is leading you to the withered heart of the merciless desert.

Wendyll wasn’t the type to get involved in anything. Truth be told, he was lazy, lackadaisical, maybe even a bit of a lunk; all things he’d tell you himself, but he had also never been on a crusade before. He always guessed that was how he ended up in this hellhole, alone and hopeless, but, then again, he couldn’t really remember the beginning of anything.

The only other thing he knew was that he had to proceed forward. That’s what Vengeance wanted, that’s what they had worked for, and now that Vengeance was gone, it was only fitting. He didn’t really care for any of the others.

“Well,” he sniffed, “time t’wrap up.”

He strapped a Red Ryder BB Gun to his shoulder, and jammed a machete between his belt and headed for the massive building.

He reached the entrance and ascended up a couple dozen steps. The doors as massive a spectacle as any, whoever built the complex must have a sort of Pharaoh complex, or at least the same affinity for scale. They were both already open.

The instant he crossed from the outside world to the building, darkness set upon him. He was in a hall, grand and dusted with shadows and sparse paintings of candlelight. Large, rounded stones lined the walls and floor as the air hushed into an approaching chill of freon — a far contrast from the blazing world outside.

Wendyll could see a window at the far end of the hall. The beyonding room was lit; fluorescent and modern. At the center of his view was a robed man in a heavy black cloak with red adornments; standing and motionless. Wendyll couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked as if he might be surrounded by people bowing to him in reverence. A dissonant and constant chorus of humming softly reverberated from the distant room. It was too far away for Wendyll’s eyes to fetch any specifics, but enough distinction remained to recognize that tan face, and thick black mop of hair. That face and the motionless man; Wendyll sensed he was staring right at him, as if the entire cult had been awaiting his arrival.

A bolt of terror crackled through his spine, and that same terror gripped his lungs as his breathing constricted and hardened into a dry panting.

“Damnit Wendyll, what in muddy cripes y’doing?,” he whispered to himself.

Wendyll darted to the far left wall, trying to escape the view of the man beyond. No good. He darted to the other side of the great hall, but it was no use. What awaited him was the centerfold of his vision, and with nothing to obscure him from the paralyzing focus of the room beyond. His instincts set back in and he resorted to what had kept him alive the entire crusade; he ran away.

“Man, what a toet-ul turd,” he chuckled to himself at the thought of a gangly man with toy weapons sauntering into the dark and then beelining back out into the heat. “Enjoy the laugh before y’rot, at least.” His center finger saluted back toward the cult.

The desert scene brought no reprieve. What he once saw as just a campsite, he now interpreted for what it actually was.

“Four tombs.”

He felt a strange tugging sensation in the back of his head, like a gale trying to rip a door open. Everything suddenly felt a little less real, slightly less dire. Wendyll felt something he hadn’t his entire journey. He felt control.

His entire body paused.

“Vengeance. Cocksucker’s still alive.”

He spoke those words not as if they were true, but as if the utterance made them true.

Whether it was always the case, or a new development, the words were true. Vengeance was alive. Memories slipped back into Wendyll’s mind.

“Vengeance is alive, the cult thought they killed him last night.. we were in, we were in a Skyscraper? Vengeance wanted us to fake his death so we could attempt an ambush, our Hail Mary.”

Wendyll was getting excited. Catching himself speaking a bit too loudly near the Hall’s entrance, he scampered back to the campsite. He noticed that the black cloud in the distance had dissipated.

At the tents he discarded the BB gun and machete, and picked up a hardback tome.

Wendyll awkwardly shouted in no general direction. “Ryan! Vengeance, hang tight chap, it’s stars’n stripes from here!,” he didn’t remember which tent had belonged to his leader.

Wasting no time, he scampered back to the hall with his book. Defiantly facing the window to the room ahead, he put the book in both hands and flashed its open pages toward the man in the window.

He held steady; waiting.

After several breathless moments, the archway doors ahead slowly opened, and, like zombies, dozens of people in grey and navy robes clumsily fumbled out the partially opened doors.

He ran up to the first wave and started swatting them with the antiquated tome. With each hit, bits of gossamer flesh and decrepit skin exploded like firecrackers in a July sky. Wendyll couldn’t believe his eyes, or what he was doing to these brainwashed people, but he also could barely see either, each swing of the book emitted a giant cloud of dust and age into the air around him until it swelled into a cloud of chaos and carnage.

As each person approached, Wendyll was inflated with the eponymous feeling of the man who had led him here, each blow like exhaling until the next being violently lunged at him. He remembered everyone of their faces before he smashed them. They all wore the same expression of fear and something else he couldn’t fit into a word, and then with a PWACK they broke apart.

Th’hell’ve you gotten me into, Venge?,” Wendyll cracked a smirk as he said that, proud that he could still be slightly corny given the scene around him.

In the same amount of time it took his facial muscles to tighten into a slim smile he found himself overwhelmed by the flock of dozens swarming him. Just then, he felt compelled to stop fighting, let the book fall out of his hands and permit the swarm carry him into awaiting darkness, and he just about did it.

The pulse struck him again. A bludgeoning shock stemming from the back of his head set the rest of his body into motion, and he scrambled for his life through the glut of human drones trying to rip him apart. The light before him grew, and he was encapsulated with a familiar, unbearable rush of heat as hell outside greeted him.

Hell had never looked so good.

Bones knocked against stone as he slid down the steps feet first. Each rhythm of pain came coupled with doubts as to why he was doing any of this.

“The man ‘snut even a gud leader. Selfish a prick as’ve known, violent to excess..,” he rolled off his hinds as he picked himself up, “f’nut worse, and I dunt r’member the last time he did anything for anyone but he’self.”

There was a certain allure to the man, though. Vengeance might have had his faults, in fact, Vengeance might have only had faults, but something about him just picked away at you and led you to go to awful places and hurt people and do stupid things.

“Shet, this better work.,” Wendyll was in the final stretch of his dash to the tents.

“VENGEANCE! It’s go time mate, c’mon!”

A still wind gently brushed an idle tent.

“This better be some kind of jape, man!”

Nothing, but he had no choice but to keep running as the mob continued trickling out of the complex.

He got to the tents, and opened up the first two he could reach finding nothing but a coffin in each.

“Leave it out,” he muttered in disbelief.

The dissonant hum of the aggrivated cult swelled.

The third tent revealed a crude dirt stairwell that descended at least twenty feet until it was swallowed by the dark beyond.

“Is this you, Venge? This the plan?” He looked back at the giant complex, and at the herd of people chasing him when he saw a small figure calmly emerge from cover of the distant temple. Dark black mop in his hand, he dragged a black and red figure of man-sized slack; the leader.

Through all the distance, Vengeance and Wendyll locked eyes. He spoke, and he could hear him as if he were right next to him.

“You’re awake.”

Awake? Wendyll had his doubts, but even covered in scratches and blood and bruises, he was definitely alive.


This is just a piece of what I wrote for NNWM a couple years back, but never finished. Just more one draft craps, this is an intro chapter set in a never ending sort of shared dreamscape with varying lucidity.

Hail to the Viral Overlords

Part of a longer piece I wrote and half-scrapped inspired by reading the following New Yorker article (and 20 similar articles of other similar people over the past 2 years)

Let’s talk about creating something.

Real influence has to be incubated. An artist can toil away for years in total obscurity until the universe grants them their moment of recognition and notoriety. In most cases, that never comes, but without that investment there can never be a chance to wield true influence.

Virologists, in the social media, web 2.0 sense of the term are like your sleight of hand magicians who impress us by pulling rabbits out of their top hat with metric obsessed gimmickry and unfettered plagiarism, where as the original creators in the world, almost all of which will never enjoy the suffocating reach the ardents of viralism tout, are the Gandalfs and Dumbledores to their Gob Bluth.

On paper, you can’t argue with the value in being able to spread things like wildfire. There is value. The problem is that they couldn’t spread an original idea, merely flint sparks in a drought-dusted forest.

Why, still, are we treating it like the holy grail?

Instead of condemning these people for blatant, rampant theft, and sociopathic obsession with breeding greater numbers, we laud them. We build cult after cult of personality. We want to hire them. “Find us the next code cracking savant!”

Yet, there is nothing definitive that leads us to conclude that the virologists have any long-term staying power.

The true ability of the virologist is the ability to swiftly identify patterns that are popular on a sub to microcultural level and amplify them to a point that the echo chamber obliterates our mental filter much in the way ‘turning the amp to 11’ mutilates ear drums.

While obesity and an addiction to fatty-sugar-laced foods is near-universally ridiculed as the issue, statistically, reaches epidemic proportions, we further slog our collective conscious with greasier, fattier, and sweeter tasting junk food of the mind. And more of it, too.

Tirelessly, we ferry an infinitely long train of drivel into a consciousness already struggling with bandwidth issues.

Sometimes when I see a dog obsessively trying to dig for nothing into a couch, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the beast is performing an interpretive dance of the masochistic human cycle of information ingestion.

The mass-connected mobile world of metrics and A/B tests has given the virologists true power to hone in on the social pulse to the point where they have amassed so much sludge and grime off the floor that, as we iterate from Huffington Post to Buzzfeed to Upworthy to Dose to whatever is next, we’re left alone with a monstrous sludge golem, each one more terrifyingly imposing than the previous.

Real influence, real ingenuity is taking something that the world is neither familiar with nor quite ready to ‘get’ and turning them on to it.

Most ideas that make the most dramatic changes to the world are the riskiest.

My problem isn’t so much with the Church-state of Viralism as much as it is with the misappropriated reverence. A virologist takes oxygen and brings awareness of its existence to any mope they find who already relies on the stuff with each breath.

We already knew, throughout all of human history, that we love cats. We love dogs. We love animals, We love pets so much and everyone should love ours as much as we do. We love grumpy cat. I don’t know if we loved or hated the Taco Bell chihuahua, but the little guy’s burrito sales numbers take Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross and transform him from closer to loser.

Inherently, we knew, yet it wasn’t until we had an instantaneous connection to billions that we had a way to show everyone just how much we loved the little furballs that we understood — to the point where it is ruining it for everyone else.

I don’t believe that virology as we know it can sustain. A couple times a year, we get a new exposé on the newest viral wunderkind. We’ll take a peek into their quirky offices, their lavishly funded, just-barely counter cultured businesses that plan to shake the world up with their latest big ideas, and over time they’ll come and they go.

If anything, we can recognize the Church of Viralism for what it is (in most cases), a stepping stone for high-wired minds that are always looking for the next piece of the world to tap into and hack. Though, for every Jonah Peretti out there, there will be 10 more Eric Baumans (and even Jonah hasn’t proven that he will take Buzzfeed from Viral megachurch to something greater, but I guess I’m putting my money on him ahead of all the others).

Things will always spread, and with the Internet’s Borg-consciousness, we will always have use for the farmers who can best spread it, but when time comes to create something original and spread that, let’s accept that they are no better than anyone else.

In the interim, maybe we could tone down the obsession with the Internet’s equivalent of the Monsanto board.

I’m not happy with how blogging and it’s mutated cousin, virology, have hurt the integrity of journalism and turned the news cycle into an institution full of premature ejaculators. Others weren’t happy with what the 24-hour news cycle evolved into. Or Cable TV. And so on.

I accept that there is a large degree of inevitability, and I will likely be wrong on a lot of things, but those of us who push back on the inevitability of the current state of things are part of the same inevitability that molds the future. The old soul in me will lose a lot more than he’s currently ready to concede, while gaining a lot.

Until then, I push back fiercely and without rest on the broad implications that The Church-state of Viralism has on a sociocultural level. I invite anyone else who feels similarly to push in whatever direction they feel led. I’ll see you, a bit trampled, at the end of the stampede.

The irony of Robert Johnson’s soul-selling, guitar playing piece of mythology in American folklore is that you can’t really play the blues with no soul. In the same sense, all those who sell their soul for mass reach might help bring us interesting things or mere distractions, but let’s at least try to tip our hat to those who held on to their soul, grinding it through the wheelhouse in order to originate what others merely spread without proper credit.

An Intervention (incomplete)

Following up on posting unfinished works (varying formats) that will likely never be finished. This was a script loosely based off of an idea of a serial killer character of sorts mixing with the idea of when people coax you into Tupperware (et al.) parties.

I was in the process of rewriting the entire part once they left the house when I stopped, and that’s my only real memory of writing any of this.

Not An Intervention (incomplete)

Quiet home. Mid afternoon. Dust slowly slowly flows through peering bands of sunlight.

The door opens as TRAD walks in.

He spends half a minute setting down a cachet of bags, carry items, and coats. He sets down his laptop bag and looks up and freezes.

Two men (or at least people) are sitting on his furniture, patiently waiting for him to complete his entrance.

TRAD: The hell is this?

JOURN: Sit down, Trad.

TRAD: You’re in my house. Who is this?

He motions at the other, more intimidating stranger. The stranger straightens his posture and a proud, subtle smile seeps out of his face.

GRISBY: I’m Grisby.

JOURN: I referred you.

TRAD: Referred me?

JOURN: Yeah.

TRAD: So this isn’t one of those intervention things?

GRISBY: Not at all.

TRAD: Am I being robbed?

JOURN: If we were robbing you, why would we wait for you to get home?

TRAD: Good point.

There’s an awkward pause.

TRAD: So what’s going on again? You’re in my house.

GRISBY: We’re in your house.

TRAD: You broke into my house.

JOURN: No.

GRISBY: We used the spare key.

TRAD: You entered my house without permission.

GRISBY: I guess.

JOURN (slightly agitated): This couldn’t wait TRAD. Plus it’s Baltic Cold out there. Sit down already.

Trad takes two reluctant steps forward and sits on the couch.

TRAD: So this is some sort of emergency?

JOURN: Something like that.

GRISBY: No.

TRAD: What?

Grisby glances at JOURN real quick.

GRISBY: I’m sorry TRAD. It’s rude of us to just barge in like this, but JOURN told me that you two were close. We didn’t think it’d be a big deal.

TRAD: Haven’t seen him in 12 years.

JOURN: My 7th grade sleepover?

TRAD: Yeah

JOURN: Good times.

TRAD: True. Tim Hobbs pissed himself.

JOURN (looking at GRISBY): We’re Facebook Friends.

GRISBY: Perfect. JOURN and I met earlier this morning. We had a good talk, and he referred me to you.

TRAD: Referred for what?

JOURN: Shut up and listen, TRAD!

GRISBY: I’d love to give you the full pitch, TRAD, but you took too long to get home.

TRAD: Sorry, I was at work?

JOURN: You’re forgiven, bro.

TRAD: That was… never mind.

GRISBY: I’m going to need you to get up and come with us now.

TRAD: What? Out of the question!

GRISBY: TRAD, you don’t really have a choice.

Beat.

TRAD: Are you sure this isn’t an intervention?

GRISBY: This is an offer.

JOURN: An offer of a lifetime.

TRAD: Wait, shit, is this, like… (beat) a really personal Tupperware party?

GRISBY: I guess it’s kind of like a Tupperware party, but better.

JOURN stands up.

JOURN: C’mon TRAD.

GRISBY: TRAD, what do you know about SALVATION?

TRAD: Salvation or salvia? I’m not going anywhere. You two are welcome to leave, though.

GRISBY picks up a styrofoam cooler that has been sitting next to him.

GRISBY: You know what’s in this cooler, TRAD? Ice. Lots of ice– and 3 human hearts.

GRISBY motions to the door.

GRISBY: I think you’re going to come with us whether you want to or not.

TRAD (long beat): Oh, you’re serious?

GRISBY and JOURN just glare at TRAD.

TRAD: I don’t believe you.

GRISBY: You also don’t have the liberty to not believe me right now. Let’s go.

JOURN walks up to TRAD and prods him toward the door.

GRISBY: Carry it.

GRISBY stuffs the cooler into TRAD’S hand. TRAD takes a look at the dark clump of shadow through the foam cooler and chokes gulping down his own saliva.

EXT. SIDEWALK

The group is walking down a sidewalk, casually conversing. Everyone is calm and friendly.

TRAD: So, you’re saying you’re a Satanist or something?

GRISBY: No, you’re not listening. I have been studying Luciferian rituals.

TRAD: Sorry, you’re Luceferian.

GRISBY: No, I am an atheist.

TRAD: So, you’ve been performing Luciferian rituals, but you’re an atheist. Because?

GRISBY: I’m curious.

JOURN gets a phone call from an unrecognized number as the other two continue.

JOURN (on phone): Hello?

TRAD: Did you have some awful med school dropout experience or something?

PHONE VOICE: Hi! May I speak with JOURN MCDOWELL?

GRISBY: I just think that it is fascinating. And I’m tired of Luceferians getting a bad wrap, as confused as they are about their deity, they know how to put together a spectacular sacrifice.

JOURN (on phone): The hell is this?

MUFFLED PHONE VOICE: What if I told you that I could make your food last FOREVER?

TRAD: You’re full of it. There’s something you’re not telling me.

JOURN (on phone): Never call me again.

JOURN hangs up.

GRISBY: Careful with those claims, pah-tna.

TRAD: No. I’m good at reading people. You’re a poor obfuscator. What are you not telling me?

GRISBY stops walking, turns around and looks at the two.

GRISBY: TRAD, do you like ALGERIAN HISTORY?

EXT. A wooded, secluded area. There are 5 small lavender scented candles from Bed Bath and Beyond arranged in a circle.

TRAD is in the center digging a hole with a small spade.

GRISBY: Look, TRAD, yeah, I want that world record, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in the pursuit of knowledge. Like I told you, I’m curious.

I Have Gold In My Mouth

I’ve got a vague memory I can’t exactly figure out. When I was a little boy, I remember having what you could call a 3rd front tooth awkwardly wedging itself between the typical 2 front ones. I think it was like a baby tooth or something to that effect that led a confused, bullied life. Ultimately, as my adult teeth came in, that little bugger finally got bullied out and was never seen nor heard from again.

Granted, when I try to remember it, I get really confused and doubt what I’m remembering, but the one thing I solidly remember it was being an already shy kid who felt uncomfortable and awkward because nobody else had a ‘middle’ tooth trying to poke its way through the fray. The memories of wanting to be even more quiet, not wanting to smile, or even risk being in a position where I might laugh are concrete. As a kid, you don’t have full grasp of your insecurities, so you fall in and out of being conscious of them very easily, so I’m sure that this bit of mental processing power was only a microcosm in the background of mini-James’ daily life. Minuscule as the seed may have been, I often look back on that tiny seed of insecurity in my life knowing the hazardous jungle it weaved.

It’s astonishing — the smallest nicks borne in youth that we end up chained to for our entire lives — you can’t predict that kind of stuff, only try to statistically eliminate the potential possibilities.

People always get on to me.

They ask, rhetorically, “why don’t you smile?”

We take pictures and they casually remark, “you never smile,” sometimes with hints of frustration or befuddlement — as if I didn’t know that.

I’ve got friends who can walk into a room full of blood thirsty savages and walk out with a dozen new friends. When I ask them how they’re able to so easily resonate with total strangers, they always tell me some variation of, “just put on a big smile and say hey!” If only it were that easy.

The truth is, it’s not always as simple as it could be, and I am pretty much have a reason for every single thing I do. There is nothing so small, so involuntary, or so subconscious for me to invest premeditation into.

Let’s pause for a second, and let me be clear: this piece of writing is one of the hardest I’ve ever put myself through. To force myself to follow through with it, but more so to hit publish. Sharing it? The gravity reaches Jupiterian heights as that moment approaches. If you’re reading this, odds are good you’ve read pieces of my mind before, so you should know I’m no stranger when it comes to baring uncomfortable truths like they’re mental genitals and I’m a pervy exhibitionist.

In all my life, this is very likely the greatest, longest living insecurity I’ve been attached to. As with any insecurity, If I have any hope of properly shaking, I need to work through its origins, its rise to maturity, and the many ways, overt and absconded, that it has affected me.

When I was a little older, in what you could call a kid’s prime years, my upper canine teeth came in. They were the last of them to really come in, because they didn’t really feel like arriving properly. It’s not something you have any control over. You just have to let it ride and fix it later. With that said, teeth aren’t supposed to grow outward like they did, and those self-conscious, insecure feelings over time grew, stirring me to squirm away and further try to reduce my social footprint.

I was shy. I wanted to be anonymous.

It’s weird to me how much my older sister mean to me. She is 7 years older than me, so most of my childhood with her was spent either being an annoying, hyper kid who got her in trouble, or just being lightyears apart as far as where we were in life. There is something implanted in most younger siblings. We see our older brothers or sisters and want to be so much like them. We want to be recognized for the things they do that we can’t. Just as we want to be admired for what they can’t do, we learn to strive for acknowledgement by not doing the things they shouldn’t do, too.

I don’t think you could call it a drive to be better than my sister, but, rather, because she was older, she had already set the path, the pace, and all the marks, and when you’re the one trailing behind on the path, you feel like you need to do as much as possible to stand off. Because, as the younger one, you’re always so impressed, so awed by how far advanced the elder is.

I tend to be stubborn and defiant. Given my nature, I found it was much easier for me to express how I looked up to my sister by rejecting the path she set and instead achieving my milestones of growth by my own means. Such tendencies lead to moments where you, as a naive kid to tell your parents that you’ll never get braces when your sister did. You don’t have to mean it or know what the hell you’re really saying for it to carry weight.

There really hasn’t been a point in my life where I haven’t, on some level, hated my mouth, hated my teeth, or hated smiling (as a result).

When I was in my teens, I realized I had inadvertently screwed up. Something I once told my parents in passing had led to a very crowded mouth and all types of personal discontent. On one end, it’s admirable that my parents would value my thoughts and feeling so much that, even as a kid, I could make pretty big decisions about my life. Their love has always shown how much they’ve valued me and I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way. I’d be a shadow of myself if I were raised any other way — and I quite fancy myself, but it’s funny how even your best allies can end up your greatest adversary.

The time came when I had fully come to grips how captive I was to my insecurities. I think that this kind of insecurity is intensely magnified, because basically everyone in our society couples those awful, spine twistingly awkward adolescent years with obtrusive metal and wires jammed in their mouth, and if they don’t utilize those already awkward years for that, they usually do somewhere on one of the ends of the awkward puberty sandwich.

If you skip out on this ubiquitous practice and aren’t blessed with a perfect mouth, you are immediately relegated to outlier status. So if everything else about you comfortably falls within that concept of ‘normal’ except one thing, that becomes the most harrowing thing in your life.

As with any insecurity, it was always much more monstrous with my own mind than it was was to the world around me, but there is undeniable influence of having messed up teeth; many of which hit in subconscious or immediately noticeable areas. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it is having to interpersonally weave through the many ways we can be subconsciously or immediately judged or assessed.

In this case, there are many things that negative perceptions that can be generated with people. Obviously, you can appear unattractive or at least not have a very inviting smile, you can give off the perception that you’re from a lower class background, less intelligent than you may actually be, or just don’t have good hygiene — among many other possibilities. In a lot of cases, this stuff shouldn’t matter, nor should what others think about yourself, but the problem is this: at the end of the day, they still do.

Anyone is welcome to think whatever they want about me, and I can’t control that — only influence it. The problem is, I want to at least have as much of a fair shot of influence as I can – I think that anyone should want that. I won’t lie, I am a lot more judgmental than I’d like to be, and surprisingly hypocritical, too. I think because of my own situation, teeth that aren’t perfect bother me more than they should (at first) — though I am hoping that is more because it is a reminder of my own fragility with the issue.

I wouldn’t recommend going through life without being able to smile. It’s a tremendous handicap.

When I was 17, I was going to get braces. Even when I was a lot younger, I was always very conscious of finances, and I hated the idea of causing unnecessary financial burden on my family. Especially considering ministry in a small church isn’t always the most financially stable situation. If it weren’t for TennCare, I probably would have never even told my parents that I need to get all my stuff fixed and sat on my inner demons even longer.

My teeth started out a cronie, a henchman, an afterthought that the hero effortlessly smacks away and never thinks about again. Over that entire timeline, it grew into a final boss. As with all notorious final bosses, the road to defeat the final boss is never easy. Just when you think you’re about to take the bastard out, he zaps you out of his space station and back in time or arrogantly reveals to you that the princess is in another castle.

After maybe a year of repeated dentist trips, root canals, fillings, and a few extracted teeth, I thought I was finally ready to endure the year plus of quasi misery to finally feel comfortable with my own appearance to begin to accept myself as something less than a self-created Quasimodo — I guess this is a good time to add another anchor that weighs you down when your teeth are messed up — even if you spend a lot of time taking care of them, it is easy to still encounter a lot of dental problems.

The princess was in another castle.

After all the dental work, my orthodontist slapped me with the, ‘by the way, your wisdom teeth are coming in now’, so off to the oral surgeon I went, and by then another cavity or two had decided to troll me. If I remember correctly, I got really busy with basketball and putting in a lot of time to play college ball so the entire thing got put on the back burner until the season ended.

Of course that back burner has a way into turning into a few years. My last attempt, in early college, was a similar process with obstacles thrown in the way until my dental coverage was about to run out, I became discouraged, didn’t want to make my parents have to pay for all that out of pocket and surrendered; defeated and incomplete.

Over all these years, I imagine that I’ve just gotten very good and operating in a way that lets me feel as comfortable as possible. I don’t smile as much as I’d like to, and I have even spent years and years developing laughter and smiling habits that I feel conceal what, to me, is this huge radiating blemish on myself as an individual. I know that most people probably barely give any of this too much thought, but I think about it all the time.

I don’t do a posed smile in pictures for a reason (plus if you look at my dad’s pictures as a kid, we just have a tendency to smile with our mouth closed anyway). I can’t smile at a stranger because in my twisted thinking it will run them off more than looking uninviting or, as I’ve had some people tell me, intimidating. For me, that’s starting at neutral and I can win them over from there, even if it is actually starting from behind in the real scheme of things.

I also am less expressive of a person that I actually feel I am as a result. Though, I think that I’ve compensated on this part for so long that I may just permanently be more dry and expressive-neutral than most. Then there’s the whole confidence thing

Confidence is such a mystery. Most of the people I encounter with the most confidence usually have the most reasons to not be confident, at least by my assessment. For me, confidence is kind of like science. It is built on years of empirical proof. For example, it has taken me 25 years to really develop real confidence in myself athletically. From a pure athleticism perspective, I’ve got to be at least in the 95th percentile. People who don’t know much about my love for basketball or any other sport you can get me to play always hear me [half-jokingly] brag about how I can jump or how fast I am. It probably comes off as the typical self-assurance most of us have when we talk to trash to our friends, “oh, you think you can beat me 1 on 1? Let’s go to the gym some time and settle that“. Here’s the thing, though, it is very easy to see who’s who in an athletic regard from a pretty objective viewpoint, yet it has taken a quarter of a century of strangers, acquaintances, and friends approaching me unprompted and asking me things like: can you dunk? How can you jump so high? Are you a horse? Dude, your head is practically at the rim when you rebound before I finally started to accept it as canon.

It simply is true. Of course I’m not the best athlete in the world, but if we are talking raw athleticism, I know I can pretty much hang with anyone. Despite that, it still only takes a small leak or two to create bit of self-doubt and make me forget who I am for a short spell.

The smallest leak in confidence can turn your thinking into the ugliest disaster scene, even for the most empirical areas of life. What I’m getting at is that I’ve been living my life with a giant gash fuming out confidence with the force of hurricane winds. If you’ve ever seen me interact with girls that I don’t know, especially if I find them attractive, you know how I barely maintain any confidence. At best, I can fake it for a bit, but the entire time it is furiously exhausting from myself, and the longer I am interacting with someone I barely know, in my mind I feel like I am greater exposing myself. Effectively, taking my baseline of confidence, which is already leaking, and rapidly fractioning it off.

That’s my battle. That’s the war in my mind every single time I am interacting with anyone new (and it doesn’t have to be a single guy talking to pretty girl scenario, that’s just the most exacerbated example). I even feel pretty weak about it with those closest to me pretty often.

I think one of the least congenial elements of the whole thing is that I know it can be fixed, and I’ve been planning on fixing it for so long that the longer it takes, the more menacing it gets in my mind. Fatigue is undefeated.

For the first time in my life, I’ve been fully honest about something that’s plagued me for so long, looked at it’s lifecycle, and highlighted the many ways this has affected how I operate.

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this point for so long, I never expected it to come, nor did I know how I was going to play it. A few years ago I was in the worst depression of my life and I basically laid out a plan. Finish school, get a job, move out, and so on. At the end of that plan was finally finishing getting my teeth fixed. After a lot of work, many blessings, and more delays, I’ve reached the end of that plan I so firmly dedicated my life to.

Even with good insurance, in the last year and a half I’ve spent a big portion of my disposable income on this goal. The unfortunate thing about not having any money for most of my 20’s is that it sent me back to the beginning of the dental cycle I detailed earlier, this time with wisdom teeth extractions and a few crowns just to get back to square one. I always knew that I was going to reach the end of this set of immediate major life goals, but I didn’t know how I was going to do this part. In my mind, I saw myself taking care of all this until one day it was all better and coming out and saying, “hey, here are these awful insecurities, by the way, I’m totally cured now!”

I wouldn’t put it past myself to try, in fact, I think maybe I could have pulled it off. I’ve had braces for a few weeks now. Well, half of them. I am getting the bottom ones in 2 days before my birthday. That’ll make for a fun birthday. As soon as I got them in, I knew that it was time for me to finally push through this, but I think part of me waited because I wanted to see if it was noticeable at all. Of course, it metastasized into putting it off, conceding to the power it has long had over me.

They’re placed on the back of my teeth, which is a lot more convenient in a lot of ways, but the unforeseen inconveniences of them are that eating was tricky for a while but now it’s only a slight inconvenience. The biggest part was that I’ve had to reteach myself how to speak in a sense. When speak slowly, I think I can achieve effectively the same speech patterns and sounds that I usually do, but I’m actually quite a fast talker. When you start stringing together words and sounds, the tongue gets a bit bewildered with the unfamiliarity of the metal attached to the back of my teeth (also when you drink and start to get lazy-tongued.. well it gets even harder).

That first week was pretty interesting, I don’t know how weird I seemed to be acting as I often was slowing down while I was talking to people, often briefly pausing to assess if the next word I was about to say would be hard to pronounce normally and, if so, devising a different way to say it with easier words.

Either way, after my last appointment my orthodontist jokingly told me, “you’ve got gold in your mouth,” he collected his thoughts for a moment then appended, “well, actually, seriously, you do.”

So there it is. I just wanted to let you all know, I have gold in my mouth. In a few more weeks, I’m going to take a really long time to eat my meals and probably act weird when I’m talking to you for a few weeks — and them hopefully nobody will notice anymore and just sweep it under the rug of it being a weird dude; as usual.

With all this said, I guess on some levels I’m glad to finally have all of this off my chest, but I think I am still going to continue to be very insecure about it all. I have patches during the day where I feel a lot more comfortable with everything just knowing that I’m finally at that point — a point I struggled to imagine for a decade and a half — where it is actually getting better. A point where I know the day where this becomes a fading memory is approaching. With that said, because I have been battered by this for so long, and just barely getting this out, I likely am not going to feel strong enough through it all to ever want to talk about it or still really actively acknowledge it’s a thing with anyone.

Not that I don’t want to, but I just think because it has been weighing me down for so long and it’s being fixed, I’d just rather let it fade into obscurity. In a sense, maybe I’m not really growing comfortable with this specific insecurity, but most insecurities we have to make ourselves outgrow. In this case, I’m merely eliminating it.

I’m not sure how I feel about that aspect, and it’s kind of funny because I’m already looking ahead to the other small things that will bother me even after all the orthodontic work is complete (like how much I’m going to have to spend on veneers because of the decalcification I had when I was a lot younger because I wasn’t taking care of myself properly), but I thank you for bearing with me being me; which is to say a weak, flawed, and not totally forthcoming individual.

So there it all is. At this point in my life, there is no bigger insecurity tearing, cracking, and wearing myself down.

I look forward to the day that I can look back on all of this like a far off dream and simply smile about it.

All Hail our Meritocratic Overlords

I exist solely in meritocracies.

For whatever reason, perhaps due to an inclination toward a quiet personality, I’ve been overlooked my entire life. By early impression, at least. By now I’m used to it. In fact, it has many advantages. During my misassessment I have time to properly gauge everyone around; that whole element of surprise thing; and also the chip on my shoulder the quietly, steadily, obsessively propels me to be the best possible (at anything).

So it is no wonder why I look at everything as a meritocracy, because I’m used to having to earn everything. Respect, admiration, friendship, trust, authority, and so on, by one way or the other, I placed myself in a position where I can distinguish myself.

A haven of merit

Sports are probably the easiest example of a meritocracy (and even that’s not a complete meritocracy). I’d wager that I’ll be fascinated by the phenomenon of pickup basketball for the rest of my life. You step onto that court and you essentially are nobody, except what you can do with 7 to 9 other people, a ball, and a rim.

It’s the consummate example of an arena where I constantly get overlooked.

Hubris doesn’t help, and let me tell you, among team sports, basketball reigns as lord paramount over ego driven pissing contests. I’ve played with more absolute scrub players so far insulated in the bubble of their own ego that 1988-89 Jordan could be on the court and they’d still be totally convinced they were the best player on the court — to the point where they wouldn’t even pass him the ball.

So that’s what you deal with when you’re a barely-six-feet-tall-quiet-skinny-kid-of-vague-ethnicity stepping onto the hardwood. But once the ball is in play, most of that is out the door.

And it’s just as much about proving yourself as it is winning or losing.

Never mind if I never get to touch the ball, I know that I can do a million things to show my worth, and that’s exactly my mentality. And with this I go to work. 95% of the time I can assume that I’ll be the best leaper and fastest man out there, which means the other 5% I’ll at least be on their level. I love defense, and in a world that doesn’t glorify brilliant defenders as much as guys who shoot a lot, that automatically nets me some points. And bit by bit it all piles up. Good/smarter players, especially those who really get the team concept, recognize it first, but over time you are filled with the sense that you are respected by the other players there. Even though the biggest egos would never hand out the credit, they sneak it in by other means, usually by trying to get you on their team, or on the occasion that you push back vocally, by sidestepping and trying to get out the way of your frustration.

In my experience, respect is imperceptible. You either have it or you don’t, but it’s unmistakable to everyone, yourself included, which camp you’re in.

The thing about these natural meritocratic environments is that you can always angle things in a way to increase your chances of distinguishment. I do put a lot of work into making sure I’m the most athletic guy out there, yet not everyone is necessarily as physically gifted, but you can work to become smarter, more skilled, savvy, a better team player, or fill-in those parts of the game that most everyone else doesn’t work on.

That’s the beauty of a meritocracy; you have to earn it.

The antithesis of a meritocracy

I was thinking a lot about the whole bar/club scene. Part of me feels weird spending so much thought and time as an active observer. In the Bible Belt, specifically, you end up with a rift of friends who have this incredibly polarizing black & white view of the world that almost serves as an accidental alienation void. As someone who shares core beliefs, you slide deep into this crevasse, constricted by a conflicting feeling that you’re not living up to someone else’s standards of God instead of a more basic, what I believe to be objective, take on how God sees us and our behavior.

And if any of my decisions let anyone down, it shouldn’t matter, yet I still can’t help but try to preserve that because I grew up so firmly in that mentality that I make the choices I make and live a certain way largely on the fact that it would let certain other people down (or maybe that certain other people would subtly make you feel like you did).

I’m not trying to touch on this right here or now, though (I do want to one day write some on why living in the Bible Belt is so exhausting, but I will probably do that anonymously somewhere because I don’t have the time, energy, or care to deal with the potential flurry of people chiming in with what they think otherwise), so tangent aside — I’ve spent a lot of time my last few years in the whole ‘going out’ scene.

If you asked me why, I don’t think I could give you a definitive why beyond the mere fact that I am young, restless, and have nothing tying me down. It’s an interesting atmosphere regardless, because, for the most part, you can break it down into a 2×2 matrix of people that fall in a range of various facets; horny, lonely, fun-seeking/bored/unwinders, and tag-a-longs.

There are some other major facets that could easily be subbed in there or added into a larger matrix (e.g., the high-functioning alcoholics), but this is the 2×2 matrix I think covers the most ground.

Above all else, I posit that the desire to avoid stagnation is the overall tie-in. Maybe you go out with your friends, but the hope is that in your group, you meet some cool new people that could either become part of that group, or another branch that can fulfill certain social needs that maybe your current ones lack or have lost. Maybe you go out there hoping to take someone home for the night, or to date on a more long-term basis, or maybe you just want to dance with other people who like to dance.

The point is that there is a heightened excitement because there is a largely unknown factor to the whole affair. At most parties, you more-or-less know which faces to expect there. When you tunnel down further, you know even more what to expect when you just limit social affairs to well-known groups of friends; but there is no telling what kind of characters you’ll witness in that smoky dive bar housed in a run down trailer, or some hyped up club with an artificially engineered line and $15 cover (though the answer to that is usually 19 year olds, other obnoxious people, and a lot of remorse on wasting $15).

Granted, 9 out of 10 times it ends up being a bit of a waste; a number that can be whittled down to 4-5 times out of 10 for the most prominent social butterflies, but it is a twinge that I’ve personally answered more often than not lately.

Generally, I just go and enjoy the company of the group of friends I’m with, but I’ve thought a lot about how these atmospheres drive me crazy. A bar or a club is about as antithetical to a meritocracy as possible.

First, let’s remember the assumption that, much like baseball, your ‘fail’ rate is going to be much higher than your success rate. In this case, we’ll assume that success is having an experience that registers on that scale of the idea that you if you go out, you might have a good time in some way that you wouldn’t if you stuck with the status quo. For the most part, the traits that will increase those chances are predispositions more than they are characteristics that you can develop and earn a good standing with.

Let’s start with the first two that are the most predisposed; social proclivity and physical aesthetics.

I think I’d put social proclivity as the least malleable. For instance, some people are just pure extroverts. They feed off of being around other people and interacting with other people. Sometimes I’m a extrovert in introvert’s clothing, but that’s the best I can usually manage unless I am in a big group of people I know very well (it’s probably why I come alive the most at my own birthday parties). For someone like me, I am always aware of the fact that a stranger is likely to annoy me, come off as too much of a fool for me to want to try to converse with, be too different, or a million other things; at the outset. It takes a lot longer to drill to each other’s core. Drilling is work. That’s exhausting.

I look at the pure extrovert as a symbiotic magnet, or a little Ewok that just loves to cuddle everything. They’ll just latch onto nearest person for a while and get their social embraces until someone else walks by, then they’ll leap in the ear, excitedly yodeling and latch onto them; ad infinitum.

When you have no real ways to distinguish yourself, this is the number one trait that stands out; whoever has the easiest time hanging out with absolute strangers.

For people who fall closer to the middle, we might actually love being around new people, but it is much more pleasant for us when the attention is first diverted on us (once again outlining why I’m so comfortable with the idea of meritocracy).

Physical aesthetics is what it is. And is what it always will be, though what is en vogue varies on culture and place in history, so I won’t speak much on it. But, like anywhere else, if you look a certain way, you’ll be predisposed to do better for yourself. Short of Michael Jackson-ing yourself, there isn’t much more you can do other than layer a bunch of subtle things.

Lately I’ve begun to realize that this is another annoying factor of living in the South. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked ‘what I am’ or ‘where I’m from’ — honestly, I’m really laid back, and I usually could give a damn, so I’ve never been offended or annoyed in the moment when someone does, but I’ll admit it is starting to get to the point where, cumulatively, it’s getting annoying.

My mom is what you’d call a Chicana, from a family of Mexicans with a dash of Native American to boot (I forgot which tribe). My dad is an Italian. He was raised by Italians and his mom was Italian, and had less opportunity to get in touch with his other inner white boy, but his dad’s is of English and Scottish ancestry; in effect, I’m as much ‘white’ as I am ‘brown’. Culturally speaking, I’m closer to the middle class American caucasian stereotype than anything else, yet because you can’t really tell where I’m from, I get mistaken for Salvadoran, Iranian, Egyptian, Jewish, Ecuadoran, and the list goes on and on. People in high school legitimately believed I was Ethiopian, in part because I’m a very good liar, but also in part because, in general, people from the South are very culturally ignorant.

This creeps into the entire physical appearance thing. I’ve only started to understand this. Of course, this isn’t the only way physical traits predispose the merit subconsciously awarded to you by others in a bar, but this is a way that is pertinent to me and I can easily illustrate.

I could continue with other traits that have a high predisposition to development ratio, but I think the point is that these environments are constructed in a way that pretty much has no way to reward characteristics that are earned. The best that can be done is to distinguish yourself indirectly, but the problem there is that usually it is a very two dimensional translation and also that those can easily be faked.

Selfishly, I’d love for their to be a social environment that has some of the appeal of the unknown that a bar or club does that has some sort of meritocratic framework, but I’m also not invested in any of those things to care that strongly. Rather, I just wanted to talk about my mainframe existing in the constructs of a meritocracy, and how it’s interest and also uncomfortable to take a person like myself out of that in an environment that’s antithetical to my comfort zone. (Though I do believe that meritocracies are wholly better than the latter).

The beautiful struggle; cycles don’t end

I’d like to return to these people I’ve competed against who are deeply embedded in their own ego bubble. I think that is what happens when you take a person who is already suffocated in their self-cloud; puffing about, blinded by nothing more than the self-dependency they exist in, involuntarily threatening to occlude the lives around them with the dense fog of their ego.

When you connect the two, you realize how many people you know who are like this; or at least I do. I have a lot of friends who are that obnoxious dude obsessed with his own delusional ego that nobody really wants to play with. The moments you can pull them out of their own little cloud, you can enjoy that person, but the instances in which you can are limited. This phenomenon is exacerbated by an opportunity to ‘prove’ oneself of ego; a sport of competition is that gateway.

It makes me sad thinking about the friends I have who would fall into this classification of ‘limited friend’. Not just because how much more enjoyable that friendship would be if it didn’t have to be so limited, or if you didn’t have to get sucked into dealing with their boundless web of self-generated bullshit, but also because of the type of friends it makes the rest of us.

For instance, it is my experience that these friends are so ignorant of their own selfishness that you couldn’t even call them out on it if you wanted to. They won’t hear it. If they heard it, then they wouldn’t listen. And if they listened, they’d only forget it the next day. And even if you go that far, they’d convince themselves otherwise.

I think this is part of why it is so tempting for us to talk about people behind their back. It’s really hard to break through a wall of ignorance otherwise. The moment you say something about someone in confidence to another, it’s exponentially more credible. I’m not trying to condone or glorify bashing people behind their back, but I’m just pointing out a cycle that we slip into and get spat out of our entire lives.

Eventually, the back talk slips out, feelings get hurt, the drama is flung around in one of the few things more disgusting than a food fight, and in the end each party either learns something about themselves and improves — or they stay the same. In that case, at some point the cycle repeats until people either realize the friendship isn’t worth it and it ends.

I don’t think that any of us could say that we haven’t been ever possible piece of that cycle — I’ve played the role of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and still am as I speak.

I didn’t really have a purpose other than to write out some of the stuff that brews in my mind. Just some stuff to think on.

Why Parenting is Hard

Dad and I were texting a few months ago, in fact, it was a conversation prompted after my piece about untwisting psychological knots that have long restricted me, when he told me how reading it resonated with him in a lot of areas that caught him off guard (more or less). We got to talking about his dad; my grandfather. We really don’t talk about him much. I guess there really isn’t much to prompt it, granddad having passed when dad was 5 (in fact, so rarely, so referring to him as granddad feels really odd, but kind of fulfilling in a way, because I’ve never had anyone in my life to call granddad).

Unfortunately, my phone has since died and I lost that conversation, but it helped spark a strand of thought I had been cooking prior. Progressing through my twenties has had me thinking about my dad a lot; thinking about him in the sense of a father and how effective he was as a father. Not in the sense that I am rating how well I think he raised me or anything like that, you can’t rate that kind of thing, and if you tried, he’d be off the charts, but just wondering how terrifying fatherhood has to be for a man who had no father.

As far as I know, he never really had a stable father figure either, some sort of anchor in his life for a long period of life. I’ve read some literature that touches on the social effects of boys growing up without fathers or men in their lives who can fulfill that roles, and the ways it tends to mold them differently. Yet, I’ve never really dug much up on the other side of the fence and how alien parenting must be for someone to take on the parent role having grown up without parents.

So here I am again, writing about parenting. I think about it a lot. I don’t write about it a lot. It’s inconvenient. I’m at an age where most of the people I know are now young parents, and strong opinions toward raising children and what not cement themselves.

Who am I — some punk, irreverent bachelor with no kids on the horizon — to say anything about parenting?

Fair enough, there are certain chasms of knowledge that I’ve yet to experience first hand. One day I’ll fill them. But I still have some ethos to have my own perspective on aspects of parenting.

Why?

I know because I have parents. I know because I know other parents. I know because I am a child of two parents.

I know, I just know in a different way.

So here it is, that thought that I gnawed on like a worn piece of gum:

Why Parenting is Hard

If I were going to sit here and spit off a list of why parenting is hard, or regurgitate the same missive on what is, for many, the greatest calling in life, then I wouldn’t waste my time writing. I’m not here to build a list. I’m not going to regurgitate the same drivel that anyone who can speak at a 6th grade levels knows. I want to hone in on a single element; a single angle that, in my experience, is a unique take on it.

Disregard all those reasons why parenting is hard. We know them. This is not THE reason parenting is hard, but just a reason that frightens the youth out of me.

Let’s trail back to that conversation dad and I had. When I write, I try to bare all. Not that it is my intention to be an introspective exhibitionist, but rather, I don’t want to obscure anything. So if I cover something, I try to make sure I’m not curving my punches, but what is read, is what is.

I’m accustomed to hearing feedback from dad when I drill to the core of my person. More than any other, when I laid out all my personal confidence struggles, devalued view of myself, and struggle to untie personal knots with one hand, he not only found out a lot about himself, but also his son.

If I hadn’t written that, how would he had ever known any of these things? When I was 8 and feeling a complex bevy of synapses, how would he ever had been able to know? I wasn’t old enough to convey or understand. Or when I was 12 or 15 or an adult, emotions and wiring fully baked from all those intricate thoughts that were beyond my young processing abilities.

He never would.

Thus enters the terrifying part of being a parent. You spend a lifetime getting to know these individuals who are more like you than any other person there is, but there is a built in obscurity that, on many levels, will never be lifted.

I think of my niece (12) and nephew (6) often. There’s no way any of us can really know how they feel and think about a lot of things. The foundation, yeah, but there are emotions, fears, anxieties, desires, aspirations, and more that Ben and Anna have experienced, will experience that nobody in my family will know of until well after it has influenced who they are in the long-term.

Let me back track and reiterate the terrifying thought that I am having; the reason why parenting is so hard.

You’re raising complete strangers.

Just like in the extreme cases, for instance, with a homosexual son or daughter who struggles with the entire sexuality thing until, typically after years and years of inner conflict, comes out. It doesn’t change who the son or daughter is at all, and, in pretty much every way possible, they are the same exact kid that they raised and grew up to know, but it is also a huge piece of their individuality that the parent had no clue about.

This is just an extreme and stereotypical example. Now consider that you can fragment this and multiply it many times over. It doesn’t have to be with supposedly monumental things, it could just be some sort of small resentment or regret, but because parent and child grow up with a misconception (or because it develops into one over time), there is an unknown element that develops.

When a child is a baby, a young child, and perhaps a little bit beyond, there is less space for shadowed personality. As a child grows, they grow into more individual space. With space comes more illumination creep. No matter how close you are, how well you communicate, there will always be shrouded passages and hidden corridors of a person that go unnavigated.

There’s a dichotomy. The older parent and child get, the better they should know each other, yet they concurrently know each other less!

The fact that I can have the tightest possible bond with someone possible and they still be a stranger to me is something that scrunches up my mind, sometimes removing my ability to sleep.

I guess when you think about it, this is a more natural role for the child. We get used to the fact that we have these blank, corrupt sectors of knowledge about our parents lives because we weren’t there for the entire thing like they are for us, and that might be one reason why it’s so easy to overlook that it works both ways, just subterraneously with the child.

Why parenting is even harder than just that

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Taking into account this fact mines greater challenges for any parent and their beloved children. This might slip back into the typical list of never ending challenges of parenthood, but puts it in a more intense light: parenting never stops.

That’s incomplete, sorry. Rather, parenting never stops changing. I see many parents who have the building blocks down; nursing, raising kids to interact with other kids and the world around them, transition into full-fledged people, and then letting go of the recently removed training-wheels bike into adulthood! Transitions also seem like an absolute bear as a parent, perhaps none more so than the adult to adult transitions.

I could touch on any number of reasons why, or you could watch or read any of the never ending supply of dramas and artistic pieces that touch on it, but the obvious connection is one that I sense doesn’t happen as often as it should.

I’m a grown man now. Not only have I been able to convey the intimate, intricately complex architecture of my own soul for years, but I am recently arriving at a point where I am really able to understand just exactly how the labyrinth of my inner workings are laid out.

My mom and dad taught me many things. They taught me how to use a toilet and keep good hygiene, how to properly treat others, how to drive a car, how to make good decisions whether trivial or difficult, and a massive curriculum of life stuff that we all need, but nobody taught me how to revisit my childhood, my teenage years, my young adulthood, my life, and talk to my mom or dad about it, and where I’ve ended up today as a result of a lifetime of layers compounding onto each other.

Nobody was really teaching to that them, either.

Many never get to that point.

Many never fully transition into the adult-adult parent-child relationship, and I think this is a large part why. By the time we grow up, we’re largely strangers because of all that space we filled out on our own. Most of the space that we filled out, was rooted in microscopic interactions, pressures, and switches that traced into larger vectors over years and years.

Parenting is hard because I don’t know if you can teach that to either party. I don’t know if you can prepare for it. I imagine that when you wake up one morning and read shards of your son’s mind that were more non-existent than Area 51, or visit the once lost countryside of your daughter’s heart in words, whether written, spoken, or passed along, you’re taken back to an era of discovery that you haven’t experienced since they were little tikes telling you about their secret night job where they make $1 million dollars sewing capes for Superman so that he can fly (and wondering how on Earth they dream this stuff up). Except, in this case, it isn’t a innocence packaged in childlike innocence, but one usually crumpled in the imperfections and oft-fragile packaging of growth.

I’m thankful that I’ve always had a writing outlet. Sometimes, I have a lot of trouble adequately conveying my web of thoughts unless I can sit down and move everything around like pieces to a puzzle. I’m blessed to have parents who have come to understand that we are strangers in many aspects, simply because we grew into them that way, and that we will always be coming to know each other more deeply in ways that used to elude us. I’m glad we can share that experience in both directions.

I’m honored to be a son to a pair of radical people, but maybe even more honored for them to consider me among their best friends.

Nobody asked them to keep making these transitions, but just like nobody asked them to wipe my butt and feed me when I was crying, they did so lovingly.

Parenting, I know nothing about it first hand, yet I know; it’s hard, but it’s even more fulfilling.

(Happy birthday, dad)

A Full Circle Sky

The stars, horizon, and space.This isn’t the post I was planning on writing next. I told a few people what it was going to be, so sorry to anyone expecting something different (sorry, Dad.)

A few days ago a friend of mine asked me if I was going to stay up to watch the Blood Moon. I had totally forgot about the lunar eclipse, but prompted me, in my excitement, to ask if she was an astronomy nerd. You see, I’ve always been somewhat of an astronomy nerd, myself, even though I hardly am in practice these days. If nothing else, I could fall asleep under the heavens every night and still be doused in an overwhelming feelings of awe by the stars every night. Light pollution might upset me more than environmental pollution.

When I was a kid, my dad got us a telescope. It was probably just a cheap little kid’s telescope, but it might have been the favorite gift I ever received. We didn’t even get to use it a lot, but the times we got to are some of my most fond memories; standing at the top off our street, trying to figure out how to work the lenses and properly fixate on the moon. I’ve always wanted to get another one, in fact, it is on the top of my wish list with a bike.

Then I realized where it had all come full circle this year. Back when we were still running on our first computer, an IBM with a 386 processor, I remember sitting with my dad into the thin trails of the night trying to download a an animated sky map that would show all the stars, constellations, and planets visible in the night sky at that time of year. In retrospect, it was a simple thing, but it was the most exciting thing imaginable at the time. So there we were, father and son, fumbling around on our 14.4kbps connection on CompuServe, wasting an hour or two trying to get these mystical GIF files to work so that we could marvel at the splendor technology had brought us. I should note, this was our first exposure to gif files, which are now of cat and other brainless image fame.

After an exhausting struggle, the boys Curtis conceded. I think this event might have shaped my attitude with technology and computers. If I’ve broken something or not been able to get something to work on a computer, I’ve always tortuously exhausted myself until I figured it out. Might be that the bitter, partially numb sting of coming up short that one time shaped that attitude. My dad and I never got to see that sky map, but we looked at the night sky together plenty more times.

Fast forward 20 years. There I was, standing on the beach next to my dad, looking at a full Hawaiian star scape that not even the imagination could capture. My dad stood next to me, hand over his son’s shoulder, beer in his left hand, raving about the sky, the wonder, creation, how happy he was to be next to me, and the moment. I hate to admit that I was torn in that point at time. In part because everything he said resonated to me. I knew that moment might be understated like punctuation, but that like a good period or well-placed comma, it would make something whole. In my experience, you need that spirit of wholeness for a memory to last. On the other hand, I was markedly upset with the man at the same moment because he had upset my mom, but I couldn’t let him know that because I didn’t want to dampen the moment.

So I tried to go East and West at the same time.

All the while, he had gotten so excited at the planet clearly visible above that he had pulled out Google’s well-known SkyMap app and set out to discover what it was (94% sure it was Venus).

Despite the dichotomy and subtext, I cherish that memory as much as I do the times with the telescope and the GIF failure, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized that it was an aged version of my sitting with him that night on dial-up.

After all these years, we finally had succeeded in viewing our animated sky map. We experienced the horizon in a way we had always wanted.

Thank you.