Friday, September 11, 2015

14 Years Later..

The Fallen will always be remembered, but the Living are the true monument to This Day..

Forget about bumper sticker sloganeering and frothing politicians, who will forever use horrific tragedies to dream up new wars for young men to slog through the mud to fight and die in. The real takeaway from the morning of the September 11th attacks is in the story of a people who mustered the courage not to flee in the face of unimaginable horrors, but rather run into burning buildings to save thousands of people they barely knew.

Many people would have you believe that we're a cowardly species, who would tuck our tail and run for the hills in a time of panic. This is, of course, Completely False. We all saw a glimpse that morning of what unites us, of who we are, and of the Love and Community that sustains us through even our darkest hours.

I realize we'll be bombarded with the constant imagery of those gruesome attacks today, and that some of the more twisted among us will seize the opportunity to bring us ISIS/ISIL or Muslim Extremism into the conversation; but I'd say to them, and to you, that today is not the time to talk about terrorism.

Instead, on the anniversary of that terrible September morning, we should perhaps consider honoring those lost by talking about and celebrating Heroism. Instead of talking about our stark (and exaggerated) differences in political, cultural, religious or social ideology, let's take time today to love and embrace those things that bind us together in a more perfect Union: such as the Heroic nature we saw on display that morning. It is our greatest strength, and as we saw that fateful morning, it can be shaken, but it will never, ever be defeated...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Let's Hear It For The Home Team..

There was this Promethean moment for me years ago – some kind of discovery or awakening..

At the time, my own insecurities and uncertainties had lived in the center of my chest, ghosting me through the years. I lived with the constant suspicion that I was somehow in the wrong place, the wrong town or the wrong neighborhood. It seemed to me that the very life in which I was existing amounted to nothing more than a bumbling series of miscues while I was somehow, inexplicably, waiting around for a place to be. I was living in some kind of strange purgatory, a stranger in my own life. I guess, more than anything else, I felt like the proverbial “player to be named later” in all those baseball trades you read about during the off-season or at the deadline, but later never seemed to come for me.

That afternoon, after messing up my life for the umpteenth time, feeling more uncertain than ever, reeling from the loss of a woman that was never going to love me again, I decided to try to walk off my self-induced, shame-spiraling stupor. I walked around Point Fermin with my one-year-old son Coltrane in my arms, holding him as we looked over the edge, watching the hulking freighters off the coast dotting the Pacific, hearing the warbling arf of the sea lions as the waves pounded on the rocks hundreds of feet beneath us. We sat there, the two of us, immersed in this moment, this indescribable beauty; watching as foamy pearls and diamonds kept forming and then dissolving on the tops of the rocks on the surface of the water.

As my little boy's eyes gazed across the expanse of the holy blue dream of a sky, his eyelids began to drop. After reopening them a few times, as if committing the scene of the sweetness of the vision laid out before him to memory, he finally lost the battle and fell asleep, the tops of his shiny brittle little eyelids meshing together.

I was 30 years old, awash in the scuppers of my messy head and messier heart.. and it was at that moment I felt the soft, fastening click in the center of my chest. The mass of warmth of his small sleeping body brought with it a deep, abiding calm. It was a weight in my arms that I’d always been missing. I’d finally been traded to my team.

Here and now, eight and a half years later, Coltrane is obviously no longer a baby. He’s a gargantuan nine year old boy, full of dreams and hopes and gross jokes and curiosity. The days of him falling asleep in my arms, at Point Fermin or anywhere else, are long gone. But every once in a while, I can still feel that small bundle I held to my chest that afternoon and recall that sacred moment: my arrival as the player to be named later, finally finding a home team - the ghost of my greatest and only Home Run.

Monday, May 25, 2015

To the tender Art God with a celebrated suite..

It seems to me that one of life’s great ironies is that so called “avant-garde” art (for instance, things that tend to overturn or demolish the linear narrative) is often a lot more like real life than the mainstream art that is so often hailed for its realism. For the first time in many years, I watched “Nashville,” “Three Women” and “Short Cuts” last week. They were each, in their own way, tender cinematic poems to the wounded and sad.

My entire “Art God” collection isn’t extensive. In truth, it barely fits on a couple shelves in a bookcase. That being said, Robert Altman has a penthouse suite in there. The tender, fumbling beauty of his filmic chaos has always spoken to me on the deepest of levels. But, back to the avant-garde/reality paradox.. It always seemed ironic to me that a performance piece about a woman shaving her legs or a man writing in a notebook always seems “odd” to the average person, and yet millions of people seem to love movies about men in capes, with supernatural powers, saving burning cities, or gritty detective movies about finding a serial killer who is dismembering his victims in alphabetical order. Maybe, it comes down to the fact that we Humans cannot bear too much reality. When it feels like our own lives are being mirrored back to us, it becomes too painful or too realistic in some way. We seem to need a fantasy filter. We almost require something, that requires of us, willful suspension of disbelief. I suppose, one of the many things that makes me weirder than your average cat, is that I actively avoid such filters. I’ll take Godard over J.J. Abrams any day of the week. I love truth in film. I seek cinematic reality. And surely, no one has made films with more reality than Robert Altman.

If you like the subtle, messy, glorious complexities of being human, please give some of his films a chance. There is great pleasure in finding the rhythmic poetry of his curious camera, always looking; searching for things instead of showing them. I was lucky enough to be a witness to them, following right along. Re-watching some of his masterworks again last week, they hit me square in the heart, making me ache, making me move, making me thankful to be one of those messy, tragic, beautiful things we call Human.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Pain or love or danger makes you real again.."

When I was 17 and read Jack Kerouac for the first time, it was as if the entire world turned technicolor. One of the more cruel realities of advancing age (besides the harsh realization that you can't make old friends) is the gradual on-set of cynicism and sadness. I struggle to remain relatively pure of heart, but even with the time I spend in deep meditation or cultivating joy, I continue to find reasons to be disappointed in people.

So, anyway.. "The Dharma Bums" was the book that really set everything on fire in my heart as a kid. It has long been a source of radiant beauty and spiritual inspiration, but these days, I can't seem to read more than a few pages without feeling lonesome. The whole thing feels more like a relic than a living monument to kindness and joy. Now, when I glance his gorgeous prose, the ecstatic visions of Kerouac seem less like a beautiful prelude to a life I'm meant to live and more like an elegiac psalm to an evaporating world. It's the same bittersweet feeling I would get if I were to open up a pack of Topps 1983 Baseball Cards: It used to be Magic, but you can't go home again..

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

From a former Junkman to a former Heisman..

I can be a very cynical person, and I've certainly been known for a snide remark or two concerning the behavior and NFL future of one Cleveland Browns quarterback, Johnny Manziel. I joked a few months back that his starting debut was eerily reminiscent of my first time attempting to surf; only a little more clumsy and less courageous (I had a better debut than Johnny Football). His was atrocious. Beyond that, the headlines this kid continued to make while out partying, being in the wrong places and doing the wrong things, time and time again, continued to make him tabloid fodder. I admit, I was part of the loud chorus of sports fans criticizing his every move.

But, all joking aside, the ESPN story that indicates Johnny has checked himself into a treatment facility (rehab) for substance abuse was, predictably, met with a wide array of internet chuckling and mockery. This is, however, the point where the laughter stops and the love and support begins for me.

And it really got me to thinking..

Most people truly don't understand the sickness of addiction or alcoholism. It is nearly impossible to accurately convey the lethal efficiency of various street substances in neutralizing severe pain; be it of the chronic physical, emotional or psychological variety. I understand it, because I've been there. I gave a significant amount of a year and a half away to the most wretched people on Earth (down on Bonnie Brae, between Wilshire and 6th). It was a long, long time ago. The pain was immense and the medicine was a balm for my tortured inner soul. Unfortunately, a lesson we reluctantly absorb as we age, is that pain and need hit the heart with electrical speed, but wisdom and grace come on slowly; after rock bottom failure, after learning new behaviors and coping mechanisms, beginning to repeating healthy patterns and a building and using a tremendous support network. It took all of these things to help me see clearly and learn to rebuild the things inside me that led me into those alleyways and apartment complexes so many years ago. It took a bunch of other sick people, like me, sitting around in the basement of a church, taking real inventory of their lives, challenging, supporting, listening to and championing one other.

I understand that Johnny Football has been a cartoonish spectacle and a monumental f*ckup. And I also understand that people don't like to hear excuses for bad behavior. They look at his talent and money and offer their anger and disgust in response. You see, for someone like you, it will never be rational. But what I'm telling you is, please, just consider yourself lucky to be free of this sickness.

And yes, I'm not denying some of what you're saying. I do realize how difficult it must be to manufacture sympathy for these celebrity trainwrecks, intent on self-destruction. hell, they don't even have to be famous. I'm sure, for most of you, it's not easy to look at some drunk, stumbling, cocky idiot and see them as a truly sick and powerless person. And for those of us (who hasn't) who have had to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict or alcoholic who will lie to you face, cheat on you or worse, it can be hard to want to forgive them, let along go out of your way to offer them help. I simply urge you to make an effort at understanding what this disease is for some of us. Try having greater compassion for the pain they've likely endured.

What Johnny Manziel did, by checking into this facility, was to take the first step in becoming a man. He made what very well could be the first great adult decision of his life. People can be cynical all they wish, but it takes tremendous courage to confront your disease/demons/sickness. It takes an even greater act for courage to ask for help and one even greater than that to learn to surrender your ego to something greater than your own selfish hungers and motivations.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Manziel. Go be everything you were meant to be. Heal Your Soul and Maximize Your Potential -- One Day At A Time, Brother.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Defense Of Civilization..

I'm damn tired of breathing the same air as these mind-numblingly crude religious absolutists, who take their pathetic edicts from the bawling, fearful infancy of the human species. And I'm tired of watching these cretinous troglodytes throw murderous temper tantrums, in the name of their Invisible Conqueror, and at the expense of those of who of us who continue uphold the values of the Enlightenment.

In the end, Civilization will always defeat their barbaric superstitions. Deference to their bestial beliefs and crude customs will soon be a thing of the past (where it belongs, anyway). The compulsory inculcation of faith will be shunned the world over. A new age of reason will dawn. Women, long repressed by sinister social shackles in their countries, will finally and rightfully be championed; rewarded with an education and with the dignity these merciless jackals have so long denied them. Let us not forget the thousands of heroic women who continue to stand up to the bleak horrors of Theocracy, defying their captors, in many cases daily risking disfigurement, torture and even death. A new day will soon be upon us and their heroic deeds will be lionized. Their former captors will be mocked, scorned, humiliated and imprisoned.

They will not silence artistic expression. They will not silence creativity. And they'll damn well not silence Humor, which remains one of the most powerful and courageous tools in the human arsenal. The shrug and wit of humanity cannot be repressed, and one hundred thousand murderous fundamentalists cannot dim the light of progress, which will continue to sing out and surge forward.

We will win this thing.

So, allow me to say, respectfully: Fuck You.