Spider in the Shower

I was taking one of those long showers when no one is home and I can use all the hot water without even thinking about it, and I don’t have to worry about a knock on the door. I was getting really lost.

Then he showed up. The spider.

(Even just a few years ago, I would have jumped out of the tub, half-scared, half-angry, grabbed a huge wad of toilet paper and squashed the thing.)

But my daughter changed all that. She loves anything that breathes, that creates, that moves by itself, however slowly or creepily. And she wouldn’t let me kill spiders any more. Eventually, my fear of them went away.

So, seeing a spider in the shower didn’t make me jump. I stared, more fascinated than frightened, watching him scurry and climb and slide, in that order, and to no avail. Watching it all, an indifferent onlooker. I twisted at the hips to and fro to allow the water to splash off the tops of my shoulders in such a precise arc as to the spray the spider around the base of the tub.

Splash slide scurry. Splash slide scurry. Splash slide scurry.

And then nothing. The spider stopped. He huddled in a corner, curled in his legs, and bent himself into a jumbled mess of kinked black wire. He looked dead, was seeking death.

There is nothing so pathetic (and so compelling) as when a life gives up its quest.

I turned the nozzle into the wall, grabbed a loofa, and gingerly placed it next to the black scribble. It didn’t take long for him to unscramble himself and climb aboard. Like Huck Finn, he stepped onto his untrustworthy raft, less worried about destiny than survival.

The first time I lifted the raft, we both panicked. He went for my fingers, I threw the loofa, and he jumped back into the tub.

The second time, there was a bit more trust or a bit more fear – I’m not sure which – but he didn’t move, and I didn’t move and I got him out of the tub, away from the mean ol’ Mississippi and onto the shore of a fluffy white bath mat.

We went back to getting lost in our separate worlds. He, in the spider world and me, in the person world, our appreciation for each other already fading in the same way hot water cools down as you get used to it, and silence starts off wonderful but eventually makes you feel lonely.

I was careful when I stepped onto the mat and pleased when I saw him clinging to the bottom of the curtain, the two of us, filling the house. And I’m not sure if it was out of fear or out of trust, but he didn’t move a single, wiry leg while I dried off.

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Happy 2020, or Whatever

My Psychology teacher ignored the beginning and endings of chapters when he was lecturing. As soon as he finished preaching Chapter 1, he’d move right into Chapter 2, even if there were just 5 minutes left of class.

“What?!” he’d reply, with fake incredulousness, to the collective groan of the class. “We have 4 and a half minutes left. Let’s use them.”

People love demarcations. We love hard endings and new beginnings and we often put a lot of faith in them to change our lives:

This year will be different.
2020 is our year y’all.
Okay, next year, I’m going to do this for reals.

Great. If that’s what it takes to move you to action — dancing on a line that someone else created — then go for it.

But stop giving so much credit to the calendar.

Wedding anniversaries aren’t the only day to celebrate togetherness, Valentine’s day isn’t the only day to celebrate love, and birthdays aren’t the only day to celebrate life.

When we place so much emphasis on one square of the grid, when we color it in and draw little hearts around it, we’re in jeopardy of rendering the other squares blank, which is a tragedy since so much can happen on those days too.

Life-changing decisions can (and should!) be made every day of our lives. Celebrations can happen from minute to minute, not just during a 20-second countdown once a year.

In the classroom and in the world, we forget that we’re the ones authoring the rule book. We create our own time. We decide when to start and when to finish. And when to dance.

In committing to those precious moments of learning and transformation, it’s the content that matters, not the clock.

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Crying, Adults & Kids

My daughter twisted her ankle walking up our steps. She’s 13 which means the agony of it shone on her face but no tears were allowed to come out.

I know her well. I could see the tears start to come and then I watched as she swallowed them up and reverted to other things – anger, explanation, rubbing, slapping the pavement with both hands.

Somewhere along the way, we decide that tears don’t solve anything. They’re not practical. Indeed, they’re embarrassing. Children cry. Adults don’t, and that goes for teens and tweens too, trying so desperately to be like adults.

Tears may not solve problems but they allow us to focus on them.

It’s like the body telling the mind: “Hold up a second. I got something here.” It’s a declaration to zone in, to accept the pain that’s happening.

Ain’t nothing embarrassing about it. Crying gets the sadness out. It works every time.

I avoided crying for the better part of my life. My dad watched me swallow up my tears one day and I didn’t let them out again until I was in my mid-twenties. A rainstorm of tears poured out into my girlfriend’s lap. An hour at least, no kidding. We actually had a laugh about it afterward because it was so time-consuming.

It’s like the hurt hadn’t gone anywhere, like those tears of 2 decades pooled in my stomach all this time, in my guts, my throat, behind my eyes, waiting for my heart to open and my mind to give in.

It’s best to take care of your tears when they show up in the first place, because they’re going to come out, somehow, maybe not as tears, but they’ll do their thing in one way or another and you’ll feel it when they do. You’ll feel the whole earth tremble and wonder if it’s you that’s making it tremble.

Yeah, best to take care of things right away. You don’t have to do anything special. Just let it play out. It will suck at first but the release is glorious. And then the laughter, that dry cracked skin feeling on your cheeks, the beautiful emptiness in your guts, and all those hands waiting to pull you up and help you along… yeah, they’ll be there too.

People will stop what they’re doing for your tears. The ones that matter will come closer. Your heart, radiating the truest of signals, will draw them in.

I promise you that.

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An Overlooked Opportunity for Goodwill

There’s a place we all forget to look when we’re trying to spread our good vibes:

Customer Service.

Yeah, I said it. We’ve all expressed the many other emotions that go with being on hold and not getting what we want, but how often have we stopped to compliment great service?

Keep in mind that your compliments directly equate to a better quality of life for the Customer Service reps out there. It’s our voice that gets them promoted, that gets them bonuses, that gets them raises, that keeps them going.

So, be vocal about your joy. People are listening.

And take it a step further…

When that inconvenient post-call quality survey comes along, open it up and share your positive experience. If you really want to have a lasting impact, leave a positive review after you don’t get what you want. Yeah, that’s right. Break the cycle instead of reinforcing it.

It’s one of those rare opportunities where you get to change a life with just a few keystrokes.

Actually, you change three lives – theirs, yours, and the next person who calls in.

You’re that powerful.

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The Accomplishments Loop-Hole

Accomplishments are food for us humans.

That’s why we cheer out loud when a baby walks or when our friend crosses the finish line. It’s why we pass around videos of special needs adults beating their best time on a treadmill.

We do it for them but we also do it for us. It’s energizing to watch someone do something they couldn’t do before, to see their fists go up and their eyes widen. It reminds us that most barriers aren’t real and that it’s not usually our hands, our feet, nor our lungs that are holding us back.

Sometimes when you’re down, it’s helpful to watch another person go up. For some reason, it’s often easier for us to rejoice in others’ achievements, especially if they’re chipping away at something we’ve already mucked our way through.

But, you know what? When we root for someone else, we still reap the rewards ourselves. It’s a loop-hole.

Why do you think coaches and trainers and mentors are so happy and energized all the time? They get to witness progress regularly, to watch barriers get demolished by the hands that put them there. That’s where the optimism comes from. They have proof. They have thousands of case studies stacked up behind them like a great stone pillar with a big sign on it that says “You can fucking do this.”

We focus so much on the things we’re not able to do, we forget that we are in that pile of inspiring success stories too. We’ve got stones in that pillar.

If you’re feeling stuck, you may be focusing too much on yourself, and in particular, on what you’re not doing.

Seeing the glory in someone else’s eyes can help you put our own foot forward. And, no matter how far down you feel or how far ahead you’re looking, that’s the only thing you ever really need to do.

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The Machine Gun

When I’m excited about something, I make machine-gun noises with my mouth. If I’m really stoked, I’ll cup my hands to my mouth to make the noise louder, and then move my head from side to side in a sweeping motion as if I’m spraying the room with machine-gun fire. I actually imagine vases and shit exploding, stuffing from throw pillows flying into the air.

Shggtt Shggtt Shgggggggggggttt. Shggggttt.

I do this every time I finish a resume. To be honest, this is how I know I’m done with a resume: because I start making machine gun noises.

I wonder if it was the same for Van Gogh or Mozart or JD Salinger. If not machine gun noises, it had to be something: the body telling the mind to stop.

That’s the only way. When it’s good, when the muse is in full swing, the mind is gone. Or perfectly there, however you want to look at it.

So, the signal, the stopping mechanism, it’s gotta be something unconscious and automatic.

It could be anything.

For me, it’s a machine gun.

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Free From The Rules of the Shadows

All the light in the world and it’s never enough.

The sun, as generous as it is, must also cast shadows as long as there are things to illuminate.

Here’s the problem: sometimes we feel the coolness of the shadows more often than the heat of the sun. Not by choice, of course. It just sort of is, as if we’re chosen for the shadows, gifted a gravity in our hardest moments, a force that’s stronger than our will.

When you’re chosen, it makes strange sense, like it has to be this way, just as the moon pulls at the ocean and the crops burn to make room for seeds. Something has to be sacrificed to keep life coming back.

Well, fuck it.

The tide can go to hell. The crops can die.

I shall work against Gravity. I shall break the rules.

I will step out of my unearned shadow and defy the great laws that came before me. I will reach across the line of black and white and I will stand in the light and I will burn brighter than the sun to light up all that is hiding and all that was ever lost. I will send so much love into the hearts of others that they will rise. And we will…

What?

So what if it drains me.

So what if it’s the last great thing I do and my fire burns out. So what if it doesn’t last and our smiles fall and the shadows stretch over everything again. Even us.

That’s the point of the fire, isn’t it? To use it, to send light into places without light, to touch others beneath the surface, to reach out so hard and unflinchingly that we transform ourselves completely, that we become the light we long for.

I’ve been there. And back. It’s worth the risk.

We’re worth the risk. You and me.

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Looking Up On The Subway

It becomes so apparent when I’m traveling: we live alongside each other.

We occupy the same space, take the same bus, wait in the same room, stand on the same curb, but we’re a million miles away from one another. We don’t know our neighbors. We rarely break bread with strangers.

This awareness of our isolation burns me from the inside out. It makes me pull out my headphones, put my phone in my pocket, look up. And when I do this, it really gets awkward.

Try sitting in a cafe or on the subway with no laptop, no earbuds, no book, no counterpart, and then keep your head up. You’ll find yourself navigating the room with your eyes, trying not to look at anyone. You’ll read everything on the walls. You’ll search for a safe space to gaze and try to get lost in your mind.

Our glares are powerful. People can feel your eyes on their heads. You’ve seen it happen: the look-up-and-around-but-pretend-to-not-be-looking-back-at-you visual sweep. And then back to the book/phone/laptop.

Out of respect for our undisputed American values of Privacy and Safety, people have become obstacles. Eye contact amongst strangers, first and foremost, is a threat, an intrusive laser beam that blinds and bores.

A smile can’t even save us. In fact, a smile with eye contact can really sound the alarm in a silent conversation.

Hi.

Hi.

I love you.

WTF!

Sorry.

Leave me alone.

I wonder how many people in a crowded room wish the same wish: to be in community, to get to know the weirdo looking around at signs, to be bold enough to let their love out.

When out in the world, we’re always on the way somewhere else, trying to get ahead, and drowning everything else out. I do it too, when I’m walking, when I’m riding the bus, when I’m waiting for the light to turn.

For us, transit is the time between two points, an empty space that needs something jammed into it.

So, we fill it.

I don’t know if we do this out of fear, self-interest, or indifference, but we all do it – millions of us – and when there is consistency of an action at such great scale, an erosion takes place, as if our eye-lasers, useless on the outside, turn inward, and cast searing hot light into our skulls, down our necks, and into our bodies. The heat, the burn, hollowing us out layer by layer, our most powerful tool backfiring and leaving us as empty as the growing spaces between us.

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We’re All In Need of the Same Thing

We’re all in need of the same thing:

Acceptance.

In love, at work, with family, with friends, in the presence of God. We’re hoping our jagged little pieces will make sense to someone else, that they’ll fit into something important and prove our life’s work was worth it.

We know how imperfect we are. We’re the experts of our own minds, which means sometimes we feel like prisoners. No matter how big our cells, we’ve gotten to know every last corner of the room.

We have more time than anything else, time to examine, time to critique. It’s what we do with time. The goal is to make ourselves better but often we get stuck in the first part, wedged between walls, smushed between two panes of glass under our own microscope.

The objective is noble, but the quest, by its nature, is a struggle. And it can wear you down.

When you find yourself stuck between the glass or pacing the perimeter of your cell, I wish for you 3 things.

One, that you remember to love what you see, even if you’ve seen it before, even if it bores you. Especially, if it bores you.

Two, that you believe there is something new for you. Out there. In here.

And three, that you recognize the struggle in someone else’s eyes, run your hands over their sharp edges, and point them toward something lovely or something new.

For, we are not just prisoners but wardens and governors too. We are the hands on the bars. We are the eyes at the lens, peering into a tunnel of light and causing our own headache, as our hands blindly fidget for the right setting.

Pull away, look up. You’re on both sides of the bars. You’re above the glass and there’s something lovely and new waiting for you.

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Searching for Villains

I’ve been yelling at the podium a lot lately.

It’s the school board. I scratched a little hole, looked through, and what I saw was too ugly to walk away from. The people around me, the community, a lot of them see it too and now we’re all standing in the mud, tearing at these holes, to let the light in, to show as many people as possible

And it’s making me wonder where the light comes from, because, honestly, I just feel like I’m getting darker. I’m filling with hatred.

What about all that B.S. about appreciating enemies, fighting with love? How do I square that with this? What happens when the villain is big enough to be doing some real damage, permanent damage that will take years to undo?

Like a school board that’s fucking up the city.
Like a bully who takes your lunch money.
Like a lawmaker who steals your freedom.
Like the boss who eats your soul.
Like the shooter who killed your child.

How do you wrap love around them? How do you move mountains with stillness? How do you wage a revolution without letting hatred take over your heart?

I’m not sure how others feel, but I’m not at my best when I hate. When hate covers me and stays on me for long periods of time, it dries and cakes up, crusts my eyes shut, makes me leave tracks on the rug, mucky footprints in my house that are hard to get out.

I don’t function well like this.

My fight for one revolution is stunting another: the roar of my allies is drowning out my own silly rallying cry for connection across the aisle, for love in all places.

This conflict is as big as the moon, sharper than the devil’s triton. The pain is great, though easy to ignore in the sway of the crowd, with my heaving breaths hitting the microphone, my face hard, my fingers curled into tight little balls.

I finish.

Signs go up with fists. Thunderous voices, anger and spit flying from open mouths, mud on boots, mud on the stage, mud at the podium, mud all around.

No, no no! Stop, stop, stop! Fight, fight, fight!

I feel the rush in my head and hands, the revolution swirling inside me like a dark wind. We’re winning, we’re growing.

And then there’s this: a voice inside that refuses to climb out its whisper. It rests in that narrow column of stillness that lives in every storm. It is bold and quiet like a tiny flame, content between two unsteady hands.

I know you can hear me. I’m not going away.

You can’t save the world by searching for villains.

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