Big Microphones

Silver dynamic microphone on black microphone stand

We’d be a lot better off if the people with microphones would commit to saying positive things more often.

Oh, the progress we’d make if we chose to CREATE rather than CRITIQUE!

It’s okay to not like something.

But does that dislike have to be said out loud, into a microphone, in clever ways, over and over again?

Instead of saying what someone else is doing wrong, why not go out and do it right?

Instead of taking someone down, why not take a risk… like they did.

You’ll understand them better.

And you’ll create your own thing, instead of suffocating someone else’s.

Let’s make more, not less.

Let’s prove that our hearts are as big as our microphones.

Teenagers (Eye Roll)

Girl close face peeping with one eye

There’s that trope that teens rebel.

As if, they do it for no reason, like they actually want to make both of us miserable.

It’s not like that.

They’re the new ones.

We, as the adults, are slowing down, partially because we want to and partially because we have to.

We’ve stripped away everything except what we think is essential. That’s our life’s work: To hack away the excess and find our way through.

But, as much as we cherish our own hard-earned discoveries in this life, all that we’ve learned and all that we know doesn’t necessarily take long to master. We’re handing our kids a cheat sheet, not an anthology.

They can get through that shit in a heartbeat. (We’re talking about kids who have already consumed half the Internet!). So they can surely handle our 15-point checklist.

And if we’ve done our job right as parents then our precious, carefully constructed teenagers should be smart enough and brave enough to question everything on that list.

Their cross-outs, their notes in the margin…

That’s something to celebrate.

Standing Still

Time lapse photography of brown concrete building

The world moves so quickly.

Prices and temperatures rise, stores change hands, technology reinvents, products cycle out, hip people become unhip, language evolves…

And all of us chasing after these things, trying to stay on top of it all, to be in the know.

I get overwhelmed at all the emails, the talking heads, the memes, the meme parodies of other memes, the news headlines, the podcast advice, the so-called experts who are experts because they are liked and not because they are experts.

I’d like to say I don’t care but that’s like pretending I’m not standing in a tornado.

My computer just told me it needs an upgrade.

Oh, and there’s my meditation app, pinging me again. It wants me to slow down.

But it’s hard to be present when everything else is passing you by.

The Magical Mood Changer Upper

We bought a ridiculously huge Slip N Slide.

Technically, it’s not even a Slip N Slide. It’s a commercial grade, 40-foot long inflatable blue water slide with 7-foot tall inflated rings that spray water down on you as you slide through. It takes up our whole yard.

(Fortunately, it only required a trickle of water to get it going.)

It’s awesome.

There’s really only one mood you can have after going down this thing.

Yesterday I was in a different mood, a shitty mood: the result of a confluence of events: problems with work, stolen phone, flat tire, possible fractured wrist of my teen, thoughts about paying for college, kid drama at elementary school.

All of this coming at me in my small world and then outside of that, a swirling ring of the crap that surrounds us all: lying politicians, tough headlines, schools suffering, corporate takeovers, climate change, wars waged by narcissistic zealots.

As much as I’d like to believe this stuff doesn’t get to me, it does — even with meditation, even with my “failsafe” morning routine, a consistent gratitude practice, all that journaling.

Sometimes the shit just gets in you.

So, as I was saying, yesterday I came home with all this stuff weighing me down. I thought about having a weekday beer but my wife was in the backyard with one of our closest friends and our daughter. The Slip N Slide was all blown up. I could see it over the fence and I could hear the screams from the gate.

To be honest, I was in such a funk, I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to have a beer and brood. That’s the mood I was in. Or more specifically, That’s where my mood wanted to take me.

Uh uh.

I threw on my trunks before I could convince myself otherwise, and I launched myself into that inflated tunnel of water.

It was cold. I went super fast on my belly, my arms outstretched and hands in front of me like Superman, flying down the frictionless corridor until I splahed into the 6-foot-tall inflated wave at the end, my head and hair drenched, eyes wide open, fists gyrating in the air.

After just 3 minutes and 40 feet, my heart was pounding. It was exhilarating. It was ridiculous.

Just what I needed.

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

It worked.

And judging by the laughter of my people at the other end, it hadn’t just work for me.

This thing is less a Slip N Slide and more like an invention you might find in a Dr. Seuss book: a Magical Mood Changer-Upper. You enter one side droopy and in despair and go out the other elated and full of hope.

With a star on your belly and a smile on your face.

The Magical Mood Changer-Upper. There may be one in your house; if not a Slip N Slide, then something else. And it’s worth looking for because when you don’t have the energy to change your mood, the Magical Mood Changer-Upper can do it for you.

(Star belly adhesive kit sold separately.)

The Art of Chill

Multicolored abstract painting

The Art of Chill evolves over time. It’s a craft I’ve been practicing since birth.

In youth, it’s about taming your anxiety about the future, being okay with not knowing what lies ahead, taking your hits gracefully. It’s remaining poised and relaxed while looking at a thousand blank canvasses, with a single paint brush in your hand.

But as you age, as experience pours into your soul and fills you up, The Art of Chill becomes a different animal altogether.

If we’ve lived well, those thousand canvasses have been painted; there are no white spaces left to color.

And this creates a very different kind of anxiety and therefore a need for a new kind of Chill.

We have to be able to look at our paintings and genuinely appreciate them, especially the ones that are uninteresting and unsold. We must scour them for things we missed, find something new, something that’s always been there but’s been difficult to see.

The good news is that since we’ve changed, the paintings will too; in this way they keep giving back to us.

That’s the wisdom of age: knowing that things once considered permanent, are anything but.

So, when life gets heavy and all the gleaming white spaces seem to have disappeared.

Look again.

There’s something you missed. A thousand things you missed, a new story coming through in the twisting shapes your beautiful hand splashed out long ago.

It takes decades of a lived life to be able to see it.

This sacred message, you’ve earned.

And once you see it, once you look deeply into your own creations, the shifting patterns will tunnel up off the flat surfaces and dance in a spiral around you… loving you back and inviting you to dance with them.

And finally you’ll rest in the comfort of knowing that you don’t need more canvasses.

Just more paint.

Fiddler’s

Old School Arcade Games

I wouldn’t say I grew up in a bar…

But there were a few formative years where I spent a lot of time in one.

Fiddler’s Green: a dive bar with an attached restaurant on Center street.

My dad’s best friend was the bartender, so he always sat at the bar and ordered what he referred to as “pretty drinks:” bright red and orange cups of juice disguised as cocktails, so he could just hang out, sometimes for hours.

And he’d bring my brother and me.

We’d almost immediately go to the back room where the arcade games were — Donkey Kong, Asteroids. The best was pinball because we could make it last the longest.

We hit up everyone for quarters and they loved giving them to us. It’s certainly worth 25 cents to put glowing smiles on a set of perspiring 8- and 10-year-olds.

There was Cocoa, a gorgeous black women with an afro who always wore fancy clothes, perfume and heels and who delivered an oversized hug that was so squishy and immersive, we’d blush.

And Louie, a biker dude with an insane resemblance to the mumbling wrestling icon Randy “The Macho Man” Savage, both in appearance and speech. He breathed heavy breaths like he’d just come up the stairs, and he wore t-shirts with the collar and sleeves ripped out. He once took us out in his sparkly purple dune-buggy and drove us around town, flying through gas stations on the corner to avoid the lights. He became a God after that.

Another regular, The Governor, an impossibly old, emaciated white dude who rarely talked but when he did, the whole bar would stop and wait for him to sound out 5 or 6 stuttery words, and then belly-laugh in unison. The Governor once gave us a dollar in quarters and I remember my dad taking me aside and saying, “That’s a big deal that he did that for you boys.” And I didn’t know if he was Mafia or just flat broke.

And of course, Ray, the bartender who, for some reason, loved me like his own son. I could see it in his smile and feel it in his hug. When a good song would come on, he’d come out from behind the bar and dance. “It’s all in the hips, Clifford.” And when we ran out of quarters, sometimes he’d open up the machine and give us a bunch more. He came to my soccer games and would run up and down the field yelling my name louder than anyone else.

When we ate food, which was rare, we always had the same waitress, who I definitely had a crush on. She had all the jokes and was always in a good mood. We’d order baked stuffed clams which I didn’t love but I loved how much my dad liked it when I ordered them so we’d get them a lot.

I must have drank a tanker-truck full of Coca Cola’s in that place, delivered through Ray’s magical soda hose that could summon any carbonated beverage we wished. We got Coke’s mainly but, on occasion ginger ale for Shirley Temples.

I remember Fiddler’s as an explosively happy place, with people yelling my dad’s name from the other end of the bar, everyone buying each other drinks, and laughter after almost every line.

I was too young to realize people were hammered, hiding out from their spouses, nursing really bad habits, stowing away their baggage until closing.

And isn’t that what it is to be innocent: to lack context, to reside in the beloved expanse of wonder prior to the intrusion of insight?

I was a kid. I had no idea what that crescent moon-shaped mirror was doing laying flat on the back of the toilet. Or why people came out happier than they went in.

All I really cared about were the video games, Cocoa’s legs, finagling more quarters, and drinking as many sodas as I wanted.

But the other stuff was seeping in too. I realize that now.

Whatever drove people to the bar certainly never found its way into the bar.

No boogeymen allowed.

Fiddler’s was a refuge and when you eliminated the factors that got people there, you were left with all the good things: hugs, laughter, love, generosity, forgiveness, and plenty of room to dance like nobody’s watching.

We mastered Donkey Kong and every pinball game that cycled through there. Never could figure out Asteroids…

And, those in-between moments, when I would climb up onto a bar stool and my dad’s heavy hand would land on my head while Ray poured me a Coke?

Those were good too.

Much Ado in the Hotel Lobby

Empty dining tables and chairs

My mom is starting to lose her memory.

Sometimes there are sweet moments, like how she reveres a sunset from her balcony while we drink Budweiser tall-boys.

And then there are the hard moments, like when I watch her forget where she is while walking down the street, when she messes up the details of a story she’s told me for decades, or when she forgets it’s me over here on the couch, the one who bought her the TV she raves about when she can’t think of anything else to say.

The lapses come and go. Good days and bad days.

She still pays her bills, buys groceries, makes her own dinner, goes to church every week… my mom, the little old lady who tells strange stories that don’t connect, who wears the same slacks with dirty white New Balance tennis shoes every day.

While visiting, I spend my days with her but I have to leave at night. There’s no room in the guest bedroom with all the boxes. Besides, I need to get away. Not sure where I’m trying to go, but, after a day of reminding her about things, it’s helpful to be somewhere else.

I found a hotel 3 blocks from her house. And I spent my mornings sitting in the lobby by the window in the corner, drinking tea and doubling up on complementary microwave quiches. I brought a book but I just kept reading the same page over and over.

Silence is difficult when you have so many questions in your head that you don’t want to know the answers to.

But, I was spared.

As if on cue from some merciful offstage director, a tragic comedy appeared behind me in the hotel lobby. The arguing chorus of 4 generations crescendoed as they came around the corner and down the hall.

The teenage daughters: complaining about the weight of the suitcases.
Their mom: complaining about the teens
The grandma: worrying about how they’ll pack the car.
And the great grandma: not saying a word but being talked about.

“Pull Nanna up to the table. Cover nanna’s legs.”

The scene was set:

In the foreground, a pensive, distracted middle-aged man with his feet up drinking tea and staring at a book. And behind him (as I imagined it, because I never turned my head), 4 women lugging suitcases and scoffing at each other with exaggerated body language while an old lady sits quietly in a wheelchair.

The mom was the obvious protagonist. She was the loudest and the most talkative. I pictured her with spikey blond hair — not a natural blond — and a handbag at the crook of her arm.

She ordered around her daughters and argued with her mom. They were on a road trip, up from Texas into Montana and, as was stated a dozen times, the suitcases were never going to fit in the van.

“Ma, you’re going to have to ride with ’em up front.”

It was chaos, just what I needed.

But it died down as quickly as it came and something else showed up in its place; a different scene entirely. Act 3.

The kids and the grandma left the room and the stage lights contracted to fall completely on our protagonist, the spikey-haired mom from Texas next to (what I surmised to be) her own grandma who she treated much differently than any of the others.

And, as is the case in theater, I went from laughing at the characters to caring deeply for them.

“Nanna, do you want some tea?” her voice changing octaves. “How about some tea? It will feel good on your throat. Some tea with lemon? I’ll get you some tea.”

Silence.

“Here, Nanna. Have some tea.”

Nanna broke her silence, it was time for her big line: “It looks like it’s going to be a nice day today.”

“Yes it does, Nanna. You are absolutely right. It’s going to be a nice day.”

Silence.

“Everything okay, Nanna?”

“Where are we?”

“I know it sounds crazy, Nanna, but we’re in Montana. We’re in Kalispell, Montana.”

“Oh, wow. Montana. How long have we been here?”

“We got here last night, Nanna. We came in from Missoula. You enjoyed the ride. It was a nice day yesterday too. We have a lot of nice days.”

“Oh that’s nice. “

“Drink your tea, Nanna. You like tea. It feels good on your throat.”

“Oh, thank you.”

Silence.

No cars pass, no people walk by.

Nanna, in the exact same intonation as before:

“It looks like a nice day today.”

I pictured her pointing just past my shoulder to the window.

“You’re absolutely right, Nanna. It looks like a nice day.”

It was a gift. Not quite an answer but part of the puzzle.

Sometimes the universe looks out for you and shows you the tenderness that’s available in every moment, even the ones that hurt so deeply. And then you can see that you’re connected to people you don’t even know, and that these people, without knowing you, they’re looking out for you too, by playing out their own pain and their own tattered love right alongside yours.

And, even if you never see them, never turn around to look, you know they were there, and that they’re out there somewhere now, near Missoula or Kalispell or Texas, trying to answer the same awful questions you are…

There we are, playing the starring role in hotel lobbies and apartment balconies, looking into the troubled blue eyes of someone who’s loved us more than anyone else in the world.

And hoping for nice days.

Support & Timing

time-lapse photography of blue sea

When someone you love is struggling, it’s easy to make the mistake of sending too much help too quickly.

Your commotion, though with good intention, is likely causing more waves and people don’t need more waves when they’re drowning.

They need your steady, reliable touch, so they can get back into their body and actually see the waves, size them up, catch a glimpse of the beach between swells.

There will be plenty of time later for all your great ideas.

But first, the touch.

Waterslides

multicolored slide at daytime

Since roller coasters aren’t an option anymore due to my proclivity for dizziness (sob), I went to the water park with my daughter, instead.

We hit the Big Kahuna, The Typhoon Lagoon, and the wave pool.

But it was 70 degrees, not nearly warm enough for a water park. Even a lazy river.

So, we found a wooden bench by the raft rentals and laid out like lizards.

After 20 minutes of silence — I think I may have fallen asleep — I raised up on my elbows.

“Wanna get out of here?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Really? But we’re just lying here. Not much fun to be had.”

Silence.

“So you just want to lay here?”

She didn’t bother opening her eyes.

“Fun doesn’t always have to mean water slides, daddy.”

Damn. She got me again.

Too Emotional

On the way to camp this morning, we passed Hazel’s elementary school and she started sobbing. I asked her what was wrong, though I already knew.

“I miss Miss Zimmerman,” she said from the back seat. And then she cried real hard, as if the words out loud were telling her something she didn’t already know.

I pulled over so she could get it all out before showing up at camp. Her first words after the tears dried up were “I can’t wait to see ____________!” in reference to a friend at camp. Her new smile was as strong as her tears. “I promise myself I’m going to give her a great big hug when I see her.”

It was amazing. In a matter of minutes, she’d walked to the sun and back.

But when I dropped her off, she became too shy to give that great big hug. She was barely able to talk. She shrunk down into her clothes, hid in her hoodie. I wanted to give the hug for her, play back the tape in the car, pull hearts out of my sleeve.

Instead, I chatted with the moms and left for breakfast.

I thought I was good. I thought I was moving on.

Halfway through breakfast, with my grits swirled unneatly into my eggs, I noticed my eyes were wet and my nose was running. There I was, in a near-empty restaurant on a Monday, wiping at the corners of my eyes and sniveling up snot, damp crumpled napkins in a pile.

Honestly it was baffling.

I’m not sure if I was happy or sad, or just having an allergic reaction but I could feel this sweetness deep down, like I wanted to put my arms around the world.

I brought a book to read but never opened it, just held the coffee cup up to my lips, feeling the heat through the porcelain and staring out the front door at the traffic going by. My stomach ached.

Crazy how you don’t know something is there until it forces itself upon you.

Especially the things inside.

I’d just finished up a 10-day trip to the east coast. Saw my family in full, the oldest and the youngest, attended a wedding, held hands with Molly through the vows, watched my dad invite my daughter outside to see the fireflies, saw my friends from high school who immediately loved my girls just as I love theirs. Stayed up til 3 riffing with a college mate on saving the world as we sat under a thunderstorm on her patio, listened to my dad tell everyone he’s engaged with biggest smile he’s ever had, laughed so deeply with my brother, we healed the room.

Raucous roadtrips, silence in a crowd, sitting awkwardly, missing moments that may never happen again, sleeping in, hardly sleeping at all, heartfelt conversations, lingering glances, looking way, no words, taking off, landing, taking off, landing, coming home…

And, now, right in front of me: a string of texts from friends, welcoming me back, inviting me over, sending me big, red hearts.

It’s no wonder.

When I was little, I would have to hide myself in order to cry. I climbed trees, built blanket forts in the playroom, took extra time in the shower. And then in college, it was fire escapes, whiskey, walks with my sunglasses on, and waiting for no one to be home.

As much as I seek to connect with people, to be present whenever possible, to love out in the open, I can’t help but wonder how much I’m still not able to show, what’s trapped inside?

I thought of Hazel in the back seat, looking out the window, not wiping her tears away at all.

Which is the part we learn? Crying when you pass by a memory or sucking it all back in before you get out of the car?

I paid the check, left a big tip, and walked out with my eyes still wet, sunglasses in place. I didn’t hug the waiter, though I really wanted to.

Oh Hazel, sweet girl, daddy’s a little lost on this one.

And you’re doing fine.