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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A Bit of Darkness

No one wants to be in this place but we all sort of end up here – in the hole. All of the books, all of the rituals, all of the practice, they can’t protect us absolutely.

This rule of gravity, this inevitability of falling back down no matter how high you’ve been, this is the part that makes me question God.

What’s the point?

Maybe it’s because I forgot to meditate today, slept in instead. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t write, or that my jeans are hot on my legs, or maybe it’s the kids, one of them bored and scrolling, the other crying so often and so deep that it opened me up and let the black stuff get all the way in, looking back at me, a snarled smile.

I’m old enough now to know the reasons don’t really matter.

I’m here now. Again. In this familiar place.

So many of us in our deep, tunneled wells, adjacent to one another but not knowing it. Inches close but completely alone, our individual voices wastefully echoing up and out, always up and out, intermingling up there with the things out of earshot.

So strangely comforting to know this, that, through the coarse walls of dirt, are others like me, trapped and growing tired of their own echo, curled up and hugging knees, struggling to even recall the sound, the feeling, the presence of the wind.

But the wind is mighty and it never gives up, or at least keeps playing its game. It gathers its strength from the openness of the flats, it can lift rock and rubble and stone hearts, and it carries our words on its back.

As long as you keep the words coming out, even just a little bit, as long as you let the black spiral continue to curl its way to the top — to speak in futility, to reach without hope — in time the wind will do the rest.

You won’t hear the rescue coming, you won’t witness the change. You may even still be cursing the hole and the things that got you there, but as your echo fades and your eyes adjust, you’ll look again at the walls of earth that surround you and you’ll notice, almost with regret, but more with wonder, that the wind has come and gone. And it’s left its mark.

Or, did you just not see it before?

In the walls themselves, one on top of the other, hard to make out but definitely there: footholds in the dirt.

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A Moth At My Window

A moth at my window tries desperately to get inside. He’s attracted to the glowing, white screen of my monitor, a sharp contrast to the blackness of 5am.

In haste, it scrambles into the stringy membranes of a spider web in the corner of the window. The spider wastes no time, comes out from its hiding place, traverses its highway of lines, and attacks the moth.

The moth flutters, it’s white underbelly shimmering, the web shaking.

And then it breaks free.

A small celebration inside the office.

But there’s another chapter.

The moth immediately flies back to the corner of the window near the web. It’s still trying to get in my office, to the lights. It’s not going to give up its quest.

The spider waits for the inevitable.

My hands still in the air from celebrating, I realize I am part of the murder and the feast.

The light, that’s my light. Without the light, the moth will fly away and live.

But I have a book to write and 5am is the only time I have to do it. I NEED the light to write the book.

So the moth will die.

This, I believe, is at the center of all tragedies: one’s commitment to their own success draws a line between two points which will likely obstruct another’s journey. And the choice has to be made, to interrupt your own line for the prosperity of another, for a life. Or to keep charging toward destiny while tragedy occurs in the darkness behind glass.

Today, I chose life and so sat in my EZ chair in the absence of light, hands folded, words not making it onto the screen where they belong, feeling a bit like a fool, perched and wondering how long it will take for a new idea to replace an old one.

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Props from Chester Copperpot

In the movie Goonies, a group of subterranean adolescent adventurers revel in the fact that they made it farther than the legendary treasure hunter and riddle solver, Chester Copperpot.

They had less experience and less training than the Great Mr. Copperpot; afterall, they’re just kids. But, in the end, their footprints outpaced the expert.

I have a Chester Copperpot; it’s The Hardware Store Guy, hunched over, mustached, and soft-spoken. He’s the expert. He has the solution to everything:

Try hardware cloth. Vinegar will take care of that. The trick is to go under the floorboard and come back up the other side. It’s the 3/4 inch gasket; that’s what’s giving you trouble.

Me and The Hardware Store Guy. I bring the riddles. He solves them.

As it turns out, we happen to have the same sink – an ancient model where the parts don’t have serial numbers and the fixtures don’t have logos. So, this time, when I came to him frustrated and wet, he had a pretty specific idea as to what the problem was:

The ceramic cartridge is fused into the cover nut and the piece under the basin has an outcropping so you can’t pull it through. That’s where I got stuck. Had to cut it out with a hacksaw.

Uh oh. If Chester Copperpot can’t do it…

I went to bed with the problem knotted around my brain, picking at the threads.

Upon waking up, I realized I’d solved the riddle, though, like most dreams, I couldn’t remember how I did it. Still, I had the feeling of victory in my body.

After work, I got back under the sink and banged my head and elbows around by the light of my iPhone.

I had no idea what I was doing but, having experienced the solution at least once and without the formidable shadow of Chester Copperpot looming over me anymore, I clinked around with vigor. I tried my ridiculous ideas until one of them wasn’t so ridiculous and I beat the corroded, decades-old pipes and hoses and tension brackets and cover nuts.

There is this small, lovely space at the intersection of inexperience and perseverance, where something unexpected can bloom, where you can shortcut your way to ingenuity and come out ahead of the masters.

Victory came with a quarter-turn of the crescent wrench; the damn angular metal thing dropped through the sink basin and nearly cracked my iPhone.

Like a prepubescent Goonie, I ran to the hardware store with my heavy, ugly treasure in hand: an ancient artifact, unrecognizable to all but 2 people in Oakland.

He knew what it was immediately. He was neither sad nor happy, though I saw an uncharacteristic smile curl up under his mustache.

You got farther than I did.

And then back to choosing between an 11/16 inch and 17mm socket.

Whoa. Props from the great Chester Copperpot.

There’s a certain PG-13 revelry that only a Goonie knows, a satisfaction that comes with stepping into the woods and walking your amateur feet past the experts when the only thing getting you there is your sheer desire to do it. Not your training, not your tools, just the silly, uncorroborated notion that you can.

In not understanding the best way or the proven way or the logical way, ironically, you have an advantage: you don’t know enough to know how to fail.

And that’s the solution to the riddle.

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Love the Hard Way

I think we like having enemies.

It’s an unfortunate trait that’s carried over from the primitive days of survival, a tribal necessity: we band together to win.

Bonding is a biproduct of two people pushing against a third. It’s the cheap way to reach love, the paved shortcut through the woods. It doesn’t last.

Just because there are people who do bad things to us, it doesn’t mean they have to become our enemies. We don’t have to hold on to that instinct, particularly since the clenching wears us out. Not them.

And this isn’t about being a doormat. Stand up for what you believe. Talk back, interrupt, step in, put your hand up, yell. Do what you have to do so that your voice is heard and your spirit is released.

But, if you really want to have an impact on the situation and walk away having done all you could, to become better than you were, then don’t look for allies in your hatred.

Be more courageous than that.

Look at the ugliness that’s rising in you, wooed out of its hiding place like a charmed serpent, forked tongue, ready to strike. Stare it down and will it to leave, scare it back until it slithers completely out of you, out of the room.

It will leave a space behind for something else.

When we challenge others from a place of love, we push hardest of all. Our weight is felt more deeply. We face our fears, rediscover our mission, and open up new opportunities we didn’t know were there.

Most important, our hearts stay intact. And grow bigger.

When standing in Anger and Hatred, we should see them for what they are: beacons of sharp, hot light, a call to action.

They are serpents we should thank, not kingdoms to live within.

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The Hug

I had some time so I decided to go to one of my favorite restaurants and get dinner and a drink while reading my book.

Approaching the restaurant, I could tell something was off. The door was open but the place was empty and the owner was yelling.

Walking through the door, I saw her on the phone, yelling and crying. She put the phone down, apologized. I held up my book. “I’ll sit outside. Take your time. No rush.”

She emerged 5 minutes later, sniffing, red-eyed.

“Sorry,” she said. “Sometimes you just get so overwhelmed, ya know,” and she reached for the order tickets in her apron pouch.

My next move was awkward; I almost knocked over the little plastic table. There was no good segue. I don’t remember what I said.

I had to walk around the table; it took some time. I opened my arms. She accepted.

We had one of those good hugs, the ones that last beyond the expected first 3 seconds. No back-patting, no words, just stillness, as we stood on a square of sidewalk in our city, people walking by on their way to somewhere else, wondering what could prompt a customer in flip flops to hug a crying business owner.

The afterwards was easier. Looking at each other was easier. We talked about the East Coast, siblings, being business owners, and, of course, food.

Neither of us felt weird standing out of bounds. It was calm and gentle.

We’d stepped over an invisible barrier, as if stepping off a playing field, unsatisfied with the positions we’re supposed to be playing, being so bold as to walk toward the evening sun while whistles blew and the sounds of the game continued behind us.

Closer now, seeing the restaurant and the sidewalk and the city for the first time.

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