The Boogeyman, Revealed

I listened to my daughter and her friend talk about the boogeyman yesterday, in the car ride home from picking up pizza.

You’re safe as long as you stay under the covers. He won’t come and get you if you’re asleep. Yeah, only if you’re awake. And he knows the difference between sleep walking and real walking. Totally! And when you’re in bed you have to be still. Well, you can move a little. Like how you move when you’re asleep. Yeah. Yeah, that’s definitely allowed.

They were laughing as they said these things so I thought it okay to ask some questions.

Can you have your head above the covers? Yes.

Why does the boogeyman get mad if you’re awake? I don’t know he just does.

When do you have to be asleep by, according to the Boogeyman? Within 15 minutes.

What happens when he actually comes? How should we know!?

Still laughing…

They know how ludicrous this all sounded. I think that’s what the laughter was about.

I didn’t realize my daughter was still thinking about the boogeyman, the monster in the closet. It makes me sad to think of her laying in her bed scared every night after I kiss her on the forehead. (If the boogeyman ever shows his face, there’s going to be a mob of parents that want to kick his ass, that’s for sure.)

Anyway, I marvel at how these somewhat grown kids can talk about their fears in laughter. They deconstruct the boogeyman in such a detached, matter-of-fact way, as if describing the opposing team’s strategy, standing there at the chalkboard pointing at the X’s and O’s.

Freud suggested that naming the boogeyman makes the boogeyman disappear. (I believe this is how you kill Freddie Kruger as well, as we learn in “Nightmare on Elm Street,” the first one.)

But this didn’t work for my daughter and her friend. They’ve named the boogeyman, described what he looks like, what his preferences are, what he cares about. They know their boogeyman backward and forwards, yet he keeps coming back.

Sometimes the brain and the heart aren’t connected. You know this is happening when the tone of your voice and the topic at hand don’t line up, like laughing when you’re talking about a mythical dude who comes in your room to kill you.

This is survival, just to get through. Sometimes we don’t want the heart around because of what it holds, so we stay in the brain. But when we get stuck in this pattern, where the brain speaks for the heart, the boogeyman keeps coming back.

We try to talk our way out, which only really works in high school debates and courtrooms. When it comes to the boogeyman, Freddie Kruger, and the monsters in our closets, our secret weapon is usually locked up in our heart, a tornado of fury and pain and the darker things that, once released, swarm Evil like locusts until nothing remains.

And as our brain tries to comprehend the math and science of it all, our heart rejoices in its emptiness, open to everything and ready to fill up once more.


Bored Like A Rock Star

One of my clients was on tour with a rock band – I’m talking, like, major rock band. She was the assistant band manager, which meant, among her other bazillion duties, she set up all the pre-show and after-show events for screaming hysterical fans.

I had a lot of questions for her.

I pictured myself alone backstage with screaming, hysterical fans, entering the room one after the other to get a selfie and a signature, ecstatic to be in my presence, unable to speak they’re so excited, experiencing the greatest moment of their lives.

From my non-celebrity perspective this sounds awesome: to be able to give that much joy to someone simply by being there. Sign me up!

Not so fast. My client quickly popped that bubble.

Apparently, anything can get old. This band had been doing autographs for years. It was part of the job description, just like playing their guitar solos, doing Rolling Stone interviews, and flying to cities all over the world. Hard to believe being a rockstar can start to feel like writing TPS reports, but I guess anything can. With enough time and repetition, our work becomes a chore – any work, even being a world-famous, widely adored, generously paid rock and roll god.

This is liberating, isn’t it?

We can let go of the idea that there is an ideal job out there that we don’t have. And we can look at the job we do have, perhaps flattened out under the weight of time, and find a way to blow it up again.

What if the rock star purposefully fucked up one of their solos, like really fucked it up, or dropped into a hellish off-key rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb? What if that same rock star decided, backstage one night, to share a road story with one of those screaming fans? Or just to scream as loud as them? With them.

We’re not as bound by time as we think. Our sentence can be pardoned at any time, as easily as slipping a finger off a guitar string to change a chord and disrupt the same old song.


Think Outside The Dots

People often come to me thinking in black and white. They say…

I need to figure out if I want to stay at my job or get the hell out…
I’m not sure if I want to manage people or remain an individual contributor…
Should I keep my career in software or try aviation?

“Or” can be an evil word. There are usually more options than what you see on the table. Your story has more than two endings.

To break yourself free of either/or thinking, view your two options more as poles on a continuum rather than the lone answers on a multiple choice test. Draw a horizontal line on a page and label each end with the options you perceive. Then look at the line, not at the end points. There are infinite possibilities along that line.

Maybe you can shift positions within your job instead of leaping out of it. Is it possible to work alongside your colleagues but in a lead role? Maybe managing a small team will allow you to do some hands-on work as well. What if you can build the software you’re used to building but from within an aviation company instead of a tech firm?

You know the saying: Think Outside the Box. Well, we also need to learn to Think Outside the Dots.

Dichotomous thinking lures us into believing we only have a couple of dots to work with, when in fact there’s a whole line of options.

Think outside the dots.


Present Tense

There’s this thing I do when talking to clients about their work histories. I tend to ask questions in the present tense.

Who do you report to? How is the company structured? What level of authority do you have? Who’s on your team?

Sometimes the client will stop me and remind me that they don’t work there anymore. I can’t blame them for that, but there’s something else at work here.

One of the most powerful therapeutic techniques involves asking clients to put themselves in the center of a pivotal past event but in the present tense. It feels kind of weird to do but it works wonders. It forces the person to be in that space instead of thinking about being in that space.

I’m sure we’d all agree there is a big difference between telling a friend about how you love your partner versus telling that partner directly. Picture an estranged spouse on the Dr. Phil show pouring their heart out to the TV therapist who then yells at them in his incredulous southern drawl, “Don’t tayell me, tayell heeyim!” and then that person turns to their partner and can’t even get through the first few words with crying hysterically.

Look at wedding vows: brides and grooms run through their lines a hundred times without getting emotional but once they’re on that stage, in the moment, speaking to the object of their affection… well, that’s when we start taking pictures.

Context and time matters.

Speaking in the present tense invites us to go back in time, to actually see our colleagues, the rickety old office furniture, to remember the smells, the rumors, the cubicle wall that was always falling down, the pictures we pinned up on our monitor. Fully immersed, we recall more.

As someone tasked daily with making people recall things that happened years ago, I can tell you it works.

Once we get into our Way-Back machine, pick a date, land in that time, and get out of the vehicle, we’re well on our way to remembering things we forgot and changing our perspective of the past, which, you better believe, changes the course of time.


What Comes After A Good Cry

I had just finished crying over the loss of a friend.

It was 6 am and my daughter, the younger one, was up early laying in bed next to my wife, or, should I say, on top of my wife, annoying the heck out of her, trying to get her to let her watch baby videos on her phone. This is the scene I walked into from my office, my eyes still drying up.

When I tried to extract her from her mama, my daughter threw her body around and wailed . I thought it was a fake cry but it persisted, all the way down the stairs, through the hall, and into the living room. She was no longer asking for baby videos, just crying.

And how could I get angry about it? I had just had an inconsolable moment myself, up there in my office, where know one could see me.

I sat back with my daughter and laid her across my chest so that her head rested on my shoulder. Her body hiccuped out pain, tensing up with each indecipherable syllable. I stroked her head, a gentle motion in complete contrast to her jerking body and rhythmic shrieking.

I spoke to her but quickly realized I was speaking to myself, the man crying at his keyboard not moments before.

“It’s okay to cry. Sometimes you have something in you that hurts and it needs to come out and when it comes out it hurts more, but you just keep going through it because that’s what your body wants to do and it’s not up to you anymore and so you just keep going. And eventually it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Her wailing escalated, and I didn’t know if it was out of compliance or defiance of what I’d said.

The sun was just starting to come up and the room was lightening. There were toys on the floor, scattered and still, blankets and pillows piled around us. The coolness of the outside air seeped through the window panes just enough to make me realize it was there.

My daughter kept crying, trying to burrow her way into my chest, finding that place I had gone into earlier that morning.

Her hand in a fist gripping my shirt, my palm relaxed and flat on her back, the present and the past happening at the same time, each holding the other.

It was a perfect moment.


Chinese Shelf

We have this ornate wooden bookshelf in the hall. We call it the Chinese Shelf. It’s come with us across 3 houses and is always used in the same way: to display the things we brought back from traveling the world. Or rather that my wife brought back. She’s the one who’s done most of the traveling in the family, before we were family, to Japan, Thailand, India, Tibet, and, yes, China.

At our latest residence (you might call it the permanent one), the Chinese Shelf has collected more than just cultural mementos.

In being at the top of the stairs, positioned in the hall between the kids’ rooms and our room, it’s become a catch-all for a new kind of artifact: everyday household items that need to go downstairs, or that have just come upstairs but are in limbo of where they will ultimately be stationed, stored, or forgotten.

Things like rubber bouncy balls and empty kitchen bowls and sunglasses and duct tape and orphaned playing cards and unidentified little plastic caps, and hair-ties (with hair stuck to the little metal ring) and canisters of slime and phone charging cords and tubes of sunblock all cling precariously to the shelves, piled up on each and other, like suburban barnacles.

My wife wants to travel again. It’s become a motivating thing for her. She’s started listening to podcasts about earning free miles and money through credit card applications so we can travel more, like she used to.

I want to encourage this, so, even though we’re still figuring out how to fund these new adventures, I’ve cleared the Chinese Shelf of our domestic artifacts to leave behind the overseas ones – totems, pictures, paper swans, strange wooden heads and bowls, textiles, fragile marionette puppets, rocks, and shells – symbols of freedom from faraway friends and gift shops, objects that beckon memories and long for new companions.

I never was very good at finance, but I’m good at motivation and I know that in order to open yourself up for new things, you have to clear a space. You have to make the tough decision to get rid of things, to scrape off the barnacles, to chip away a little at your current conditions and change the shape of that stagnant state of mind.

You have to clear off a surface and make room for new.


Mr. Cook

Hey folks, we had a bit of a glitch with today’s post, so here it is again: an important one that poured out of me in like 15 minutes about the timelessness of beloved relationships….

My high school art teacher died Wednesday and, though I’m 3,000 miles away and missed his retirement party, I’m walking around with a heavy heart, the wind knocked out of me, in a daze.

So many memories piling up like all of those 4×6 photographs he had heaped in the back of his classroom on that long white shelf that ran the length of the windows. The photos, faded and curled and sticking together, were interspersed with torn-out magazine pages.

He never let you draw something purely out of your mind. You always had to go back to that pile and pick out images. At any given moment during the day, a student was at that pile, head down, peeling off photos in search of inspiration.

It was decades later, in my 40’s, when we became Facebook friends, and he shared snapshots of the islands where he grew up (and later convalesced) that I realized where those pictures had come from.

Rusted boats, doorways of vacant buildings, silhouettes of people, thousands of red, orange, and yellow sunsets, rock piers, tin cans floating in the waves, tree-lined horizons, industrial signs, antiquated flamethrowers, abandoned once-beloved automobiles with plants growing up through the engine…

He never talked about that place where all the photos came from, at least not to me, and I never asked. That’s one of the many regrets I have now, like visiting the school in my 30’s when he just happened to be home sick, not hugging him at graduation, and deciding not to call after watching him sing songs with his guitar on Facebook.

But it makes me smile through my tears, picturing him in the classroom, there behind me as I sketch out an antiquated flamethrower. Sensing my frustration with the line I’m on, he’d hand me a piece of gumbo eraser and whisper: “That’s it, Cliff. Just sneak up on it.”

And so I kep going, without ever looking back to thank him.

I see now, what he must have seen: the backs of our heads, our bodies hunched over giant white rectangles of paper, fixated on what we could create, our brains free from the pain of high school for 50 glorious minutes, as we unknowingly recreated – a million times over – the pictures of his sunrises and sunsets… the artifacts of long, solitary walks across decades, the things he and he alone knew the meaning of.


A Revealing Outfit

I hosted a “NeverWear” party one year. The idea was for people to wear the clothes they never wear. Heh heh. Get it? It was raucously successful. We had fur vests and bell bottoms, tuxedos and tiaras, name brands and no names, shirts too small and shirts too big.

People were given permission to put fashion on hold, vanity took a back seat, and we all came forward. Everyone had a story to tell, about their outfit but really about themselves: who they once were and what their boundaries are.

I have lots of ideas for parties. One I haven’t realized yet is “The Opposites” party, a step beyond the NeverWear theme, where partygoers dress in the exact opposite way as they normally do.

The instructions are purposefully vague.

The idea here is liberation and pride. Dressing wholly and obviously opposite is the same thing as underscoring the part of your identity you love most. It’s a coming out party in secret. You get to brag without bragging, tell everyone how you want to be seen and how you think you’re already perceived – a monologue we never openly deliver but should.

Truth on display.

What would you wear?


Different Cocktails

You’re out with friends and someone buys a round of cocktails. Everybody drinks up and comments on how great the cocktails are, but you’re thinking everyone is crazy, there’s way too much alcohol in here, or maybe it’s too spicy, or lacks any flavor at all. This shit is watered down and you can’t taste a thing!

You watch everyone dancing around and sipping on their little red straws like it’s the greatest thing in the world and you’re thinking: I call bullshit. I’m not feelin’ it.

And what if this happened to you every time you went to a bar? You might start feeling a little weird about it, pretending you actually like the drink, fooling your friends (and yourself) into thinking you’re catching the same buzz. Or, you might embrace the different drink you’re served, the tastes you were forced into from birth. Or, you might stop going out altogether.

One thing we’d all do, regardless of who we are or where we’re from… we’d send the drinks back. We’d get up in the Great Mixologist’s face, with a combination of rage and sadness and ask her to tweak the levels, to play with the balance.

And it’s annoying that we have to do this little extra step every time! We hate to leave our friends to walk behind the bar, tap the Bartender, and give her an additional instruction or two. Every time.

Sometimes our friends notice this and talk about it, sometimes they ask us directly and, though it may be coming from a place of concern, we wish they could taste what we taste, feel what we feel, and just for once have the same chemicals coursing through their brains and bodies as we do.

We work hard to get our cocktail right and we hate that extra trip to the bar, but it gets us out, which is always better than staying inside.


Enemies & Awakedness

I would like to thank my enemies – the dissenters, the faceless commentators, the backstabbers, the Yelpers, the rats, the arguers, the contrarians…

You force me to rethink my worldview, to review my blueprints one more time. At the very least, you inspire me to double-underline the keywords in my poems. At best, you make me tear certain parts out.

Although we hate to admit it, our enemies make us think harder and faster than our friends. When we jump into “Oh no you didn’t!” mode furiously typing out our reply or waving a finger in the checkout line, we’re immediately alive and functioning at our peak.

It’s like waking up from a nap when the doorbell rings. You snap into action. And if that surprise visitor is a threat to your family or an unknown entity of any sort, you come alive all the more, completely forgetting about those clumsy feelings you woke up with.

We celebrate awakedness as sacred, something to always strive for because everything else is possible once you’re there. Enemies (and by this, I mean people with views and experiences that conflict with our own)… Enemies deliver that sacred awakedness more reliably than anything else in the external world.

They draw X’s through our prose as we write it, hang on the delete key laughing, come storming into the room reciting their own crappy poems. When once we were rotely typing out our lines, now we hunker down, more entrenched, more committed, and perhaps secretly skeptical of our great message.

The bastards deserve a round of applause.