The Woman Who Let Me In

I’m in standstill traffic driving on a 4-lane road (2 lanes on each side) heading into Santa Cruz for the Fourth of July.

I need to make a right in about a hundred feet but I’m in the left lane. The minute I put on my blinker the driver to my right lurches forward to close the gap between her car and the one in front of her. No eye contact. It’s a clear message.

What’s unfortunate for her is that we’re not moving so I’m still on her left and still in her life, even after the lurch. I smile. I’m not aggressive, I’m not angry. I’m asking.

I know she sees me out of the corner of her eye but I wave a little anyway to insinuate that I think she doesn’t see me yet. This is important. It gives her a way out, the space to change her mind and form a different relationship with me, without anyone else knowing what could have been.

She looks over. At this moment, my face is crucial. Am I pissed? Incredulous? Entitled? Or really just asking… one frustrated driver to another seeking to manufacturer some goodwill before we go in different directions.

Green light.

The traffic lets up a bit. The cars in front move a half a length and her car remains still. She looks resigned at first, like she lost something, but then I give her the universal thank-you hand gesture along with some eye contact and a smile. She raises her hand off the wheel, just a few fingers, and smiles herself.

Just like that, she becomes a good Samaritan.

We all like to be good. Sometimes it just takes a second for us to get there.


The Helping Bug

To give you an idea as to how much I think about helping people find their way…

As I was reading a self-help book written in the nineties, I found myself putting aside my own growth to counsel the previous owner of the book who had carefully underlined significant passages and written their questions into the margins.

My heart sank a little as I flipped over the final page and found no epiphanies penned into the yellowing paper. No exclamation marks. No double underlines. Just more questions.


My Red Nikes

I have a pair of red Nikes that make me happy whenever I wear them. They’re classics, They’re perfect, but it’s not their appearance that makes me so happy. Not the comfort either, and they’re damn comfortable.

I was visiting my brother in LA, just me this time, without the family…

Not too far into the trip, my brother suggests we take some ecstasy and go clubbing. I instinctively push back but he keeps going on about it and before we know it, we’re shopping for dancing shoes. (I was wearing flip flops and you can’t dance in flip flops.)

So there we are, in a thrift store and I see these red Nikes. I can tell they’re my size just by looking at them. I know they’ll fit perfectly. I know they’re already mine.

Ecstasy shoes. Forever and ever.

I dance down the shoe aisle and up to the register. I tell the cashier these are my dancing shoes and that we’re going to go clubbing. On E.

I leave the store, flip flops slung on my index fingers, jacket off and around my waist, I feel like the sun is shining for me, like anything is possible. My red Nikes on my feet feel impossibly light, almost mystical, and like Dorothy, I wonder if I move them in the right way, well, maybe, just maybe they’ll make me fly.

Well, the night doesn’t go as planned. Yeah, we found the shoes but we never did track down the ecstasy. Not too surprising, really.

Whatever. We call up our cousins and they come over and we laugh all night long over Moscow Mules. Big belly laughs. Wide smiles that make our faces hurt. We all laugh the same way too: loudly. It’s a family thing. It only takes one of our laughs to get all four of us going. And that makes for a good night, better than party lights and dubstep. Better than whatever’s in those baggies.

And every time I get up to go to the bathroom or refill my drink, before I take a right down the hall, I crane my neck the other way to see my red Nikes, down at the other end of the couch, by the door, peering back at me, docile and playful, like two little kittens waiting to be alone with their owner again.

Don’t worry, guys. I see you.

My magic sneaks that came into my life, lifted me up, and wiped away everything familiar just long enough to make everything familiar even more fantastic.


White Allies

It’s a beautiful thing to support someone suffering oppression, to be a self-less ally who steps into their own discomfort for the greater good…

But watch yourself, white people. Condemning other white people is the easy way out. Vilification is a selfish act, not a selfless one.

The hardest way, and our only hope, is not to place a thick chalky line between the so-called good ones and the bad ones, but to dip into your molten wellspring of empathy, just below the crust of self-righteousness and offer cupped hands flowing over as you tell your own story about what’s swirling around inside you.

And then to listen hard for something more than an echo.


Kidsized Thoughts

I got to be small for 5 hours between San Francisco and D.C…

Sitting in a plane by the bathroom allows you to experience the world as a child sees it.

There is a continuous line of towering adults standing just inches from you, not paying attention to you, talking above you in some other language as you stare at their belt lines and midsections. You’re close enough to see the threading in their pants, the few lines in their corduroys that have worn down more than the others. You can see the outline of their keys in their pockets, but you’re not in the conversation.

Despite your proximity, you’re not the priority.

You can stare at them freely; you almost have to because they’re so close. They’re in the space of your breath and your thoughts.

They’re so tall.

Occasionally, one will bend down to speak to you and it will be intimidating. It’s simply the logistics of your respective positioning but you can’t help but feel like the student, the abiding child, with your neck craned, smiling up at them while their hands clutch the top of your headrest.

They’re probably not even reveling in their height. They’re not thinking of how tall they appear, at least not as much as you’re thinking about how small you feel.

You might have something to say; you might even know a little more than them, but all of those things seem to fall away simply because you’re looking up and they’re looking down, a heavy symbolism that has no place in determining the hierarchy of things, but often does.


Beyonce, Belinda, & Me

A curious thing about me.

I’m a straight man and I love to sing female fight songs – ideally, anything of the “I Will Survive” variety. Songs like Madonna’s “Do You Know What it Feels Like for a Girl”, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” anything by the Indigo Girls or Pink. Most of Taylor Swift. I love that shit.

And I don’t just sing it. I own it. I belt it out. As if I know…

The first cassette I bought was Belinda Carlisle’s “Lost In Your Eyes”. It was either that or Erik B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend”, a close second.

But Belinda won out. I sang it all summer.

I’m not going to overanalyze this. It is what it is.

I like the soul of a woman, showing itself like a lightning bolt in contrast to everything and nothing, a sure-fire signal that the thunder is coming.


Stress Dreams

I had a stress dream about being surrounded by skunks, hundreds of them closing in on my feet. I kept thinking, I should jump away, I should jump away, but I can’t jump away because then they’ll attack. So I just stood there, immobile and stressed, until I woke up.

Then I did what most of us do with our dreams. I laid in bed and analyzed the shit out of them. Maybe I’m stressed about not doing something at work or maybe I feel paralyzed about something, or perhaps I forgot something important and so I shouldn’t make any rash decisions…

I had a hundred ideas and I’m sure I could have come up with a hundred more. But, as it turned out, it wasn’t any of that.

I just had to pee.

The stress dreams were a symptom of body stress, not mind stress.

So now, in the morning, instead of analyzing my bad dreams, I go to the bathroom and empty them out.


Finding Hope

I talk to a lot of people who have good reasons to give up, reasons I can’t (and don’t) challenge. Often they’re right. Things are dark, the doors have closed, and the hands have slipped into their sleeves. It’s hard to see, let alone walk.

But there is always a way out.

The key to starting up again is not to pretend the darkness isn’t there, nor to feel the walls for a switch.

The key is to search for that tiny light inside you and fan the flames.


The Ache of the World

Perhaps it’s the work I do which requires the baring of souls, but I get this feeling that the whole world is aching, as if we’re all burnt and bloodied fragments from the same faraway explosion, a flash of light against the black, casting off descendants in pieces.

We build and we love but there is an emptiness in all of us because we can’t possibly gather up all the pieces and so when we have those moments between accomplishments where we’re sitting in silence, a whisper comes past our ear and asks us what’s next… and it hurts a little.

It hurts because we want to wrap ourselves up in the pieces we’ve found to take shelter, to be warm once and for all, but there are always cracks between the pieces, and there always will be.

These cracks give us room to grow but they also leave us exposed and unsheltered.

It’s not long before you feel the draft and are reminded once more by the incompleteness around you, that you are not whole, and that it’s time to build and love again.


Waiting for the Win

(45 sec read)

I wonder.

How much of our mood and our self-efficacy is driven by the chemicals in our body? And how much does that powerful cocktail change during the day? And are we the ones changing it or does the weather have more power than we do, in terms of what we’re capable of?

And what’s the difference between changing our mood with something outside going in versus something inside getting bigger?

We seem to want the latter, to draw from our own reserves whenever possible. That’s the hero thing to do. Bringing in a relief pitcher is like giving up the game and handing over the win to someone or something else. We want that win for ourselves.

From this perspective, winning doesn’t seem to be about the end result. It’s more about counting on ourselves to pull us through the storm. To win is to succeed with what we started from – a noble belief but one that can surely wear us out and keep us losing.

Sometimes our own breath can’t move the clouds away, no matter how many times we exhale.