A World within a World

I’m reading a novel called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and to say that I’ve been fascinated by the content would be a vast understatement. The thing is, I’ve read a fair amount of books, covering a fair amount of subject matter in my lifetime, and there is a clear (and small) collection of works that have left their forever brand on my brain for a whole plethora of reasons. While I haven’t yet finished the book, I’m pretty sure it’s headed in that direction. Which is cool in its own right, but I digress.

Make no mistake here–I’m by no means a literary snob. Not only do I undoubtedly lack the appropriate qualifications for even wearing a snob costume, I just never understood the point in telling someone what types of books they should like to read. Like with other forms of art, except perhaps movies and video games, I leave my opinion in the “I like what I like because I like it” category. Kind of like “I know porn when I see it,” I just know a good book when I begin diving into it. But I have no way of knowing whether that means anything on the objective scale, and quite frankly, that sort of thing doesn’t really interest me too much when it comes to books and reading. So whether I am combing through the collected works of Fitzgerald, or Homer, or even the latest by Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis or some other new writer brat packer, I am just as capable of losing myself in any of the books regardless of their source.

So with this in mind, allow me to return to my initial thought: I find myself most captivated by a book not when it offers the most sophisticated literary mechanics (whatever they are) or the most eloquent prose (word up), but rather when I can open up to the page I left off on and immediately feel as though I’ve fallen into the world of the story without turbulence or toughness. That’s it; that’s enough for me. Give me a chance for easy escape out of reality and into the world of the author, and you’ve got my dollar and attention. Call me a cheap date.

In the case of Ready Player One, I’ve been able to get myself into a story about a futuristic dystopian society where people spend the majority of their waking hours escaping into an alternate virtual reality internet-based environment known as the “Oasis,” and I have to say, reading it feels like nothing less than falling into the deepest and greatest of rabbit holes, with a warm, soft blanket surrounding me on my way down. To put it another way, as a guy who avoids the use of recreational drugs generally, I can only describe the feeling I have reading this thing as one hell of a substitute.

But what is it about the “world within a world” experience that can feel so wonderful, and why do we (I) look for this sort of escape as much as we do? It can’t just be a reflection of the “real life” circumstances of the readers, or else only those people with sub-standard lifestyles would feel the need to pick up a book and lose themselves in it. But we know that isn’t the case–people of all sorts of backgrounds, classes, and ethnicities enjoy reading as much as all the rest. So what gives?

Allow me to perform some pop-psychology to proffer an answer that seems–to me, anyway–plausible given how strange it all looks at first glance. Could it simply be that human beings crave diversity so much generally that, regardless of the quality of their actual lives, they will seek out something else to experience if at all possible? If true, this sort of phenomenon might also help to explain why people with supposedly “perfect” marriages, relationships and even significant others (in the physical sense, anyway) go out and commit adultery with, shall we say, lower status citizens of the universe. Maybe it’s just that no matter how good we have it, the chance to find something new and throw ourselves into it, head first, is simply too intoxicating a possibility to pass up for most of us.

I’m lucky, I suppose, that the limits of my desires extend merely to the pages of a novel, rather than a whole new existence brought on by the worst mid-life crisis one could fathom. But whether we are referring to a new motorcycle, or partner, or work of fiction to surround ourselves with, it’s hard to argue with the notion that–for however long we are able–losing ourselves escaping into the “world beyond” is a feeling unlike many others we can experience here in the real world. And maybe that’s why my bookshelf will always be stocked full.

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A Rant about Parenting

Forgive me in advance for this, because there will be some profanity and informal outrage spouted throughout. I just need to get this off my chest because it’s been bothering me for hours now.

Yesterday, after getting a much-needed haircut, I stopped into the Gamestop nearby that I occasionally frequent to pick up the newest edition of Madden. After shooting the shit with the employees as I usually do (we basically know each other by name at this point), I went out happily to go home and hang out with my family before trying out the game. I mention this in order to illustrate why my mind wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen behind me as I walked through the parking lot to my car.

Just as I reached the door of my car, I heard an incredibly loud, almost guttural female voice literally scream “Get the FUCK out of the car NOW!” Thinking I was hearing a marital dispute in progress I turned around briefly out of instinct, and was stunned to see not a husband, but a (maybe) seven year old son halfway out of the backseat of that car. Again, the same booming voice: “I said get the FUCK out of the car or DON’T. Stop being such a little BITCH. Man the fuck UP.” The son, who apparently was to that point undecided about whether he was going in, bee-lined for the door of the store with his father (who was standing silently by) and they walked in together while the mother circled the parking lot waiting for them. I, meanwhile, got in my car and sat for a minute or two to compose myself before driving away.

Some facts to point out for those who want a better mental image of what I have been describing. I live in a relatively nice, upper-middle class area of Connecticut, and this particular strip of stores is located in one of the more affluent sections of town. The family was in a decently nice car, dressed in decently nice clothing, and was white. In any other context I never would have had them figured for a stereotypical threat for something like this to happen. Just to break down any previously held notions about what this sort of abuse “looks like.”

Yes, this was abuse. There is no other word for it, and it is because of this that I sat in my car, not really sure what to do. And then I made the decision that so many others probably do when faced with this sort of scenario: I did nothing. I started my car, put on my seat belt, and drove away to tell my social worker wife about what I had just witnessed (she shook her head in understanding disgust but didn’t say much).

I’ve been trying to avoid writing too much personal or emotional posts lately, mainly because it seems to cause more trouble that it is worth, but I really needed a way to pour it all out to the masses this time to see if I’m alone in my feelings about this. Because no matter how many “excuses” or “justifications” or even “explanations” my intellectual mind can derive for why this happened (the mother is sick, the mother had a bad upbringing herself, the mother was having a bad day, the son had been a major pain in the ass all the way to the store, the mother and father were having a rift, etc.), none of it satisfies my gut instinct that, for fuck’s sake, MOTHERS JUST SHOULDN’T TREAT THEIR KIDS LIKE THIS.

I don’t have a real reason for why I feel like this, but I do. I can say that much. And I would like to say that I feel the exact same way about fathers, but I’d be lying to you. Don’t get me wrong, fathers are incredibly important components to the proper upbringing of a child in my mind, but there is something extra special about the relationship between a mother and her child (I’m assuming it was hers–I suppose she could have been the step-mother, which only makes it slightly “better” in my mind) that sets off alarm after alarm for me when I see something like this go down.

And here’s the thing–I think I’ve seen a decent amount of dysfunctional shit in my life so far, but I have to say, this one has to be at or near the top of the list of fucked up stuff I hope I never see again. Because honestly, cursing is one thing. Almost all of us curse, and I’m sure at some point or another even the best of parents can fly off the deep end and curse at their badly behaved children once or twice (“What the fuck is going on here?”, “For the last time, put down that video game and clean your damn room!”, etc.). But to place such venom; such direct viciousness to a seven or so year old child, within which you not only scream the worst of the dirty words, but go so far as to call him a bitch because he isn’t sure if he wants to get out of the car….I mean, that just blows my mind.

I could spend time questioning whether it’s fair that I place such responsibility on mothers to be the ultimate arbiters of love and moral support for their children, but I’m not going to. You know why? Because at the end of the day, even if I came up with a perfect formal “proof” for why I was unjustified in making these assumption, it wouldn’t change a thing about how I feel, and the visceral reaction that takes place inside of me when I see such a thing take place.

And for those who think I’m exhibiting some sort of sexism or favoritism or some other ism in putting mothers on these platforms of responsibility, just save it. You can be correct, and I couldn’t care less. Because just as I think mothers should be there for their kids, I also am quick to give credit and applause to mothers who have kids who grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted members of the adult community. God bless them, because I understand how hard it all can be.

But regardless of the difficulty, and regardless of the reasons why this person; this woman; this mother went off the deepest of ends yesterday at her son, I can’t help but wonder how many other times she has done it, and how many other times she will do it again. And you know what? It’s just not fucking fair to ask a child to grow up in an environment like that. Because regardless of whether he will grow up to be the next parents who screams profanity at his kids, the fact remains that right now, in this moment, he is just a seven year old boy who undoubtedly craves love and positive attention from his mother that all of us would, and did. He’s just a child, and he’s being destroyed one maternal insult at a time.

It’s just not fair.

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When Searching Becomes Obsolete

I have a question, and I really would like a good answer to it. How old do you have to be before you can be told you’re too old to search for your dreams in life? 30? 50? Never? I really need an answer, because it could help me mold the next fifty years or so of my own existence.

I understand that we all get to the point–or most of us do, anyway–where the dreaded responsibility rears its ugly head and we begin to base our decisions on rational cognition rather than base desire. Or to put it more bluntly, we think with our big heads rather than our little ones. And to a certain extent, this seems perfectly acceptable to me. We grow up, we find a job, get married, have a kid or three, get a rent, or a mortgage, along with the other bills and obligations that make family life as great as possible. But should that be it? What if we want more?

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for those people (you know who you are) who constantly need to scratch the itch of living the single life in order to handle coming home to the white picket fence everyday. Those people, in my estimation, anyway, probably need to get their priorities checked and see if they made the right decision when they “decided” to settle down.

Instead, I’m talking about the people who, in spite of being genuinely happy with being married, mortgage-paying parents with soccer-playing kids who need help with their homework every night, nonetheless yearn for something else that will give them the completion that their souls constantly crave. And what might this “something” be? I assume it could be pretty much anything for anyone, depending upon a person’s passions. Sometimes, and I consider myself a dues-paying member of this group, the “something” can be completely unknown, even though the craving for it is both real and palpable.

And this is where searching comes in, often at full force. If you know that something is out there, waiting for you to find it and make it your own, how can you not spend at least a little time or energy wondering what that nameless, faceless, but nonetheless essential something actually might be?

Could it be guitar lessons? How about writing that book you always knew you had inside you? Or maybe its as simple as finishing the cabinet that has been sitting in the basement for years, if only to prove to yourself that you really are an artist and a handyman at the same time?

This doesn’t have to be a major revelation, and it doesn’t have to indicate some sort of midlife crisis. It can, however, demonstrate that while a person is truly happy in the life that she is leading to this point, she would be even happier if she were able to find and take on that one final, essential thing that would help to close the proverbial circle of life, as it were. Or at least to get her one step closer.

But getting back to my original question, should we put a stopping rule on these types of searches, and just say if we haven’t found it by __________, it’s time to give it up and move on? In the way that one could say “Time to grow up, buddy,” I could imagine someone looking at a searcher and think (1) how much time must be wasted on this stuff, and (2) how much responsibility is being shirked in the process.

But I think there is a big difference between searching for that special something that you’re really passionate about, and pushing aside everything else in your life in the process. The question is, if we are going to allow for a certain amount of sacrifice in the pursuit of the search, just how much sacrifice should be allowed before things start getting inappropriate by everyone’s standards? And where I would think, at first glance¬† anyway, that leaving one’s family or job would be too much under these circumstances, I’m also pretty confident that a compromise could be found, even for the most devoted and obligation-filled person. Half hour here, an hour there, no big deal, right?

Someone please come up with a good response here, because this one is driving me crazy. Thanks.



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My Best Friend Is An X: Thoughts on “Isms”

Let me begin with an anecdote, or something similar to one. I used to belong to a fraternity–for about a year and a half. I believe I’ve written about it before, but that isn’t relevant for these purposes. While I was in the frat, I learned a few things not only about the people in that particular house, but also about those in my university more generally. What I learned was essentially twofold: first, while prejudices of the past have indeed gotten better than they were, say forty years ago, they do still exist in my generation, and probably in those that have come after me. And second, in spite (and perhaps because) of this fact, people often like to use personal examples and stories as a way to disarm a potential accusation of prejudice. Hence the commonly overheard, “I’m not a racist. My best friend is Black! (Or Latino. Or Asian. Or Jewish. Or whatever.) And if they weren’t saying it overtly, they were “doing it” by making sure to keep up a quota of minorities who would serve as the token “See? We aren’t bigots. We have so-and-so over there in our ranks. So back off!” people to shield them from that scary pointed finger coming their way.

Ok, so we have all of that set. I assume most people (especially those with any kind of experience in academia) are familiar with the sort of thing I am referring to. What I would like to discuss here, though, is just how much these personal or group examples really matter in the game of calling someone an “ist” or accusing them of an “ism.” In other words, how confident can I be that the two black guys in my group of friends really keep me in line when it comes to the normal standards of racial and ethnic harmony? Or put even better: Am I just kidding myself?

I ask these questions because it occurred to me recently that I myself (one of my favorite redundant phrases) have been one to throw around the “I’m not X, I do/know/hang out with Y” in defense of my own feelings about those unlike me. The only difference is, in my case I tend to offer these defenses more to myself than to anyone in the outside world. That’s not to say I haven’t gone public with my gold star of acceptance–surely I have at some point or another–but for the most part, I tend to have these sorts of dialogues only with me, myself, and I. And let me tell you, I have never hesitated to pat myself (see what I did there?) on the back until now.

Here’s the thing about me. I am a walking stereotype of privilege. I’m male. I’m white. I have brown hair and light eyes. Despite my name, I don’t really “look” like someone Hitler would have hated. I give off the impression (or so I’m told) that I have a history of money, education, and ease. In short, Affirmative Action wasn’t thought up with me in mind. And all of that is fine. It really is. Why should I complain about being a few blond hairs short of a poster child for the Third Reich? It’s not my fault I look the way I look and sound the way I sound, right? Right?

Well, maybe, and maybe not. Because just as I can beg away accusations of my supposed “privilege” by saying I can’t help being who I am, so too can people make similar claims about blacks, and gays, and Jews, and pick-your-favorite-minority who, despite their inability to change their genetic dispositions, nonetheless have to deal with (yes, even now) some pretty awful prejudice and “ism” directed at the very things they can’t change about themselves. So if they have to deal with it, why shouldn’t I?

And therein lies my problem. I know I am, at least in some sense, a true child of privilege. And I also know that, like most people, I undoubtedly hold some stereotypes that, against my better conscious and rational knowledge, nonetheless hang out in my subconscious, ready to pounce if offered a chance. And I say “like most people” because I genuinely believe that the vast majority of those at least with whom I have had contact in my life hold irrational feelings about other people and/or other groups despite their claims to the contrary. It’s just the way people are, for better or (likely) worse.

So getting back to the original question, one thing I have going for me in all of this is that I can make the claim that I am “friends with Xs” without having to struggle for examples. I really can. I have had and continue to have good friends who are gay, black, Jewish, and Asian, four of the most stereotyped and preyed upon groups in the “ism” game. I have them to the point that it would never enter my mind to avoid being with them in public settings, hugging them in front of others, and so on. It just never really mattered to me, and it still doesn’t. And they are “genuine” or “good” friends in that I have spent time with them in both group and one-on-one settings, and I respect them as people with whom I share some sort of common bond. So does all of this mean that I should get a pass from the oft-discussed “ist” accusations that are thrown around so frequently these days? Or are my friends merely exceptions to the general “ist” rule?

To be honest with you, I really don’t have a good answer to these questions. Despite the education I have received on the importance of social equality, and despite my acceptance of people of all creeds into my circle of friends at various points of my life, I still sometimes wonder whether I really am kidding myself with regard to the big picture. Because truthfully, when I really think about how I feel about these groups with whom I have socialized and hugged and so on, I find some interesting potential contradictions to what I previously believed about myself. Like, I think I would be a complete idiot–really, a through and through moron–to make the claim or believe that women (as a group) are anything less than intellectual equals to men (as a group). But at the exact same time, if you presented me with a topic and asked whether I would like a male or a female (all other things equal) as my teacher in a certain topic, I would be lying if I said I was indifferent across the board. And not just on topics involving familiarity with human anatomy. For instance, let’s say the topic is Sports. Give me a guy all day and twice on Tuesday. But change that topic to Parenting, and I want a woman. End of story. Is this fair? Perhaps not, but fairness isn’t exactly what we’re going for here.

See what I mean? Despite all of my education, all of my experience, all of my privilege, there remain certain aspects of the world that I just can’t disassociate with my built up stereotypes, especially when I am speaking off the cuff. Ask me whether I’d rather walk with a white guy or a black guy through a rough neighborhood at night, I’m going with the black guy (despite Dave Chappelle’s astute advice that they’re “scared too!”). Latin or white guy for dance lessons? Gotta go Latin. And on and on we go. You might argue that the “all other things equal” part of the thought experiment makes it all inapplicable to real life, but I think we would be remiss to say that none of it is worth considering when we discuss these matters. And if I’m truly alone in my choices, I’d be surprised.

So in closing, let me offer this insight: Intellectually I usually am able to put aside stereotypes in my analysis of the world, and I think others are as well (not everyone, obviously). I know, for instance, that things like ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender play zero role in my assessment of a person’s level of intelligence (a friend of mine is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and he is both black and gay). But the fact remains that my instincts often kick in before my brain does. The real question, then, is whether the “isms” discussion should focus on the, for lack of a better term, “first step stereotypes” that people often have before their brains start working, or rather on those who have gotten to “step 2″ and still make assertions or have developed beliefs that attribute unjust inequalities to groups based on characteristics beyond their control. I would like to believe that at very least, one’s selection of genuine friends can be an indicator of where they stand on step 2, even if it is not exhaustive. Step 1, however, remains unclear to me, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me second-guess myself a little bit.

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Short and Not-So Sweet

I have tried to write this post now for going on a month, and for the life of me I can’t do it. I can’t find the words to tell the story I want to tell, and even when I find the requisite vocabulary, my prose comes up lacking in every single instance. It seriously annoys the living hell out of me. But rather than give up in frustration for the umpteenth time with the hope that tomorrow will bring the clarity I need to put my thoughts on the page for others to read, I am going to stay consistent with the title of my blog and jot down my ideas in as random a manner as I can before I forget everything or stop caring. So apologies in advance for the upcoming roller coaster. I’ll try to keep it all as brief as possible.

Put simply, I’m starting to think we are doomed as a species. We have access to the lives and stories of more people than ever before in human history, and rather than use this to help those in need, we instead bury ourselves in the warm comfort of cyber anonymity. Take, for instance, the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook, which I would describe as an event that, while clearly on a smaller scale than something like 9/11, nonetheless remains the most vicious and revolting occurrence in my lifetime. But putting aside for the moment the fact twenty families were deprived for the rest of their lives of the beautiful and perfectly innocent existences of their children, we finally find an example of the type of social sympathy and warmth that could take place if we allowed it to more often: playgrounds will be built in the names and honor of each child murdered at the school in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey over the next year or so. Wonderful, wonderful response to such a terrible, terrible tragedy. Right?

Tell that to the coward who, in the name of “Sandy Hook Truthing,” went to Grace McDonnell Playground in Mystic, CT, stole the fifty pound commemorative sign, called Grace’s mother, and explained to her (anonymously, of course) that he did what he did because she was part of a governmental conspiracy to obtain stricter gun legislation. That’s right: he taunted the mother of a murdered seven year old by telling her that her daughter never even existed in the first place. That she was working with the government. THAT SANDY HOOK NEVER FUCKING HAPPENED.

What in the name of God, or anything else we might otherwise have considered holy, have we become as a society? Would this have happened fifty years ago? Twenty? It seems so unbelievable to me that with all of the technological achievements we have made in the name of “advancement,” we have nonetheless taken multiple steps back against the grain of mutual love, help, and respect. We are regressing. Because with every Ben Sauer where a viral story creates a national outpouring of sympathy for a family going through the purest of tragedies, we find comments on the affiliated message boards asking “Why is this a featured news story?”

I’ll ask again, and again, and again: what is the matter with us? Were we always this bad, or have we allowed these so-called “advancements” in technology and social networking to provide the scumbags of the world with the false courage to make their horrible claims and perform their horrible actions behind the opaque veil of the internet?

Why can’t we just be happy for those who achieve, and sad for those who mourn? Why do we feel the constant need to belittle, and mock, and minimize the accomplishments of those who motivate others to succeed in ways that could not possibly adversely affect the naysayer?

Why must there always be a conditional added to the good of life? A “yes, but….” tacked on to the end of any success story we tell. How much longer can we bear this before we completely self-destruct?

Or perhaps….just perhaps….we have already self-destructed and simply cannot see it yet. For the sake of my sanity; for the sake of my son; I truly hope we can get to a point where we can watch the news without tissues and Xanax at the ready. Because not everyone is as lucky as I am to wake up to the same smiles of innocent love denied to the parents of Sandy Hook, to the parents of Ben Sauer, and to the parents and families of countless horror stories that continue to take place across the country, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. that But maybe I’m asking for too much at this point.

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And The World Comes Crashing Down

I have two or three posts that I began and three away within the first hour of trying to get my ideas out. Unlike before, when it seemed easy and natural for me to just put words on the electronic page and shoot everything off to the blogosphere for the world to read, comment about, and just sit back and admire the wonder that was my blog, I find myself with an interesting case of writer’s block.

I call it “interesting” because, rather than a situation where I can’t come up with an idea worth writing about, I instead am having trouble selecting (and subsequently sticking to) a subject that I think should be published online for the world to see. You might think I’ve gotten cold feet all of a sudden about baring my soul to a bunch of strangers sitting in their boxers while eating cereal in the dark (I have a weird imagination about these things as you can see), but that isn’t exactly what is going on. In reality, there seem to be two main components to my recent inhibition to post online, and they definitely weren’t there when I was in the prime of my blogging a year or two ago.

First, I realized just how much some of my posts could have a negative effect on those who read them. In particular, I found out how much my posts could hurt those I care about if (in some cases) my writing was interpreted incorrectly, or (in some cases) my writing was interpreted correctly. Either way, despite the fact that my readership at its best rarely cracked the century mark, I hated having to wonder and worry about whether I would receive a “How could you?!?” message after pressing Publish. But perhaps even more importantly, I hated knowing in some cases that i deserved those messages.

Second, and more pertinent to the theme of this post, I started worrying about the types of reactions to my writing that I was seeking when I sent them out for the world to see. And further, I was concerned that the reactions I sought after were only superficial, in the way that many of the “Likes” people give and receive on Facebook can be. Or worse, that the true feelings of those giving me my desired positive reactions were actually the exact opposite of what was expressed for me to see. And it is this final point that I want to discuss further.

Let me begin the second and hopefully final act of this post with what I take to be two basic and true premises: all other things equal, (1) most people like being correct, and (2) most people like being liked. Obviously there can be exceptions to these general oversimplified rules, but for the purposes of what I want to talk about, they should work. If we understand these two premises to be valid, it should make at least basic sense why someone like me who constructs a blog post and publishes it online also is happy when I learn that people have read it and enjoy/find correct the things I have discussed in the post. Just how much happiness I might derive from being told that I am correct and beloved/brilliant/beautiful/some other positive sounding “b” word¬† by those reading my work is a different story, though, and I could easily imagine and agree with an argument that limits should be placed on my desire or expectation of these things if they are causing my ego to swell too much. But put those concerns aside for now, if only for the sake of whatever chance at brevity I have remaining after 612 words.

Allow me to enter in a third and fourth premise, based for the most part on what I’ve illustrated above: all other things equal, (3) people generally don’t like being lied to, and (4) to find out that you have been lied to about something that you initially were happy about (such as being told that you are correct and/or liked for your work) can be especially painful when discovered, particularly (as I brought up earlier) when the true thoughts are the exact opposite of what was expressed to me. Again, exceptions clearly exist, but I think these are reasonably fair given our present subject matter. And please, forgive the lame attempt at a formal logic proof–it just happens to look the most comprehensible to me when I write it this way.

I added these last two premises into my discussion because I think they provide the most basic explanation for why I have avoided blogging recently. Put simply, I have encountered–in my own life and in the observance of others–just too many cases of mean-spirited, conniving, and sometimes brutal lies told that could easily have been avoided. And I am not talking about deception “for the sake of the deceived” or even a lie told by a wrongdoer who doesn’t want to be found out. Those cases, despite their often lack of justification, at least can be understood in some sense. No, what I am referring to is the deception that causes someone to not only trust the deceiver, but also to a gain sense of confidence and self-assurance about herself from the (false) praise being given. To have this, and to have it all followed by a discovery that the deceiver actually believed the antithesis of what was portrayed, really hurts in a way that can’t be described but can definitely be remembered.

To be fair, my experience with this kind of pain isn’t completely related to blogging (though I have had some, to be sure). It has occurred in a variety of arenas within my professional and personal lives, and recently it just seemed to all come together to me in my mind. Hence the lack of blogging. Publishing one’s thoughts requires a fair amount of forced vulnerability on the part of the writer, and that hasn’t been too appealing to me over the past few months. What was appealing, however, was finding a way to express just what I found to be so bothersome about everything I spoke about above, and for that I am truly thankful to have this avenue of “conversation” at my disposal. This, plus the support of my wife and son and family and close friends, has allowed me to take the negative of these experiences and turn them into positive lessons learned for my future relationships and choices.

In closing, I want to clarify that this wasn’t meant as a “woe is me” about my recent past. In reality, the subject of this post was more an intellectual work in progress that finally reached a conclusion. I realize now that while it can be good to appreciate, and perhaps even seek out in certain instances, the praise and friendship of others, it is much more important to understand that at the end of the day, one must always be careful and selective in deciding the paths to pursue in one’s life. It’s really the only way to keep yourself whole.

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Newtown: In (My) Memoriam

Here is something I realized about myself recently: in the midst of major change, I tend to regress back to the basics in my life until I can handle branching out again. It helps me stabilize myself in times where I might otherwise go crazy, and it also allows me to be both mindless and mindful of my responsibilities as they arise. It doesn’t seem too problematic, so I allow it to occur and play out its own course as it needs to.

About a month ago I took a new job in a different city (Boston) that requires me to spend a couple of nights a week away from home in order to be in the office enough to get acquainted with the new processes, staff, workflows, etc. The goal is for my family to move closer to Boston within the next year in order for me to be in the office full time, but obviously that will take some doing in order to get all of our ducks in a row. In the meantime, every Tuesday morning I get up around 4:30 in the morning and drive the three-plus hours to my office, and then stay there (not in the office, but close by….probably something I didn’t need to explain but I’m too lazy to delete it at this point) until I drive home after work on Thursday night. Mondays and Fridays I work remotely from home in Connecticut. And so it goes until we move.

So how, you might ask, does this story have anything to do with the title of this post? Good question. Allow me to explain. Since I began this position about a month ago, I have found myself pulling the usual regression to the basics once more. In this case, I go to work, go back to the apartment I am staying in, watch TV, play video games, read, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, rinse and repeat. Nothing too nuts. When I go home, I look forward to nothing more than seeing my son and my wife (and even my dog). Beyond that, I couldn’t really care less. That’s not to say I don’t go along with whatever plans my wife makes for the weekends, and it’s not to say I don’t enjoy them. It’s also not to say I live like a recluse when plans aren’t made–I still try and live a relatively social life when I am home. I only mean that, given the current circumstances of my existence, it is easier than ever to find and cling to the simple things in my life that make me happy. Family. Friends. Bed. Couch. Recliner. TV. Etc.

I mention all of this because this morning, as I was going through my usual (basic) routine of signing onto my work computer, drinking my coffee, opening email, and browsing Facebook, I came across a post originally put up by the parents of one of the children lost in the Newtown shootings. It was a picture of the two other children in the family touching the then-pregnant belly of the mother (who was pregnant at the time with the now-passed boy), and everyone was smiling happily. Basic. Simple. Joyful. And at the same time, in retrospect, one of the most heartbreaking things I have seen in a long time.

My first instinct was to copy and paste the picture I am referring to in order to better illustrate what I am describing, but on second thought, it seemed almost unnecessary to do that. This type of description could apply to any of the families whose basic, simple pleasures were forever destroyed by the atrocities at Sandy Hook, so there doesn’t really seem to be a need to narrow it down to the one I happened to see. Suffice to say, at least for the few moments I came across that picture and read the comments below, my simple, basic existence was rocked into something beyond the status quo that I have been enjoying over the last few weeks. And why? Because I became all too aware that no matter how comfortable you are, and no matter how much you put your faith into the normalcy of your life, things like this can and do happen sometimes.

I don’t say that to throw some horribly pessimistic monkey wrench into people’s morning, nor do I expect it to keep me down for the rest of my day. On the contrary, seeing that picture and contemplating about how all of the twenty children (and six adults) represented the core, basic, fundamental aspects of happiness that each of their respective families enjoyed when their lives were going through moments of upheaval and change, I find myself “regressing” even more toward the things in my life that keep me centered and help me continue to reflect on who I am, and who I want to be.

I have one son, a three and a half year old named Casey, and the thought of losing him–particularly in the heartless, mindlessly vicious way that so many were lost in Newtown–is virtually inconceivable to me. But knowing that others have experienced that kind of loss nonetheless makes me aware of how real that kind of loss can be, even if I don’t have emotional access to it myself. And it is in virtue of that knowledge that I will continue to focus on those basics, those fundamental values, even after this time of change has passed for me in my life. So in closing, maybe “regression” is the wrong way of describing what I’ve bean talking about, as I can’t think of anything more forward-minded than that, for me.

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Kids and Sports and Meanness

A friend of mine sent me an article to take a look at, since he knows I have a three and a half year old son to whom some of the stuff discussed might apply. The article was written by someone in cahoots with Sports Illustrated, and it was a (at least to me) surprising take on children and sports teams. The author, primarily because of how he perceived his older brother to have been treated when he was on a grade school soccer team in the early 1980′s, had serious issues allowing his kids to participate in sports teams for fear that they would experience the same sort of bullying that his brother had thirty years ago. The idea was simple but powerful: unless the children are either the most naturally gifted athletes in the world, or willing to spend the entire year practicing in order to remain competitive (and therefore get some actual playing time on the team), they are pretty much screwed. They will be made to feel like lesser beings because they can’t keep up with their more talented or polished counterparts on the field, and as a result, will develop internal feelings of inadequacy that will last with them for the rest of their lives. Presumably, just like they did with his brother. You can check out the article for yourself here if you like, but I think I did the author justice in my synopsis.

So after I read it, my friend asked if I would write a post about my thoughts on this topic, and here I am. My perspective on this is a little muddled, mainly because I have been on both sides of the coin. I know exactly how it feels to be “left out” of the mix in favor of more talented and practiced players, and on the flip side I know how it feels to be left in as a starter while other, less “ready”, friends remain on the bench for all but the required minimum of playing time in any given soccer game. Such was my life between the ages of seven and fifteen, and the memories still remain pretty vivid as I sit back and recall my feelings throughout that decade. Needless to say, they were mixed.

The truth of the matter is we have gotten far more competitive as a society over the last even twenty years than we were when I was that six or seven year old trying to figure out where on the field I was supposed to stand, much less remember advanced game theory and playmaking. There were always coaches and parents who were more loud and boisterous than others, and later on in life when I became a teenaged referee for youth soccer leagues, I just did my best to avoid running into them (especially when they were pissed at a call I had made). If I thought the world were similar to that world now, I don’t think I would have a problem allowing my son to throw on some cleats and learn a really great game at a young age.

Unfortunately, that world from my childhood just doesn’t seem to exist anymore. As I said to my friend in my initial comments, it would be one thing if we were only talking about the more advanced traveling teams where the kids were expected to have (1) played before, and (2) made it through a try out process in order to play for the team and the league in the first place. Under those circumstances, it wouldn’t surprise or bother me (as much, anyway) if coaches and parents demonstrated their relative passion for the game by expecting a certain level of excellence out of the players and refs on the field. It goes with the territory of competitive sports, even at a young age. You have to start somewhere, and I think it is incumbent upon the parent to be aware of whether his or her child is ready (physically, emotionally, and psychologically) for that level of play.

But the article I copied above was referring more to the normal, run of the mill style “anyone can play” leagues that we see in public parks and rec programs nationwide. There, more often than not there is no expectation that children (especially young ones) will have played before, and even if there is, the hope would be that the game is being played for the purpose of showing the kids just how fun sports can be. And I think I am not alone in maintaining that most six, or seven, or even eighteen year-olds tend not to derive a great deal of joy for being berated by coaches, or teammates, or parents for not performing at the level of a superstar in a league that was designed to accommodate everyone. That’s not what I, as a former player and as a parent, would want in my world.

So where do we go from here? Just accept the reality of the situation and keep our kids out of these leagues if they aren’t ready for the traveling team-style torment in every athletic environment? Or do we take a collective stand, as the parents on the sidelines who wouldn’t think to scream at their or other people’s children for not playing like the next Pele or David Beckham at the age of six, against those who lose their minds? Personally, I hope we can push for the latter option, if only because I think it would be a damn shame to have to deny my son the opportunity to have the good times that I once had out there on the field with his friends and teammates, even if he doesn’t always know what he’s doing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what sports should be about at the core: FUN. Not another opportunity for demented adults to engage in a vicarious pissing contest with each other by forcing their squeaky voiced child to choose between a hat trick or no dinner later that night. It just isn’t the way things should be done, and there will be plenty of chances in all of those kids’ adult lives to compete and destroy–as sad as that may seem. Let them have their childhood Saturdays for now, and let them enjoy them. I know I did, and I want a world where my son can do the same. But maybe I’m the crazy one.

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My Blog: An Apology

Something occurred to me recently. I haven’t posted anything on here in a while now, and I thought it was because I couldn’t think of anything good to talk about. But the more I tried to come up with something interesting to discuss here, the more I realized just how counter intuitive that very idea actually is. A blog generally exists for someone to provide information for the public to read (whether or not they actually want to read it is a different issue). Live chat settings aside, blogs aren’t exactly the environment for ongoing dialogue. The blogger puts out his or her thoughts, the reader reads at his or her leisure, perhaps weighs in with a comment, and the process ends. Rinse, repeat.

I created this blog a few years ago as a distraction for myself as I was trying to curb some questionable behavior patterns that were beginning to arise in my life. I thought maybe if I had an outlet to put my energy when the urge to drink, or get angry, or whatever, I would become a more constructive and positive father, and husband, and general member of society. And quite frankly, I think at least in one sense it worked–I look back now at the hundred some-odd posts that I’ve published since then and I can’t help but be a little bit proud at my own sticktoitiveness (sound it out). But in another, perhaps more crucial sense, I failed in my goal. I sometimes allowed this new found avenue of expression to become a public soapbox for me to use in moments when I was pissed off or indignant at someone(s). And the world being what it is, sometimes the someone(s) realized I was talking about them in particular.

But getting back to the initial thought I had recently about my blogging, it dawned on me that I wasn’t just distracting myself with some random writing assignment. I was disclosing the very things about myself that, to that point in my life, had either gone bottled up or created some sort of dysfunctional behavior on my part. It was a new a way to open up and cash out thoughts that otherwise would have remained fuzzy in my mind (and likely forgotten about, at least consciously, shortly thereafter). But it was also an apology of sorts, since much of what motivated my writing was the internal belief that if I didn’t let it all out to the world, I would continue on the path to selfishness and stupidity. Call it confessional for the agnostic.

Some have asked me why I didn’t just write all of these musings down in a journal or a diary, and until now I couldn’t give any intelligent answer to them. It wasn’t enough just to write down what was going on inside. I needed to put it all out there, for better or worse. Only then could my thoughts, beliefs, fears, egotistical ramblings, hopes, dreams, all of it–only then could it become real. That was the point of the whole thing: even if no one actually read what I published for the world, I gave the world the chance to read it if it wanted to, uncensored, and unabridged. That was the value of this blog, again, for better or worse.

And believe me when I say, there have been “worse” moments from some of the things I’ve written. I have managed on a number of occasions to really upset some of the people who have been and continue to be a part of my life. In the names of “honesty” and “real talk” and “brutal truth” I caused as much or more pain in others as I supposedly alleviated for myself. Typically I would try and apologize as quickly as possible to those who have been hurt or offended by my comments, if only to avoid the subsequent conflict or (worse) resentment toward me–justified or not. But this time I am really trying to find a good compromise not only for the so-called “victims” of my thoughts and ramblings over the years, but also for myself in my continuing quest to maintain some sort of normalcy in my life. So there needs to be a bit more depth to how I handle it this time.

What I can say for sure is the following: I am truly sorry if anything I have written here caused more pain or suffering to someone than would have been created if I had discussed the same exact topic with that person face to face. In other words, while I don’t necessarily feel apologetic or guilty about the actual thoughts and convictions I expressed in these posts, I am certain that there have been times where the public expression itself has been a conduit to more negativity than needed to exist in the first place. Often I would allow the frustration I was feeling in pondering some of these topics to propel me into a writing frenzy, and before I really thought through what my occur after clicking “Publish” the post was live for the world to read at its leisure. This is a true flaw of mine, to act and speak quickly, and rely on my intelligence and (lack of) experience to decide in the moment whether something should be said or withheld. It is bad enough in private, where I have had to remove my foot from my mouth with family, friends, and strangers more times than I would like to admit. But in a =forum like this, where I have the advantage of time and editing, there really is no excuse for something like that. So again, I want to apologize in the same public setting that has caused the unnecessary pain that could have been avoided. Despite what some may think, it really isn’t ever my goal to hurt someone even if it makes me feel better in the process. Even if the thoughts I am having are justified, and even if I can’t find a better way to express them. It is wrong. I am wrong, and I’m sorry.

In closing, I want to make sure I am clear about a couple of things just in case anything has been left at all ambiguous. I am not apologizing for the feelings–positive or negative–I may have expressed throughout the course of this blog. I don’t say that with any conceited “I am always right” belief about myself. Trust me on that. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes I’m just feeling something without an associated truth value. Regardless of the feeling in question, I have become comfortable enough with myself from an internal standpoint to know that apologizing just wouldn’t be genuine. I feel how I feel on this stuff, and even though I do my best to ensure that my feelings aren’t absurd at the core, I can’t rule the possibility out. So there we are with that.

What is most important to me is that the people–and you know who you are at this point, I think–who have been affected negatively by my public declarations of these feelings can rest assured that I know I should have acted differently, and going forward, I will try my best to do just that. We have enough real drama in the world today, and we don’t need my passive-aggressive confessional for the masses adding to the mix. If I feel negatively about something in the future, I will confront the person about it myself, in person, to deal with it like adults. And if I can’t do that, I’ll write about it in my journal. I have one now.

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Looking Down

Have you ever had an out of body experience? Not necessarily the “I was dead for three minutes and walked toward the light” sort of thing (though that would certainly count), but more in the “I’m here but not here” kind of way. I realized recently that this happens to me on a pretty regular basis, and when I become aware of it, it genuinely freaks me out–for a number of reasons.

I’ll give an example. My job requires me to be in a fair number of meetings per week, most of which involve me updating people in my department about whatever tasks I’m working on at the time. Almost without fail, I will notice as I am speaking about these things that the words coming out of my mouth aren’t mine. They aren’t anyone’s–they are essentially just an autopilot version of a human being speaking with other human beings. And as this realization sets in, I actually get to the point where I am watching myself speaking, hearing sounds being projected across the room, but not having any true conception of what is being said or why. And the craziest part is that if I am asked to repeat what I’ve said or expand upon something, I can almost always do it without trouble. Or rather, more words are produced by the robot below me that satisfy the people listening.

I can’t remember when I first started disassociating like this, but I can say it is a very good method for inducing panic in me when it occurs. No amount of history or practice can prepare me for the feeling of having “two” selves, the automated version of which is available to others. I wish it were as simple as a daydream that can take place when you are really bored with your surroundings, but there is a difference. When I daydream, I may as well be sleeping with my eyes open. I am not productive, I cannot speak or respond, and I certainly am not aware of it in some second-order way as it is going on.

It isn’t just something that can fly up when I am interacting with others. I can realize that I am doing something productive alone and begin to “float” over it just as easily. I watched myself read a book last night for ten or fifteen minutes. I can recall all of what was read, but I can also recall the realization that I was completely detached from the eyes and brain that were taking in the words on the page.

Maybe this all takes place because my brain is always running at ninety miles an hour, and isn’t capable of focusing on just one thing. But the thing is, it’s not as though the “floating” version of myself starts to dwell on something other than what the autoversion of me is doing. Most of the time I just watch myself, essentially as a passive observer, taking in the spectacle of a body participating in day-to-day life sans depth.

I realize that by putting this out there in the world I am not making myself look too good. I was asked recently why I feel the need to blog about things this personal, and the truth is, I don’t really know. Sometimes I just like getting my feelings on the page and then throw them into the cybervoid to see if someone else can relate. Sometimes I feel like publishing something makes it “real”, where it used to be only in my mind (and therefore not real). Sometimes I want to make a clever point and it can be an ego boost to have affirmation of that by someone else. And sometimes I just feel do it, Nike style, without a cause. Or at least one I am aware of. Beyond that, though, I know people could say I’m trying to characterize myself as crazy to get attention. Or they could say I’m trying to come up with an excuse for not giving people the proper amount of attention when I speak to them. Or they could just read this and not think or say anything. All are possible scenarios. At the end of the day, though, sometimes it helps in a completely non-descriptive way to take something that has been bothering me, write it out in the rambling, disjunctive method that I have developed here, and post it without reason or justification. Just because.

And it dawned on me at this moment that I am watching myself write this as well.

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