15 January 2018

Fifty Years After Folsom

On that chilly Saturday morning, a not quite thirty-six year old guitar player seeking a comeback moment sat on a hack of a folding chair in the green room before taking the stage to a standing room only crowd and reminisced about his path to that point.  Fifty years later, a not quite forty-six year old hack of a guitar player sits on a well-worn couch three time zones east doing the same minus the comeback bit.

In 1953,  a young Air Force staff sergeant stationed in Landsberg, Germany, watched a prison movie with his 12th Radio Squadron buddies that in my mind forever altered the course of popular music.  That might be a little dramatic, but for me I would’ve never acknowledged or accepted Steve Earle, Old 97s, Robert Earl Keen, Dwight Yoakam etc. etc. ad naseum had that moment not occurred and spawned what came after.  Perhaps they would’ve never had the whatever it took for them to be whoever they were as well.  Perchance, had that random movie night passed without him there, this musical world I know would be appreciably different and less than.

His name was J.R. but the military didn’t accept initials as a first name so he changed his name to John R...John R. Cash.  After signing with Sun Records in 1955 he adopted the stage name Johnny Cash, the pride of Dyess, Arkansas – The Man in Black himself...Johnny motherf@#$&ing Cash.  At that moment in time, the die had been cast so to speak whether anyone knew it or not.  John would go on to complete his volunteer service, move back to Texas then on to Memphis, meet Sam Phillips, sign with Sun Records, make bank, become famous, tour with The Carter Family, meet and way later marry Mother Maybelle’s striking daughter June, have a string of hits, succumb to addiction, miss or half-ass years of shows, stumble, fall, burn 508 acres of forested land, get sued by the federal government, get arrested in Starkvegas for picking flowers on private property; in El Paso for smuggling 688 Dexedrine tabs, attempt suicide and likely hundreds of other things I’ve never heard about nor can confirm as truth.  What is true is that he never once served a single day in actual prison.  He chose a path whether knowingly or not and followed it to the end and you have to admire and envy that.  I don’t think I’m writing a history lesson so you can fill in whatever blanks I’ve left.  Truthfully,  I’m not sure anything I’ve written to this point is fact or fiction or simple myth because of who and what he became.  I’m certain that it doesn’t matter either way.

That green room I mentioned earlier was once the “hanging room”.  That sold out show was the first of two that day at Folsom Prison on 13 January, 1968.  His band, the perpetually locked-in Tennessee Three backed  him perfectly.  The fifteen songs recorded over the next five hours during two exhausting sets would become “Live at Folsom Prison”, possibly the most iconic American record for dudes like me of the last fifty years.  What you don’t know, even if you know all of that is that Governor Ronald Reagan stopped by to wish the band well the Friday before since they were staying at the same El Rancho Motel in Sacramento.  You likely don’t know that Carl Perkins and then the Statler Brothers opened up for him that morning either or that he sang a song one of the inmates he was singing to had written.

Yes, it’s clich├ę for “dudes like me” to claim an allegiance to Cash thanks in no small part to his lucrative and embarrassing relationship with Rick Rubin in the mid-90’s.  In 1994, Rubin recorded John’s eighty-first album sparking yet another resurgence in his popularity.  Perhaps it was his association with literally the coolest producer alive in Rick Rubin or that he became chummy with Trent Reznor that would allow aging yuppies and early hipsters and pissed-off metalheads and country music hardliners and pop radio junkies and everyone else the world over to finally and fully hear what the “man” was trying to say on the eighty previous albums.  Perhaps, it was pure dumb luck.  Perhaps, it was a global cultural awakening but I doubt it.  Either way, the one thing I know to be true is that Johnny Cash matters – in a time in history where absolutely nothing seems to have any real or lasting significance, he still does.  Cash is, does, will always matter.  His music is, was, will always be important, clear, poignant, honest, real, relevant.

It’s an odd thing to say that something that happened more than my lifetime ago matters to me and my actual life now in any way other than superficially….affected me in a positive way ever, affects me still.  Daily.  I admittedly don’t listen to that record as much as I once did, but I will never forget the first time I heard it.  Listening to it crystal clear digitally this morning doesn’t / couldn’t / will never compare to that first scratchy first time evening.  I was fifteen or sixteen, maybe younger, maybe older – time has a way of distorting a memory, right?

What I know and remember beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it was my brother who put the needle on that particular record that particular night.  As was often the case in my youth, he opened my eyes to a certain and specific different style of music that not only informed and transported me through my formative musical years but more importantly instilled in me a critical discretion of musical value that I maintain still.  Half or more what’s on my constant loop wouldn’t be without my bro’s influence even though he’s probably heard of way less than half of it.  Still, his implied direction gives me a touchstone to which I can compare all music to and evaluate it by.  The Clash, Johnny Cash, The Godfathers, The Smithereens, Motley Crue, Ozzy and everything after…I could go on but the point is made.  Introducing a music lover to good / new music is like breathing air into a drowning victim’s lungs.  The hell of it is that he has no idea what influence he has had on me.

Fifty years after Folsom minus a few days, my brother’s house burned down.  Quite literally to the ground, you know?  There’s nothing left.  He, his wife and first born barely made it out alive. There’s nothing left.  Nothing.  As emotionally connected to my actual soul as I believe that I am, I have no capacity for understanding that depth of loss.  It / this isn’t about me in any way but I can’t comprehend this tragedy.  I can’t reconcile my fervent belief in all that is good with this unimaginable act of devastation.

I’m not sure if it’s guilt in the purest sense,  but I do feel guilty.  Perhaps and I want to believe that this is true that it’s empathy disguised as guilt that I feel.  Either way, I can’t help but feel almost ashamed for not having suffered a similar loss.  My life, by any reasonable measure could not have turned out better – I’m on the exact path I chose once I decided to choose a path and there is zero reason to believe that I won’t continue to succeed…to have everything fall my way, you know?

It makes me question what is real…what really matters and what is truly irreplaceable.  It’s only now occurred to me that the very Folsom Prison album I’ve been enamored with and obsessing about all day and night burned up in that fire that took everything away from my brother and his sweet family.  Among other obvious important lost things, that might seem insignificant.  It is.  It’s not at the same time.

Fifty years after Folsom, life happens.  Sometimes it’s a carnival – sometimes it’s a shit show.  Either way, tomorrow will always be a better day.  Thanks for reminding me J.R.

19 August 2017

Solving for 'X'

When I was a young man, I lived in small-town Mississippi with a close friend of mine – he was family really.  We had grown up together; both the ideological, outspoken, nonconformist, wild and rebellious sons of devout Christian preachers.  We shared similar dreams that we had unsuccessfully chased in Southern California as soon as we had escaped high school together.  A helluva lot sooner than our youthful hubris would allow us to believe was possible, we failed and had retreated back east, back home; with the tattered remains of our adolescent hope, a six-foot python and whatever else we could cram into the back of his ill-tempered Nissan Pulsar to that same small Mississippi town that we had endeavored so desperately to evacuate; lost and defeated together.  We settled into my parents hastily renovated garage and set about plotting our next move.  There was a time and this was that exact moment in time when we saw the world through the same lens.  That time has long since passed and as it turns out has possibly no bearing whatsoever on what I sat down to say but since I started here, allow me to finish the thought.

Our garage accommodations quickly become yet another cage and he moved on: first to Scott Street and later out to Old Highway 8.  Family runs deep in the South and he was as much my brother as my brother is so I trailed not far behind.  There are early-morning, admittedly drunken conversations on the back porch of that Scott Street shack that are as clear in my memory as what I had for dinner tonight – exuberant, passionate declarations of what we saw then the world to be and how we could fix it.  Because of a hyper-confident belief in our personal worth, neither of us had ever seriously considered college.  Ours was a wisdom that only experience could provide and even though in hindsight we’d experienced next to zero then, our confidence in that belief and in our inherent human ability remained unshakeable.  We didn’t always see eye-to-eye but as a rule, we respected the other’s opinion.  You might not remember this, but there was a time when humans had actual conversations.  You held a belief and had a faith and a voice because of what you housed inside your heart and head, not because of what the internet told you.  Whatever the conversation, there was always a component of it rooted in the idea of change.  That conversation stretched from that failing back porch into the construction job we worked for my old man, to the ride home from church, to driving all night to find the thing and walking the rest of the way home when we couldn’t.  The last time I saw him in Alexandria, the fire of our conversation was as stoked as it was the first time on some random tailgate deep in the random forests of some lost Mississippi.

At some point, his focus became more clear than mine and our life paths diverged.  I haven’t spoken to the man in ten years or more at this point – couldn’t tell you where on earth he may even live.  His words and thoughts and truck stop wisdom during those never ending porch nights and road trips and drunk walks however left an undeniable, indelible mark on my subconscious that I’ve only recently fully internalized and only now am able to attribute to him.  Take a bow old friend…you finally made the argument I’d never let you win back in the day.

A French philosopher much smarter than me once said, “A goal without a plan, is just a wish.”  I ask you this – have truer words ever been spoken?  A guy I used to know once said the same thing progressively across the years of conversation I mentioned above.  It’s a tricky thing to know what you want, isn’t it?  I don’t think I’ve personally always | maybe ever known explicitly what I wanted and most days I question if I do still.   The ever-changing personal, professional and emotional landscape of a normal, fully-formed human’s life, typically allocates a remarkably tiny and surprisingly inhospitable sliver of soil for the seeds of any true actualization to be sown and an even more restrictive environmental window for said seeds to gestate.

I don’t often frame my thoughts within or with any regard honestly to the construct of math not only because I suck at it but moreover because “math” as a thing is useless in an age where all the answers are a mouse click away.  It’s the logical equivalent of learning Latin – what’s the point?  My 9th grade algebra teacher would shudder if she heard me say those words but we’ve lost touch since that time I threw a jack-o-lantern through her front door in ’87 anyway so whatevs.  What I do remember of what she tried unsuccessfully to teach me was this, “No matter what process you use, you always have to find a way to isolate ‘X’ on one side of the equation so you can find its true value.”  Despite fifteen-year-old-me’s vocal objection, algebra does in fact have real-world applications but only if one chooses to evaluate the equation from a different perspective.

I’ve rambled to this point and if I know anything about myself, I’ll stray from the path again but meantime, ask yourself this, “What is it that I truly want?”  What is your ‘X’?  Life is a complicated chaotic race against time, right?  Is it even possible to know what the soul truly wants anymore?  I’m not sure.  I am sure however that if one is able to see clearly enough through the fog of war that is the daily grind then there is a pathway to anyone’s goal.  It doesn’t really matter what that goal is as long as you are unflinchingly focused on it.  That’s your ‘X’.  My boy from way back?  His focus was simple, singular and laser specific – to get the hell out of Mississippi.  Once he had isolated that desire, he quite literally filtered every second of his life through that ideal.  Every decision he made from that point forward was evaluated by asking one question: “Does this get me closer to or farther from my goal?”  He followed that thread to the end of the spool and it changed his life forever.

Your ‘X’ doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or life-changing or even overtly complicated but it probably is.  Otherwise you would have already just done the damn thing, right?  The critical and likely most grueling component of the equation is identifying your actual ‘X’.  Equally if not more torturous but absolutely essential is having the constitution to wholly commit to it and maintaining the requisite discipline to follow the path to its end.  If it were easy, everyone would be fully satisfied with every aspect of their lives and there’d be no need to have this conversation.  That’s not the case though is it?  It should be said that I’m seeking the same solutions you are.  My writing this isn’t indicative of anything other than that.  I don’t have the answer and I’m an authority on very little – I’m just talking this out.

I conducted an exercise with the staff at my work recently where I asked them a simple question, “What would motivate you to do a better job?”  It was to be a vehicle through which I would ascertain if our firm was as good as we in leadership constantly try to convince ourselves that it is.  (It is by the way.)  The responses were fascinating and spanned the spectrum from uber-thoughtful and well-intentioned to flippant and absurd.  They were all incredibly valuable and not only afforded me a deeper insight into our employees’ collective and individual mindset but also comprised the framework of the 50-page Studio Culture Assessment I delivered to the principals.  There is a tremendous value in providing a human being the opportunity to voice their opinion and I’m confident that the recommendations I made as a result of this exercise will pay huge dividends down the road and make us even “better” than we already are.  That said, through no fault of their own and possibly directly because of the manner in which I framed the question, they almost all completely missed the point of the exercise.  What motivates anyone isn’t a physical thing I don’t thinkthere has to be a deeper internal force in play.  I don’t think it’s even something as vital as money.  It’s not a more flexible schedule, a better insurance plan, more comfortable chairs or any other tangible thing.  Identifying what motivates you is the first step on the twisting path to understanding what it is you want, need, deserve.  Whatever it is that motivates a human being to get out of bed in the morning and participate in this world is the foundational cornerstone of their ‘X’ whether they realize it or not.

There is a fundamental human necessity for all of us to identify what “motivates” us.  What is the point otherwise?  Why bother enduring the often grueling catastrophe that is human existence if one doesn’t have a vision for the future?  How can you even pretend to play if you’re not fully aware of the reward you seek?  How do you know if you’ve had a good day if you don’t have a context within which to frame it?  How can you solve the equation if you don’t identify and isolate the primary variable that will give your life value?  I’m fond of saying that the purpose and focus of my life is to get better at it – that’s really hard to do if I don’t know what “better” is.

If there’s a point to be made here it is this:  life is a son of a bitch and you have to try really hard every single second of every single day.  Buckets of rain will fall.  You will lose a helluva lot more often than you will win.  Even if | when you are fully self-aware, the strength of your convictions will not guarantee that your voice will be heard.  Even if you have the tenacity, conviction and discipline to follow your path to the end, your path will most certainly be fraught with impossible obstacles.  Even when you display an adroit capacity to weave your own perfect tapestry, the threads that bind your dreams to reality will invariably become undone.  The sun will rarely be on your face.  The wind will never be at your back.  The finish line will scarcely ever be in sight.  Every single second of every single day will be a battle.  If your ‘X’ means enough to you, nothing I’ve said above or anything that occurs subsequent will matter.  It’s your game – do your thing.

Get focused.  Identify your ‘X’.  Solve for it.  Move forward and find the next one.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

28 January 2017

The Diamond Boy Passes a Bar

Because I am a human person inhabiting the earth in the year 2017, I am inundated with stimuli on the reg.  Same as you, same as all of us.  Visual, digital, emotional, physical, imaginary, invisible, ever-present, engulfing, overwhelming bits of constant life-changing, useless, important, pointless "information".  As a result, the very chemistry of our brains as a collective and as individuals is changing daily.  I won't bore you with the "when I was younger | simpler time bullshit" that I want to but to be extremely clear, I believe our psyches are too taxed, overwhelmed to a near-critical breaking point.  

Evolution hasn't kept pace with technology...hasn't kept pace with whatever this 'modern' world is.  I believe we as a society will pay a possibly | unavoidable cataclysmic price for nothing more than our biological inability to 'keep up with' and our ironic celebration of the fallible nature of human existence, our perceived collective resistance to being acutely aware.  Being 'aware' is everything to me, you know?  Being in the 'is' IS everything, right?  Being 'aware' however is not only the accumulation of nor simply having access to 'information'.  'Information' in of itself doesn't make one intelligent - the critical evaluation of information does though and that takes time.  Time, unfortunately is the sworn mortal enemy of modernity.  That sucks.  If ever there was a need to take a breath and think deeply, it is now.  

When I was at State, I had a professor from North Dakota.  Big dude - crazy intellectual.  He was the first to warn me of this at the time at least, still developing phenomenon.  He of course spun it into a teaching moment about how understanding the inherent dynamics of one's environment and recognizing it's ever changing character would | could | should make one a more sensitive and expressive designer.  For reasons much more ridiculous and as it turns out more detrimental to my internal spirit than I care to admit, I dismissed it.  I dismissed this spectacularly insightful statement not because of the content of the said but regrettably because of the conduit through which it was delivered.  There's a lesson there I'm sure, but even had I heard it then, it wouldn't have changed the manner in which I woke yesterday.  Had the seed he endeavored to plant in fact found the purchase it sought, my every waking thought since yesterday's morning might have been other.

It is not in a facetious manner in which I earlier touched upon the modern stimuli specifc.  It's a very real thing, for me at least.  I'm a person who physically pines for the opportunity to internalize a visceral understanding of every single stimuli no matter how mundane or epic.  Sometimes however it's too much.

Yesterday, I awoke enlightened.  Enlightenment quickly turned to astonishment when I realized I had involuntarily said aloud "The diamond boy passes a bar."  I don't pretend to understand the nature of the impetus of nor the need to ascribe meaning to a person's dreams but this one was different somehow.  I'm not shy about the specificity, content, situation or any other aspect of the dreams I have - I've shared freely prior to on this blog.  This was a dif animal; an epiphany unequaled.  I started my day with a renewed sense of confidence, an unexplained swagger...like I had been given a gift!  

As days tend to do, the day trudged on and I forced myself to digest more and more the veracity of this statement that in my morning haze meant so very much but in the stark light of day meant absolutely nothing.  I've resolved myself to this fact - that was my brain fucking up, attempting to reset itself.  The constant barrage of nothing and everything, right?  The deadlines and headlines and box scores and documentaries and red lights and song lyrics and traffic jams and winks and nods and fights and kicks and claws and bites and wet paint and dry dust and likes and hits and blurbs and facts and promises and lies and news and innuendos and dreams and nothing at all and all the unspoken bits of terror and hope and anticipation between the spaces of the letters between the words of the lines.  

All of that stimuli successfully soaks and seeps deep into my gray matter and sifts down through the layers of my subconscious, through every fiber and filter and coalesces finally into this nonsensical single platitude, "The diamond boy passes a bar."  I'd like to believe that those six meaningless words mean something magical but it's late on a Friday night and I can't imagine what it might be.  Maybe someday I will.

Meantime, I will enjoy visualizing a moment in the future when I will discover why I've discovered now the punchline without ever having heard the joke...the underlying circumstances that precipitated my finding of the key years before finding the lock...the underpinnings upon which the foundation of having found the solution without the problem being revealed.  I've got the moral to but I've yet to write the story.  

The diamond boy passes a bar.  

I'm sure of very little, but I'm sure of this....I need to take a breath...and think deeply.  Same as you, same as all of us. 


21 January 2017

Inauguration Day

Today started like every other one...oversleeping running late chaos, absent maniacal silent debate with Doug Turnbull about just how late I might be 'if I were to leave right now' (even though I'm still in bed), resolving internally (triumphantly) and exclaiming aloud to no one in particular that I won't be late and that even if I am, it will not define my day! (even though I know it will because I am who I am) ... downloading Velvet Underground songs for the evening home ride as Joe Scarborough tells the empty living room what I need to know about whatever nonsense happened in D.C. last night before The Mother Hips ease me into semi-conscious lucidity adrift in a caffeine fueled cloud of predawn cigarette smoke on the front stoop foggy morning.

The most logical next step I could possibly take (and I thought about this for a lot longer than a few beats) was to lock my distracted brain into a distracting new song.  I think I like to believe that noodling around on the ukelele and on that cigar box guitar I impulsively bought a summer or two back at a rando ATL festival has made me a better guitar player and by extension (it should go without saying) a better human person.  I'll never be very good at my chosen 'what if' and I'm cool with that.  Whatever adolescent (way too far into adulthood) dreams I had (have)      of rock stardom are a distant (if [still!] oft revisited) memory.  I do however in fact, find myself 'learning' songs with chords with which I'm not familiar...no realistic expectation of successful execution, but always with the same prideful arrogance with which I pursue all meaningful (pointless) endeavors.  I'm okay with that...I'm actually proud of that as it turns out.

For years I thought there was some magical chord progression I would have to hit before I could allow myself to consider myself or expect anyone else to see me as a 'good' guitarist....it's finally dawned on me that I'll never hit those changes.  That's just not me...I wasn't born to be a guitar player in the classic sense - in any conventional sense if I'm honest.  Truth is, I don't love it enough to dedicate the time it would take to be considered a 'good' guitar player.  It's a time killer and I DO love killing time so I'm cool with whatever that says about me.  The benchmark, for the record, for me at least is "Tunnel of Love" by Dire Straits.  Mark Knopfler is an unequaled freak in my estimation and it's borderline obscene to think that I could ever match the natural talent of a certified virtuoso but everybody has to have a dream, right?   


It had occurred to me midstream of the aforementioned stoop ride that today, in spite of popular evidence to the contrary as well as the infallible prognostication of one Kirk Mellish that this might actually be a 'flannel shirt Friday'.  Not one to overtly contradict my own unvalidated belief in premonition, I dutifully selected and ironed my most garish red flannel shirt (yes, I iron.  yes, I iron flannel because I iron    everything that I wear M-F as a representative of my firm.  yes, I chose red as a diversion...because I maybe didn't want my work peeps to (even though they'd have to be blind AND mentally unstable to not) know that I was a 'crip' at heart).  Blue - through and through. 

I maintain a solid belief that a man who's worth his salt cannot wear a flannel shirt and not also wear boots and jeans.  Further I believe it an unconscionable condescension to all things real for a man to don said attire and then settle into a Mercedes for his work ride.  As I had previously chosen to go all '1995'' on a Friday, I had no other option than to park my ass in my old ass perfect truck before facing the standard ATL traffic gauntlet.

Pops Staples steered me out of my neighborhood and onto the freeway.  Jason Isbell and Taj Mahal guided me through my unscripted diversion through Sweet Auburn and the Old 4th until I passed that perfect MLK iron hand perpetually reaching toward the future on the corner of Boulevard and Freedom Parkway.  Damian Marley, Badfinger, The Shins and Graham Parker serenaded me through downtown and into the burbs.  I have a perfect unexplainable peace when I'm driving...my mind goes to the places it's supposed to, my heart to its very home.

As I crossed 285 my "check engine" light came on.  I ignored it (freaked out inside) and went into the office, still buoyed by my self-inflicted confidence.  An early lunch for 'short steve' to pull the codes so he could tell me it was an EVAP code meaning I was 'Kool and the Gang' aside from the fact that I wouldn't pass my emissions test come Spring.  "It's a second car", said I to myself as I realized I was about to run out of not only fuel, but also acceptable time for lunch.  As I pumped gas into and thought about the Three Dollar Cafe meatball sandwich I was about to destroy and the best way to frame the wording of the proposal I had to write before the bell, I googled what the hell an EVAP code was - the gasoline running across my boots from under my old ass perfect truck answered my question so I decided to have a more time-sensitive Arby's instead.

It's been a shitty week through no fault of its own and for reasons that have no relevant bearing on this conversation.  That said,  Beer Friday at the layout table was a sublime impeccable.  

After the requisite time had passed, I checked the lot under my truck - no gas stains.  Traffic was down by then so off to home I went.  At the red-light...some dude and his old lady pulled out in front of me just before this barbecue joint at the corner of some street and another one.  I stood on my horn as is my right, expecting them to speed out of the intersection and wave a sheepish apology same as every other.  They didn't.  The first thing I saw was his girl flipping me off from the passenger seat and I was like hell naw.  I felt it happening inside of me, but I couldn't stop it.  I rolled down the window and very fervently explained to him why he was a dick - he pulled out in front of me!  He challenged, 'you wanna go?' And I already had my door opened because fuck him, right?  My patience was gone...had been most of the day and I was deep in a dangerous adrenaline moment.  I heard his girl say, "kill his bitch ass" as I bounced to his shitty van door.  He was trying to open it as I slammed it shut on him and proceeded to not so politely explain traffic rules such as right of way.  We are IN the intersection mind you and the demure Roswell populace are beginning to take timid notice that something isn't quite right in their perfect pathetic utopia.  Realizing I was about to end him, I banged my fist on his hood and pogoed quickly back to my truck.  I didn't realize until mental replay that Al Green was still blaring from my open window as I did.  

Still shaken and honestly a little embarrassed about how primal I had allowed myself to get, I threw it down in drive and got the hell out of there.  As I did, I heard the not so distant yell of my newfound mortal enemy screaming "FUCK TRUMP"!!

Really?  It was only then that I internalized that it was Inauguration Day.  The most gangster thing I could think to shout in retaliation was, "I didn't vote for him either!!

I could write for centuries about my belief in this thing or that.  I've never been so rigid in my belief however of any one thing to not be open to an honest explanation of the other side's opinion and belief.  I want that dialogue.  I crave that dialouge.  Honestly, I want ANY intelligent dialogue. 

As I said earlier today in the most ineffective manner possible to a semi-curious traffic crowd who seemingly weren't capable of or in all fairness prepared for hearing it in the manner in which it was delivered, I didn't vote for Trump.  In spite of the immutable fact that there is no evidence that he is even an actual human being, I maintain the same blind trust in him as I have in all of the other American presidents in my lifetime.  That I didn't vote for him, doesn't make him less my president - it makes me more 'me'.  My unshakeable belief in history and the inescapable common good of Americans forces me to believe that 'this' will work out even though I have no idea how.  

I'm not so naive or arrogant to think that I have any better solution or proposed course of action than saying exactly this:  Congratulations Mr. President.  I'll support you when I can, disparage you when I don't agree, mock you every chance I get but I will never devalue the office of the Presidency.  In spite of what I believe to be true, I will approach and engage your presidency with the same guarded optimism with which I've approached and engaged all presidents but with the quick American judgement trigger that is my birthright to weild.  

So yeah.  The song I played on my shitty ukelele this morning was Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole's version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.  In my world, on this our country's Inauguration Day...it means everything.

24 May 2015

Rolling Down a Hill

Saturday, as has become my Memorial Day weekend tradition, I spent the afternoon in Piedmont Park at the Atlanta Jazz Festival.  If you haven't been, you need to go.  Atlanta is overloaded with free fun and this is one of our best events.  It's always a bit transformational for me, but this year it was especially so.  I can't effectively articulate what it fills me with, but my heart and soul are filled when I leave there every single time.  If I need to describe to you the complete sense of peace a body feels while sitting in cool grass on a warm summer day as the sounds of horns and strings dance and float along the breeze, I'm afraid you'll never understand.  That's fine if you don't.  I do though and I'm sure that I'm a better man because of it.

Yesterday, from a shady blanket oasis I spied a group of kids rolling down a hill.  Interject the sounds of children's laughter into this already idyllic tranquil scene and what you have is a moment of magic that will forever be etched on my brain.  That statement will come as a shock to anyone who knows me and if I'm honest it shocks me a little too.  For much of my life the playful squeals and joyous screams and unbridled laughter of a group of children has been a source of great anxiety for me, a disturbing inconvenience to be tolerated.  What a dick, right?  The upside is that this is changing for me almost daily.  Maybe it's because I was such a serious introverted child that I can't make that connection in my memory.  I don't think I was a sad kid necessarily, but I don't recall ever being overly expressive about much of anything, and certainly not about something as mundane and pointless as rolling down a hill.  This is a true story that I had literally blocked out until yesterday.  I assumed I had done the same thing as a kid and I'm sure I've agreed with others as they recount the simple joy of said hill rolling even though I didn't have a specific memory of it.  Digging deeper into my mental archives however, I realized that I hadn't.  I remember watching other kids roll down hills and thinking how stupid they looked.  (What a weirdo, right? And again, what a dick.)  Confronted with this startling realization, that I had in fact never rolled down a hill as a child, I felt overwhelmingly sad for six-year-old me.  So yesterday when my friend asked if I wanted to roll down a hill, I jumped up and shouted an enthusiastic 'Yes!'

There's a funny thing about being a grown ass man...sometimes you don't realize just how tightly wound you are.  As tired and overplayed a cliche as it is, it remains true that being an adult is an inconvenient pain in the ass a lot of the time.  We all feel similar pressures, the same but different demands on our time...the world moves faster everyday and it's a full time job just to keep up.  That's true for all of us.  Knowing this fact all too well and simultaneously being faced with the option to literally unfurl my very self along that grassy slope was an opportunity that I couldn't let pass me by.  How often in life, do we do that?  How often do we let good judgement or responsibility or duty or any of a thousand other noble qualities prevent us from not only seeing, but seizing the very thing that will bring us joy?  I've personally been guilty of letting the 'moment' (whatever that has ever meant) slip away at times I know and I'm sure you have as well.  At some level, it truly is unavoidable.  Try as I might and even though I like to convince myself that I live exactly in the 'is', I don't always.  I was alive and living in the 'is' yesterday in every possible way and it's the best decision I've made in a very long time.

Having no personal experience to draw from, I spent a few minutes studying the mechanics of the actual thing as demonstrated by the gaggle of laughing rolling children on my right.  It seemed easy enough so I walked to the top of the hill with as much giddy anticipation building inside of me as I can recall in recent memory.  I lied down on my back, took a deep breath, rolled up the hill slightly and then threw my weight into the spin.  What a sensation that first rotation was as the sky spun into the green earth and then back to the sky...twisting the blues and greens faster as I descended, swirling into a perfect blissful mix of dark and light.  Feeling the cool of the grass and the warmth of the sun at the same time, alternating as I tumbled farther down until I came to rest at the base of the hill.  Dizzy.  Smiling.  Triumphant...yes, triumphant.  I know it's ridiculous and I'm cool with that but when I looked up all I could do was shoot two clenched fists into the air as if I'd just won the lottery!

I recaptured the ability to just let shit go, if only for a few brief idiotic seconds.  In that moment, nothing else mattered.  I didn't really care who saw this particular grown ass man making a fool of himself.  I wasn't worried about the deadlines or the commitments or any of that other cloudy bullshit.  I was free.  As free and as unaffected as I have been in far too long.  It was a good time.  I collected my wits and went back to the top of the hill!

I hope that it's a beautiful day wherever you are in the world.  I don't claim to be wise by any stretch but I do stumble upon good advice from time to time and here it is; if you find yourself beside a hill today, do not miss your chance to roll down it.  That can mean whatever that may mean for you.  Don't be afraid to just let it all go.  BE ridiculous!  Unfurl your inner 'you' and don't give a second thought to who might see.  Don't you owe yourself that much?