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Our Place in the Universe - old man talking

Time got the best of me this week and there simply wasn’t enough time to complete my thoughts on the topic I had chosen for this post. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

From the beginning of time, humans have questioned why we are here, what is our purpose. Religions were created in an attempt to explain what was, to primitive humans, unexplainable and unimaginable. Mythologies grew, coming and going with various amounts of popularity, but it has only been in the past 400 years, a relatively short amount of time in the greater expanse of time, that we have begun to genuinely understand what our place is in the universe.

Why is this important? Because we are in need of something to give us some guidance, provide some form of compass, as to what we are supposed to do, how we are supposed to behave. When we botch the answer to this question, people inevitably get hurt. Racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, and xenophobia are all the ultimate result of our failure to understand what our place is in this world.

Where I am short on words, however, people much smarter and with much more experience than me fill in the canyon-sized gap in understanding. The following video, narrated by the voice of god (assuming we’re all familiar with the film Bruve Almighty), not only says everything I would want to say, but they do so in a way that is a lot more palatable than the 12,000 words it would have taken me to not even get close to saying the same thing.

My hope is that this video spurs a deeper level of thought. Perhaps there are some facts regarding the universe one has heard before but don’t be detered. The universe is a big place, after all, and this is a gigantic topic that has plagued philosophers for centuries.

No, the video isn’t short, but the topic is worth the time and you would have spent that much time reading my entire scrim anyway. Enjoy.

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Being significantly Native American is something of which I am proud. Our family heritage beginning in North Georgia and the Carolinas prior to being forcibly removed to Oklahoma carries with it a tremendous amount of legacy and culture. I have, for the majority of my life, happily and at times ferociously identified as a first nation’s citizen.

However, when most people first meet me, they typically don’t see someone whose sympathies and loyalties lie with the Cherokee and Choctaw nations. What most people see is the result of my French heritage on my maternal grandfather’s side. It’s not that I’m ashamed of a family of teachers that migrated from Calais under the persecution of the Catholic church and landed in New Amsterdam in the early 17th century, settling in what is now Long Island. I’m somewhat proud of the fact that our family defended the United States in every major war even if surviving those conflicts wasn’t necessarily a strong point.

If I wanted, I could easily enough pass as just another white guy and go on through my life claiming the privilege afforded to such. Where I have a problem is knowing that the European side of my family actively participated in the oppression of the native side of my family. While the native peoples often won direct encounters with my grandfather’s ancestors, the policies and subjugation supported by my white ancestors is not something with which I can morally agree. Therefore, I find it less reprehensible to identify with my native family.

What I can’t control is how others see me. I don’t look like a native person at first glance, especially when Kat keeps my hair cut and colored as it is now. Following my father’s death from complications from melanoma, I’ve been careful with my exposure to the sub which keeps my skin rather pale. That means that, whether I like it or not, I am most frequently treated as a white guy.

For most of my life, being treated like a white guy hasn’t been especially bad. There are a lot of privileges that come with people thinking you’re white, especially when traveling through predominantly white parts of the world. Increasingly, however, and totally through our own fault, being a white male is becoming a problem. White males have now been strapped with the same kind of negative stereotype they’ve previously imposed on others. Those people groups who have been previously oppressed by white males, and there are a lot of those groups, are starting to take a stand and call on white men to take responsibility for their crimes as well as those of their ancestors.

For example, the issue of slave reparations looks to be a hot-button issue in next year’s Democratic primary. Be sure that native tribes are watching those conversations with intentions of launching a second, different kind of #metoo movement should reparations start gaining serious ground. What European invaders did to both groups was/is unspeakable and making amends isn’t going to come quickly nor cheaply. There has been a lot of damage done at the hands of white guys over the centuries.

All this makes white guys nervous because, from their perspective, all they see is their power, privilege, and influence slipping away. As a result, they’re acting in the same way as did their ancestors: being jackasses.

Being jackasses has typically worked well for white guys in the past at the first sign of any form of a challenge by increasing the oppression, doubling down on the punishment imposed through the institutions they control.

Life in the 21st century doesn’t quite work the same way, though. There are laws preventing continued oppression and multiple organizations with strong financial influence happy to raise a fuss if anyone tries. Male-run institutions that once dominated social life, such as the Christian church, are now largely ignored, in some cases reviled, and routinely mocked for their attempts at meddling outside matters of faith. The weapons white guys traditionally use no longer are sources of fear to people who are sick and tired of being oppressed.

As a result, we see white guys resorting to being jackasses on their own, doing and saying things in support of the patriarchy and then getting upset when someone calls them out for being a jackass. Even online trolls hiding behind the masks of anonymity are finding people laugh at their ignorance, dissolving their power.

Fortunately, not every white guy on the planet wants to be a jackass. In fact, a number of white guys have told me they don’t start out trying to be a jackass—it just happens. They’ll do something they’ve done repeatedly for 30 years without anyone saying anything and now they’re suddenly forced to apologize and often resign from their employment. For possibly the first time in recorded history, white men are not in control of the social environment and are finding it difficult to adapt because they’ve never had to adapt to anything before now. They’re clueless.

So, having some sense for what white guys are feeling but with absolutely no sympathy, I’m offering the following basic guidelines for what white guys need to do to not be complete jackasses. Understand, I don’t have space here to go into the depth of detail some guys are going to need. There are a lot of ways to be a jackass. I’ll cover the basics here and continue later if there is appropriate justification. That means more than three people need to read this. Let’s get started.

Remember: White Guys Are A Symbol Of All That’s Wrong

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Proof in point: just this past week, following the aftermath of a racist, xenophobic terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the primary shooter directly referenced the US President and statements supporting white supremacy, the US President states that he doesn’t consider white supremacy to be a problem. His blatant and willful ignorance is a maximum jackass exhibition.

The list of horrible things perpetrated by white guys and the institutions and governments they control is astounding. Just going back the past 2,400 or so years, here are a few of the low moments of history where white guys really sucked:

  • Subjugation and enslavement of multiple people groups through the expansion of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Use of caste systems to oppress the poor
  • The Dark Ages and the Crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • The imperialistic takeover of foreign countries
  • Every European war
  • Every World war
  • Every American war
  • Intercontinental slave trade
  • Mass genocide of North American indigenous peoples
  • Mass genocide of ethnic Europeans
  • Misappropriation of cultural, ethnic, and religious history, artifacts, and customs
  • Imposition of religious-based moral code
  • Mass rejection of contributions to science and medicine by women and people of color
  • Theft of intellectual property and patents from women and people of color
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Racial segregation
  • Institutionalized misogyny
  • Gender discrimination
  • Denial of civil rights
  • White nationalism

I could go on for several pages but I think that list is sufficient to make my point. Every time a woman or person of color encounters a white guy, they see all that history, all that inclination toward hate, all of those instances of abuse of power and denial of basic humanity, and they respond with a justified distrust of every white guy on the planet. How white guys have responded for all of history shapes expectations for what white guys might do next and that expectation is that white guys are jackasses.

Yes, that is an unpleasant stereotype but it is not unfair because it’s based in well-documented fact. The reluctance of the US President to denounce the violent white nationalist movement as a global problem shows that the stereotype remains accurate. When people naturally question the motives of anything a white guy says or does it is because, as a group, white guys have proven they cannot be trusted.

Knowing that they start every social encounter with that stigma against them should make white guys more aware of when they’re being or about to be a jackass. When white guys begin to see themselves as other people see them, one might think they would be ashamed, and yes, some are.

Unfortunately, too many deny the reality of their past. Too many white guys claim they don’t have a racist bone in their body while being overtly racist. Too many white guys claim they support women in public but beat them up, physically and emotionally, in private. Too many white guys want to enforce laws on other people they don’t keep for themselves.

Too many white guys are jackasses and it’s not a secret. Everyone knows and judges every white guy they meet based upon that standard behavior. The only way to change that is for white guys to change their default behavior.

MAGA Is The New Klan

Symbolism is a big factor in what makes a person a jackass and there are some things that immediately identify a white guy, or anyone else for that matter, as a jackass. Among those symbols of gross ignorance are:

  • Klan hoods
  • Nazi/Neo-Nazi symbols such as swastikas
  • Confederate battle flags
  • Anything named after a Confederate
  • MAGA merchandise

The past three years have seen a disturbing rise in the visibility of white supremacists. Concepts and ideas we thought were behind us, shoved into dark closets where their presence could be ignored, have been emboldened by the rhetoric of alt-right publications, radio talk show hosts, and the diatribe of politicians (who are primarily white guys) espousing anti-immigrant nationalism.

As a result, what began as a campaign slogan has become another symbol of hate. People wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) merchandise have taken to public rallies and social media to hurl vulgarities at people of color, people of non-Christian ethnicities, women, and even scientists and doctors. The frequency and volume with which that has happened is overwhelming and leaves those whose people groups have been attacked with little choice but to assume that anyone wearing such merchandise has to be a jackass.

Think of this in terms of guilt by association. When one is part of a team, and white guys are certainly their own team, one takes credit for the team’s activities. If a basketball team wins a game, it doesn’t matter how many of those points LeBron scored, the team won. When the rest of the Lakers fail to step up and lost the game, LeBron is just as much a loser as the rest of the team.

Guilt by association works the same way. When someone commits an act of hate while wearing a religious symbol, it smears the reputation of anyone wearing that same religious symbol. When someone says something racist while standing in front of a Confederate battle flag, it negatively colors the acts and words of anyone else embracing the Confederate battle flag regardless of their reasoning. When hundreds and thousands of people wearing MAGA hats scream derogatory and inflammatory comments about the press and immigrants it causes everyone in a MAGA hat to look like a jackass.

Please note that this has nothing to do with who has the right to do what. One still has the right to wear what they want to wear (with the exception of Nazi symbols across parts of Europe). However, it is impossible to embrace symbols of hate and still claim that one doesn’t hate. Words come rather inexpensively and if one’s actions don’t match with one’s words people of reason are going to trust the actions more than the words.

One also needs to be aware that just because something was once socially acceptable within a cloistered group of some form doesn’t make it publicly acceptable now. The use of blackface in minstrel shows is a prime example. Those cloistered within predominantly white society didn’t find anything wrong with the practice because they never even considered the racial implications. Now that people of color have made it abundantly clear how offensive blackface is, not only do we need to avoid it but we need to apologize if we’ve committed those acts previously. Such apologies are not merely for doing something offensive but for the willful ignorance that allowed one to engage in those incidents in the first place.

White guys are too often too slow to give up their symbols and too reluctant to admit their ignorance. While I don’t think anyone expects every white guy to suddenly change, be very much aware that wearing anything MAGA-oriented identifies one as a jackass. No other actions required.

Lose Your Obsession With Guns

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

When the founding fathers, a bunch of white guys, wrote the Constitution of the United States, our military was a long way from being the bloated representation of government overreach that it is today. There was no standing Army. Instead, each state maintained a militia, a National Guard-type unit, to be called upon should there be an invasion. To facilitate the readiness of that militia, the founders included the Second Amendment which reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The entire purpose of the amendment was to make sure that no centralized federal government could take away the weapons that might prevent its overthrow should that become necessary. Democracy was a new concept and a lot of people didn’t trust it. The ability to forcibly change forms of government was an important issue.

Times have changed rather dramatically. The combat-ready strength of the US military stands at roughly 1.5 million troops supported by the best weaponry and technology in the world. While each state still maintains a localized National Guard under the control of each state’s governor, its weapons and materials are also provided by the federal military. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for anyone else to purchase and maintain military-grade weaponry. None. Zero. No one’s going to successfully take on an entire US Marine squardron and live to tell the tale. The initial purpose of the second amendment no longer exists.

However, white guys have been fighting tooth and nail for the right to keep weapons of every imaginable type in the name of “personal safety.” The problem with that is that, in turn, it is white guys causing the high-fatality incidents involving guns.

The problem with white guys and guns isn’t just in the United States, either. The person charged with the murder of 49 people in New Zealand is a white guy as well. The person who killed 69 people at a camp in Norway: a white guy. Over and over and over, we see it is predominantly white guys committing the greater acts of violence.

Here’s the thing: very few people think twice about someone having one gun. Whether for the myth of self-protection (one is more likely to be killed by their own gun) or for sport, one or even two guns is only going to raise the eyebrows of those committed to pacificity.

What is bothersome are those who stockpile weapons, especially weapons of military grade and weapons modified to do more damage to a target. There’s no legitimate, peaceful reason for maintaining these weapons. One can’t take them hunting because they damage the trophy. The only reason to have them in one’s possession is to kill people more efficiently, and any non-military concern over killing efficiently makes one a jackass.

Who does one plan on killing with weapons of such high damage strength? To claim that one is guarding themselves against the government is preposterous because from the outset one is massively outnumbered. That leaves the rest of us, normal, law-abiding citizens who now have to worry about the fact that some white guy has the ability to efficiently kill dozens of people before anyone can do anything to stop him.

No one in any oppressed group believes in such a thing as a good guy with a gun because that has not been our experience. In a world where people feel emboldened to shoot first and figure out the facts later, any display of excessive and unnecessary force is bothersome. Furthermore, the more one yells and screams about their “right” to carry, own, and stockpile such weapons, the most untrustworthy and suspicious they appear.

When we see a white guy desperately clinging to his weapons with a “pry them from my dead, cold hands” attitude, we see someone capable of committing the next mass shooting. We don’t see a “nice guy.” We don’t see someone who is going to keep “the rest of us” safe. We see a lunatic. We see a jackass.

Keep Your Pants On

Again, recent news points to the problem white guys have thinking they have some right to have sex with everyone else, including children. Perhaps the biggest news of the past month in this regard is the sentencing of former Cardinal Pell, another white guy, for his assault on two choir boys. Finally, we’re seeing the courts and perhaps, more importantly, the Catholic church standing up against jackasses who commit sexual assault.

One doesn’t have to commit a felony to be guilty of being a jackass, though. White guys have long held this mistaken belief that it is their job to propagate the human species and acted as though the world were dependent upon them having as much sex with as many different people as possible. Those guys are all wrong. The planet is over-populated, so we don’t need anyone propagating the species and too many of their victims would not be capable of producing offspring because they, too, are guys.

Sexually aggressive white guys have gotten away with their actions for centuries because anyone who dared to speak up was instantly shamed and ridiculed, that whole blame-the-victim problem. Fortunately, society, in large part thanks to the #metoo movement, has started moving away from that bad habit and is calling out white guys who attempt to impose their sexual urges upon anyone who does not want them or who might be incapable of providing informed consent.

Dear white guys: if anyone is desperate enough to want to have sex with you, they’ll find a way to let you know. Outside of that scenario, back the fuck off everyone. Stop leering from across the room. Stop stalking people on social media. When you break up with someone, don’t keep texting, stay off their social media, and let them get on with their lives without you. Perhaps more than anything white guys, stop sending people pictures of your penis when they haven’t asked for them! That act alone is enough to brand a person as a jackass forever.

Please believe me when I say that no one is impressed with the sexual prowess of white guys. Instead, most people are disgusted, disapproving, and disappointed. White guys don’t have anything better, or often as good, as anyone else. White guys are not better lovers, not more romantic, and not more likely to father exceptionally talented or intelligent babies.White guys hold absolutely zero sexual advantage over anyone else.

Instead, white guys have a greater reputation for taking advantage of people who are intoxicated, slipping dangerous substances into people’s drinks, and committing violent sexual acts against anyone they think they can dominate. This is one of those areas where it doesn’t seem to matter if one is gay or straight, either. Gay white guys tend to be just as sexually inappropriate toward other men as straight white guys are toward women. The only significant difference between the two is that gay white guys often pretend to be straight white guys because they’re afraid to admit that they’re gay, which a completely different issue.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of people out there who enjoy a good sexual encounter and appreciate a lover who demonstrates sufficient talent in pleasuring their partner. We’re not saying people don’t want to have sex. What we’re saying is that they want to choose with whom and under what conditions they have sex. No one wants to put up with witless suggestive banter (and trust us, all those pickup lines you stole off the Internet are genuinely dull and boring). No one wants to feel that their job depends on having sex with you, or that they may not get a promotion if they turn you down.

I feel the need to be very specific because the demonstrated level of ignorance is so very high. Therefore, take this to heart, doing any of the following things makes one a jackass:

  • Making any form of sexually suggestive comment toward any person under the age of 18. It’s illegal, jackass.
  • Pressuring anyone of any age to have any form of sexual contact with you, including touching outside one’s clothing.
  • Failure to wear a condom during any sexual activity that involves the potential exchange of fluids.
  • Failure to disclose any sexually transmitted disease with a potential partner.
  • Making continued sexual advances or overtures after being told no. No one is really going to respond positively to being “worn down.”
  • Touching someone sexually without permission.
  • Touching, snapping, or pulling on someone’s undergarments without express permission. No, it’s not funny.
  • Pulling out one’s penis in public. Ever.
  • Implying with or without any level of specificity that sexual activity with you might lead to any form of preferential treatment.
  • Blaming someone else for your sexual aggression.
  • Suggesting that someone’s manner of dress or other activities was “asking for it.”
  • Trying to pass off one’s sexual aggression as a religious or fraternal obligation.
  • Dismissing one’s sexual activities with phrases such as “I didn’t mean anything by it,” or “I was just joking around.” No one’s laughing.

Check Your Opinions

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

Fans of The Big Lebowski are fond of replying to a statement with the dismissive quote, “Well, that’s like, just your opinion, man.” Another frequent quote of more questionable sourcing is, “Opinions are like assholes: everyone has one and they all stink.” We have a lot of opinions about opinions and defend severely the right for one to hold whatever opinion they might wish to have.

However, some opinions that white guys often hold get them labeled as jackasses. While one has the right to any nonsense that pops into their pea brain, there are a number of opinions white guys need to keep to themselves. Why? Because some topics are absolutely none of your business and any opinion a white guy holds no those topics is irrelevant. Voicing, especially yelling, an opinion about something that for them is irrelevant puts one squarely within the domain of being a jackass.

Since I am sure that statement leaves some people scratching their heads, let me offer some specific examples.

Anything to do with women’s bodies and/or their ability and willingness to procreate. Only women have the right to express opinions about matters related to their bodies. Even if a white guy is married to a woman, that still does not give them the right to exert any level of dominance over what they do with or to their own bodies. White guys seem to have an especially difficult time getting this fact through their thick heads. When it comes to women’s bodies, your opinion is not wanted, your opinion is not needed, your opinion is irrelevant, and voicing anything other than support makes you a jackass.

Expressing opinions that assume other people, especially women, don’t understand a topic as well as you do. You’ve heard the word “mansplaining,” so don’t do it. Any time a white guy feels the words, “Well, actually … : start to come out of their mouth, they should, as quickly as possible, shove a donut in it so that thought doesn’t actually escape. Believe it or not, people are fulling capable of discovering the truth to matters on their own and if they need the assistance of a white guy, they’ll ask for it. No one has deemed that white guys are any smarter than the rest of the population. Even if you think you’re “just trying to help,” wait for someone to ask. Correcting someone just because you think you’re right makes you a jackass.

Attempting to “relate” with a culture of which you are not a part. Sorry, Dad, you’re not “cool” when you voice your opinion on your daughter’s favorite musician, even if you think you’re agreeing with her. What you are, in fact, doing is embarrassing her and acting like a jackass. The same goes for any white guy who claims to know how a person of color feels. Dude, it is impossible for you to know how a person of color feels because you are not a person of color! You can be sympathetic to their challenges, you can be empathetic to their struggles, you can be supportive of their goals and life choices. But things, like calling someone “nigga” or acting all “hood” when you live in the burbs, is a straight-up jackass move.

Stating opinions that imply a person is not as good as you simply because of their skin color, gender, country of origin, sexual identity, or religious beliefs. The proper term for those opinions is hate and we’ve had about all the hate from white guys that we can stand. As we have stated previously, you are not more important than anyone else. One can be confident and self-assured without disparaging others in the process.Putting yourself above anyone else is a classic jackass move. Not only that, white guys have held these hate-filled opinions for so long that the level of jackass one achieves in expressing hateful opinions magnifies the severity of how very wrong one is being.

White guys, more than any other group, have used their opinions to dominate others. The time has come for this form of manipulation to end. Check your opinion and feel free to keep your mouth shut.

Believe In Science

Nothing makes a white guy look like a jackass any faster than not believing science. Whether it’s regarding vaccinations or climate change or the source of humanity, science has such well-established answers to so many questions that to challenge them without equal levels of scientific evidence is preposterous. Yet, white guys keep going there in astounding numbers. Here are some things white guys have actually said.

“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.” – Vice President Mike Pence

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald J. Trump (2012)

“There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” – Rick Perry

“I’ve heard many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” – US Senator Rand Paul

One doesn’t have to do a lot of research to find that the majority of conspiracy theories and anti-science rhetoric around a number of topics, from the shape of the planet to our exploration of space, are dominated by white guys. Look for science deniers among people of color or women and one doesn’t find many in either group. White men, though, they think they know better than all those folks with their years of research and blind studies and proven theories.

Dear white guys: failure to believe in science makes you look stupid. In fact, anytime a white guy makes a comment contrary to proven science, everyone assumes that such ignorance comes from an inability to comprehend anything more complicated than the construction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Many people pity the poor white guy whose brain has not developed to the point they understand basic science.

What separates science from white guys’ opinion? Proof. White guys’ attempts at proving their statements are lacking any form of real proof. They may have a large number of assumptions or even utilize anecdotal stories that kinda sound like they might be factual, maybe. Scientists, on the other hand, have to submit their research for peer review, a study by other people who are also smart, and the ability to duplicate findings with accuracy. By the time a piece of scientific research is released to the public, it has already been tested, re-tested, and frequently utilized multiple studies before coming to a consensus. Bottom line, scientists know what they’re talking about while untrained white guys running around the internet fail to have a clue.

When a white guy says they don’t believe science, not only do they look stupid, they are also letting everyone know that they’re scared little boys afraid that all the science is going to destroy their power and influence. I have bad news for those people: when science says the planet is getting warmer, it’s going to happen whether you believe it or not. When science says that without immunization children are going to die of preventable diseases, that’s going to happen regardless of what you believe. Science neither needs nor asks for your approval. A + B = C every time and what some random white guy believes about that is irrelevant.

So, if the choice is being a jackass who looks like a fool or accepting the science and making adjustments accordingly to live a better life, doesn’t it make more sense to believe the science? Yes, it does. This is a really, really easy place to not look like a jackass. Try it.

Stop Calling The Cops On Everyone

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

We seem to have developed this problem over the past three years of white guys calling cops on people of color who are doing nothing more than living their lives. Apparently, a large number of white guys, typically overweight white guys with bad haircuts, seem to think that they need to call the cops anytime they see a person of color or even someone they simply don’t know doing something.

Apparently, there is some disconnect with white guys being able to tell what is an emergency and what isn’t. Let me help you with that. NONE of the following things are reasons to call the police.

Notice each of those items has a link. That link takes one to the CNN article reporting on that ridiculous event actually taking place. Someone actually decided to call the cops because people of color were engaged in these activities.

This is the type of thing that prompts normal people to ask the question, “What the fuck are these people thinking?” The answer is that they’re not thinking at all. People who call the cops on those who are only living their lives are racist jackasses.

I have looked over all of these and tried to imagine under what circumstances someone might be so misguided as to feel the need to call the police. The only excuses I can see is either blatant racism or else every one of these people is hallucinating and thinks brightly colored unicorns that need to be tamed, or some other such nonsense.

People of color know this ongoing form of oppression all too well. The fact that there has been an uptick in reporting this nonsense is new, but there has never been a time in our nation’s history where white guys weren’t calling the police on people of color simply for existing. The biggest difference now is that other people, people of conscience, are watching and making sure that these absurd incidents don’t go unnoticed and, in many cases, that the person calling the police is appropriately shamed or even legally punished.

Still, just in case there is any lingering confusion, these are the instances where one should call the police:

  • When you witness a murder
  • When you witness a shooting
  • When you witness a carjacking
  • When you witness a robbery
  • When you witness a vehicle accident
  • When you are stranded on the road and need assistance
  • When you are being attacked by a herd of wild elephants, lions, or tigers
  • When you’ve fallen and can’t get up
  • When your car is not where you parked it
  • When someone takes a ball bat to your head
  • When someone removes your spleen without your permission
  • When your identity is stolen
  • When you don’t know where you are
  • When you don’t know who you are
  • When you discover a 30-foot crater in your yard that wasn’t there before
  • When bullets come whizzing through your windows
  • When people come whizzing through your windows
  • When cars come whizzing through your walls.

Are you beginning to get the idea? When something actually happens to you or you witness the real commission of a serious crime, then it’s okay to call the police. Any other time, think about what you’re doing before you do it. Calling the police just because people of color are living is being a jackass.

Just Because Someone Is Different Doesn’t Mean They’re Wrong

A large number of white guys seem to have issues with anyone that is different from them. One of the biggest issues with the white supremacy movement is the ridiculous and hilariously unsubstantiated opinion that being white and male somehow makes one better than everyone else on the planet. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s nothing wrong with people being different in every way imaginable. People who are of a different race are not wrong. People who are in a different place on the gender spectrum are not wrong. People who love differently are not wrong.

Bottom line: People being who they are and who they want to be is not wrong.

What this comes down to is minding one’s own business. Does it hurt a white guy for someone to not speak English? No. Does it hurt a white guy for a woman to love other women? No. Does it hurt a white guy for someone to worship different mythology? Not at all. All of those are personal issues and that means they have absolutely zero bearing on anyone else.

Since lists seem to be the one thing each of these sections has n common, let’s create another one. Here is a partial list of personal choices, characteristics, and traits that are not anyone’s business except for the person to whom they belong.

  • Being gay, bi, lesbian, trans, pan, omni, or anywhere else on the gender/sexuality spectrum
  • Being vegan or an omnivore or any other dietary preference
  • Having non-white skin
  • Being Muslim, Hindu, or any other non-Christian religion, or no religion at all
  • Being an immigrant, regardless of the circumstances
  • Having sexual fetishes
  • Being voluntarily celibate
  • Whatever number of children one has, including none
  • Having colored hair, or not having any hair at all
  • Body modifications
  • Being overweight or obsessively fit
  • Having emotional and intellectual challenges
  • Physical deformities and challenges

For centuries, white guys have picked on and bullied people like these simply because society let them get away with it. We’re not doing that anymore. Calling people names like “Pocahontas” because they claim some native ancestry or “Cryin’ Chuck” because someone shows emotion is being about as big a jackass as is possible and there’s absolutely no room for it in today’s society.

New flash: Diversity is a strength and going forward it is the cultures that are most diverse that are going to lead the way and dominate in terms of innovation and economic growth. There is no gain to be made by leaving people out of the conversation simply because something about them is different. We, as a society, are increasingly finding more ways to embrace and celebrate how beautifully diverse we are and the more white guys get in the way and try to put people down or push them to the side, the more often white guys are going to find themselves on the losing end of legal action. We’re not putting up with the segregation and separation and bullying any longer.

What white guys need to realize is that just because people laughed at their antics before doesn’t mean their actions are acceptable. People laughed because they were afraid of becoming the next target. We’re tired of laughing and tired of making excuses for you when you’re nothing more than a bully. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone being different from you. In fact, in most cases, being different from you is a good thing because no one wants to be the jackass who bullies someone into committing suicide. White guys have been doing that far too much and it needs to stop. Now.

Don’t Expect Back What You Don’t Give

White Guys Guide to NOT Being A Jackass

I’m starting to hear white guys complain that they’re not being respected anymore. I’ve got some bad news for you, dudes, you never were respected that much in the first place. For centuries, people have feared white guys, tolerated white guys, and acquiesed to white guys because they didn’t think they had any choice. White guys controlled everything and to challenge them has too often meant death. We’re not talking ancient history here, either. This past week’s tragedy in New Zealand is a perfect example.

White guys scream about demanding respect, respect for their person, their position in a company or in government, respect for their heritage, and respect for their accomplishments. When focused on themselves, white guys are all about respect.

When someone else is the topic, though, white guys seem to forget the meaning of the word. They have a history of doing things such as pushing people to the back of the bus, or forcing them to eat in a different part of the restaurant, and making them use a separate entrance. White guys have too frequently showed disrespect for entire countries, referring to them in derogatory manner and denying them the investments they need to succeed. Traditions and cultures are frequently ignored by white guys as well unles they see something they can appropriate for their own use.

Society respects those who raise the bar in how they treat others. No one is going to respect you for having a lot of money if one simply capitalizes off the family trust fund. Society respects those who use their wealth to help other people and improve the human condition for those who have little or nothing. No one is going to respect your achievment when it comes accepting creit for the work of others and profiting from the innovation of others. Society respects those who lift people up, who give credit where it’s earned, who leave no one in the shadows and distributes the rewards fairly across those who participated.

History works against white guys who want respect. The legacy you have is not a good one. People who have already suffered at the hands of white guys aren’t likely to trust the next one no matter how much he smiles and tells them he’s different. They’ve heard those words before and found them to be lies.

If white guys want respect they have to give it in greater doses than can be returned to them. They have to use their privilege and positions of power to help people, not just people who look like them, but people they’ve never met, people who struggle, people who have addictions, people who have too often been kept from participating fully. If white guys want respect, they have to be willing to step aside and let someone else lead, they have to admit when they’re wrong and apologize quickly and earnestly, not waiting until their back is against a wall.

If white guys want respect, they have to stop mistreating their own families. Doing things like sleeping with a porn star while your wife is pregnant is one of the biggest jackass moves ever. Divorcing your dying wife to marry your mistress is another jackass white guy move that kills any respect for you. Turning your back on a child because they’re gay or marry someone of a different race or religion immediately strips you of any respect you might have had.

Folks in Indiana have mourned the passing this week of former US Senator Birch Bayh. I want to be careful here about praising someone I didn’t know, especially a politician, but at least on a few instances Senator Bayh set a good example for white guys. One was in his authorship of Title IX that requires women to be given equal acces to higher education and athletics. I went back and looked at some of the opposition he faced to that legislation and was sicked by some of the demeaning excuses given by his fellow Senators who opposed his work. Senator Bayh also wrote the constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18, realizing that there were young people dying for a country in which they had no voice. Senator Bayh also played a significant role in the construction of the Equal Rights Amendment and even though he couldn’t get that one passed, he made an overwhelming effort to give a voice to millions of people who still, to this day, struggle to be heard. Senator Bayh was, at least in those specific moments, a white guy who earned some respect.

Unfortunately, there are too few white guys who are willing to put their careers and reputation on the line for the sake of others. There are too few white guys standing up to not only apologize for the sins of their forefathers but taking steps to correct the damage they’ve done.

Instead, we get one jackass after another who thinks that white supremacy isn’t really a problem, who think racists can still be “really good people,” and who are willing to deprive their own people of the assistance they’ve earned in order to build a massive symbol of intolerance along our Southern border. There are too many jackasses looking for respect they’re never going to receive.

No One Is Coming For Your Job

White guys, more than any other group, have an irrational fear of being unemployed and becoming obsolete. If white guys in any way face obsolescence it is because of their own failure to adapt to the changing conditions of the world around them. No one is doing anything to white guys. Rather, they’re stubbornly refusing to change, as though learning new skills and new ways of work is somehow beneath them.

Let’s look at these things called facts. US unemployment is around 3.6%, the lowest it has been in over 20 years. And while it’s true that those numbers don’t account for people who have given up on looking for jobs, the fact remains that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfilled because there is no one available to fill them. Farm and day labor jobs are especially hurting as they have traditionally relied on the immigrant labor force. Those employers would love it if white guys would apply for their jobs, but they won’t. White guys think the work is beneath them and that those jobs don’t pay enough. Yet, they don’t want anyone else to have them, either, but cause that’s somehow “stealing” their job. Never mind the sheer lunacy of the fact that one can’t lose what one never had.

We should also bear in mind that white guys have a really bad history of bringing in other people against their will to do the jobs they don’t want to do. What do you think the slave trade was all about? White guys didn’t want to pick cotton because it’s hard, menial work. So, they forced people of color to do that work for them. Now, white guys are complaining that people of color are taking their jobs? That’s some jackassery right there.

If anyone is coming for the white guy’s job, it’s technology and yes, that might be something worthy of some worry. However, even that problem can be solved by learning a new skill. One is never too old to learn how to code and coding is the new equivalent of working on a manufacturing floor. By the time we reach 2030, coding is going to be considered a basic skill expected of everyone entering the workforce. The prudent move would be for white guys to start taking classes now.

The United States economy cannot survive without foreign workers. At the moment, there are approximately 13.2 million people working in the US who are from foreign countries. If all those workers were forced to leave, our economy would completely collapse and many more jobs would be lost as employers went out of business. Immigration is a key and fundamental component to growth and without it, every other job is in jeopardy. We don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs.

Here’s another thing one might want to consider: about 65,000 immigrants currently serve in the US Armed Forces. Anyone who seriously disparages a young person who is willing to lay down their life for a country in which they were not born is a special kind of jackass.

No one is after your job, dude. And even if they were, there are millions of jobs waiting for someone to fill them. This fear mongering about jobs is something only white guys who are jackasses do.

Just Trying Being A Nice Guy

I could go on and on and on about all the things that white guys need to do to not be a complete jackass. The list is lengthy and about the time I think I have everything covered, one of you comes up with a new mind-boggling low that shows us there is still more jackass ground to cover.

The typical defense is “Not all white guys are jackasses,” but I want to challenge that statement. Not all white guys are jackasses all the time. There are plenty of white guys who are cool on most issues but have one bad habit such as refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns around someone who is nonbinary. That’s a matter of respect, dude. Show some and maybe you’ll get some back. Other white guys do little non-verbal things, like making a show of wiping down the gym equipment after it was used by a black person who also wiped down the equipment. I saw that happen just this morning. Jackass move, dude.

More than anything, my challenge to white guys is that you know better. You know what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and how you’re acting is wrong. If you were still two and pulling this bullshit, your Mom would yank you up by the shirt collar and blister the seat of your pants. Regardless of how they themselves might have acted, white males alive today were taught to treat everyone fairly and equally, to listen to what other people say before responding, and that the color of a person’s skin makes absolutely no difference in the biological construction beneath that skin. You know better.

White guys need a time out. They need to take a step back, stop running for political office, and see how much the world improves when it’s not being run by one jackass after another. Sit it out for at least a generation. Watch. Learn. Improve. Then maybe you can earn your way back into the public trust.

But right now? White guys, as a group, are a mess. It frightens me that I am too often identified as one of you. The world rapidly grows tired of putting up with your foolishness. If white guys don’t improve, there may eventually be a legitimate reason to be afraid. Do better.

Old Man's Guide To Fall Fashion

For the past several years, I have spent the months of February and September writing runway reviews during the ready-to-wear fashion seasons. I cover the four major cities: New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Honestly, those are the only ones that matter. All the top-selling international brands show in one of those four cities. If one wants to know what’s going on in fashion, those are the shows one needs to watch.

Of course, I don’t publish those reviews here. They’re all published over at PATTERN because they’re a fashion magazine. What you are reading now is not a fashion magazine. I just happen to be talking about fashion at this moment because this is what is on my mind as it has occupied every single waking hour of my existence for the past month.

When I first started, it was fun. The shows are in concise order, most were at the same location, and it was easy enough to see all the shows that really mattered. What has happened in recent years, though, is that retail sucks, fashion shows are expensive, and the whole freaking model was turned upside down when Rebecca Minkoff and some others decided it would be cool if instead of showing a season ahead, which is how this monster has worked for almost a century, they would show current season clothing that would be for sale immediately. Boom. Everything fucking fell apart.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying the matter. There were actually several factors contributing to the chaos that is now the ready-to-wear runway season, most of them having to do with the fact that fashion shows are expensive to produce and smaller brands lose money on the whole proposition. In New York, once Mercedes Benz dropped its primary sponsorship and the location contracts expired, the costs skyrocketed. In London, the British Fashion Council responded to increasing costs there by cutting services, such as live streaming all the shows. The ability to live stream on social media, especially Instagram where most labels have several thousand followers, forced a change in tactics for some, and others, notably Alexander Wang, moved everything to the men’s schedule, showing in July and December. It’s become a mess.

I still enjoy a well-considered runway presentation. Models walking at a sensible pace down the catwalk and back is enough time to see how a garment moves, how it sits on a person, and what it communicates. Every ensemble, every piece, says something. An eight – nine-minute show of about 40 looks is all one needs and when a label does that well most people respond affirmatively.

Unfortunately, some have felt the need to create spectacles of their shows (looking at you Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors) in an effort to hide the fact they’ve run out of ideas. Those distractions got a lot of attention for a couple of years but now people are beginning to see them for what they are: an attempt to hide incompetence.

I’m chosing to write these things here rather than offering them to PATTERN because when I’m writing for the magazine I have to be careful in addressing their audience which they’ve worked so hard to gather and maintain. Here, I don’t have that restriction. I can say exactly what I’m thinking without having to worry about offending anyone because, on any given week, I’m lucky if ten people read this stuff. Hey, we’re up from three, so that’s good, right?

I also want to make very clear that in the grand scheme of things fashion is not the more important topic in the world. Getting upset over some event or happening in fashion is rather liking losing the top scoop off an ice cream cone. Yes, we might be upset and disappointed for a moment, but maybe we didn’t need that anyway and there’s still another scoop for us to enjoy.

Let’s take a look at what happened last month.

Streetwear is out, bourgeois is in

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Streetwear has been ruling fashion for the past four seasons with labels like Vetements and Off-White taking the lead in creating a look that comes straight out of the hood. Sort of. Assuming folks in the hood are paying $500 for a damn hat. As a result, major mainstrream labels all rushed to compete where they could. We saw denim and clunky work boots and baggy pants and oversized coats that couldn’t help but hang off one shoulder. The concept felt cool enough for the first season or two, but then we slowly came to realize something: the looks are fucking sloppy.

This season’s fashion corrects that move in a way. We saw it first with Ralph Lauren, who last season celebrated his 50th anniversary in fashion with some great ready-to-wear that actually was ready to wear. This season, though, he returned to his flagship store on Madison Ave. and the looks coming down the runway were pure glamour. They were trim, they fit the models well, and they had a polish to them that said, “Hi, I’m here and I’m not playing around.”

This wasn’t necessarily new ground for the designer, he’s definitely covered this area before, but it has been several years since we’ve seen this much effort and commitment to quality. I would be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t surprised to see that trend carry through all four weeks of fashion shows. Typically, any trend that starts in New York has run its course by the time we’re half-way through the Milan schedule, if it even makes it that far. This was different. We saw a strong shift toward refinement, tailoring, professionalism, and statement clothing all the way through to Alexander McQueen and Miu Miu.

What’s pushing this surprising turn of events? Millennials are getting older. The largest shopping demographic in the world is now largely over the age of 30 and starting to realize that there are times when they need something other than that torn pair of jeans they’ve been wearing since their sophomore year of high school. They’ve turned their back on streetwear and started buying button-down shirts, pleated trousers, and masculine-tailored suits.

Driving the point home more than anything was when Off-White walked without so much as a single pair of sneakers in the whole collection. None. Zero. This bastion of streetwear took a huge shift toward tighter tailoring and refined looks this season, and if that doesn’t put streetwear in the backseat for now I don’t know what does.

I have to admit, I like this trend. I like seeing people who look good when they exit their house in the morning, or afternoon, or evening. Seeing someone dress well communicates that they care about themselves and how they look. It doesn’t mean they dressing to please anyone else but rather that they have a specific image they want to portray and that image isn’t sloppy and slothful.

The question is whether the trend can actually catch hold off the runway. Showing a higher quality of fashion doesn’t mean people will buy it. WIth the greater attention to detail and trim and fit comes a higher price tag. How many women can afford to drop $3,500 on an outfit to wear to work? For how many people is that even appropriate? Just because I like the trend doesn’t mean it translates well to the real world. We’ll see come October.

Sustainability is the buzzword of the season

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Sustainability, being concious of how materials are sourced and the impact that fashion has on the environment and the people who make it, has been one of those words kicked around on designer’s notes off and on for quite a while, but this season we saw it actually beging to take hold. Where it shows up most often is with younger designers such as Natasha Zinko who has an arrangement with Wrangler for putting their castoff jeans, specifically those that weren’t sold after five seasons, to use in her designs.

This is a shift that’s been a long while coming. While designers would routinely acknowledge that sustainability is important, they’ve been reluctant to actually incorporate it into their clothing because of the fear that people wouldn’t want to buy clothes made from something other than brand-new materials. One can rather understand why people might feel that way.

However, thanks primarily to Stella McCartney, who has been actively incorporating upcycled and recycled materials in her collection for several seasons, the concept has finally caught hold. Brands have actual numbers and shopping data to show that yes, those coveted Millennials will actually shop for sustainable clothing over traditional materials when given the opportunity to do so.

Sustainability has had an impact beyond just upcycling and recycling materials, however. This is the first season where large-scale bans on the use of fur have come into play. While there’s still some debate over whether faux fur is worse for the environment than the real thing, only the most defiant holdouts in New York continued to show real fur, and the fact of the matter is that no one who has a lick of respect is paying any attention to those holdouts. We also saw a strong move toward vegan leather in a number of places, once again an animal-rights issue that has found a more solid hold in the area of sustainability.

What really surprised me, though, was to hear that fast fashion retailer H&M is taking sustainability seriously. Now, before anyone gets overly excited about that statement, let’s remember that fast fashion is largely rresponsible for the whole problem of buying too many clothes and then throwing them away. Exactly how they’re going to maintain their business model while talking sustainability is something that has more than a few skeptics. Still, the fact they realize the issue is important is at least a step in the right direction.

When it comes right down to the crux of the matter, though, sustainability is about buying fewer clothes and when a fashion label starts talking about buying fewer clothes while trying to sell us more clothes it tends to hint at a bit of hypocrisy. Consider what happened with the Vivienne Westwood collection that showed in London. This is what used to be known as Westwood’s Red collection, the lesser important stuff. The show was a nightmare that involved environmentalists and actors walking around a stage yelling about how we need to take global warming seriously right now or else we’re all going to die. And by the way, buy fewer new clothes but make sure they’re ours.

While the industry has a lot of tolerance and respect for Dame Westwood and her support of environmental causes, the show was largely panned by those who even bothered to review it. By contrast, the collection that showed in Paris, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, formerly the Gold collection, whas much more refeined and actually made use of materials left over from previous collections. The response was much more supportive from everyone except US Vogue, which now seems to have a feud going with the label.

What matters is that sustainability has proven to have some real market power and labels are finally taking it seriously. This is not only a good thing for fashion but for the entire planet.

Put a little shoulder (pad) into your style

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Shoulder pads, either one loves them or hates them but apparently part of this whole shift toward glamour/bougeous thing means one has to have shoulder pads of one kind or another. No one agrees on what size they should be, but almost everyone agrees that women should be wearing them and in some cases men, too.

Shoulder pads have been a part of contemporary womenswear off and on since the 1920s. They are most frequently used as a means of helping to define shape. One’s waist looks thinner if the shoulders of a garment are broader. Somewhere around 1978, though, they started getting a bit larger than normal and by 1984 they were out of control, going large in every directino: diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. We saw the size calm down a bit in the 90s only to have them come back around 2002. That revival was short-lived but low and behold they came charging back in 2008. We started seeing some hints that they were making a return last season but this time around they were everywhere as though it had been ordained by deity.

Of course, as always, how large they go and the shape they take depends dramatically on the designer. In New York, Prabal Gurung went broad but rounded, most notably in his coats. Bibhu Mohapatra, on the other hand, had an opening piece that was large and rectangular, reminding one more of an airfield. In London, Matty Bovan probably had the most obviously broad shoulders while in Milan Karl Lagerfeld’s last collection for Fendi has some serious shoulder work going on.

What’s interesting is how the tone shifted by the time we got to Paris. While Balmain and Kochè started with fairly broad shoulders, by the time we got to Maison Margiela there were looking considerably more trim and with the exception of the final flower-based pieces the shoulders were incredibly trim in Sarah Burton’s collection for Alexander McQueen.

Here’s where things get interesting. See that whole discussion about sustainability in the previous section? Shoulder pads often mean having to use more fabric not only in the shoulders but the rest of the garment. Several designers prefer a rather boxy look to their jackets especially and when one has to drape from broad shoulders the amount of fabric used can become excessive.

Remember when I said Andreas Kronthaler used leftover material from previous collections for this one? He said that forced him toward more trim silhouettes. “One tends to throw things around and be a bit unsure, but this time I had to be careful not to waste anything and not make anything I didn’t need,” he said. Although, it’s worth noting that carefulness did not keep him from sending some coats down the runway that looked like the behemouth coat New Englad Patriot quarterback Tom Brady wears during the playoffs. Even the concept of “being careful” is a subjective matter.

Still, when it comes to sustainabiliy one of the more important aspects is that desigenrs begin using less material in their clothes and it’s clear that those with the broadest shoulder pads aren’t quite getting the message. Those are also the designers that tend to have the largest coats and massive skirts on evening gowns. I’m not going to be the least bit surprised if we see a trimmer silhouette come spring.

The ugly shoe contest

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Did you know that accessories account for roughly 80 percent of a fashion brand’s revenue? Primarily purses, to be honest, but for a number of houses footwear plays a big role. Think Salvatore Farragamo and Prada (the devil’s favorite shoe). While options were all over the place, which is expected, there seemed to be an ongoing contest for who could have the absolutely ugliest shoe in all of fashion. It’s not unusual to see an ugly shoe here and there every season, but this time around there were some real doozies and everyone seemed to be trying to get in on the act.

I should probably mention that one of the long-term trends has been away from anything with a high heel. Two-inch pumps are about as high as most designers go now because women are too health conscious to risk the myriad problems that come with four inch stilettos. Ashley Williams, for example, put flats on all her models this season and did a fantastic job of making them look fantastic.

Then there are the designers like J W Anderson who think it’s cute to leave fabric or fur trailing from the back or along the side of a shoe. No. Obviously, no one who has ever had to actually walk more than fifteen feet wants a shoe with anything trailing. While they might look good on the runway, they’re just not practical. In real life, one walks through all kinds of shit from puddles on the sidewalk to whatever that is in the floor of the bathroom stall. We’re not asking what it is but we’re damn sure no one wants to carry that around on the back of their shoe the rest of the day.

What really takes the cake this season, though, are the ugly as fuck boots. Again, we’ve seen combat-style boots for several seasons, but this time several designers seemed to go out of their way to make the tops flat and broad, often with some kind of modification that makes them stand out egregiously from the rest of the ensemble. I don’t really want to take the time to list everyone who had a bad boot, but Miuccia Prada won the contest with the god-awful clodhoppers she sent downt he runway for her MiuMiu collection. As much as this fantastic desigenr knows about footwear, these boots are an absolute eyesore. The ones showing a few minutes later at Louis Vuitton weren’t much better.

I get that everyone wants to create a show that stands out and for many people a combat-style boot is comfortable and fun to wear even with more formal clothes. I understand where that sentiment comes from even if I don’t agree with it (and I don’t).

However, don’t be surprised if we start seeing the same backlash from millennials when it comes to footwear as we’ve seen with clothing. There comes a point where the look is too demeaning and disrespectful of oneself. If one is going to drop several hundred or thousands of dollars on designer clothes does it really make sense to wear some ugly-assed footwear? No, it odesn’t. I’m really hoping that this is one trend that doesn’t take hold.

Karl Lagerfeld died

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

The whole tone of the fashion season changed on Tuesday, February 12, when it was announced that Karl Lagerfeld had died, leaving both Fendi and Chanel without their primary designers. Lagerfeld had been a force in fashion since the 1960s and there was a collective gasp across the entire fashion world when it was announced he had passed.

Naturally, all the tributes came pouring in and both Fendi and Chanel made special points of mentioning his contribution to their label. On Instagram, every designer who had one shared their picture of themselves with Lagerfeld, implying at least visually that they were friends. Reviews and articles for the remainder of the season made continual reference to his influence and talked about the “genius” that he was.

I’m here to call bullshit and yes, this is the primary reason I couldn’t post this on PATTERN. Contrary to what everyone else seems to think of the man, I didn’t like Karl Lagerfeld. I had occasion to meet him twice, once in 1991 and again in 1993. Neither were pleasant exchanges. I found him rude, self-centered, narcissistic, and self-serving. I consider him an opportunist who ultimately made his fortune manipulating the work of Coco Chanel rather than actually coming up with any great new ideas for himself.

I’m not necessarily the only one with this opinion, but views like mine are shoved to the bottom of every search result. Fortunately for me, I’m rather accustomed to being at the bottom of every search result so I’m not too terirbly upset by the whole idea. Sure, Lagerfeld was a marketing mastermind, and I suppose he was a great friend to those he actually liked. Since I wasn’t a friend, however, and he quickly let me know I would not be achieving that status, I can’t really say. All I experienced was the negative.

Going beyond my own experience, though, Karl could say some very hurtful things. Perhaps the ones I found most hurtful were those regarding the size and appearance of women. He considered size 2 too large for a model and wouldn’t use any that weren’t a size 0. He called Princess Diana stupid, said Pippa Middleton (Kate’s sister) should “only show her back,” and said that singer Adelle was “too round.”

He also said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Funny, the very next season Cara Delevigne came down the runway in a pair of Chanel-branded sweats.

On another occasion he said, “I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. Its simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything.If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!”

The Karl Lagerfeld I saw was a bigot, a misogynist, an opprtunist and a backstabber. He was a contemporary of Yves Saint Laurent who preceeded him at Chanel and never missed the oppotunity to skewer the late designer’s legacy. For that matter, he never missed an opportunity to say something insulting about almost any designer who died except Coco Chanel, who herself did some rather dispicable things during WWII.

The fact is Lagerfeld held Chanel back because there was no one there to push him. Looking at the difference between his Chanel collections and his work for Fendi, where he had at one time FIVE strong, opinionated Italian women over him, one can see the extreme difference in the progression between the two labels. Fendi moved forward, Chanel did not. Chanel stuck with the same boxy suits and the same tweeds that were the hallmark of the labels’ founder nearly 100 years ago.

It will be interesting to see how both brands proceed now that Lagerfeld is gone. I have to say, his passing was only a surprise in the sense that one didn’t know exaclty which day it was going to happen. He’s been shuffling rather than walking for three years now. When his notoriously clean face suddenly sported a beard it was a sign that he was no longer able to attend to his own grooming. The last sign was when he missed the couture shows in January.

Karl Lagerfeld is gone and by this time next year his memory will have begun to fade. Sure, there will be a museum tribute here and there because for the moment there is money to be made off his memory. His eponymous label, however, is likely to disappear and both Chanel and Fendi will move on without him, possibly more successful than ever.

Inclusion and a few other things

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Finally, there’s the ongoing matter of inclusion. I’m happ to say that we saw many more models of color and many different sizes and ages on the runways of American designers. New York shows were “woke” to the topic of inclusivity thanks to the ongoing attention to the subject of brands such as Chromat, whom I dearly love.   It’s nice to know that casting directors and designers are paying attention.

However, it’s rather sad that we lose that momentum completely when we jump “the pond.” While some are doing better, for far too many of the labels all we see are token non-white models, sometimes only one, in the midst of a sea of white faces. I honestly don’t know what it’s going to take to change this. With immigration and nationalism both such hot topics all across Europe, fashion houses seem relctuant to expand their vision beyond what they see immediately around them.

Larger models faired better than did models of color. We saw several plus-sized models throughout a number of the shows, including Dolce & Gabbana whose collection was so pared back and wearable as to give one whiplash with the doubletake. And there was a point in Milan where it seemed that everyone did their best to bring back a “legacy” model from the 80s, most of whom are now in their late 50s or ealy 60s.

As much as I harp on Tommy Hilfiger for subjugating the popularity of young women to further his brand, the all-black cast at his show in Paris did a lot to remind Parisian designers that the world is multicultural and multicolored. Of course, Hilfiger actually gets none of the credit as it was Zendaya’s insistence that dominated the casting. Left to his own devices, I’m sure that Hilfiger would have simply given us more white, elitist looking models on the runway.

I should also mention the role that protests had in this season’s shows. From Vivienne Westwood’s hijacking of her own runway to yellow vest protests outside several Parisian venues. People inside and outside of fashion are quite upset about the state of things and don’t mind commandeering a fashion runway to make their point.

Fashion has changed so very much and it’s going to continue to change. It must change. What is going to be most important, though, is that we find a way to make and buy fewer clothes without bottoming-out the whole industry. Do we need fewer clothes in our closets? For many people the answer is yes. How we get there, however, is a problem for which we’ve yet to find a solution.

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You know you don't read enough. You know you want to be reading a lot more. We've broken the article into chuncks to make reading easier.

“Reading Is Fundamental,” is what we were taught in elementary school. That was back in the days when schools had libraries full of these things called books and children were taught to not only recognize words in a sentence but to understand the context of those words and to appreciate the meaning of a story.

Those days are not entirely gone. I’m not a doomsayer who is certain that the digital revolution spells the end to civilization as we know it. If anything, technology offers us the opportunity to read more than we ever have before. We can know more than we ever have before.

But we don’t, do we? Despite all the resources and opportunity lying around us, our reading time is limited to the four seconds it takes to read a headline and deduce the contents of the associated article or story or book. We live in a world of assumptions thinking we know things we’ve never actually read or studied. Our level of knowledge is false but the extent of our Kreuger-Dunning disease is so severe we don’t care and refuse to acknowledge that we’re living in a fantasy world.

Actually reading is important. Yes, that means sitting down and taking time to not only consume words and sentences and paragraphs but to take some serious time to think about what we’re reading, the inferences of the words chosen and the implications that any given article or story might have to our own situation. The challenge is not that we don’t have the time but that we’d rather spend it doing mindless things such as looking at cat videos. We have devalued the art of reading to the point that we treat it much as we do a chore such as washing the dishes, making the bed, or scooping the cat’s litter box. If we could somehow delegate reading to another person, we would.

My challenge for everyone today is that we begin reclaiming the art of reading, that we take the time, put down the cat videos, and actually consume an entire story. Study the words, consider their meaning, appreciate the effort some writer took to put those words together in the particular order printed. Whether the source is digital or paper is, at this particular point, irrelevant. The words I’m about to give to you are not available in print so to insist that one only consume from that form of media would be a bit disingenuous. What matters is that you read.

I’ll start with a story from this past week, my experience in taking my driving test. I’ve not had a valid driver’s license for over ten years, which meant I had to go through the whole process again that I went through when I turned 16. This was a much different experience. Following that story, I’ll give you a few more from the archives, providing enough material to get one through at least 30-45 minutes of reading.

Of course, I already know that of the few people who start this article only two or three will actually finish. While that makes me sad, I’m not the one who can change that statistic. You are. Reading for yourself is not enough. We must encourage others to read as well.

Here’s the first story.

The Adventure of Taking My Driving Test

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

It’s not fair, you know, an adult being told they can’t drive. Not in today’s world. One has to drive everywhere to get anything. I know because I’ve tried walking and I’m here to tell you that people in cars have absolutely no respect for people who are walking. If you want respect you have to be in another car, riding their bumper, then whip around them and cut them off right in front of a cop. That’s how you get respect. And a $750 ticket for careless driving.

Seriously, the last time I was stopped by a police officer it was because I was guilty of walking. Mind you, THERE WERE SIDEWALKS! What else is a person supposed to do with a sidewalk if they can’t walk on it? But no, someone called the police because they had a report of, and I kid you not, “a suspicious person, matching your description, walking.”

Walking. Not messing with anyone. Not snooping where I wasn’t supposed to be snooping. Just walking, on my way to the grocery to get milk, actually, and I get stopped because someone thought it was suspicious that a grown adult would be walking on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon. Who the hell calls the cops on someone who is walking? Oh, wait, Maybe they thought I was black or Hispanic. Or perhaps, since I was wearing a blue shirt, they deduced through their massive front window that I’m a registered Democrat There are people who would call the cops for either of those reasons. We’ve seen it happen too many times.

Bottom line is if you want to avoid harassment in these fan-fucking-tastic United States, one has to be able to drive. Not Uber. Not Lyft. Damn sure not the bus. Drive. If a person can’t drive, then there is a significant portion of society that doesn’t consider you a person. I know this because they’ve tried to run me down when I’ve been walking and the only reason they weren’t successful was that I looked at them and the stomped on the brakes out of fear. Had I been better looking, I’d likely be dead. Being scary saved my life when I was walking.

No kidding. About 11 years ago now, I was walking down the street through a part of Indianapolis that tends to have a reputation for being a bit rough. There’s a lot of gang activity in that neighborhood and the police are called to investigate shootings and homicides on a regular basis. I had to walk through this neighborhood at 11:00 at night. It was the only way to get home. I couldn’t afford a cab and the busses had stopped running. That’s right, this neighborhood was so scary even the buses wouldn’t go there at night.

So there I am, walking down the sidewalk, and I see this for young men coming toward me from the opposite direction. I start feeling nervous. There’s four of them, one of me, and my feet are already tired so running is out of the question. We’re getting closer to each other and I feel my heart start to beat faster, my palms begin to get sweating. I didn’t even have a cell phone to call 911. I was concerned about how to handle this situation.

Then, about 20 feet away from me, they stop. One of them points in my direction and whispers to the other three. I’m thinking, “Great, this is it, they’re planning how to kill me.” But I was wrong. The one pointing at me looks scared. His eyes get big because I didn’t stop, I just kept walking and I’m getting closer, and the other guys’ eyes get big too, and now I’m only about ten feet away from them.

That’s when they wave, quietly say, “Hey, how you doing?” then RUN to the other side of the street. Why? Because I scared them more than they scared me. I didn’t say a thing, either. Didn’t brandish a weapon, didn’t even pretend to have one. Just walked right at them. And they ran.

There comes a point, though, where walking just doesn’t cut it. It’s more than not getting the respect one deserves. From where I live now, it’s over four miles to the nearest coffee shop! That’s a matter of life and death, man! On those mornings when a person wakes up and discovers that someone else in the family decided to fix and drink the last of the coffee, it helps to have a coffee shop close by, but we don’t have one. 4.3 miles one would have to walk, crossing a major highway in the process. That’s a bit too dangerous. It was time for me to get my drivers license.

Now, I’ve had a drivers license before and I was a good driver. Had it not been for the fact that I had some health issues and almost cause a wreck, emphasis on the almost part, there would not have been an interruption in my driving. That happened, though, I gave up driving, and in Indiana when one hasn’t had a valid drivers license more than three years one has to take the whole set of tests all over again. All of them. Written test, eye test, organ donor test, and the driving test. Should be easy, right? Of course.

The problem is that included in all that is the trial driving period. After passing the eye test and the written test, one has to drive with another licensed driver for a total of 40 hours across a span of 180 days, minimum. That’s six months for those of you who went to public school. Six freakin’ months that Kat has to be sitting in the front seat with me every time I drive.

Understand, one of the reasons Kat was so excited and supportive of me getting my license back is so that she wouldn’t have to be the one to cart my fat ass all over town. She especially hated trips to the grocery store because I never can remember everything. We’d go to the store on Sunday, then Tuesday morning I’d tell her I need to go again.

“You were just at the store,” she’d say.

And I’d reply, “Yeah, but I forgot the cheese and I really need cheese for tonight’s dinner.” So, we’d go get cheese and I’d come out with 15 other things that I remembered that I’d forgotten. This would happen two and three times a week every week. She was getting a bit tired of it all. She really wanted me to have my license so I can take my own damn self to the grocery store.

We get through the trial period, I go to make an appointment for my driving test and I can’t find a time available at the nice Northside BMV office where I’d taken my other test. All the times were full when Kat was available to take me. I had to look at other BMV branches and the only one that had an opening within the timeframe I needed was on the South side of town right smack in the middle of one of those neighborhoods where people are likely to cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming. Rough neighborhood but that’s our only choice.

We get there a little before they open. Mine is the very first appointment of the day, always a good one because the person giving the test, the examining officer, is fresh and should be in a relatively decent mood unless they ran out of cream for their coffee or some similarly horrible personal event. They’ve not really had time for their day to be ruined by drivers who are not as good at driving as I am.

We walk in and all the BMV staff is standing behind the counter calling out numbers. “I can take the person holding number 1 here!” calls one. Another takes two, three, and so on. I have number six and a young woman calls for number six. I start heading in her direction when the person standing next to her shouts, “I need to see whoever has the first driving appointment! Whoever is scheduled for the 8:30 driving examination needs to come right here.”

Now I’m confused. Do I go to the person who is looking for number six or do I go to the person looking for the first driver? I’m both. To whom do I give my attention?

I walk to the young woman looking for the first driver and we get the number thing worked out and she gives me this exasperated look like I should have known better than to take a number but the sign at the front door said everyone needs to take a number and that’s exactly what I did. Nothing said anything about people taking driving tests not needing a number.

She instructs me to take a seat across the counter from her and I immediately start to feel nervous. This young woman is no older than my own sons, probably between the oldest and the middle sons. I have coffee mugs older than she is.

Part of my nervousness comes from how hard she’s trying to be authoritative. I guess when you’re young and short, she’s around 5’4” or so, getting people to respect the authority bestowed upon you by the state of Indiana isn’t exactly an easy thing to do. I get that. She’s doing her best to not appear as though she has a personal feeling in the world. She’s all business. No smiles. A permanent grimace all the way through the opening procedure.

“I need to ask you a few questions,” she says, pulling out a piece of paper with ink on both sides. This is not “a few” questions. I’ve had college finals that weren’t this long.

She starts the questions. “Have you ever had a license suspended or revoked by a judge in any state?”


“Have you ever lost your license as part of a plea agreement or other court action?”


“Have you ever been convicted of committing a crime while in the process of driving a motor vehicle?”

I swallowed my smart-mouthed answer and said, “No.”

She goes on and asks approximately 40 more questions covering every possible illegal act one might commit while driving a car. “Have you ever abandoned a moving vehicle? Have you ever killed anyone while driving a motor vehicle? Have you ever attempted to eat a gyro while driving and had the cucumber sauce drip onto the pants that you just paid $30 to have dry cleaned?”

No, no, and why are you paying $30 to have a pair of pants dry cleaned? Say they’re your dads and they’ll do it for $5.

We finish the questions, I prove to her that I’m not as blind as I look, she puts on a bright yellow safety vest and bright red ear warmers in case we are in a horrible accident and she has to walk back, and then we go out to the car. The first thing we have to do is show that both the brake lights and the turn signals all work. That means I’m inside the car with the seat warmer on, toasting my buns, while she’s out in the cold. They do, of course, and she comes around to the passenger side of the car to get in. And can’t.

The door’s locked. The locks on the car operate off a key fob. Kat and I both carry one and all we have to do is step up to the car and it unlocks the door for us. The driving examiner doesn’t have a key fob and I can’t find the freaking button to unlock the damn door. The thirty seconds of fumbling around felt like half a day. I was sure I could see her delicate skin beginning to chafe in the cold. I’m hoping I don’t get demerits for this.

She sits in the car and puts a clipboard on her lap. Attached to that clipboard is a piece of paper and on that piece of paper are all the things I can possibly do wrong to fuck up this driving test. The clipboard is on her lap, her pen is at the ready,she instructs me to back out.

Immediately, another person steps behind the car on their way into the BMV office. I see them in my mirror, she doesn’t.

“Anytime you’re ready,” she says.

“Just waiting for this pedestrian,” I respond, as the man passes by her window. She jumps in surprise and double-checks her seat belt.

From that point forward her pen never hit the paper. Maybe it was Indy roads and all that pot hole dodging (Indy’s next contribution to the Olympics). Maybe she was too scared to move. Maybe it was the lulling sounds of NPR on the radio. Maybe it was the seat warmer.

We drove around the block, I parallel parked without any curbs being assaulted and returned to the BMV office. The test really was that straight forward. We didn’t even talk, really. She gave instructions to go this way and that way and yes I instantly thought about that children’s song and wondered what it really means.

I did ask one question. I asked what the rule was regarding dodging potholes. Her response was to inform me that she was not allowed to answer any questions regarding the test, but yes, please, avoid the potholes.

We get back the the BMV office and she jumps out of the car. This is when I realize that her face is paler than it was when we started, and that’s saying something for a little red-headed person who likely has to wear SPF 40 just to open the microwave door. We get inside the BMV door and she says, “You passed, you did fine. Take a seat and someone will call for you.”

And then she disappeared.  Maybe she needed a drink. Maybe she needed to vomit. Maybe she needed to call a family member and tell them she loved them. Maybe she was double-checking her insurance. Another ten minutes would pass before she would return to her station. She was right next to where I was finishing up my license. Not once did she even glance my direction. She was visibly trembling.

But hey, I passed. I have a real driver’s license again, which means you have to respect me now or I’ll run your ass over.

Okay, maybe not your ass, but at least your toes. Seriously. Be nice.

Naked And Unashamed

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

From the earliest moments of my childhood, the biblical myth was pounded into my head with a resounding moral: being naked is wrong. The predominant scripture used was this, from Genesis 3:

7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

9And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

The theological arguments to be made here are irrelevant to my point: I was taught that being naked was wrong. For the past 52 years, I have not been comfortable being naked.

Now, given what I do, and the sometimes graphic nature of the pictures I take, the dichotomy here is severe. I’m comfortable with anyone else on the planet being comfortable, standing in front of my camera in said state, and distributing pictures of people in various states of undress. Go ahead, YOU can be naked; doesn’t bother me one bit.

But ME be naked? Okay, I have a problem with that.

I never have been comfortable being naked. Is that the fault of the religious prohibition? Perhaps. I’m sure that constant indoctrination has a great deal to do with my psychosis on the subject. Yet, I don’t think that alone is to blame.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, a time when exploration and personal expression was common place. Streakers were everywhere, it seemed. So, at the young age of 12 I tried streaking … in the back yard when no one else was home and neighbors couldn’t see. I made it about 15 feet from the door then hurriedly ran back inside. I didn’t like it. Being naked wasn’t just wrong, it felt uncomfortable.

A few years later, I tried again. I had seen something on television where one of the major characters slept nude. So, that night I quietly shucked my underwear and gave it a try. I didn’t last ten minutes before I was reaching for those tidy whities, thankful to have something keeping my most private parts ensconced and well protected.

Even after being married, when sex became a semi-regular event, I still wouldn’t sleep nude. We’d fuck, then snuggle, and as soon as she was asleep I was reaching for my underwear. I never walked around the house naked. I didn’t get into nude tanning. Never have been a huge fan of skinny dipping. Sorry, I’d just as soon keep my pants on, thank you.

So why is it, at the less-than-sexy age of 52, I am suddenly finding that, more often than not, I wake up naked? How is it that I am suddenly comfortable walking down the hall with my junk jiggling? What makes sitting around in a loose robe more palatable now than when my body was in a more flattering condition?

I can think of a few reasons.

One is that I have more reason to be nude now than I have before. My current situation, minus health issues, is one where clothes get in the way of spontaneous sexual activity. Sex is not just one of those things that happen one or two nights a week. Any time we are both conscious and interruptions are not likely, lively physical frolicking is likely to ensue. One needs to be ready to drop those drawers at a moment’s notice.

Another reason may be that there is no shame to nudity in my current situation. Sure, I’ve had other roommates *say* they didn’t mind being nude, but I never saw them in that condition unless it was specifically for the purpose of taking pictures. And had *I* walked through the house naked, they all would have turned red with embarrassment. That stigma doesn’t exist here. As long as little ones are not present, clothes are truly optional, if not outright discouraged. Being naked is celebrated, not merely given lip service (pun acknowledged).

More than anything, though, I think this new burst of being comfortable in my own skin boils down to one significant factor: Love. For the first time in my life, I feel genuinely loved for being exactly who I am, wrinkles and all. Receiving that kind of love makes it easier for me to in turn love myself for the same reasons. The result is a level of comfort with myself that does not generate any shame in being naked.

Look back at the Adam and Eve myth. They realized they were naked and became scared. Their shame, however, was not caused by their nudity. Rather, the realization of being nude induced guilt from being disobedient to their deity. They had been told not to do something and did it anyway. As a result, they lost everything that had allowed them to be comfortable in their garden condition. Not only did they now need clothes, but they also had to actually work for food, and felt pain for the first time. Nudity did not cause those things, dishonesty did.

I’m still not 100% comfortable with being naked all the time. I’m sitting here in my underwear as I type this, and even that is a big step for me. Yet, the same I always felt with being anything less than modest in my attire is gone. No, I’m not likely to go publicly parading around in my birthday suit any time soon, but I’m no longer afraid of doing so should sufficient reason for doing so arise. Being loved and accepted takes away the guilt and the shame with which I grew up.

Which leads me to this conclusion: Perhaps if we did a better job of raising our children with the same level of love and acceptance they might find it easier to accept themselves for who they are without all the years of therapy.

Just a thought.

Jumping Off Bridges

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

My thoughts had already catapulted me off into distant lands so I did not immediately grasp the question, prompting its repeat.

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now?”

White grocery bags held together in her left hand give her the appearance of possibly being homeless, the glossy sheen to her eyes and her otherwise kept attire indicated a greater probability that at least her body had a home, even if her mind and soul had been dismissed by whatever pharmaceutical cocktail forced her to wander the near lifeless streets of Elgin.

At least she was smiling.

When she repeated the question I mumbled a hasty, “Not today, thank you,” as though I might give her offer more lengthy consideration on some later date. I looked over the crumbling concrete railing at the sludge-brown water of whatever river smirked slowly below. What would she have done had I responded with an enthusiastic, “Sure, you toss me then I’ll toss you!”  Internally, some small wrinkle in my brain chuckled at the potential hilarity while the remaining neurons fired away at all the instructions necessary to keep one’s body propelled forward.

Having time to think opens precarious doors. One’s initial thoughts focus on the inherently obvious and can entertain a logical analysis of known factors. Given sufficient time for processing, though, the mind eventually begins substituting the illogical in place of the logical. Unknown elements replace known factors and before long one inevitably tumbles headlong into conjecture and the impossible world of “what if.” Within such ambiguous territory, fears enjoy free reign, popping up in every concept until they leak past the world of the unknown to pollute the world of the known. Suddenly, nothing seems quite so certain anymore.

Except, there’s still that bridge and it’s potentially life-changing offer.

Ever stop to think about bridges? They are fundamental to transportation, or any manner of transition. Bridges represent a desire to leave one place, one existence, one ideal, in favor of another, the two being separated by some form of chasm which cannot otherwise be traversed.

Look carefully at the construction of a bridge and one finds the very structure itself is the definition of change. Such was true even of ancient bridges; on either side of a ravine may be roads or paths of sod, yet the bridge itself must be made of a different material, usually wood or stone. Modern spans of asphalt spread on beds of gravel are bridged by delicately poured concrete under-girded with steel. Engineers would never consider building an entire road from the same material, using the same methods as bridges; the expense alone makes such an idea impractical. As a result, it is almost impossible to cross a bridge that does not invoke change.

Often, one sets focus solely on whatever lies on the other side of the bridge. After all, whatever exists over there is the reason we cross the bridge in the first place. Yet, what too often catches us by surprise is the change invoked by the bridge itself; a change wholly unlike what waits on the other side.

And in that consideration, that change requires pre-change, the question of a seemingly mentally challenged pedestrian takes on a whole new meaning. “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

Here find both cause and solution to failure; it is not that one does not want or fears the change on the other side; but that we are unprepared for the intermediate change of the bridge and, caught up in the panic of the unexpected, we either jump or allow some random crazy person to toss us over. As a result, we end up soaked by the muddy waters of despair, never achieving the change we so ardently desire.

What we fail to realize is that what we experience on the bridge is necessary preparation for what we find on the other side. Bridges are designed to get us there, not stop us in the process. We need what bridges offer.

Granted, some bridges have the innate ability to invoke fear.

In the Disney movie “Shrek,” the ogre and Donkey arrive at the dragon’s castle to find they must cross a less-than-secure looking bridge below which flows a stream of fiery molten lava. Donkey is immediately concerned and, half-way across, is ready to turn around and go back, willing to leave the princess for someone else to rescue. Shrek proceeds to employ distraction tactics and before Donkey realizes what is happening, they both are safe across the bridge.

And what distraction did the giant green ogre use to get donkey across the bridge? The threat of being flung over the side!

Two matters are worth noting in that story. First, it was Donkey’s over-thinking the safety of the bridge that allowed room for the fear to engulf him. Had he simply walked cautiously across the structure he would not have encountered any problem. Second, when paralyzed by fear, we sometimes need the help of a friend threatening to send us over the side before we can get across.

“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”

Outside the Adams Street entrance to Chicago’s Union Station, an older man, his back hunched from the reality of a life lived, sits on a bench and removes from his shirt pocket a pack of Marlboro Lights. His old hands trembling, he removes a cigarette from the pack and lights it. Not a scenario that sounds too terribly unusual, especially given that almost every other bench in the area is occupied by someone else doing exactly the same thing.

What makes this gentleman unique is that, prior to fishing the pack of cigarettes from his pocket, he had to first remove and shut off the oxygen tube from his nose. Every drag on the cigarette was obviously painful and labored. More than once the man winced as he struggled to draw the nicotine down into what little remains of his lungs. When finished, he replaced the tube in his nostrils, turned on the portable oxygen tank strapped to his back, and resumed a more relaxed and comfortable breathing rhythm.

Talk about addictions all you want, ultimately the man couldn’t, wouldn’t, cross the bridge. Crossing the bridge, for him, means putting down the cigarettes and he has made the decision that suffering is preferable to crossing the uncertain path leading to quitting.

We may find it easy to criticize the old man for making such a self-destructing choice, but how often are we guilty of making choices of equal fatality to our careers, our families, our well-being, our happiness, all because there is some bridge, some challenge, some fear that we must first conquer before we can reach our goal?

No significant change happens without some manner of transition. If there were no canyons between the status quo and progress, we might well slide between one state of being and the next without realizing any chance had occurred at all. Yet, it is those muddy rivers, those gullies, the ravines, and ditches, that create boundaries, territory markers, and we simply cannot move from one existence to the next without crossing some manner of a bridge.

Many of life’s bridges we zip across without care or worry, scarcely even noticing that the ground beneath us has changed. However, as we cross some of the most meaningful bridges of our lives we will often be faced with that now lingering question: “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?” 

Perhaps the old woman wasn’t so crazy after all. Something tells me she knows the answer to that question better than any of us.

In From The Rain

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

Thunder echoed off the cavernous walls of skyscrapers, shaking the city like an old rag in the wind. Julianna worked the keys in the locks of her apartment as quickly as she could. The exit from the subway was less than half a block, but that had still been enough, in this downpour, to soak through her clothes, leaving her shivering, cold, and dripping water in the hallway. She gave a fleeting thought to mopping up the small puddle that had formed in front of her door, but decided against it, hoping that bothersome old Mr. Dreyfus might slip and fall to his death, or at least damage enough to keep him from stalking her.

Clothes started hitting the floor the instant the door was shut behind her and she was naked by the time she reached the towels in the bathroom. She turned the water in the shower on as hot as she could stand and stood under the stream until it started to cool. She then wrapped in a towel and made her way back to the living room, still wet, but feeling some better about the matter.

Passing by the phone, she saw the message light blinking, reminding her that even after five her work was not done. Pressing the play button, she stretched out across the bed waiting for the first message.

“Julianna, this is Kristi. I guess you know by now you left your umbrella in the cab. I have it here at the office. Not that it does you any good here, does it? Anyway, it will be here. I think it’s supposed to rain all week. You may want to bring hip waders, too, though not for the water. Bill’s back from his vacation. See you tomorrow!”

Julianna smiled. Kristi was a good enough admin, but not always quite as on the ball as she would have liked. She made a mental note to grab a copy of the Post in the morning, in case she needed a cover between the building and the subway.

“Julie, it’s Mom. Tory’s birthday is Saturday. You are coming, aren’t you? You’ve missed the past three years. I know you’re busy, but you’re hurting your brother’s feelings. I know you think Tory’s a skank, and, just between us, you’re probably right, but as long as Dave loves her …”

Mercifully, the machine didn’t allow long messages. Julianna winced at the thought of having to be in the same room with her brother’s wife. She and Tory had gotten off on the wrong foot from the beginning. Julianna was positive she had seen the young woman just the day before, standing on the subway platform locked lip to lip with someone who was definitely not her brother. She made a mental note to take her digital camera with her from now on, just in case she came across the bitch again.

“Hi, this is Karen Richardson at the Gotham Cancer Center. Our records indicate you’re due for another check-up. This is the fifth year since your surgery, so we’re going to want to run some tests while you’re here, make sure there’s nothing hiding from us. Please give me a call to set up your appointment. My number is … “

Groan. Was it that time again, already? The colon cancer that had given her a scare five years ago had been caught in its early stages, thanks to an extra-diligent young female doctor with whom Julianna had fallen hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, though the cancer was in full remission, so was their relationship. The check-up was necessary, but there was no way the visit could be comfortable.

“Ms. Gartner, this is Lucas at the Freshman’s Deli. We have that special Virginia-cured ham that you requested. Just give me a call and I’ll have it sliced and waiting for you when you get here.”

Mmmmm. The sweet flavor of the Virginia-cured ham brought back wonderful memories of dinner at her grandmother’s in Norfolk. The particular brand her grandmother bought wasn’t widely available outside the region. She would look forward to dining on the special meat all weekend.

“This is Roger. Julianna, listen, about last night, I just want to apologize, you know? I mean, I didn’t even know that bra was in my coat pocket! Really, I’m not some lothario. Can I have another chance, please?”

Sigh. What was it about boys that forced them all to be so very disappointing? Especially the pretty ones. Julianna suspected than the more muscles a boy had the fewer active brain cells remained. Again, another reason for preferring girls.

“Hey, pretty. Thanks for the flowers. You always know exactly what to pick to fit my mood. God, I miss you. Seriously, is there any good reason you can’t come to Connecticut this weekend? I need some time between those lovely legs of yours. Call me when you’re wet, dearest.”

“Should have seen me thirty minutes ago,” Julianna laughed. There was her excuse for not going to Tory’s party: she was needed in Connecticut. Her family didn’t need to know who she was seeing there, nor why. Although, she wondered how jealous Tory would feel knowing she was with another woman instead of her.

“Julianna, this is Roger again. Uhm, you don’t happen to remember me setting my credit card down anywhere, do you? I can’t seem to find it and I need to make plane reservations for a trip to … uh, well … nah, you probably never saw it. Anyway, call me, okay? Bye.”

She laughed. Stupid boy. She wondered how he would explain to his wife the charge for flowers sent to Connecticut. Of course, she had used the card only once before passing it to a homeless person who looked like they could use a good meal. She hoped he had a high credit limit

“Julianna, Gordon here. I just got off the phone with the Milliken Agency. Good work there! Now, the downside is they’re going to be here in the office tomorrow afternoon and they want to see your sketches for their new campaign. I went out on a limb and told them you’d be ready. Please, we’re counting on you for this one.”

Shit. She had bullshitted her way through that whole presentation. Not only did she not have any drawings, but she also didn’t have any hard research to support her plan. So much for a relaxing evening. She’d order pizza and spend the rest of the night getting the campaign together.

“Julianna, Gordon again. I’m sorry, that meeting’s been moved to ten in the morning. Hope that’s not a problem.”

What the fuck? She sat up and looked around for something to throw. A 10:00 meeting meant she’d have to be at the office by six to get everything printed on time. She hoped no one would mind the bags under her eyes from lack of sleep.

“Hey, this is Tory. I know your mom and brother have probably already been on you about being at my birthday party this weekend, but … uhm … yeah, I know you saw me in the subway and, well … it really wasn’t what you think, but … I won’t be offended if you decide to not come, I mean, given the circumstances and all …”

This time Julianna did throw a pillow at the phone. “What a fucking bitch,” she thought. Not only would she definitely be at the party, but she would also be taking Miss Connecticut along with her. Cheat on her brother and then try to blow her off? Oh HELL no that wasn’t happening!

“Julianna Gartner, this Daniel’s Cleaners. This white blouse you brought in, we can’t get clean! What is this, blood on the collar? Please, come pick up. We can’t do anything.”

Julianna groaned and fell back on the bed. She had been shaving and, of course, cut herself. Thinking she had grabbed a towel, she ended up blotting her leg with her favorite white blouse. Obviously, she was going to need a new one.

“Ms. Gartner? This is Gary at the front desk. We just had some flowers delivered for you. Let me know when you’re in and I’ll send them right up.”

She wouldn’t even need to read the card. Julianna knew who had sent those flowers, and why. She smiled. Perhaps the night wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Let it rain. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be a little wet.

Beneath The Skin

Art of Reading - Old Man Talking

Light poured in the window warming the room just slightly beyond the point where it was comfortable. Spring was doing its best to make itself known, even if it did have to struggle to maintain that position more than a few days at a time. Lindsey loved the ability it gave her to enjoy the freedom of being something slightly less than clothed. This afternoon, she was very much less than clothed, having decided after her shower that allowing her delicate skin to air dry would be the best thing for it.

Granted, there was plenty of studying, plenty of homework, plenty of housework, that could have been the focus of those several minutes, but those chores had already managed to consume the morning and she refused to go a whole day without a few moments to herself. She knew full well her peace would be shattered soon enough, and she was quite correct.

Tina was the exact opposite of Lindsey. So much so, that their few mutual friends, both of them, could not figure out how they managed to live together without one killing or at least mutilating the other. Tina was headstrong, defiant, rebellious, and loud. Lindsey was studious, determined, disciplined and, for the most part, quiet. Ultimately, what allowed them to live together was that they were rarely home for very long at the same time. Lindsey was frequently gone during the day while Tina was typically out most of the evening and night. What little time they did overlap was usually spent sleeping. The system worked.

Lindsey being home this afternoon was quite an anomaly. Normally, she would have been at the library, studying, but a short in the library sprinkler system had temporarily closed the section to which she needed access. So, she had decided to try finishing her Philosophy paper from home, being careful to be quiet and not wake Tina.

Lindsey was stretched out across the arm of the love seat when Tina staggered sleepily from her room. “Good morning, sunshine,” Lindsey said softly, but cheerfully.

“What has you home and naked so early,” Tina asked groggily. “Have you seen my coffee cup?”

“Oh, I washed it this morning. Sprinkler problem at the library. Check the cupboard to the left of the sink. Second shelf,” Lindsey replied

Tina took a moment to parse what Lindsey had just told her, then found her mug exactly where she was told it would be. She looked around the normally trashed kitchen. It was spotless. “Uhm, so, you’ve been home all day, I take it?”

“Pretty much,” Lindsey said, shifting her position on the couch so as to not get fabric lines on her skin. “Had class at 9, but then the sprinkler thing happened and it just seemed to make sense to come back here. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, no,” Tina assured her while fumbling with the coffee pot. “Had you woke me I would have had to kill you. I never had a clue you were here. But, how much studying did you get done?”

“Finished my philosophy paper,” Lindsey answered, shifting again. “Got most my calculus homework done, and the reading for my anatomy class.”

“And still had time to clean the kitchen? You disgust me,” Tina growled, only half teasing.

“Oh, I didn’t really clean,” Lindsey said. “I just tidied up a bit. Washed some dishes. Folded some clothes. Paid some bills. Nothing big.”

“You realize you’ve already done more in one day than I do all week,” Tina mused.

Lindsey laughed. “I doubt that. Just because I’m not here to see you do something doesn’t mean you’re not busy.”

“I may do a few things here and there, but I’m not Miss Perpetual Motion like you are,” Tine said. “Which reminds me, I need to change Deacon’s litter box.”

“Already done,” Lindsey said. “I was afraid he was going to wake you with his howling if it didn’t get changed. Wasn’t really any trouble. Took less than five minutes.”

“Okay,” Tina said, haltingly. “Thank you.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “You want any coffee?”

“No, thank you,” Lindsey said. “Wouldn’t want it keeping me up all night. Besides, it gives me funny freckles.”

Tina held the mug firmly in both hands, still feeling quite groggy from the previous evening’s high alcohol consumption. She took a seat on the adjacent couch and kicked off her slippers. She wasn’t quite awake enough to be as naked as Lindsey, though she had to admit it looked quite comfortable. “Speaking of freckles, I thought you were supposed to stay out of sunlight as much as possible.”

“That’s direct sunlight,” Lindsey corrected. “This is very indirect and feels very, very good. You should try it.” She sat up. “Here, you can stretch across this couch. It’s really comfy.”

Tina sipped at her coffee. “Yeah, maybe later. I need to wake up a bit more first.” She paused, then added, “Thank you, though.”

Tina tried to remember the last time she and Lindsey had a conversation that was more than two sentences long. Her fogged-over memory couldn’t retrieve back that far, if ever. She decided it might be worth actually trying to have a conversation. “How are the new meds the Dr. gave you last week? Are they working?”

Lindsey turned and leaned backward off the arm of the couch. “Not really. One makes me really sleepy, so I can’t take it on nights before I have an early class. The other makes my ears ring, which seems like a really strange side effect.”

“But are they doing what they’re supposed to do?” Tina asked. She never had pried into all of her roommate’s medical issues. She simply knew there were many.

“Some,” came the answer. “I don’t shake as much when I drive, which is a good thing.”


“But it dries my mouth out so that I have to keep a bottle of water or two handy all the time. Not exactly convenient for that three-hour long lecture seminar on Thursdays.” Lindsey set back up so that the blood could leave her nearly purple face.

Tina gasped. “Oh my god, you’re practically purple! Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Lindsey laughed. “It goes away quickly. Just have to do that every once in a while to keep the circulation going well.”

Tina shook her head. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked, just how many different diseases have they pinned on you?”

Lindsey stopped and thought a moment. “Well, they dropped rickets a couple of months ago, so that puts me down to fourteen, I think.”

“And how many different doctors are you seeing?”

Lindsey shook out her long, blonde hair and laughed. “Oh, I stopped trying to keep up with that count a long time ago. Primary this, a specialist in that, sub-specialist in something else. I do my part in making sure everyone who wants to gets a chance to poke and prod me.”

“I know some guys in your Calc class that would like a chance at that, too,” Tina teased. “Especially if they could see you in your current condition.”

“Ew, no,” Lindsey said, making a contorted face. “How do you think I got this sick in the first place? It was all those boy cooties from elementary school!”

Both girls laughed at the joke. They were keenly aware of how rare this moment was and neither wanted it to end.

“OH!” Tina started, excitedly, “Did you hear that Dr. Koskerov got fired for nailing that Susan … what’s her name …Patro-horse-face-something?”

Lindsey laughed. “Patrohorstkovich, I think. I hadn’t heard that, though! Who will be teaching his class?”

“Some boring TA at least the rest of this semester,” Tina dished.

“Good, I wasn’t looking forward to having him again next semester,” Lindsey confessed. “He didn’t get her pregnant, did he?”

“Nah,” Tina said, “but when he wouldn’t raise her grade from a C she filed a sexual harassment suit. The university settled out of court, fired Koskerov, and I hear Susan’s transferring to Ohio next semester.”

“Wow,” Lindsey said, astonished. “Where do you get so much information?”

“Eavesdropping in the ladies room at the bar,” Tina laughed. “That’s the best news source on the fucking planet!”

Both girls laughed again. The sun was beginning to set and the room was beginning to cool. Tina could see goose bumps beginning to form on Lindsey’s sensitive skin.

“Why don’t I kick the heat back on a bit,” Tina suggested. “I think the temps are supposed to take another dip in the frost bucket again tonight.”

“Speaking of tonight, what do you have going on,” Lindsey asked.

Tina knew she could easily think of at least a dozen things to do, but decided, for once, to see what Lindsey might suggest. “I’ve got some stuff, but I’m flexible. What’s on your mind?”

“Want to help me make dinner? I was thinking fettuccine alfredo, with homemade noodles,” Lindsey offered.

“Oh my god, are you kidding me? I’d love to help! I love your alfredo! I always sneak out and eat your leftovers!”

“I know, that’s why I always leave them in a box well marked,” Lindsey laughed.

Tina was literally jumping with excitement. “Okay, so what do I need to do first?”

Lindsey looked at her carefully, and instructed, “Well, pull your hair back and you probably want to lose the clothes. Making noodles can get a bit messy.”

Three, four, five hours passed, along with two bottles of wine and abundant helpings of fettuccine and breadsticks and salad. The girls laughed, danced, sang, and ate as they never had before.

Once again, the girls were lying naked, sprawled across the couches, this time quite happily exhausted. Tina looked across at her roommate of three years and felt sad to have never bothered spending this time with her before. Lindsey pulled the afghan off the couch she was on and wrapped it around her.

“You feeling okay, Linds?” Tina asked. “You’re looking a bit gray.”

“Forgot my medicine,” Lindsey murmured.

“Which ones?” Tina asked as she rushed toward the bathroom.

“They’re numbered, seven, eight, nine.”

Tina pulled the bottles from the shelf and ran back to the couch and removed the lids. “Hold on, I’ll get you water.”

Lindsey shook her head. “No, has to be orange juice, in the fridge.”

Tina hurried and poured the juice, racing back to the couch without spilling a drop. Lindsey took the medicine and then lied back on the pillows, shivering.

Tina put her arms under Lindsey and tried to lift her up. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed. You don’t need to sleep out here.”

Lindsey did the best she could to focus, but the prescriptions were less than fast acting and it took all the energy she had to not fall on top of her roommate. Tina guided her to bed, moved the textbooks scattered across the top, and tucked her roommate in.

Lindsey was already half asleep, but managed to grab Tina’s arm and whisper, “Thank you for a wonderful evening, and for being my friend.”

Tina felt water floating in her eyes. “Thank you for being so beautiful.”

Lindsey’s face grew puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Tina leaned in close to Lindsey’s face. “I’ve always known you were the prettiest girl on campus, and at times I’ve hated you for that, but tonight you’ve shown me what you’re like beneath the skin, and I hate myself for not having looked sooner.” She kissed her roommate on the cheek. “I love you. Sleep well.”

Tina stood at the doorway, like a mother checking on a sleeping infant, making sure Lindsey was still breathing. She knew life in this apartment would never be the same again.

Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

One of the challenges I face this time of year is that with all the writing we do for PATTERN we don’t really have time for anything else, especially the long-read articles we enjoy posting here and that three or four people sometimes read. Since I hate to disappoint such a huge number of fans, I’ve gone back into the archives and dug up an essay and four short stories from nine and ten years ago. Some of them might have been published before but if they were the places where they existed are no longer. So, take your time and enjoy some thoughts from a previous mind.

The True Face of Love

Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

I should probably warn you that this was written during a particularly difficult time of my life when keeping a roof over my head was a challenge. My outlook was influenced by the negative situations of the past few weeks. I’m not really as down on love as this essay might indicate.

Those of us who have been raised under often misguided teachings of Western Philosophy have long considered the matter of Love to be that for which one strives, the end goal of our being. We have been victimised by fairy tales with the notion that Love will bring us into everlasting bliss, inducing a state commonly referred to as “happily ever after.”

 Reality takes us down a much different path, however, and after observing not only my own near-fatal experience but that of others for whom I care deeply, I am now of the admittedly cynical opinion that Love is, itself, a tragedy of pain, compounded by the disillusionment of hope and sealed through the annulment of Faith. In short, Love is its own abhorrent antithesis.

 What we have been fed regarding the myth of Love is about as accurate as stating the gods reside on Mount Olympus; one may believe earnestly and with the utmost purity of heart, but upon arriving at that lofty longitudinal location all one finds is rocky, barren emptiness. All the world’s most classing and wonderfully epic poetry cannot make real what never existed.

 Further cursing our lustful longing for the non-existent is the wretched influence of Christianity, which codifies Love as being the primary characteristic of its deity. “God loves you,” we’ve been told, but as we look at their definition of Love, one finds that the promise has little, if any, resemblance to reality.

 For those of you confused, please allow me to explain.

 I Corinthians 13 is generally regarded as the idealistic definition of Love, both in deistic and human terms. Here we are told that to be without love is to be nothing, that our words are but noise, that our well-meant deeds, our very lives, are worthless unless enveloped in love. Should such be the Truth, however, our lives would only be all the more miserable.

 Let’s break this down point by point.

 Love is patient.

Since when? Love is too fleeting, too impulsive to wait around for anything or anyone. Love demands that one grab hold now or be lost to it forever, with no assurance of a second chance.

 Love is kind.

Such a definition must require one to equate kindness with a strong blow to the head. Reality is Love is cruel, impetuous and even homicidal. Kindness is but a mask used by Love to implement its evil schemes.

 Love does not envy.

No, envy would be too mild a label. Love is a jealous bitch that cannot tolerate being ignored nor any attempt at being replaced. Love demands every ounce of attention, energy and thought once can muster and executes an act of most diabolical revenge when not given all it wants.

 Love does not boast, nor is proud.

Ah, that would explain why Love takes out full-page ads and marks its territory like a dog. No, love wants everyone to know exactly what it’s doing, who it has conquered, and how devastating the victory. That’s why engagement rings are priced in the thousands and brides spend more on weddings that their spouse will earn in ten years. Hell, Love even has its own holiday. How is that not prideful?

 Love is not rude.

Quite to the contrary, Love has no manners; it never knocks before entering, blatantly ignores personal boundaries, enforces its own agenda and never cleans up after itself, never failing to leave a disastrous mess in its wake. Should one actually issue Love an invitation, however, one can be quite certain that Love will either ignore the request or come too late.

 Love is not easily angered.

Explain then, please, how it is that crimes of passion occur? When it comes to anger, Love drives us to the brink of insanity and then gleefully pushes us over the edge. Love thrives on anger and creates such where it does not already exist.

 Love keeps no record of wrong.

Love is an elephant of trespasses never forgotten. No amount of apology, no degree of remorse, is ever sufficient to remove the stain love perceives against it. Love not only records misdeeds but has them well-cataloged and cross-referenced so that an entire compendium may be presented at a moment’s notice.

 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in Truth.

In reality, love does everything it can to mask the Truth to the furtherance of Evil. Under the disguise of Love, patriots and religious fanatics both monger war. Concealed by a pretense of Love, the non-compliant are stripped of their individuality. Hiding behind Love one inevitably find treachery to the furtherance of its own malicious cause. Love abhors Truth because therein Love is exposed as a demon, creating lies to ensure its salvation.

 Love always protects.

Going unspoken in that statement is the fact that what Love protects is its own self-interests. Love all too readily jettisons anything and any one should it feel threatened. Love is the traitor quick to lay fault for its crimes on those it supposed to love. Love keeps none safe but opens all to pain.

 Love always trusts.

Love does not even trust itself, for it is always suspicious of motives, always on guard lest it be usurped, always vigilant against anything perceived as a threat. Love builds fences, chains down what it owns and denies freedom lest one wander away. Love trusts no one.

 Love always hopes.

Love is void of hope, entrapping one in an endless spiral of false promises that if one only loves a bit more then life will surely improve. Too late we discover that the more one loves the more life is stricken with pain and suffering. Love promises happiness but leaves us with only tears. Love hints at fulfillment only to hand us disappointment. Love destroys hope.

 Love always perseveres.

Granted, love does tend to stick around, especially where it is no longer welcome and only so that it might inflict greater pain and conflict. At the same time, however, love is all too fleeting, creating within us a dependency and reliance only to disappear when we need it most. Love has no backbone and runs when challenged.

 Love never fails.

Quite to the contrary, Love is ultimately bound to do nothing but fail. No matter how strong, no matter how secure, love inevitably drives a knife through one’s heart. Love dies long before one reaches the graveyard. Love creates in us a set of expectations it has absolutely no intention of ever fulfilling. Failure is planned and inevitable even from the beginning.

 I realize that such strong cynicism must make one uncomfortable, yet such is the impact of showing Love as it truly exists: greedy, vindictive, selfish, jealous, self-serving, and traitorous. We, as a society, have been fed and all too eagerly consumed a pack of lies.

 Wherein is the justification for such cynicism? Consider, if you dare, what would have to happen for Love to be all that it claims. Most certainly our lives would be different. If love were to live up to its own marketing, the following would have to happen.

  1. Love would usurp free will. There would be no one who could deny or reject Love if it were truly as good, pure, and strong as it claims.
  2. Love would heal, not hurt. If  Love was truly a positive force, it would be impossible for it to leave pain and remorse in its wake.
  3. Love would not be bound by social inadequacies. Were love true to its claim, there would be no regard to race, gender, physical appearance, education, economics, or any other social manifestation. Love would not require the pretense of contract but would be open, free and liberating.
  4. Love would not be elusive. If love were truly righteous, then one would never need to be in search of it for it would already be present and evident. Love cannot be true if one cannot even discern where it exists.
  5. Love would transcend nationalism, religion, and politics. Were Love as wonderful as it claims, there would be no institution able to stand against it. Boundaries and borders would fall; churches, mosques, and synagogues would cease to exist; jails and prisons, courts and legislators would no longer be necessary.

 The fact that none of those elements are even remotely true stands as evidence to the farcical nature of Love. Who among us has known love without pain? Who among us has found love without suffering? Can anyone claim to have survive love without scars, bruises or even impairment? Is there anyone for whom love has never yielded disappointment, anger and resentment? I dare say there is no soul that has ever lived that has known Love in a wholly positive form.

 Perhaps we are better off to avoid love in all its forms and machinations; but yet, it is a cancer, worming its way into the healthiest of souls and destroying everything in its wake. Even if we do not search for love, it seeks us out on its own so that no one might be immune from its perversity.

 And what does it say of any deity supposedly formed of Love? Can such a god be trusted? Who would dare to embrace one knowingly committed to such utter destruction of the heart? Such a deity must only be bent upon enslaving those foolish enough to believe, using them to its own self-centered end.

 If I am wrong, then let Love prove itself, not merely for my own benefit, but more for those who have most recently been victims of Love’s vicious ripping and abuse. I would hope more for the happiness of those around me than I would for my own. Regrettably, I do not anticipate seeing smiles on those faces so recently streaked by tears, for Love has left nothing but ruin and despair in its wake.

 May this serve as a warning: Love is evil masked in imagined happiness; embrace it at your own peril.

THE COUPLE IN 4D (part one)

Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

Sadly, there is no part two to this story. I wish there was.

“John! John! Did you see? We’re getting new neighbors!” Alice was in quite a state of excitement as she peered through the apartment window at the activities going on outside.

“That’s nice,” John said, in his usual disinterested tone. He was quite accustomed to Alice’s habit of watching everything that happened outside their window and reporting every little detail back to him. He was glad they didn’t have a television. He couldn’t imagine what would happen if Alice had more than one “window” to look out.

“It’s a couple! How nice!” she continued. “A nice, young couple. I bet their newlyweds! Isn’t that sweet, John? We have newlyweds moving in next door!”

“MMhmm,” John murmured.

“You know how I can tell their newlyweds?” Alice prattled. “Look at how sparse their furniture is. Why, the children have practically nothing at all on that little truck. I do hope that’s not all their belongings. There’s hardly anything at all.”

“Maybe they’re just frugal,” John said. “What are we having for dinner?”

“No, that is definitely a hand-me-down sofa they’re taking in. I mean, the thing is just beyond ratty. I bet that’s something they’ve gotten at a yard sale or left over from a college apartment or something. You know, when you’re just starting out, you can’t really afford nice things. Remember that sofa we inherited from my parents? I think every couple starts out with an old sofa like that. Old sofas and new marriages. Isn’t there a saying about that? If there’s not, there should be.”

“Maybe you could come up with one,” John said, rolling his eyes, knowing Alice would be oblivious to the sarcasm.

Alice continued the play-by-play. “Oh, look, isn’t that sweet? He just gave her a kiss on the cheek. It’s nice to see couples who are so romantic, don’t you think, John? Why, I remember when you and I used to be like that. We’d go on our evening walks, holding hands, and you’d lean over and kiss me. Ah, there’s nothing like romance in full bloom, is there, John?”

John rustled his paper.

“Oh dear, wait a minute. Uhm … wow, John. You wouldn’t believe what she just did. Why, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone do anything like that in public before. Especially out here where …OH MY! Johnathan! She just took her shirt off!!”

Johnathan set down his paper and walked over to the window. Sure enough, the buxom young woman had removed her t-shirt and was walking around in just her bra and a pair of thin shorts. ‘I must say, it does improve the scenery around here.”

“Johnathan Allen!” Alice scolded. “Get away from that window and go back to your paper, you dirty old man! Don’t you know it’s not polite to stare?”

John chuckled as he returned to the table and picked up his newspaper.

“You know, I hope they’re not going to be one of those couples who are loud when they’re doing things in the bedroom,” Alice said. Her tone had changed to one of concern. “The walls in this apartment complex aren’t really all that well insulated in the first place, you know. People can hear just about everything.”

“Yes, I’m sure the neighbors get an earful from us,” John quipped.

Alice ignored him. “You’d think they’d be more respectful of other people and keep those kinds of things to themselves. After all, it’s not like the rest of the world is even remotely interested in their private relations. They should keep quiet like we did when we were first married. I would have been horrified had my parents ever heard us.”

“Your parents might have found it amusing, though. Your dad kept asking me what was wrong,” John teased.

“Your mind just stays in the gutter, doesn’t it?” Alice scolded.  “Well, I can tell you right now that they’d better not start making a lot of noise over there. I’ll report them to the tenants association in a heartbeat, I will. I’ve gotten rather accustomed to the peace and quiet of not having neighbors in that apartment. I hate to see anyone noisy move in.”

“You don’t know that they’re going to be noisy,” John warned. “The poor kids haven’t even finished moving everything in yet. Get away from that window and think about something more important, like what we’re going to have for dinner.”

Alice let the curtain closed and turned toward the kitchen. “Well, okay. But I’m warning you, I’m going to be keeping an ear out for what’s happening over there. I simply won’t tolerate living next to a 24-hour orgy.”

“Unless we’re invited,” John said.

Alice scowled and stomped into the kitchen.


Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

There’s a twist to this little love story. Try to figure it out before it’s revealed at the end.

Spring was finally flirting with the idea of making an appearance. Warm breezes tossed the waste from random junk food across streets abnormally busy for a Wednesday night. Bare legs were in view, laughter heard, and a general sense of pleasure at having survived the winter.

Karen and Doug walked the sidewalk hand in hand as they had done so many times before. These were their sidewalks, in their village, around their home. They couldn’t imagine ever being anywhere else. Nights like this reminded them of why they had moved here in the first place.

“I like neon,” Karen said. “I like the way it stands out of the darkness with its colors and soft curves.”

Doug looked over at the nearest sign and read, “We deliver.” He thought for a moment then continued, “Doesn’t it seem a bit strange, though, if one wants delivery, they’re likely not going to be where they can see the sign?”

Karen turned her head and considered the question. “Perhaps, but if you remember the sign one might look up the number and call.”

“One remembers the neon,” Doug said.

“Yes,” Karen agreed. “The neon burns its message into your brain like a hot brand on cowhide.” She made a “tssssss” sound as she thrust her arm forward, branding an imaginary bovine.

 Doug laughed, “You can take the girl off the farm …”

“But you can’t make her drink that fancy water,” Karen finished.

They strolled a bit further, quietly watching the activity around them. Bars opened their windows to the sidewalk, allowing random music to filter to the street. Doug and Karen would dance as they passed such a place, then continue walking.

“A rather lively group out this evening,” Doug observed. “Almost as though they’ve been freed from some sort of prison.”

“They’ve no idea, though, do they,” Karen said. “At least, I hope not. Have you noticed how much more aggressive the police are than they used to be.”

Doug looked over to where a group of officers stood outside a nightclub door. “Yes. Gone are the days of that nice officer Harwick walking the night beat. he loved the village. Loved the people in it. These guys … they don’t have any connection to the people. They act like they’re doing one a favor by not arresting them for breathing.”

“But then, Officer Harwick didn’t have to worry about all these kids getting drunk and running their cars into light poles on the way home,” Karen reminded him.

Doug chuckled. “Remember how he used to handle Drunk Eddie, though? He’d take him over to the canal, strip him down to his underwear, and make him stand in the water until he sobered up.”

Karen laughed at the memory, then added. “I can just see him trying that today. Taking a bunch of kids down to the canal, making them stand in the water … That would be quite a sight!”

“It would be,” Doug agreed, “Especially all these pretty young girls in their underwear.”

“Those who are wearing underwear,” Karen said, pointing to a bra lying abandoned on the ground. “Some people just can’t wait to get undressed, I suppose.”

“A feeling with which we’re certainly familiar,” Doug said.

Karen jabbed her elbow into Doug’s ribs. “At least we had the good sense to take our underwear with us,” she said smiling. “Can you imagine what Mr. Rideski would have said had he found my panties on the door of his bagel shop?”

Doug laughed so loudly as to make others look for the source of the noise. “That was quite a night! The bagel shop, the laundry, the grocery, your father’s garage …”

“We were so naughty,” Karen teased.

“We still could be, you know,” Doug offered, grinning. “We definitely wouldn’t get caught.”

“True,” Karen agreed. “That is an advantage. But it just wouldn’t feel the same, if you know what I mean.”

Doug nodded in agreement. “That’s a definite disadvantage. No one warns you about that.”

They walked a bit further, past a brightly lit nightclub with people standing in line to have their ID checked. They stood and watched for a moment before continuing down the sidewalk.

“Remember when we were the ones down here every night?” Doug asked.

“All too well,” Karen said. “After all, we pretty much still are.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Doug whispered.

Karen put her arm around him and snuggled close. “I know. And even after all these years, I still can’t imagine anyone I’d rather be stuck walking the streets with than you.”

He kissed the top of her head and felt a sudden jolt as a group of young women ran into them.

One of the girls stopped. “Guys, we just ran through that couple!” she said to her friends. Then, turning to Karen and Doug, offered an apology, “I’m sorry, as I’m sure you can tell we’ve had a bit too much to drink.”

“Please, don’t drive,” Karen said, smiling.

“Don’t worry,” the girl promised. “We’re taking a cab home.”

“Who are you talking to,” one of the other girls asked.

“That couple we ran into,” the first answered.

“Come on, you’ve had too much to drink.”

Karen and Doug watched the girls as they turned the corner, then continued their walk.

“That ought to make her dreams interesting,” Karen said.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Doug replied. “We’ll have to be more careful where we stop to kiss.”

“Funny how it’s only the really drunk ones,” Karen mused.

“Sad how many end up joining us,” Doug replied.

A cool breeze blew from the South.

“Time to go,” Doug said.

“It’s been so pleasant.”


Another gust and they faded into the wind, leaving nothing on the streets but the glow of neon and memories of a love that once was.


Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

This one is a little longer but well worth the time. While the story is strictly fictional, I’ve wondered how many times it has been played out in real life, at least in part.

The old priest mumbled through the graveside service as though he were somehow wasting God’s time, hardly pausing to breathe. I hadn’t expected much of a turnout. Nun’s funerals typically aren’t well attended. I hadn’t expected to be the only one there, either. The plain, gray casket didn’t even have any flowers, and I felt guilty for not having thought of that detail. Even in death, Sister Agnes had found a way to push my guilt button.

I fingered the rosary in the left pocket of my best trousers. One might think that after all those years of Jesuit school I’d remember which bead went with which prayer, but I’d been quite intentional in making sure those brain cells were totally obliterated from my mind years ago. I hadn’t even thought of the rosary until Sister Agnes had pressed this one into my hand; it had been her last assignment to me, though I was clueless how I was to complete the task.

“Promise me, Lucas Philburn Nash,” she had whispered. She had always addressed me by my full name. “Promise me you’ll return this to its rightful owner. I am done with it now. It must be returned.”

I had, of course, wanted to ask to whom the rosary might belong. Was it a current student who had left it behind in a desk? Someone in the parish who forgot it in a pew? This little piece of information seemed rather critical, but it never came. Her eyes simply closed and she ceased to be. Death had come that easily. That quietly.

The last amen was barely audible and I might not have noticed the service was over had the priest not immediately turned to leave. I sighed, took one last look at the still-open grave, and turned toward the curb where my car was parked. Crying seemed appropriate, but I had no tears available, not even for Sister Agnes.

She was instantly recognizable, standing at the corner of the rectory looking as though she was committing a crime simply by being there, expecting to be caught and arrested at any moment. Some sixty-plus years had passed, but her face still had a look of youthfulness that had not changed. Sister Agnes only had one picture in her possession. I had seen it sitting on her desk so many times that its image was seared into my mind. I had only once dared to ask who the young woman was. Sister Agnes had been quick and stern in her rebuke and I hadn’t asked again. Now, though, I was about to find out. Somehow, she had found out about the old nun’s passing and was here.

I tried to smile as I approached, but it was not enough to keep the frightened woman from turning and walking quickly in the opposite direction. “Excuse me,” I called. “I think I have something of yours.”

She stopped and slowly turned, tears filling her eyes. “How could that be,” she asked. “You don’t even know who I am.”

“She knew you would come,” I said, instantly loathing the tone with which the words came from my mouth. I took the rosary from my pocket and pressed it into the woman’s soft hand.

Fingering the beads, the old woman finally smiled. “It’s been 64 years since I’ve seen this rosary,” she said. Then, looking up at me as though she had just thought of something odd, she asked, “What might your name be, young man?”

“Lucas Philburn Nash,” I said hesitantly. I was quickly growing curious about this mysterious old woman.

She smiled. “Your father was Lawrence.”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied with genuine astonishment.

Taking my hand in hers, she began walking. “Come with me, Lucas. I have something you need to see.”

There were plenty of other things I could have, should have, been doing that afternoon. Yet, there’s something about a mysterious stranger showing up and saying, “I have something you need to see,” that automatically pushes the pause button on everything else. I expected to be guided to a car, probably an older model, large, domestic, with only a few thousand miles on it. Instead, we walked a mere four blocks to an old brownstone walk up.

She hummed softly as we walked. A thousand questions were building in my mind, but unsure of which to ask first, I stayed silent. Only when we reached the front steps of her home did she finally introduce herself. “My parents named me Gracious,” she said with a smile, “but you may call me Grace, Mr. Nash.”

“Thank you, Grace,” I said. “Might I ask how you knew my father?” I asked, “and Sister Agnes?”

“We’re getting to that,” Grace answered as she turned her key in the lock. Opening the door, she instructed, “Have a seat there on the sofa while I put on water for tea.”

The living room was an antique dealers dream. None of the furnishings were any less than forty years old and most considerably older. Only one lamp shoved almost shamefully into a corner was modern enough to seem out of place. Decades of lives coming and going lingered in the fragrance of cleaning oil and age. The walls were adorned with pictures of almost every kind, including the requisite Sacred Heart. A crucifix hung over the door. The highest parts of the walls were darkened from years of radiated heat. This was a well-lived-in home.

Grace returned from the kitchen with a frame and a photo album in her hands. She set the frame on the coffee table in front of me. “You’re familiar with this picture, I assume.”

I was. This was the same photograph Sister Agnes had kept on her desk for as long as I’d known her, and probably longer. The picture was of two girls in Catholic school dress, sitting on the steps of the very church we had just left, smiling.

Grace sat next to me and put the well-worn photo album in my lap. “Before you open that book,” she said, “I must ask, how much do you know about your father’s family?”

“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head. “My father was adopted. He went into the Army right out of high school and both his adopted parents were killed in a car accident while he was in Korea.”

“Yes, that was most tragic,” Grace said. “They were such wonderful people, doing what they did. Really a godsend.” Genuflecting instinctively, Grace said a quick prayer for my adopted grandparents. “Go ahead, open the book,” she said when finished.

I opened the cover carefully. The first picture was that of a small baby, a young couple presumably the child’s parents, and a priest. I looked to Grace for an explanation.

“Your grandparents, the day they received your father,” was the answer I needed. “They had been trying for so long and had so much love to give. There really was never any question that they were the best choice for raising Lawrence.”

“So, you knew my father?” I asked, trying hard to hide the strange mix of emotions stirring inside.

“Yes,” she smiled, “but go on. There’s more.”

I carefully turned the pages, one after the other, as pictures of my father’s childhood, teen years, and military service filled the pages of the photo album. About halfway through came his wedding; that picture I knew well. Then, just a few pages over was my baby picture … and Sister Agnes. “Sister Agnes was there when I was born?”

“Lawrence wouldn’t have let her miss it,” Grace said. “He had just figured everything out for himself and insisted Agnes be your godmother, though technically that was against Church rules.”

“I don’t understand …”

Grace turned a few more pages, to a picture of my father standing next to Sister Agnes, minus her habit. The connection was instantly obvious. The eyes, the mouth, the smile.

“How is that possible?” I asked. “Are you trying to tell me … “

“Yes,” Grace said, filling in where I couldn’t. “Agnes was your real grandmother.”

My head was spinning now. I had grown up in Sister Agnes’ continual oversight, to be sure. As a child, it seemed no matter where I turned she was there. But … she was a NUN, for Christ’s sake! “I don’t understand. How?”

Grace sighed. “I understand you are a fairly liberal-minded young man.”

I nodded.

The old woman first went to the kitchen, bringing back to cups of steaming tea. took the frame off the coffee table and looked at the picture fondly, tracing her finger over the image of Agnes’ youthful face. “We didn’t even know lesbian was a word back then,” she started. “All we knew was that we couldn’t control what we were feeling and we knew that would eventually get us both into trouble. A casual touch here, a hug there, and by the time we were 16 our sleepovers at each other’s houses were nothing short of full-scale love fests. Our parents never seemed to expect a thing. They just thought we were best friends … “

Tears formed in Grace’s eyes as she spoke. “Our birthdays are just two weeks apart, and when we turned 17, Agnes’ mother said something about us double-dating. Up to that point, we neither one had even thought about boys. We knew if we didn’t at least pretend to be interested, though, people would start getting suspicious. So, we picked a couple of guys who seemed safe and went out on a double date. At the end of the night, my date took me home, walked me to the door, and that was it. Agnes’ date, however, took her to the park and raped her. She seemed to know instantly that she was pregnant.”

“My father?” I asked.

“Yes,” Grace said. “Of course, back then it was quite shameful to have a child out of wedlock, not at all like it is today. Agnes’ parents couldn’t stand the embarrassment so they sent her to live with an aunt in Texas. Everything happened so quickly we neither one knew what to think. My best friend, my first and only true love, was yanked from my life. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. The day she left, I knew I needed to give her something to remind her of me, but didn’t know what. At the last moment, as she sat crying in the back seat of her father’s car, I gave her my rosary.”

“So, what happened?” I inquired, my curiosity now quite high and I could feel my whole world spinning on its head. “I mean, I’ve grown up with Sister Agnes looking over me, quite literally, but I’ve never seen you, despite the fact I grew up in this neighborhood. How is that possible.”

Grace smiled. “We wrote for a while,” she explained. “I helped her choose the Nash’s as your father’s parents. She wanted him to be raised here, in the same church she was raised. Father Macelhaney was quite helpful and understanding. I wanted to see her after the baby was born, but when she entered the convent she was immediately cloistered. The letters stopped. Mine were returned unopened. I’m not sure where all they sent her, but she was as good as gone. So, I decided that I would move on as well. I finally found a guy I could stand, married, had two children of my own, all the while being careful to keep a watchful eye over your father. I remained friends with the Nash’s, though they never did know my connection with Agnes. When Lawrence joined the Army and the Nash’s died, I was afraid I would completely lose touch.”

“But he figured out she was his mother,” I inserted.

“Quite well,” Grace said. “He had even tracked down the address of the house in which she was raised. He and your mother, Vivian, showed up at my door one Saturday morning, carrying this box of records they’d collected. He knew I would be able to confirm what he already knew. He wanted me to help him find Agnes. There was no way he could have known how excited I was to do that not just for him, but for myself. It took a lot of phone calls and more than a little wrangling with diocese politics, but we finally found her in a small parish in Iowa. I don’t have any idea how he did it, but Lawrence somehow convinced that Agnes had to be re-assigned to this parish, and never moved. I always suspicioned there was some money involved, but that was none of my business. All I cared about was that Agnes, MY AGNES, was coming home!”

Grace hugged the picture to her chest and rocked back and forth a bit before continuing. “The first time I saw her when she stepped off that bus, all those old feelings came flooding back. I loved her just as much then as I had when we were teenagers. For that first couple of weeks, we neither one could have been happier. Of course, she had her church duties to attend to, and I had grandchildren, but we still managed to spend each moment we could steal in each other’s company. And that was a problem. Agnes had made a vow, and it was one she took quite seriously. She had given her life to the church and there simply was no reneging on God. We knew, we both knew, that if we kept seeing each other, even in church, we would not be able to stay apart for long. I figured Agnes had already sacrificed enough. Vivian was pregnant with you. She was thrilled to be a grandmother, even if she couldn’t tell anyone about it. I had to be the one to sacrifice this time. So, I moved.”

“Your husband agreed to that?” I asked, surprised.

“Oh, he couldn’t have been happier. He hated this neighborhood. We moved to Florida and played the retirement game. Agnes still sent me pictures, obviously, but I kept my distance for as long as I could.” Grace set the picture back on the table. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She reached for a tissue and dabbed at the moisture in old-lady fashion. I took her frail hands in mine.

“So, when did you come back?” I asked.

“When she didn’t send a Christmas card,” Grace answered. “My husband had died, kids and grandkids all scattered. When she didn’t send a card or answer my letters, I knew something was wrong.”

“She’d gone blind, couldn’t see to write anymore,” I explained.

“Yes, just about the time you graduated college, wasn’t it?” Grace added. “And you mercifully dropped by to read to her once a week. I should have recognized you. You have her eyes, too.”

“She taught me to read,” I said. “She taught me everything.”

Grace smiled. “I was at mass every Sunday, but she never knew. I can’t tell you how many times I would see her kneeling there and want to speak, but … it just didn’t feel right anymore. As she got worse, the parish kept her cloistered more. I’m pretty sure, for the past three years, you’re the only one from outside who has been allowed any contact with her.”

I nodded. It had only been Sister Agnes’ own seemingly crazed fits that had allowed me to keep up my visits. Other nuns made sure she was fed and bathed, but other than that she had no contact with anyone. The last year before her death she had not even spoken until the last few days before her death.

“Why didn’t she tell me?” I asked. “She told me so much those last two days, about where she’d been, what she’d learned, what I needed to know … why did she not tell me she was my grandmother?”

Grace took the rosary and placed it in my hands. “She did, the only way you could be told.”

The sky had long grown dark and there was not one but two parking tickets on my windshield by the time I returned to my car. I didn’t mind. So many questions always stirring in my mind made sense now. I could proceed with eyes open, understanding. For all Sister Agnes had taught me, this, finally, had been my real education.


Love Stories From The Past - Old Man Talking

Our final story is quite short but I hope you’ll carry its final message with you: just dance.

The glow of a dozen different digital monitors was the only illuminate in the room. Still, that was quite enough for the attending physicians to read the notes on their charts.

“All the tests have gone well to this point,” said Dr. Adrian Campbell, an experienced researcher whose reputation was several times larger than her diminutive physical appearance. “I think we’re ready to attempt reanimation.”

Both doctors looked yet again at the nude female form that had been the subject of their research for so many months.

“Amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish already,” Dr. Ellen Cartwright said. As head of the John H. and Karen M. Phillips Research Center for Medical Studies, Dr. Cartwright was responsible not only for funding but ensuring the success of the research undertaken within her facilities. “Even if reanimation isn’t possible just yet, what we’ve already learned is enough to move medical science forward by leaps and bounds. I mean, she actually looks as though she’s alive.”

“I guess that depends on how one wants to define ‘alive,’ ” Dr. Campbell answered. “There was no organic internal organ we were able to save. The heart, the lungs, complete digestive system, is all machinery.”

“So essentially you’ve just built a robot inside a human body,” Dr. Cartwright said, her voice sounding concerned.

“I don’t think so, Ellen. She still has her own brain, her own thoughts, her own memories. Her cognizant abilities have not been impaired in any fashion.”

“But she has no real heart. She’s all metal and silicone and plastic on the inside. Does she even eat organic food?”

“Yes, and it is critical for her muscles and brain that she does so. Except for the energy spheres, she should appear and function as normally as any other human. Emotions come from the brain, not any other organ. She should still be able to feel, to love, to care, just like you and me.”

“So, she is still human.”

“Without question.”

Dr. Cartwright studied the notes on the chart some more. “We’re ready to attempt reanimation then?”

Dr. Campbell smiled. “Simply a matter of turning on the lights. The energy spheres are fully charged and should initiation animation once the lights are on.”

Dr. Cartwright closed her notes and placed her hand on Adrian’s shoulder. “Collect your team, then. This could be a historic day.”

Thirty minutes later, as twenty sets of eyes watched through the observation window above, Dr. Campbell removed the last of the monitors from the body and repositioned the table to an upright position.

“Dr. Campbell, how do you think the subject will respond upon reanimation,” someone asked.

“If my assumptions are correct, she should resume whatever activity she was engaged in when her organic body died. Unfortunately, we have no idea exactly what she might have been doing at the time of original death.”

 Adrian made a vain attempt and primping her hair a bit. She knew cameras would be recording whatever happened or didn’t happen, next. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the reanimation of Allison Bently.”

With that, the darkened room suddenly filled with over 5,000 watts of light. There was a pause, and then movement. Allison smiled, and everyone on the observation deck cheered. Allison took two steps away from the examination table, and then, just as Dr. Campbell had predicted, her brain took her back to the activity in which she was engaged at the moment of her last memory.

And she danced.

Wait, Let's Think About This - old man talking

Once upon a time, in what certainly feels like a galaxy far, far away, one had to visit a well-equipped library to consume the large volumes of media that were available. After all, not only were magazine subscriptions expensive, the amount of paper that would quickly accumulate could fill a house in a matter of months, if not weeks. From daily newspapers to weekly magazines and monthly journals, the only way to reasonably keep up with everything was to let the library hold the subscriptions and then visit on a regular basis.

To some degree, I rather miss that paradigm. There was a social element to those visits to the library. One no only knew the librarians by name but other patrons whose interests in the contents of those periodicals was similar. There was also the opportunity to see an article title on the cover of a magazine that one didn’t normally peruse and develop an interest one hadn’t had before. Consuming media in an analog fashion had advantages that have yet to be duplicated with digital media.

Of course, there are advantages to digital media as well. Not only can one read the media in the comfort of one’s own bathroom if they so desire, but the volume of sources is also practically endless. We can in many cases subscribe to those sources of information so that we are notified when there is new material from a specific source. One has greater access to a wealth of knowledge that would have been impractical for the majority of libraries to hold. The Internet is, in many ways, the digital equivalent to having the reference section of the New York Public Library on one’s phone.

Still, what we lack is the interaction with others, that ability to call into question what one is reading at the moment that one is reading it. Yes, there are countless forums dedicated to the discussion of every topic known to humanity, but there’s a significant and well-documented difference between having a conversation online versus in person. Online conversations don’t have the same depth and understanding as one gets when sitting face to face with another person.

More than that, I think that, in the vacuum of digital isolation, sometimes we consume material and information without actually thinking about the contents of what we’re consuming. We have become so accustomed to information hitting us in tidal waves that we focus on the consumption and not the digestion of the information. What we experience is perhaps the literary equivalent to taking a starving person to an all-you-can-eat buffet but limiting them to 30 minutes. We gorge ourselves on more information than our minds have the ability to process. As a result, we end up forgetting the greater majority of what we read.

Then, there’s also the challenge of having the time to thoroughly think about what is being shoved at us. I particularly have that problem this time of year when I’m juggling fashion shows on top of everything else. My days run 16-18 hours long with a constant stream of information coming at me, often faster than I can begin to grasp. I end up saving a number of articles to read later, and those saved articles become so backlogged that by the time I finally get to reading them several are no longer relevant.

What I want to look at this week are a number of articles that have hit my desk or inbox over the past few days and let’s take a moment to actually think about what they’re trying to tell us that the information we’re being asked to digest. These are articles with information that could, potentially, transform society if enough people were to engage them. I don’t think that is likely to happen because, to be sadly honest, not enough people are doing the reading in the first place. For every person who reads, there are fifteen who don’t. And yes, I just made that statistic up out of my head. So, I went and found the actual numbers. As of 2017, the last year for which numbers are currently available, only 19 percent of people over the age of 15 read for leisure, or because they choose to read rather than required reading. Nationwide, literacy is at an all-time low, which doesn’t help those numbers at all. 21 million Americans can’t read at all. 45 million are marginally illiterate. Put those two together, and roughly a third of the US population cannot read what I’m writing and we don’t want to start on actually comprehension rates.

That makes it all the more important that those of us who can read and do read actually pay attention to what we are consuming and not let the words wash over us. The next challenge in this conversation, however, is where do we start? To that end, I have carefully chosen a set of articles that I think are worth everyone’s time and some serious thought and consideration. Each title is a link to that article. My comments afterward assume one has at least glanced at the associated material. This isn’t college, however, so whether one actually reads or not is a matter of their own prerogative. Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair.

How Will Your Climate Change By 2080?

 about climate change - old man tlkaing

2080. That’s 61 years from now. Chances are fairly certain that I won’t be around to worry about it, but several of you could. Part of the challenge with conversations about climate change, however, is that the greater majority of US citizens don’t live on a beach or an island so we don’t pay much attention to warnings that coastal cities could disappear. Those of us in the Midwest are especially prone to thinking that we won’t be affected, or if we are, it won’t be much. This dangerous direction of thought is key to the resistance against any effective policy shift on climate change. People have difficulty supporting something they don’t think is going to directly touch their lives.

The article, however, is just an explanation for this app that allows one to take a look at how different their climate may be by comparing it with the current climate in other cities. For most US cities, the change represents a shift southwest to varying degrees. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • For Indianapolis, the conditions are likely to get warmer and drier as our climate becomes similar to what is currently experienced around Jonesboro, Arkansas. Now, I’ve been to Jonesboro when I was a child. Summers there are significantly warmer than what we currently experience here. If forecasts are accurate, this is not going to be a pleasant shift.
  • Folks in Oklahoma City won’t see much of a temperature difference as their climate shifts to being more like Spring, Texas is now. However, they are likely to experience a lot more rain. This could be challenging as Oklahoma City is already prone to flooding anytime they get a heavy rain.
  • My baby brother living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area may actually get a bit of a break on the temperature as their climate shifts more Southeast toward New Orleans. The cooler temps are offset, however, by it being 143% wetter! Talk about some flooding issues! Folks around the Stockyard might want to start prepping now or those cows are going to need to learn how to swim.
  • Our more liberal friends up in Portland, Oregon, by contrast, are going to see nearly a fifteen-degree spike in summer temperatures as their climate becomes more like Johnson, California. The area is also 88.2 % drier. Perhaps Portland’s perpetual cloudiness will go away as well. Tough news for all those sparkly vampires up there (that’s a Twilight reference for those of you not up on such things).
  • My colleagues down in Atlanta, Georgia will only see slightly warmer temperatures but almost 50% more rain as the climate there shifts to be more like the greater Mobile, Alabama area. Atlanta’s street flooding tends to be severe only in specific areas of town, a more moist climate could have a severe effect on the local economy that relies on outdoor events.
  • Friends in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota area are likely to think they’re getting off lucky with only a modest increase in temperature as their climate becomes more like the Kansas City region. The real-world effect is likely to mean a bit less snow in the winters, and about 8 degrees warmer in the summer.
  • Climate change deniers in Lynchburg, Virginia might want to look into the price of arks, or at least umbrellas as their climate becomes more like that of Niceville, Florida, becoming almost 85% wetter in summer than it is now. Given that Virginia is one of the states likely to experience coastal flooding as well, boating could become a necessary skill.

One caveat to these predictions is the assumption that emission levels stay at or near their current level. The app adjusts for lower levels of emissions should those be adopted. However, since when has anything related to the weather ever remained static? Can we safely assume that if we do nothing that emission levels stay the same? Probably not. They would probably increase, possibly significantly because, collectively, we tend to act against our own best interests. This would make the difference in climate change all that much more severe.

While I probably won’t make it another 60 years to check these predictions, those of you under 40 stand a pretty good chance of surviving. Consider whether you really want to be treading water or spitting sand when you’re 90.

“Selfie Harm” Is The New Overreaction

Think Selfies - old man talking

Parents overreact to a lot of things. Part of the reason for that overreaction is the fact that we are constantly barraged by articles such as this one telling us that our kids are doing something horrible that is going to either scar them for life, kill them, or possibly turn them into game-playing zombies that never move out of the basement. We are all horrified, especially by that last option.

This particular article wants mom and dad to be concerned about all those selfies our kids are taking. A British photographer took pictures of 15 teens. He then allowed them to use a number of mobile-based apps to let them modify their photos any way they wanted. Then, he sounded the alarm. Each teen dramatically altered how they looked! Surely, this is a sign of some deep-seated self-loathing.

The photographer, who is not a trained psychologist but plays one in this article, is convinced that the teen’s modifications show how dramatically social media has altered their definition of beauty. He, along with an ad agency and his artist’s representatives, then go on to talk about how this effects mental health.

Let’s just get a few things straight.

  1. THIS IS NOT A SCIENTIFIC STUDY! In fact, it’s not even a good social observation. 15 people is far too small a study size, especially when one is discussing teens whose reactions to anything tend to be all over the place. Make that a 1,500 member controlled group and we might have reason to pay some attention.
  2. No one involved in this is a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even a licensed social worker. Therefore, absolutely nothing they say should be taken as anything more than the opinion of a casual observer. There is no authority here at all.
  3. The image editing apps used are not significantly different from the filters offered on apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Therefore, the editing options were severely limited.
  4. Participants were not given any instruction as to the rules of image editing. They were given the apps and told to take a go at it.

From my perspective, also as a photographer and a parent, this whole article is absolute bullshit and is exactly the sort of thing that discredits real studies done by real professionals. This muddies the water for actual science, making it more difficult for stupid people to discern between what is real and what is nonsense. This article is clearly the latter.

Even the very premise of this project is misguided. One has to question whether the photographer in question, who goes by the name Rankin, has ever observed what teens do with photos on social media sites. If they are allowed access to filters, regardless of how ridiculous they might be or how they distort their appearance, they use them. Why? Because it’s fun, and the results are funny. There’s no self-loathing here. Rather, it’s an exercise in being silly.

Furthermore, as any digital design professional will tell you, give a rookie access to a bunch of filters without any instruction and they will do their best to use every damn one of them on every image they touch. This is why Photoshop fails is a thing. Give teens an app that allows them to enlarge their eyes and lips, narrow their nose and change their head shape, they’re going to use every last one of the filters available to them. They’re not any different from anyone else who encounters an editing app for the first time.

I’m really disappointed that Design Taxi chose to publish this nonsense. It does nothing positive for anyone. The alarms created in the article are false and dangerous because they distract parents from the real signs of mental illness in their teens (outside the fact that they’re teens, so there are some abnormal behaviors that come standard). In my opinion, the whole article needs to be retracted and Rankin needs to stick to photography.

Does Laughter Define Humanity?

Think laughter - old man talking

What makes us human? This is the question that philosophers and sociologists and psychologists and anthropologists have been asking for much of the past 600 or so years as those formal areas of study have come into being. We have an intrinsic desire to know what it is that separates us from other forms of primate. What makes us so damn unique, anyway? How has evolution given us the upper hand.

For all the prevailing theories out there, Chris Knight, a British anthropologist, makes the very interesting argument that laughter is the primary trait that separates humans from every other species on the planet. For all the studies and comparisons that have been done, there is no other creature that laughs in the same way that humans do. Moreover, laughter is the primary trait connecting every form of civilization known or studied over the history of our species.

This article is a long read, which is good because there’s a lot of science that needs to be considered when one is going to make a claim that, on the surface, might sound a bit perposterous. Knight lays out his argument quite carefully, however. He considers the various theories as to how and why laughter developed among humans. I would not have suspected that laughter has such a litanty of scientific research behind it, but it does and Knight seems to have not left out any prevailing study in his thesis. He looks at everything that has been postulated then either explains why he agrees or argues as to why the theory might be mistaken. This is a very academic piece of work.

At the same time, the work is engaging as it breaks down the way that different societies have used laughter. One of the most intriguing, at least from my perspective, is his account of the Mbendjele people in the Republic of Congo. Women there use laughter as a way to shame their husbands and keep them in line. They gather as a group in front of the man and the offended woman tells, outloud with all manner of flourish, what her foolish husband has done. As she tells the story, everyone else in the group laughs at him. Imagine the psychological effect such derision must have! Yet, it is a nonviolent way of bringing about social change and is a lot cheaper than hiring an attorney.

Knight makes a number of summations and reaches some conclusions while leaving other questions open to further exploration. One statement he makes, however, is certainly worthy of an entire conversation all on its own.

Looking at laughter from the perspective of an anthropologist, it’s possible to claim that all humour is essentially political. That insight transcends comedic forms such as satire; my point here is that humour in general, whatever its content, is political by nature. Down to the smallest details of our lives, our relationships and encounters involve exercises and exchanges of power. In the face of these dynamics, laughter is an equalising gesture, a restoration of a rightful order in the face of an unjust hierarchy.”

Stop and chew on that a minute. If humor is political, a restoration of order, then how mgiht that affect the role of the comic in society? My thoughts immediately turn to late night talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert who, for the past two years, has spent the greater part of each evening’s monologue making fun of the US President. The Daily Show on Comedy Central has been poking fun at political figures around the world for more than twenty years. In fact, political comedy is a staple of late night, that ability to look at the world’s leaders and laugh.

That conclusion works with a quote Knight includes at the beginning of his article from psychologist Stephen Pinker’s book, How The Mind Works.

No government has the might to control an entire population … When scattered titters swell into a chorus of hilarity like a nuclear chain reaction, people are acknowledging that they have all noticed the same infirmity in an exalted target. A lone insulter would have risked the reprisals of the target, but a mob of them, unambiguously in cahoots in recognising the target’s foibles, is safe.

Placing humor and laughter into a political perspective changes one’s perceptions about every joke they’ve ever heard or told, to whom they’ve told it, and why the joke is or isn’t funny. Why we laugh relates to the degree in which the joke or humorous story corrects an inbalance in life. If there is no inbalance, there is no humor. Essentially, we laugh because we are flawed.

Knight’s final paragraphs are striking:

Laughing, then, appears to be intimately tied to our ability to reflect back on ourselves. When we chuckle at our own foibles, we show that we are no longer trapped inside our individual egos, but can see ourselves through one another’s eyes. Likewise, when speaking, we separate ourselves from those around us by using words such as ‘I’ or ‘me’, drawing attention to ourselves as one person among others, as if from outside. Language would be impossible without the ability to adopt such a reverse-egocentric standpoint.

Humans are instinctive egalitarians, who work best with one another when no one has absolute authority, when teasing is good-natured, when there is sufficient affection and trust for shared tasks to constitute their own reward. Laughter is a vital part of this picture – not simply a psychological relief valve, but a collective guard against despotism. When moved to laugh by those around us, we reveal ourselves to be truly human.

There is no way I will not approach every giggle, wry grin, or boisterous guffaw without some questioning and self-reflection after reading this article. If laughter defines us as humans, then what is the thing we are laughing at say about us? I’m ready to go all in on this conversation.

Life Tips People Actually Use

Think Life Hacks - old man talking

What does it say about us, about our collective lack of self-confidence, that we are constantly looking for better ways to just live. The fact that there are entire websites, multiple websites, dedicated to helping us find and share what we’ve come to call “life hacks” only further emphasizes the reality that we don’t trust ourselves to find the best way to do things. We’re constantly looking for an easier way to do everything from major car repairs to eating potato chips.

In this particular case, the young woman writing the article has gone for a deep dive on Reddit to find the life hacks that people claim to use most often, the ones that actually work. She then divides them up into distinct groups such as food, language, cleaning, and money. Here are some of the tips I found most interesting:

  • When microwaving food (casserole, pasta, etc), make it in the shape of a ring or a donut, basically have it hollowed out in the middle. It heats up significantly quicker and more evenly.
  • If someone won’t shut up, drop something, they’ll pause when you go to pick it up. Use that opportunity to speak, as you pick up whatever you dropped.
  • Setting a timer for 10 minutes every time I walk through the front door to clean/tidy. Stops it building up and goes really quick so doesn’t feel like a chore.
  • If you get a prepaid Visa gift card, save it with like a $1 or $2 and use it to sign up for free trials without having to worry about using your actual credit card.
  • Not filing in the ‘To” field in an email until I am completely done with the email. Saved me a lot of badly written emails, half finished emails, and emails I never sent because I had time to think better of it.

On the surface, this seems like filler fluff, editorial nothingness that fills space, gives someone something innocusous to read while on the toilet without anyone getting upset. One can assume that all the tips work at least in certain situations with certain types of people. Honestly, I’ve never needed to set a timer for cleaning. I live with children. There’s no point.

On a deeper level, though, the writer’s choice of life hacks say something about who we are as a civilization. Let’s look at each of the hacks I’ve mentioned.

  • We reheat leftovers individually, which means, in most cases, that we’re probably eating that microwaved meal alone. Heating individual plates for an entire family takes more time than actually cooking something. We might nuke a specific dish, but probably not the whole meal a plate at a time. Therefore, one might assume that the person who arranges their food in a circle before heating it is probably a wee bit lonely, at least at meal time.
  • We don’t know how to exit converations gracefully. This isn’t a new issue. Anyone who has ever worked in a large office understands the problem of getting stuck in an elevator with that one person who won’t just shut up. While the hack certainly works, what would be better is to become more assertive, to interupt the person and say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I’ve other things to attend to at the moment.” Exact phrasing might change based upon whether the person speaking has the ability to fire you, but learning to stand up for yourself and your time is important. Dropping something is just a cop out.
  • Setting a timer doesn’t just apply to cleaning, but anything which over which one tends to obsess, and a lot of people have difficulty being overly obsessive about certain aspects of their lives. Cleaning is certainly a common one, but other people are just as obsessive about gaming, or brushing their hair, or arranging furniture or any number of things. While not everyone has these obsessive tendencies, we’ve normalized being obsessed to a point we wonder what is wrong with that person who isn’t obsessed about something. Anything. Everything.
  • The tip about the prepaid Visa is a good one that thwarts the psychology behind free trials. We all know that websites offer free trials because once they have your credit card information chances are quite likely that you’ll let the monthly charges slide, even if you never visit the website again. A lot of website depend on that flaw in our economic planning and using a card that only has a couple dollars’ worth of value keeps our bank accounts from becoming overdrawn. However, it does nothing to address the fact that we are, collectively, totally irresponsible with our credit cards. Instead of managing what we spend and where we spend it, we just continue paying the monthly minimum while credit companies and everyone else makes millions off our laziness. The real life hack here has to be cutting that shit off and getting our finances back under control.
  • The issue with emal is that if we weren’t so flippant in how we use it we wouldn’t need this hack. If one is constantly sending emails they later regret, then perhaps one needs to deal with whatever emotional issue is causing them to send those emails in the first place. Sure, there are legitimate reasons for not filling in the To: line, such as making sure spelling and grammar are correct and making sure that the person receiving the email is the person who is best equipped to respond. If one has a bad habit of sending angry emails, however, one needs to deal with the anger issues.

This leaves me wondering how often we use life hacks as a way to help us avoid solving the larger and more fundamental issues in our lives. Are life hacks a way of essneitally saying, “I can’t stop doing this so I need a way to keep it from ruining my life?” If we’re finding ourselves so dependent on these short cuts are we avoiding the larger problems?

I’m not aware of any serious studies on this issue but it seems evident from my perspective that while some short cuts might certainly make life a bit easier, we need to examine why we need any shortcuts in our lives at all. What is it we’re circumventing?

This conversation is full of rabbit holes, however, so be careful.

Seven Fixes For American Capitalism

Think Economy - old man talking

This is a team written piece and it certainly shows. The one cohesive thread is the agreed-upon problem: the American economy is broken. This is a sentiment we are hearing with greater frequency as those younger than Baby Boomers, all of them, are increasingly dissatisfied with their economic opportunities. This is a severe change in attitude from the Boomers who have always been convinced that Capitalism is not only the best solution, but the only solution. So, right off the bat one has to consider whether we’re really ready as a society to completely abandon Capitalism and have we thoroughly considered what it means to do so?

Certainly, this is the first problem with the article in that there is no consideration as to what happens when we move away from pure Capitalism. There’s no conversation as to how that happens nor what the consequences might be. Admitting that the system is broken is one thing but to suggest serious alternatives to that system requires that one consider whether a peaceful and reasonable transition is even possible, let alone desirable.

If we jump past that fundamental flaw, we then have to contend with the fact that what is presented in the article is not a fix of any kind. Instead, these are seven different economic theories that are unproven as a single solution to any economy anywhere. If we are looking at this through a realistic perspective and not an academic one, none of these theories stand a chance of working. Instead, the best solution for resolving the issues of Capitalism involve some merging of the best of these theories with each one addressing the issues it handles best while letting some other method address the weaker matters.

Pure economic theory doesn’t work because they fail to account for the human condition, namely greed, corruption, and the overwhelming desire for power. We can spend all day discussing the egalitarian ideals of this economic theory or another but until we grapple head on with the aspects of humanity that are the most unsavory we get nowhere. What has ruined Capitalism is not that it was a bad idea but the fact that too many people were able to manipulate it for their own gain to the explicit detriment of others. One is naive to beleive that other theories don’t offer similar opportunities to different groups of people.

All that being said, the seven economic methods the article proposes are:

  1. Anti-trust Pivot—an extreme limitation of corporate consolidation and monopolistic power. Think the dramatic breaking apart of companies such as Google, Facebook, and General Electric.
  2. Supply-Side Economics—Republicans have been trying this since the Reagan era and it’s not working. Thing unregulating everything, slash government spending, and provide no corporate oversight. Yeah, that’s going to end badly every damn time.
  3. The German Method or Co-Determination—a form with which most Americans are not familiar where “in a corporation with more than 500 employees, a third of supervisory board seats must be filled by directors elected by workers, a share that rises to one-half for companies with more than 2,000 employees.” Some unions would like to see the US adopt a version of this model.
  4. Modern Monetary Theory—is the concept that financing emergency issues is more important than having the cash on hand to pay for them. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the exact reasoning the President is using to pay for his border wall initiative. This is not a strictly Republican plan, however. Democrats supporting the Green Deal support this economic theory as well.
  5. Tarrif Truthers—are that group of people who believe that tarrifs serve no purpose other than to drive up prices. They would eliminate such burdens across the board and let the market have its way. Of course, this only works if everyone is paying their workers on the same scale.
  6. Libertarianism—is the idea that taxes are wrong and that government should be as small as possible. This theory holds to the ideal that private enterprise is capable of addressing social issues better than government, ie private prisons that make money off keeping jails as full as possible. We do see the problem with this, don’t we?
  7. “Tech to the Rescue”—is the concept supported by Jeff Bezos and other tech billionaires that innovation holds the key to solving all our problems, that technology can cure any social issue and eliminate any threat if we let it. Keep in mind, this is coming from a group of people who are among the 0.001 percent of the population whose employees are often public assitance. Something doesn’t quite add up here.

One doesn’t have to look very deep into any of these theories to understand that every last one of them is severly flawed and unworkable at a mass scale. Neither does one need to understand economic theory to realize that the downside for any of these theories puts us in greater danger than we are already facing.

I’m still waiting for someone to create an economic theory, and a political system as well, that takes into consideration the time-proven fact that if there is a way for someone to cheat, steal, usurp power, or legally enslave others, they’re going to do so. There are always going to be people who want to have more than everyone else and until we find an economic theory that limits those people without simultaneously hindering innovation and advancement then we’re not going to gain any ground. We’re screwed no matter which way we turn.

Monogamy Bores Women

Think Monogamy - old man talking

Conventional Wisdom has held for centuries that it is men who are always looking to sidestep monogamy. Women, we are told, want reliability, consistency, and commitment. Women, these same sources tell us, want to cuddle, to be coddled and made to feel special by that one person who cherishes them above all else.

Science, however, paints a very different picture. Women are bored by monogamy and may benefit more from an open relationship than do men. At least, that’s the direction Wednesday Martin takes this article that was published on, big surprise, Valentine’s Day (and yes, Addams Family fans, her name really is Wednesday). She backs up her premise with a considerable amount of research from University of Nevada, Las Vegas as well as a British study of 15,000 people aged 16 to 74 aswel as a fwe smaller studies. The numbers are pretty solid and the analysis based on the data is difficult to refute.

One should be careful to note that the article isn’t necessarily against monogamy. In fact, Ms. Martin goes out of her way to make sure one doesn’t think that she’s recommending wide-open raucous relationships for everyone. There is a very careful maneuvering that takes place so as to not upset the whole “traditional values” thing.

However, if one looks objectively at the data that Ms. Martin raises, that whole “traditional values” thing may be something we consider tossing in the waste bin. Jump out of the article and look separately at the related and referenced pieces and one gets the idea that monogamy might actually be harming women in relation to their long-term happiness and ability to maintain relationships.

Consider a statement like this:”Women in long-term, committed heterosexual partnerships might think they’ve ‘gone off’ sex—but it’s more that they’ve gone off the same sex with the same person over and over.”

I am amuseed by the degree to which Ms. Martin attempts to side-step the obvious fact that women get bored with a sex partner not only as much but often more quickly than men. She also stays away from delving into the topic of open relationships. The few times she mentions them it is always to someone else’s attribution and she fails to follow up on the opening.

Ultimately, Ms. Martin’s article is disappointing because it fails to consider the solutions that are right there in front of her. Her final suggestion is that perhaps women should be given a “cheat card” or “hall pass” to have sex outside a relationship on occasion. She never seriously consideres polyamory, open relationships, same-gender reltionships apart from straight relationships, or any number of possible solutions to the problem of being bored.

Neither does she fully explore why it is women are bored in the first place. There’s no talk about the quality of sex (which seems irrelevan to the problem) and only cursory mention of the frequency of sex. Don’t women deserve a lot more than a dismissive, “Yeah, we’re bored but we don’t want to hurt the guys’ feelings too badly.”

Oh, and could we also talk about the fact that an increasing number of women consider marriage and the very construct of the traditional relationship as restrictive and unattractive?

I first clicked on this article because I thought that perhaps The Atlantic might give the topic all the attention and depth of consideration that it deserves. They did not. This ended up being a fluff piece that provided just enough titilation to generate a high number of clicks without upsetting all the traditional, and boring relationships of their readers.

This brings me to a rather disturbing final point in that too many of the articles I looked at in prepating for this piece had great headlines with no worthwhile content. The nature of media today is that what is in an article isn’t nearly as possible as the fact that it has fifty-million clicks. With out the realitistic and budgetary constraints of putting ink on paper, digital editors are less worred about the quality and ethics of content and more concerned about how many views an article gets and whether a reader clicks on the ad in a side bar before they move on in search of something more neaingful.

This exercise leaves me missing those days in the library even more. Back then, if I read an article in a newspaper, chances are pretty good that it was whole and complete. If one walked away with questios they were matters of deeper concern and there were places where those concerns could be reaonsably addressed.

As strange as it may seem, I wonder if to some degree the answer comes not in stepping backward, for that never works, but perhaps in reducing that amount of media, backing away from the sources that routinely and habitually flood our senses with articles that are completely and totally reelevant. If we are only going to read when we go to the bathroom, as has been frequently suggested to be the case, then let us read things that matter rather than “The Secrets The Cast of Gilligan’s Island Kept Hidden” and other such nonsense. Perhaps the answer lies in editors only accepting articles that are thoroughly sourced. Perhaps the answer comes in being more careful about where we click.

Let’s think about this.   

Saving Humanity, Old Man Talking

One can learn a lot about a society by the content of our advertising and nowhere is that content more revealing than during the ads played during the Superbowl. By examining the ads on which companies spend the most money, we see that Americans value the concept of family, even if we don’t all agree on what a family is. One might also observe that we like to eat and drink things that are not especially healthy and we’re okay with that. We also might be a little obsessed with making sure we protect our money as much as possible.

Standing out above all other themes this year (2019) was the presence of robots in various forms. The number of advertisers utilizing robots in their spots was larger than it has ever been and people noticed. Brands such as Sprint, Michelob Ultra, Kellogg’s, TurboTax, Skechers, and SimpliSafe involved some form of human-like robots in their ads. Others referenced artificial intelligence without directing showing robots.

Why all these ads about robots and why is the connotation regarding robots always negative? Because robots scare us. Our collective fear is so substantial that there is an actual not-for-profit organization that lists their primary cause as, “preventing threats to humankind brought about by humans. The greatest threats to humanity lie in technologies humans have invented.” No, I”m not giving you the link because whoever is behind that organization is as scary as any robot.

I’ve written about artificial intelligence before so I’m not going to repeat myself. The greater issue is that our fear of robots substantially stems from a global fear that humanity itself is in danger. For some, it is a fear that we’ve destroyed the environment beyond a point of reclamation. Some are convinced that we need to serve the correct deity, though no one agrees on which deity that is. There are still others, though increasingly in the minority, who fear that racial intermingling is going to doom the species.

Medically, the three biggest threats to humanity are obesity, malnutrition, and global warming. From a more direct science perspective, nuclear war, biologically engineered pandemic, superintelligence, and nanotechnology threaten to undermine human existence. Other media sources, who perhaps have a little less expertise in the matter, list the failure of Democracy, Cyberwarfare, and rising financial inequality as our biggest concerns. None of those analyses is incorrect. In fact, one could likely create a reasonably list of anywhere from 30-50 credible and reasonably immediate threats to the existence of humanity without once invoking any form of conspiracy theory.

However, when we dig down into every one of these potential crises we find a common thread among all of them: human failure. We are the biggest threat to our own existence. Either our inability to recognize problems in time to stop them or our refusal to acknowledge problems that are inconvenient are, hands down, the most likely cause of any extinction event the human species faces. We are, in the most real way, our own worst enemy.

The most sensical way, and perhaps the most difficult, to guarantee the perpetuation of our species is easily stated: be better humans. We need to think better, we need to act better, and we need to respond to others better than we currently do. Selfishness, hate, greed, racism, nationalism, and aggression are all traits we need to address and minimize among ourselves first and then our children.

Such an approach makes so much sense that one would think we would have already started down that path. However, one has to consider that the world’s major religions, every last one of them, have tried for millennia to convince humans to live better, to do better, and all it’s done is create a backlash that led to too many wars. If our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques can’t convince us to be better people, then what can?

The answer is that no external force is going to successfully change anyone’s behavior. We aren’t going to do it for the priests, we’re not going to do it for a deity with whom we feel no connections. If there is going to be any significant change in our behavior, the kind that might actually stand a chance of saving the human race, we have to do it for ourselves.

Our motivation cannot be anything less than the absolute survival of humanity, not within 100 years or so, but guaranteeing that our own children won’t meet an untimely death due to the mistakes are making right now, at this very moment.

My ten-year-old and I were recently watching the 2004 movie, The Day After Tomorrow, where dire warnings of eventual global disaster suddenly take place with surprising and deadly speed, wiping out nearly all the Northern Hemisphere. At ten, my scientifically-minded child is already too well aware of the dangers of global warming and doesn’t understand why we’re not making more of an effort to stop it. He looks at me and asks, “Why are we not using more wind and solar power? Why is no one stopping global warming?”

I don’t have good answers for him. I can pass along excuses such as government inattention and mass denial, but there’s no reason in those excuses other than we, as humans are choosing to actively participate in the demise of our own species. We refuse to see that we are not invincible, that there is no Superman coming to save us, and that we are the villains in the narrative of our story.

So, what and how do we change? Certainly, it is not an easy task before us if we think we can change the mindset of all humanity. In fact, we know before we start that such a task is impossible. What we have to focus on is changing ourselves, one person at a time. You change who you are in hopes that your example inspires others to do the same. One teaches their children a different way and hopes they’ll influence their peers.

There are no guarantees in this world and the skeptic in me thinks that there’s no way enough people change in time to avoid certain disaster. Yet, so long as there is even a fraction of a chance, we must make that effort, deliberately, forcefully, and with the certainty of knowing that if the species does perish, the blame falls on those who didn’t listen.

Making A Shift In How We Think

Saving Humanity

We tend to not give any consideration to how we think. For many of us, the concept has never come up in conversation or study before. We tend to be of the opinion that thinking and brain activity are the same things and that we have no real control over either—they just happen. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Noted psychologist Dr. David Dunning, as in the Dunning-Kruger effect, is a strong proponent of “Intellectual Humility.” The concept is designed to avoid becoming a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect by acknowledging that we might be wrong on any given subject, including those, perhaps especially those that we feel certain about championing. Because one doesn’t know when they fall victim to Dunning-Kruger, the only real way to avoid falling into that trap is being continually open to the possibility that we don’t know what we think we know. Here’s the graph Dunning uses to illustrate the problem:

Saving Humanity

If that sounds confusing, it works a little like this: Let’s say that one recognizes a repeating pattern in their work. No matter what else they might do differently, that repeating pattern always occurs in exactly the same way every time. Therefore, they easily become convinced that the pattern must take place every time.

Then, someone else comes along and refutes the idea saying that they’ve achieved the same results without the repeating pattern, doing everything else exactly the same. Our first response, almost always, is to defend what we think we know. We don’t want to see evidence to the contrary. Rather, we tend to insist al he more dramatically what the pattern must exist and that if someone isn’t getting the pattern then they’re doing something wrong and not getting exactly the same results. We dig in, hard. Welcome to the world of Dunning-Kruger.

This method of thinking tends to dominate every other area of thought and action in our lives. We respond to our emotions based on what we think we know. We respond to others based on what we assume to be correct. Our choices of how to set priorities, our perspective, and what actions we might take are all dependent upon the basic belief that what we think we know is true. Therefore, when what we think we know isn’t factual or isn’t honest, our resulting actions are the wrong ones and are most likely to be detrimental to our survival.

How, then, does one adjust their thinking so that we avoid finding ourselves in the Dunning-Kruger zone? Here are some suggestions based on Dunning’s research.

  1. A lot of what we see and conclude about the world is authored by our brains. You’re reading that correctly. Our brains can’t be trusted. Because they are doing so many things at once, our brains look for shortcuts and leap to assumptions while telling us that assumptive decision is factual or true. This creative thinking takes place from the moment we’re born. Our brains assume the first faces we see and the voices we hear are our loving parents. While that might be true a majority of the time, it’s certainly not true all the time. When we realize that our brains tend to make up shit, then it becomes a bit easier to admit that what we believe could be wrong.
  2. Be willing to question everything you think you believe. This goes beyond religious matters, which is where a significant number of people tend to start with their questioning. Our beliefs about science and the natural world, our beliefs about human origins, race, and gender, our beliefs about how the human body functions, how we interact not only with each other but with other species, our beliefs about how we consume and digest food—almost every foundational principle is up for questioning and that questioning is absolutely necessary. Consider that much of what was considered conventional wisdom a mere 50 years ago has now been proven false. If we don’t question what we believe, we continue being wrong.
  3. Accept that we don’t know everything about everything. Dr. Dunning stated in a recent interview, “To get something really right, you’ve got to be overly obsessive and compulsive about it.” He emphasizes that the most consequential decisions we make, such as whether to buy a house, who to marry, whether to have children, are all decisions we don’t make very often and therefore are likely to know the least about. Therefore, what we think we know about those subjects is more likely to be wrong. Those are the situations where we should be looking for help from someone who is obsessively compulsive about that area and consider basing our decisions on their advice.
  4. Get comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Turns out, admitting that we might not know something is extremely difficult for many of us, especially in areas where we’re convinced we’re correct. We like being the smart one in the room and we’re afraid that admitting we’re not certain about the answer to a question might make us look less intelligent. However, there are a vast number of times when “I don’t know,” is not only the most intelligent answer, it’s also the safest. When we admit that we’re not certain about an answer we open everyone up to a deeper consideration of what is the correct answer. When we give an incorrect answer, however, we leave ourselves open to devastating consequences.

Dr. Dunning concludes, “a lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we’re doing it all by ourselves. We’re relying on ourselves. We’re making decisions as our own island, if you will. And if we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful.

“An active social life, active social bonds, in many different ways tends to be something that’s healthy for people. Social bonds can also be informationally healthy as well. So that’s more on a top, more abstract level if you will. That is, don’t try to do it yourself. Doing it yourself is when you get into trouble.

Dunning makes it sound easy, but changing our base method of operating, how we make common, everyday decisions, is quite challenging. Still, this is the kind of challenge we must face if we want to save humanity.

Adjusting How We View Ourselves

Saving Humanity

The first and most critical narrative we have to challenge is our own. Our brains are at their most creative when determining what to emphasize about our personal history. Generally speaking, the bad stuff tends to be overemphasized and blown way out of proportion while positive moments are minimized and perhaps even forgotten. As a result, we walk around not only with a generally negative view of ourselves, but a negative view of everyone else. We base our responses to critical challenges on histories that are inaccurate.

Identifying the fallacies in our personal histories is the first challenge. We’ve been telling ourselves the same story for so very long we’re not aware that there is an alternative. Dr. John Sharp, MD, a psychiatrist with over 20 years experience, explains in his book,  The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, some ways in which we might uncover some of the inaccuracies we’ve been telling ourselves by asking some rather introspective questions.

Fill in the blanks. “If I break a promise to myself, I feel ______________.” “When someone ignores me, I feel _____________.” “When I have a big fight with someone I care about, I feel ___________.” These questions are important because our greatest inaccuracies tend to become our defaults when faced with situations that are difficult and/or disappointing. Identify the emotion and then examine its source. Why do you have that emotional response? What do you think happened that created that reaction for you?

We can also examine what we consider to be absolutes. Again, fill in the blank. “I always _________.” “I’m always _______.” “I’m never _________.” There is a general rule among psychotherapists that absolutes are never absolute. We create habits and repeat them and those habits are most often a historical response to a negative event we desperately want to avoid repeating. Yet, if our memory of that negative event is inaccurate, then our response is inaccurate as well.

This can be difficult work because when we begin confronting these periods in our personal history our emotional lives can become chaotic. While professional help is certainly not required to address these issues, if one sees that re-examining one’s past becomes too interruptive of one’s present, then by all means, please let a professional help you with this process. There’s no shame in doing the hard work it takes to correct these errors.

When we begin considering these moments in our past, it is important that we discard our previous beliefs and attempt to approach them with fresh eyes. Many of our negative beliefs about ourselves, such as why one’s accomplishments don’t really matter, or that it is impossible to meet anyone’s expectations of you, are the result of relationships we had as children. Therefore, our perspective of those situations is that of a child, not an adult. When we look at them through fresh and more experienced eyes, chances are we’ll see those relationships and those events in a different light.

Where we can, and where it is appropriate to do so, getting cooperation on past events, relationships and circumstances is also helpful. Too often, we never bother to ask our parents or other people in our lives the important questions such as why that big vacation to Disney World was suddenly canceled, making it difficult for you to trust other’s promises, or why your best friend from grade school suddenly stopped coming over, leading you to believe that you are a lousy friend.

Unfortunately, by the time we discover we need the answers to those questions, those resources may no longer be available to us. I can only guess why my parents pushed me to attend a university I really didn’t want to attend, leaving me thinking that my choices don’t matter. As we get older, finding corrections to our versions of history becomes difficult, making it all the more important to examine those events now.

Dr. Sharp also emphasizes that as we go through the process of correcting our personal narratives that we avoid the temptation to emotionally beat ourselves up over decisions we made in the past. Forgiving ourselves for mistakes we made in the past is one of the most difficult challenges one faces at any point in life, but also one of the most necessary. Carrying around that guilt in no way serves us now. This not only applies to things we did as children but just as much to mistakes we made last week.

As we begin correcting these events from our past it becomes equally important to replace negatives with positives. This is one area where our brains tend to work against us. Negative events tend to carry stronger emotions. FInding things we can feel happy about may seem trivial and unimportant but they are the key to changing our personal narratives. Looking for the unsung moments of your life, such as the perfect attendance in second grade or that one time you beat an older sibling in a foot race, even if they did let you win. Those are the moments that prove you can do good things, that you are not a walking disaster, that you have value. Whether they be big moments or small moments, latch onto every one of them and make sure they become hot spots within your personal backstory.

Finally, we have to take all those old beliefs, all the stuff that wasn’t true and drop kick them into oblivion. We cannot afford to let the trash sit in a closet where it rots and smells up everything. Take it out, symbolically, dump it where it can’t be found, and never give it another thought. Let that negative opinion of yourself waste away on its own.

How does all this “me work” help humanity? By giving us a more solid, positive foundation from which we can examine the needs of the world. Negative people rarely find positive solutions. When we believe in ourselves and what we are capable of doing, then we can look at the human condition compassionately and find better answers to the challenges that face us.

Challenging Our Own Emotions

Saving Humanity

Emotions. Ugh. They seem to constantly be getting in the way and the more we try to control them the more, it often seems, they end up controlling us. Our emotions play such as strong role in our lives that much of the emoji alphabet we use to communicate online revolves around the wide range of emotions we all feel.

Right off the bat here, let me be clear that when I talk about challenging our own emotions I’m not talking about those related to serious mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Those challenges are fueled by more than emotions and cannot be addressed sufficiently by simply adjusting how we approach them. Mental illness requires professional help and one shouldn’t be afraid to pursue that course of treatment.

What about fear, though? Or the dread we feel when we have to speak in public? Or the worry we feel in the pit of our stomach when the school bus is ten minutes late? Or the anger we feel at the allegation someone “stole” a job we didn’t have and for which we weren’t qualified? Those are the emotions that challenge our existence as a species because of the impactful way they influence how we respond to situations and circumstances, both those happening to us and those separate from us.

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist who has studied emotions, their causes, their sources, and their influence for several years. She and her team have compiled all the data from multiple studies done all around the world and come to this conclusion: emotions are not hard-wired functions of our brain and can absolutely be controlled by understanding what causes them.

This area of neuroscience is relatively new but it is quickly upending previous thoughts on the subject. For many years, scientists were of the opinion that emotions were like switches in our brain that were turned off or on based on certain biological stimuli. After studying the preponderance of evidence, though, Dr. Barrett and her team realized that the conventional wisdom simply wasn’t true. She writes:

Emotions are your brain’s best guess of how you should feel in the moment. Emotions aren’t wired into your brain like little circuits; they’re made on demand. As a result, you have more control over your emotions than you might think. That’s because your brain’s guesses are forged from three “ingredients” that are with you all the time: your body, your surroundings and your past experience. The good news is that you can exert some control over these three ingredients and, to a certain extent, change your emotions. Getting a handle on your emotions can be tough at first, but like any skill, it becomes easier with practice.

By changing what our body is feeling, our surroundings, and our understanding of past experiences, as we’ve already discussed, we can change the emotions that our brain feeds to us. For example, getting sufficient rest, drinking the necessary amount of water so that we’re sufficiently hydrated, being more intelligent about when, where, and what we eat, and getting a reasonable amount of exercise for our age and circumstances are going to result in a more balanced set of emotions than if we’re tired, dehydrated, or experiencing intestinal issues from consuming too much salt or grease.

Look at your surroundings. Does clutter leave you feeling irritated? Perhaps there are noises one considers disruptive and unnecessary, such as a car outside revving its engine, or bad weather that causes increased anxiety or worry. Do the constant distractions of a cell phone leave you feeling angry? Consider what you can safely turn off for a while, perhaps changing locations and working from a different space, or possibly using noise-canceling headphones to shut out external noises. We likely have more control over our surroundings than we realize.

We’ve already discussed changing how we view the past, but it is also important to recognize when an event from our history is influencing our emotions right now. For example, a friend lost her father and in feeling sympathy for her, I also felt the sadness of losing my own father several years ago. How do I keep that sadness from affecting my activities? For me, it’s a matter of taking a moment, thinking of a pleasant memory with my father, then moving forward with the rest of my day. Emotions connected to our past are admittedly more difficult, but again, the more we focus on positive rather than negative events in our lives the less we are likely to be disturbed by those emotions.

There are moments when it seems as though our brains are working against us. After all, it is making guesses as to what is appropriate and sometimes those guesses miss in dramatic fashion. Have you ever laughed at the most frightening scene in a movie? I once saw a person completely break down sobbing because someone pointed out a piece of lint on their blazer. Our brains don’t always guess correctly and in all those moments where our emotions are challenging, we have to challenge right back. Stop, consider why our brains took us in a specific emotional direction, and then take the steps to change what we’re feeling at that moment.

We have more control here than we’ve been taught. Emotions are not hard-wired and they don’t get to run the show. If we are to save humanity, we have to understand our emotions and stop letting negative feelings lead us toward regrettable actions.

Managing Our Priorities

Saving Humanity

By now, one should be getting the impression that it is the little things in how we live our lives that ultimately affect whether our species survives. There is no magic pill we all can take, there is no genetic engineering that solves our future problems. At the very root of all of humanity’s problems are basic life issues of how we think, how we view our past, and how we feel when we’re making decisions. If we are to avoid making the decisions that lead to our extinction then this is where we have to start, not out crying against the takeover of AI-controlled refrigerators.

As we begin to adjust our internal thought processes one of the first external challenges becomes what we consider to be most important in our lives, where we are going to spend the most time and energy. Historically, the tendency has been to look to time management experts and leadership experts to provide us with tricks or tools so that we’re getting the most out of our day and managing our lives effectively. Inc. magazine even published a list of the top 50 time and leadership experts.

However, for all the tools we have, especially on our phones and digital devices, for all the books that have been written and the countless lectures that have been given, is any of it making an impact beyond putting cash in the pockets of the “experts?” I’ve read Stephen R. Covey and Tom Peters and Dale Carnegie and Guy Kawasaki among many others and while there were some decent concepts among them, none of them add any more time to the day. We still have 24 hours and at least eight of that needs to be spent sleeping, so we effectively only have sixteen hours.

I am increasingly convinced that attempting to “manage” time is entirely the wrong approach. Instead, when we think in terms of saving humanity, perhaps Rory Vaden, author of Take The Stairs has a better concept: consider what is significant and manage priorities accordingly. Vaden’s concept is that by examining how important and impactful our actions are, even if that involves procrastination, we do more, see greater achievement than we would by making lists. To achieve this perhaps higher level of priority management, Vaden asks four questions that I have taken the liberty to modify slightly for our conversation here,

  1. Does this activity need to be done at all?
    How much of what we do doesn’t need to be done at all? I know, we like to think that everything we do is important, but when we really consider the impact and importance of our activities, turns out there are probably some things we can eliminate. Take, for example, trolling on Twitter, sifting through 3,000 cat memes, or trying to cut someone down to size in an online forum. Anything that does not have a positive benefit is up for elimination.
    The trick here is to stop making excuses for the stupid things we tend to do. Trolling people one doesn’t know isn’t necessary, it’s rude and ultimately contributes to the decline of the species. Mindlessly wandering through other people’s pictures is likely best replaced with taking our own. Instead of tearing people down, if there is a good reason for engaging them at all, we do better to find ways to be encouraging and supportive. When we find someone ignorant, they do not benefit from being told they are ignorant. Rather, one does better to find a way to teach.Eliminating nonsense gives us more space to do things that make a difference.
  2. Can repetitive activities be automated?
    Doing the same thing over and over, whether it’s part of a routine or a weekly or monthly obligation, we tend to give too high a priority to tasks that require us to do exactly the same thing each time we do them. When we recognize such routines, one does well to consider whether there is a way of streamlining that process so that it doesn’t require as much of our attention, if any at all.
    For example, when I am working on a set of photographs that need to have a consistent tone across each image, I often create what is labeled an “action,” essentially a script of steps for Photoshop to take to achieve a specific tone or effect. While it takes a moment to set up the action the first time, once it is in place it can save as much as twenty minutes of processing time per image. Things such as automatic bill payment and scheduling regular grocery delivery for those things one needs on a regular basis (think milk, bread, coffee) are not only convenient, they allow us to focus on higher priority activities.
  3. Should someone else be doing what I’m doing?
    I’ll admit that this is a tough issue for me because I tend to be a control freak about certain activities, such as food preparation, laundry, and washing dishes. Without question, those are all important activities, but do I have to be the one to do them? Chances are, at least most the time, the answer is no. There are other people in this household not otherwise engaged who are perfectly capable of completing most of those tasks over which I tend to obsess. If I am making the best decisions, I let them do those things on their own.
    What is perhaps most challenging about letting someone else do something we are currently doing is knowing that they are likely to make mistakes. We have to take some time to teach people to do what we’re doing, then give them space to experiment and modify the process to fit them. For example, my boys started doing their own laundry when they were five years old. They had to stand on a footstool to reach the top of the washing machine. Yes, they each had their moments of having to wear pink underwear, but not only did it free considerable time for me, but it was also an important part of teaching them self-sufficiency. The time we spend teaching others is never wasted. Let go and let someone else help where they can.
  4. Is this the best thing for me to be doing right now?
    Wow, do I struggle with this issue. One of the frustrating aspects of list making is that we rarely create a list based upon the importance of any specific task. Rather, we tend to make them based on routine or simply because we know those things need to be done. Then, more often than not, we pick the easiest things from those lists to do first. As a result, more challenging and perhaps more important things get shoved to the end of the day where they may not be addressed at all. Oops!
    What one does well to consider is that it is perfectly acceptable to procrastinate with less important tasks. For example, I know that at some point today I need to check pricing on various print sizes. The information is necessary for a decision I have to make later but it is not as important as the fashion shows I need to review or completing this article. To go off down the inevitable rabbit hole that comes with pricing prints at this point in my day would mean pushing my writing down until I’m too tired to form cohesive sentences. Price checking doesn’t require as much mental agility so it can wait.

Once we’ve asked those four questions, we’re more likely to be left with the things that are most important for us to be doing, the activities with the highest priority. Even here, not everything we do carries the same weight. One has to consider the potential level of impact for each activity. We continue to ask questions such as whether doing something seemingly trivial now frees time to do something more involved later and considering who benefits from any specific activity.

As we set priorities, what we do with our time becomes more effective and beneficial not only to us but to all of humanity. When I teach my children to pick up after themselves, that activity begins to establish a priority for caring about one’s environment. As one cares more about their environment we are less likely to make decisions that harm it.

See how this all starts to come together? When we really reduce our efforts down so that we have time fo focus on what is genuinely important, the entire planet benefits.

Changing Our Perspective

Saving Humanity

When someone young asks me for photography advice, my instructions to them are two simple words: shoot dirt. While those instructions may not make much sense on the surface, the practice itself is invaluable to a young photographer. One of the most significant obstacles to taking good photographs is that we limit our perspective to what we see with our eyes, standing up. When we break out of that box, get all the way down on the ground and focus on what we previously considered mundane, we discover that there is an entirely different world running literally beneath our feet, a world that is subject to dramatic changes as we walk over it, run on it, mow it down, water it, and dig it up. Learning to “shoot dirt” is a way of opening our eyes and our awareness more fully to the world around us.

One of the things that makes us dangerous as a society is that we have this overwhelming tendency to be self-consumed. Everything we do, say, and buy, everywhere we go, the mode of travel we choose, the political causes we support, are based on what we want, what we think we need and what makes us feel the most comfortable. This creates for us a very narrow tunnel of vision and for many people that tunnel is all we’ve ever known. We are so committed to this one perspective that we begin to believe that everyone and everything must see the world exactly the same way. Then, when we make decisions based on that vision, we inevitably run the risk of hurting other people, even our entire species, because it turns out that our perspective was too limited to be aware of the dangers and the risks we were creating for other people.

Here’s the thing: adjusting and changing our perspective takes time, which is why we have to realign our priorities before we get to this step. It’s too easy to make excuses when our schedule is cluttered with things that could be automated, given to someone else, or put off until later. Create some time to change your viewing habits.

One of the best ways to change one’s perspective, of course, is to travel internationally, get out of our comfortable home environment and experience how people live in other areas of the world. Unfortunately, not only does traveling take up large amounts of time, it also tends to take up even larger amounts of money.

I have to laugh when I see a travel blog touting what a bargain some place is for “only $1,500” when I’m having difficulty scraping together enough change for a fast food cheeseburger. Even if $1,500 is a third or less of the trip’s normal price, it’s still out of my reach, making the discount irellevant. Similarly, I have to question the wisdom of those who suggest young people should spend more time “creating memories” instead of going to college and plugging into society in a helpful way. Memories are nice but don’t pay utility bills or provide a financial buffer should one become injured. As much as traveling internationally can dramatically open our eyes to experiences different from ours, for the greater majority of us it is not much of an option.

Instead, there are things one can do to expand one’s vision that not only don’t cost anything but can tremendously help others in the process. Let’s look at just a few of those ideas:

  1. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
    This is something we did often when I was younger and I have found it interesting, and perhaps a bit sad, that when I suggest it to other people the tell me that they’re afraid to go into “those” neighborhoods and work with “those” people. Criminal investigation shows on television have concinvced us that people in need are somehow dangerous. Check your personal history, deal with your fears, and then help in a soup kitchen for just one meal a week. Do this for six months and feel the breadth of your vision expand as we come to realize that not everyone who needs help is a bum or a drug addict, and that even bums and drug addicts didn’t plan on ending up on the streets. The awakening one recieves by helping others in this way is unmatched.
  2. Help out in a classroom at an inner city school.
    One sees a lot on the news about how inncer city schools are struggling but news stories don’t even start in on the reality that goes on and the challenges teachers and administrators face at many inner city schools. I think what slapped me in the face the first time I visited one was not only the severity of need among the students, but the level of need among the teachers themselves. I met one teacher, a 20-year-veteran, whose own shoes had holes in the soles. She ate peanut butter from a jar for lunch because the district charged teachers to eat in the school cafeteria, a cost she couldn’t afford.Yet, she loved her students and watching her care for a group of kids who would never love her back was eye opening on a fundamental level. We all need one of these experiences to rattle us out of our comfort zones and begin to have some real empathy.
  3. Work on a farm or ranch during a busy season.
    One of the disadvantages to becoming less of an agrarian society is that we have dramatically lost touch with what it takes to provide the food that ends up on our table. Agriculture, for the most part, is nothing like it was when I was growing up, with family-run farms that were passed down generation to generation. Yet, there is still considerable value in seeing exactly what goes on during those busy times of the year when farms and ranches can likely use an extra hand or two, especially if they’re offering to do it for free, which I strongly encourage. While the work is hard and will likely test muscles you didn’t know you have, it will leave one with a new appreciation for the effort required to feed the world and why it is difficult for third world countries to establish successful farming and ranching programs. Work one harvest season on a farm, or a ranch during calving season, and you’ll never see the dinner table the same way again.
  4. Visit a place of worship culturally different from your own experience.
    This is one activity that might require some advance planning. Be aware that not every religion worships on the same day of the week and because many places of worship have been victims of vandalism or other inappropriate activity just showing up unannounced might result in one being asked to leave. Contact the person in charge of religious services, explain your desire to learn more as a cultural experience, and move forward from there.
    A vast majority of countries around the world hold to some basic religious belief system. Unfortunately, news media too often generalizes religions to the point that none of them make any sense. To understand people of a different culture it helps to understand what they believe. Get to know three or four different people if possible. Understand that in some faiths, worship is separated by gender. Listen, watch, and observe and one’s world grows significantly broader.
  5. Learn to speak a different language from someone for whom that is their primary language.
    Automated languages courses can be huge time savers when one needs to learn a language in a hurry. Unfortunately, what those automated systems cannot do is give one a feel of the customs and cultures that go along with that language. To do that, one needs to learn from a real person, one for whom that language is the one with which they grew up. How difficult this is, of course, depends upon the language one chooses and where one lives. One should also be prepared to pay a person for their time.
    Learning a language gives us greater insight into other cultures and the way people live in other places. Languages everywhere evolve as the society evolves. Words that might technically mean one thing can carry social inferences quite different in meaning. As one learns to speak the language one is likely to develop an understanding and, hopefully, an appreciation for the people to whom that language is native. One’s perspective can experience massive change through this experience.

There are still many other things one can do, depending on what resources are available to them. Spending time in the water with a marine biologist changes one’s relationship with the oceans. Taking an advanced class in paleontology gives one a greater appreciation for the influence of societies that existed before us. Each experience outside of our native culture tears down the tunnel vision to which we’ve become accustomed. We see the world and it’s problems in a different manner, which opens us to discovering the real solutions that can put us on a path toward saving our species.

Commit To Making A Difference

Saving humanity

Here is where saving humanity becomes challenging. Already, if one has taken all the steps we’ve discussed prior to this point, chances are pretty high that you are already making more of an impact that one might realize. When we help ourselves to better understand who we are and what our role is in the world, then we can better understand others. When we understand our history and how it effects our emotions and our actions, we can better understand how the history of other cultures has led them to the ideas and habits they now embrace. When we eliminate the less important things from our schedule we have more time and energy for the activities that matter and can create the experiences that allow us to grow.

Doing all this work on ourselves and then not using our experience and perspective to help others and save the species is a bit shallow, however. We’ve made it this far but it is still not enough to save the entire species from extinction. To do that, we have to do the things that make a difference outside ourselves. This is where saving humanity becomes work.

Of course, not everyone can do the same thing, but everyone can do something. I’m going to provide some options, suggestions really, but it is up to you to decide which one(s) work(s) for you and how to implement them into your life. None is necessarily better than the others. All are critical to helping humanity survive.

  • Get involved politically. This past election saw more moms and more scientists elected to Congress than ever before. This is fantastic because it adds much-needed perspective to our country’s governing body. However, not everyone can run for Congress nor should they. Most of the decisions that directly affect peoples lives are made at local and state levels of government. Even there, one doesn’t necessarily need to run for office, though. One can watch, monitor, and then advocate for policies and procedures that are pro-human.
    For example, a few years ago, while Mike Pence was governor of the state of Indiana, that legislature passed a law prohibiting the development of high-speed rail service within the state. Not many people were watching and the bill passed with hardly anyone in opposition. That bill is decidedly anti-human in that it not only prevents the efficient and rapid migration of people from one place to another, it backhandedly supports other modes of transportation that release greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Had their been pro-human voices opposing the bill, it might not have passed.
    Every level of government, from the school board to the city council to oversight committees governing public safety benefits from having people like you and me watching, advocating for those who are not rich, who are not trying to make a profit off a deal, but are simply trying to make sure we continue to live. Lobbying is only a bad word when corporations do it. People lobbying for people is a wonderful thing.
  • Become an advocate for marginalized people. Human civilization has a horrible track record for how the people in charge treat those who are not in charge. One would like to think that democracy would change that equation but it hasn’t. Partisan bickering and political retribution run as rampant in the United States now as it did across the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. This means that a lot of people are being marginalized and those people need a voice, someone who will stand up for them.
    This does not mean one necessarily needs to be political, though that’s certainly an option. Marginalized people are affected by corporate environments and policies at a much higher rate than they are by political influence. From hiring decisions to differences in how people are paid, to how work assignments are made, anyone who is part of a minority has experienced on-the-job discrimination. You can be the voice that changes those policies. Whether from inside the company or outside.
    We are fortunate to be alive at a time when corporations are especially sensitive to charges of discrimination of any kind. The threat of having marginalizing policies exposed to social media where it risks being seen by broadcast and print media is a powerful tool that can help implement change. At the same time, for many companies change might be as simple leaving a store manager a note letting them know that their floor display is too narrow for people in wheel chairs to navigate, or that the placement of certain equipment or chemicals poses a danger to service animals. Often, all it takes is someone taking a moment to say something. You can be that someone.
  • Encourage communication that is inclusive and supportive. Start with your own methods of communication, especially online. Use language that is not combative or antagonistic. Adjust to use non-gender-specific pronouns such as they, their, and them. Politely ask for clarification when someone says something that you or someone else might be challenged to understand.
    While online is likely to be the place where we practice our communication skills the most, person-to-person is often where it matters the most. The concept of meeting someone “half-way” is not acceptable. Instead, we need to meet people where they are, be empathetic to their situation, allow them to make mistakes without you correcting them all the time. Show compassion especially where it is not returned.
    How we speak to people and how we respond when people speak to us is one of the primary reasons for violence in the United States. Statements that we might not have given a second thought end up being the explosion point that sends someone else looking for a weapon. Words do hurt and we have to be extremely careful in how we use them.
  • Develop and improve your community. Let me be very clear at the start here: I hate neighborhood associations that control what people can or cannot do with their own property. Neighborhood associations are the most predominate form of Communism present in the United States and are an indirect threat to humanity because of the way they force people to take actions that might not be in their best interest. When I talk about developing a community, a neighborhood association is the last reference I wouild want anyone to make.
    That being said, we need to know our neighbors, we need to help our neighbors, we need to encourage our neighbors. Neighborhoods have the opportunity to be powerhouses of influence within a city but that cannot happen when neighbors never speak to each other, constantly call the zoning board on each other, and do things that make other people’s lives more difficult. We can fix that. All it takes is one person going next door and introducing themselves. That’s how it all starts.
    Critical to this effort is that one not be afraid of small talk. Big conversations begin with small talk. Consider asking someone what was the first movie they ever saw and how old were they when they saw it. Another approach is ask someone who their favorite musician is and if it’s someone with whom you’re not familiar, perhaps ask them to play a sample. Listen to what they say, embrace the things that make them happy. This is how friendships are planted. Little by little, one neighbor at a time, create friendships and then introduce friends to one another. Quite quickly one is likely to discover that they’ve helped develop a community that is diverse, safe, and supportive of each other. This is how change happens at the grassroots level. These are actions that matter.
  • Teach. Teach anything, anyone, wherever and whenever you can. One doesn’t need to be formal about the education, either. Where one sees an opportunity to help someone learn, take it. Show a preschooler how to tie their own shoes. Help an eight-year-old learn how to wash dishes. Teach a young teenager how to apply makeup or style their hair. Help an older person figure out their smart devices or how to avoid scams online.
    I am convinced that everyone has the ability to teach someone something and that they should do so. Little lessons can mean a lot. I remember the person who taught me how to cast with an open-face reel. I remember the person who taught me how to pop a wheelie on my bicycle without busting my head open. I remember the person who taught me how to kiss. We come into this world with zero knowledge and few instincts. Everything else we have to learn and in a lot of cases we have to unlearn something wrong first. Someone went to the trouble to teach us and it is up to us to pass along that knowledge, those skills, and and that fantastic feeling of accomplishment to others.
    Added bonus: when we teach from an attitude of compassion and empathy, we teach others how to interact with people the same way. We, as a species, tend to mimic the actions and attitudes of those around us. When we are around negative-minded people our attitude and actions are more likely to be negative as well. When we present people with a learning environment that is positive, encouraging, and supportive of who they are, they are more likely to respond to other people in a positive manner as well.

Notice there is nothing in here about fighting robots, combating people who make robots, or everyone having to obtain advanced medical degrees. Saving humanity doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Certainly, it could be if we allow matters to spiral too far out of control, but if we do the things outlined here many of the issues that threaten us, issues such as war, famine and poverty, along with the diseases cause by those conditions are most likely to solve themselves. A grat amount of the suffering experienced globally, and many of the dangers we face as a species, are directly tied to our long-standing insistence upon being assholes toward ourselves and each other. Once we turn that around, a significant number of our problems go away.

Again, there’s no forcing anyone to do any of these things, oranything else. If we, collectively, are to save humanity through humane methods we each have to decide that humanity is worth our effort.

In every movie where robots develop an advanced intelligence and begin eliminating humans it is because what they see in humans is a race of beings hell-bent on being cruel, aggressive, jackasses. Therefore, it stands to reason, we stop acting like jackasses and the threat of AI domination goes away. It might help us out against alien invasion as well, though I’ve no basis for certainty on that matter.

No matter who we are, where we were born, what color our skin, what we believe, how we identify ourselves, or who we choose to love, we are all humans and it is up to us to save ourselves by being better humans.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing.

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Grammy Reviews, Old Man Talking

Here we are, once again, at that time of year when attention starts to turn toward music and the impending Grammy Awards occurring next week. In previous years, we’ve tried letting the kids make predictions, looking only at new artists, and other versions of attempting to select winners. None of them have been remotely accurate.

Having come to the conclusion that those in the recording academy who cast votes for these entries are most likely certifiably insane, I want to spend my Grammy review time this year taking a more serious look at what was nominated. Many of these nominations are deserving of an award. Others, as always, are clueless and insulting.

There are 84 categories of Grammy awards and it would take more time than I have in my schedule to cover even half of those, especially when a large chunk of the awards don’t go to individual songs but entire albums of work. I’m not sure who exactly gets paid to sit around and critically listen to all that music, but it’s not me.

What I’ve done is limit myself to the single tracks nominated in the seven areas I feel most comfortable discussing. Those are:

  • Pop
  • Rock
  • Country
  • American Roots
  • R&B
  • Gospel/CCM
  • General Field

Just to be clear, “General Field” is how the academy describes that overall set of awards such as Record of the Year and Song of the Year. For those who’ve been asleep for a while, one might also note that the Recording Academy no longer separates categories by gender. There is no “best male/female vocalist” in any genre.

For most the genres, we limited our reviews to Best Solo Performance, Best Duo/Group Performance, and in some categories, Best Song. Even with those limitations, we still have a rather lengthy list. If one is bound and determined to listen to every second of every song, be prepared to spend the better part of the day with headphones stuck on your head.

As we go, clicking on the title of each song links to it on Spotify. I’ve composed all our reviewed songs in a single playlist that we’ll include at the end of the article. Any title marked with an * is nominated in more than one category.

There’s a lot to discuss and to hear, so let’s get started on this task quickly.


2019 Grammys, Old Man Talking

Pop is the broadest and most inclusive genre, encompassing most anything that one might find on the Billboard Top 100 list. Anyone who listens to an adult contemporary or top 40 radio station is likely to be familiar with these songs. Still, there are a couple of outliers that don’t quite seem to fit and seem to skew the categories. This is also a genre where songs that are public favorites don’t always win. Let’s look at the songs.

Colors – Beck

Wait, Beck’s still relevant? I honestly thought they’d disbanded or something. Apparently not. This song is evident that the group is somehow stuck in the 90s and managing through time travel to send their music into the future.The clap track on this song kills me and the pan flute is one of the most pretentious things heard in this year’s nominees. I would like to believe that most of the music-listening world has evolved beyond finding this enjoyable. Yet, would the song be here if it didn’t have fans? This is a disappointing song that time hopefully forgets quickly.

Havana – Camila Cabello

When even grade school kids know all the words to the song and can dance to it, we know the song has achieved a high level of penetration. This is a powerful and memorable performance of a song that uses Latin rhythms and tempos to capture an image of a fantasized society where everyone is beautiful and everyone knows how to tango. The Pentatonix cover of the song only helped fuel the song’s popularity. The live recording is the version nominated and well worth the listen. Just be prepared to dance wherever you are.

God Is A Woman – Ariana Grande

Be aware: This song comes with an “explicit” tag attached. This song generated plenty of controversy when it was released last year, but in an interesting and ironic turn, Grande’s feminist anthem actually mentions God more often than do the majority of the songs nominated in the Gospel/CCM category. I wish I was kidding. Ariana is riding a popularity wave and her millions of fans are very vocal in their support for the singer, especially when she broke up with her boyfriend. I might worry that the Recording Academy could come under attack is Ms. Grande doesn’t win something. Is the song any good, though? It’s listenable and its message resonates with women. Personally, I don’t think it’s her best option and the recent release of Seven Rings may prove distracting.

Joanne – Lady Gaga

Everyone is so focused on “Shallow” that it is easy to overlook Gaga’s other nominated work. Joanne, which is her given name, is an acoustic song with more of a folk feel to it than what we would generally consider pop. When the strings enter about half-way through, they feel a bit forced, as though someone at the record label decided that, “Wait! We’ve not spent enough money on this song. Let’s add strings!” Gaga doesn’t need any help here. In fact, there are moments throughout the song when it feels as though she’s channeling Joan Baez. Joanne is a wonderful contrast to the heavily-produced “Shallow” and does much more to show off Gaga’s voice.

Fall In Line – Christina Aguilera with Demi Lovato

Christina Aguilera knows how to do a big, powerful anthem and this is yet another in the long list of anthems that punctuate her career. There are plenty of pro-feminist songs with overtones of the #MeToo movement nominated this year and this is the loudest, most likely to slap someone in the face of all those songs. There’s little doubt by the end of the first verse that Xtina is fed up with all the bullshit and is ready to kick some ass. Then, as she is prone to do on these big songs, she enlists some help from a friend. This time, it’s Demi Lovato who matches Christina’s level of angry quite well. The Academy should be warned: upset Christina and she just might bitch slap a presenter.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Backstreet Boys

Again, here we go back to the 90s. At least this time around the song itself is a little more contemporary but the synth drums and a cappella break at the bridge are classic Backstreet maneuvers sufficient to give one whiplash from the force of the throwback. While I’m sure that those original Backstreet fans that have never been able to completely adapt and move on with their lives are excited that the boys are nominated again. Coping with the progress of time doesn’t come easily for everyone. The sound is ultimately dated and the song isn’t enough to justify a comeback from a group that most of the world didn’t miss in the first place.

“S Wonderful – Tony Bennett & Diana Krall

Tony Bennett is 92 years old, still recording, still performing, and still being nominated for Grammy awards. In my opinion, they should give him his own category and just mail him the trophy. The man has no peers—they’re all dead. Putting him in a contest with anyone else is inherently unfair. Over the past several years, we’ve seen the crooner do duets with several people, some of which haven’t worked especially well. Diana Krall’s more mature and professionally developed voice is the best match yet. Her rich vocal tones blend nicely with Tony’s voice, even if he is starting to crack around the edges a bit too often. I wish they had done this album say ten years ago when Bennett was still able to match pitch without having to slide into every note. Even now, though, there’s no one in Tony’s league. That doesn’t mean he’ll win in such a broad category, but the man deserves a trophy.

Girls Like You – Maroon 5 with Cardi B.

This is classic Maroon 5 with plenty of rhythm and Adam Levine singing notes too high for human ears to hear. Every dog in the room perks up with this song comes on, though. Maroon 5 has a predictable formula for their hits and this song follows that pattern so well that if one is listening and not watching the video they might become distracted. The break with Cardi B. jolts one’s attention back to the song because her hard-hitting rap style is so diametrically opposed to the smoothness of Adam’s voice that one might think their device has jumped tracks or had an emotional breakdown. This is meant to be a song that is supportive of the women in one’s life and there’s no question that there’s an “awww” moment at the end of the video where Levine is standing with his wife and baby. Lovely picture. If one is just listening to the song, though, it comes off like most men’s response to the #MeToo movement: hollow and short of any real content.

Say Something – Justin Timberlake & Chris Stapleton

I have a feeling that, at this point in his career, Timberlake is trying to make sure he has enough Grammy-nominated tracks to complete a “Best of …” box set. That seems to be the only reason for this song to even exist. Sure, having Chris Stapleton sing along gives Timberlake some crossover airplay, which probably adds nicely to the bank account. Musically, though, this song is nothing special compared to anything else for which Timberlake’s been nominated. In fact, I’m a little surprised this one made it onto the Grammy list at all. Halfway through the song, I left to go refill my coffee cup. I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything when I returned.

My Way – Willie Nelson

This is the one exception I’m making to the rule about albums. The song itself isn’t nominated and the song from the album that is nominated is in the American Roots genre. More on that later. I’m including this song, though, because it adequately represents the entire album. Willie is 85 years old and one has to wonder if there’s any chance he’ll make it as long as Tony Bennett. Listening to this song, and the accompanying album, one gets the feeling that Willie doesn’t expect to make it as long as Tony Bennett. There’s a melancholy feel here, not the triumphant success that we get from Sinatra or Elvis. Willie actually makes the song feel sad, as though it’s the last song he sings before hanging up his guitar and bandana for good. My god, we hope that’s not what’s happening. I will say, he makes one feel all the feels here. Those above a certain age might want to have a tissue handy.


Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

One sure way to feel old is to consider oneself fairly well versed in the rock music genre and then realize that one knows absolutely nothing about any of the nominees except that one was dead before the song was ever released. Ouch. I had to listen to a lot more than just the nominated songs before I felt comfortable commenting intelligently. The good news is that I came away with a couple of new bands that I really enjoy hearing. The bad news is that, once again, there a couple of nominees that cause me to question the Recording Academy’s sanity. What seems obvious is that no matter who wins there will be plenty of fans who think their favorite band was robbed, and they may very well be correct. The Academy doesn’t exactly have a strong record of “nailing it” in this category so we’ll have to see what happens.

Four Out Of Five – Arctic Monkeys

At first listen, this appears to be another one of those rock songs with drug-induced lyrics that make absolutely no sense. That’s not necessarily unheard of in this category. There were plenty of hits in the 1970s that made no sense at all. What the song addresses, however, is the online society that reviews everything. Yes, we’re looking at you, Yelp. The lyrics are the type of statements one makes when leaving an online review. The title, “Four Out Of Five” refers to the number of stars one might leave for a product or service.  If the lyrics sound like nonsense, that’s probably intentional. Most reviews are absolutely nonsense. The strong part of the song is the incredible harmonies, especially in the bridge, that remind one of the more important bands of the 70s. This is a band worth getting to know. There’s a skill level I hope we see continue.

When Bad Does Good – Chris Cornell

If sentimentality counts for votes, and it often does, then this song is a sure winner. After all, who wants to deny a dead man his last award? There’s an eerie feeling, though, that sends a few shivers up my spine while listening. When the song opens with the line, “Standing beside an open grave … your life decided … “ it is difficult to not read some serious foreshadowing into it. One of a group of songs Cornell had recorded but not released prior to his death in 2017, one might consider us fortunate to have ever heard this song at all. Fortunately, Chris’ widow, Vicky, found the tapes and made sure they received the proper treatment. We are fortunate to hear Cornell’s soaring vocals one more time. This song is a rare and final treat. Still, it feels jarring when the song abruptly ends, like the jerk on the end of a rope. My stomach wrenched at the thought. We lose too many brilliant musicians to mental illness. Perhaps this song can be a reminder that people who appear strong often need help, too.

Made An America – Fever 333

Gun violence gets the attention in this guitar-heavy rock tome trying to bring its cause to our attention. If the number of gun-related deaths is any indication, however, we’re not listening. Part of the problem here is that the lyrics alone are not strong enough for the song to stand out. The hard driving rhythm and screaming guitars, both of which are admittedly well done, sound like so many other angry songs of the 2000’s that it is too easy to reach over and turn down the volume. Before the lyrics have a chance to really click in one’s ears they’ve likely already decided that they’ve heard this song before and hit the “skip” button. This is the challenge with songs in support of a cause: if the music is not enough to slap one in the face repeatedly, few are likely to actually hear the words.

Highway Tune – Greta Van Fleet

Nostalgia is big when creatives in a field have difficulty coming up with something original. I won’t say that is necessarily the case with the band Greta Van Fleet, but the 70s throwback is so strong they should all be wearing paisley shirts with bell bottom jeans and rope sandals. The band has a couple of other nominations so I came to like them by the time I was done. Unfortunately, this particular song picks up on the mommy issues that were so prevalent among bands in the 70s and it’s not especially attractive. “Momma” this, “Momma” that … is anyone’s mother evening listening? Juxtaposed against all the feminist-leaning songs this year, this comes across woefully out of touch and in need of therapy.

Uncomfortable – Halestorm

This band based on the brother/sister duo of Lzzy (no i) and Arejay Hale is at times reminiscent of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and at other time the drum-driven sound of an 80s hair band. Lzzy’s vocals are pretty impressive and at times threaten to overshadow the band. When we get close to that point, though, Arejay’s drums come bursting through and the instruments take the spotlight. I have a feeling that I would totally enjoy seeing Halestorm in concert somewhere. This is the kind of music that is best experienced live. Unfortunately, that means it doesn’t transition well to recorded play where it feels as though we’ve heard this all before. Nostalgia sounds are not always the good thing we want them to be, even when they’re done well.

Black Smoke Rising – Greta Van Fleet

This is more what I expect from a rock song in 2019. The 20-second intro is a nice hook that keeps repeating throughout and easily incites movement even when the lyrics are lacking. This is a song with which one can connect and simply enjoy for the next four minutes without feeling that they have to leave immediately to rush out and save the world. If the old American Bandstand were still around, the song would rate well for being “easy to dance to.” Bonus points: the bridge is such a throwback to The Doors but it’s well done, not heavy handed enough to make the transition back feel awkward. This is the song that left me liking the band. I can handle more of this.

Jumpsuit – Twenty One Pilots

Why is this band still getting nominated for Grammys? This song is so commercial that it should only be 30 seconds long. Unfortunately, the intro alone is 38 seconds and reminiscent of a whiskey ad. That whiskey is cheap and tastes like the stuff dripping from underneath a 1984 Buick. The song can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. The bridge gets all soft and pretty with a Hammond organ taking off so much of the rock edge that this begins to sound like a pop song. Which direction are we going with this? I’m baffled that this is nominated for Best Rock Song. Perhaps someone at the Academy owes Tyler Joseph their life or something. Music quality is not why this song is on the list.

Mantra – Bring Me The Horizon

There are times when one can easily ignore the “explicit” tag next to a song title. Don’t make that mistake with this song. Small children do not need to be in the room when it is playing. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out what the song’s title has to do with the rest of the song. Okay, the name gets yelled out twice during the song. There’s still no obvious correlation and, if anything, the scream interrupts the flow of the music. Not that anyone is likely to mind the interruption. I’m guessing the sole purpose for this song existing is someone’s inherent need to do a bit of head banging and it delivers from the start with a 30-second intro that sends one’s neck into auto-response mode. You’re going to at least nod your head a little. I’m over the whole dual vocals an octave apart, though. That technique is SO 20 years ago. Please don’t make me yawn so hard, it hurts when my head is bobbing.

Masseduction – St. Vincent

Writers Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark have created the perfect song for the media-addicted generation that cannot seem to put their phones down. St. Vincent provides the perfect voice to drive the point home. This is how rock in 2019 should sound. I had heard the full version a couple of times before and definitely agree with its nomination for Best Rock Song. However, if one really likes this song, they’ll want to listen to the piano-only version with no background vocals. St. Vincent’s voice is mesmerizing and the musicality of the composition is crystal clear. St. Vincent is one of the few rock acts I would consider paying outrageous ticket prices to see—not that I’d actually go because I’m a cheap old man on a budget—but I’d at least consider it. If the Academy would let me vote, this one would get my pick. They won’t let me vote.

Rats – Ghost

Remember, those of you over the age of 50, those 70s bands that would don face paint and invoke satanic imagery that made your parents uncomfortable? Remember how we all thought we’d left that behind? Guess what, the band Ghost has brought it back with a spooky apocalyptic song threatening death and destruction at the hands, or teeth, of a massive plague of rodents. If the visuals are not enough to give one nightmares, you should probably be in therapy. Often. The strong point of this song are the incredible harmonies with bonus points for the harpsichord. We’re definitely feeling some throwback vibes here and to some extent we don’t mind all that much. Still, the constant repetition of the word “rats,” especially toward the end, is more than a touch  creepy and should never be the last song one hears before going to bed in downtown New York.


Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

Know this before I even start: it’s been 30+ years since I’ve liked anything about contemporary country music. I grew up with my parents listening to it all the time. If we were in the car, the radio was on a station such as KFDI in Wichita or KVOO in Tulsa. Both were only AM stations back then, but their reach was broad and their sound was pure country: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. Country music sounds nothing like that now and if anyone does sound like those legends, the idiots at the Recording Academy put them down in the American Roots categories competing with Blues and Folk artists, which does no one any good. There are two bright spots among this years nominees. The rest … well, don’t expect any roses from me.

Wouldn’t It Be Great – Loretta Lynn

I’m still trying to figure out how it is that Loretta Lynn has a song in the Country category but Willie Nelson and John Prine get sent to the purgatory of American Roots. I’m glad she’s here, and will be more than a bit upset if she doesn’t get the award, but my expectations are low since the Recording Academy clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing with Country music. Loretta’s song feels the divide between old and new as well, not to mention the divisiveness across the country. Hers is another in the list of songs looking for hope and healing, bringing people together. She does so with a classic country sound that hides the fact she’s old enough to be the grandmother of most the other artists nominated. It is good to hear her voice again. Let’s hope people who matter pay attention.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – Maren Morris

Somewhere in Nashville, a record producer apparently decided what folks there were writing wasn’t good enough and went searching for something different. What they found were some early recordings by Elton John of songs he wrote with Bernie Taupin. The songs are some of Elton’s favorites and include hits such as Rocket Man, Honky Cat, and The Bitch Is Back. Someone handed Sir Elton a big ol’ royalty check and he gave them permission to do a compilation album, country style. Just go ahead and say yuck now. Maren Morris gets Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, from Elton’s 1972 album, Honky Chateau. Understand, back in the early 70s, recording executives didn’t know what to make of Elton so they tried, laughably, to make him country by putting fiddles, pedal steel, and mandolin in the instrumentation. The sound isn’t country, but at least they tried. Ms. Morris’ cover doesn’t even try and comes out sounding more Pop than the original. They even dropped the mandolin. This song, and the whole project, is a disaster.

Butterflies – Kacey Musgraves

Ms. Musgraves has been touted by some as the new Taylor Swift of Country music. For those too young to remember, the Pop superstar got her start in Country music before transitioning to where she belonged in the first place. Arguably, Ms. Musgraves seems to be on a similar path. If this song is any indication, she’s ready to make that crossover now. Without question, te song has a lot of appeal in both genres and Musgraves’ fan base hits that same teen female demographic as Swift’s. If it weren’t for the pedal steel in the band it would be difficult to call this Country music at all. I think this song proves she can compete in the Pop category. Her record producers might do well to help her make that jump now while there’s time. Once she turns 40 the Recording Academy may try putting her under the American Roots label as well.

Millionaire – Chris Stapleton

Country music’s core demographic never has been an especially prosperous one. By and large, they are hard-working, blue collar men and women who often live in rural or agricentric areas and frequently struggle to make ends meet. These are the folks often referred to as “salt of the earth.” Millionaire hits those dear folks right where their heart is with themes such as the value of a “good woman,” beat up cars, and the importance of love above everything else. Chris is blessed with a strong country twang to his voice so it’s difficult to put him anywhere else even when he’s singing with Justin TImberlake. Here, there’s plenty of acoustic guitar playing rhythm under that electric lead that could stand to be turned down a touch and enough sentiment to serve as a dipping sauce at a backyard barbeque. One still gets the feeling Stapleton is trying to not sound as country as he is. Go ahead, son, pull those boots on and wear that cowboy hat proudly.

Parallel Line – Keith Urban

No. I never have bought into the idea of Keith Urban as Australia’s version of Country and this song is the perfect reason why. Okay, it’s nice that Nicole let’s him keep his music career as a hobby, but her Oscar and 94 other awards far outweighs his four Grammys and CMA awards. What’s important to realize is that Urban’s awards were gender-specific in years where, let’s be honest, the competition was pretty weak. This year’s nomination feels more like a courtesy nod than a serious entry. The song is far from being the strongest of the nominations and just barely has enough bent tones and hints of twang to sound remotely Country. This is middle-of-the-road pablum. The nomination pads his resumé a bit and he can go back to judging singers who are, far too often, better than him.

Shoot Me Straight – Brothers Osborne

THIS IS NOT A COUNTRY SONG! Sure, the boys have a decent country twang to their voices but that’s not enough to get past the fact that every other element of this song is one hundred percent rock-and-roll and rightly deserves to be in that category. The hard bass line and screaming guitars are so far past the country music line as to make the vocals irrelevant. In fact, strip the song down to the lengthy instrumental break (cut way back for radio play) and this song is so rock as to make Jimi Hendrix fans jealous. Well, maybe.Calling this a country song is like calling Cher a lounge singer. Actually, now that I think about it, Cher does country better than this.

*Tequila – Dan & Shay

I’m sitting here listening, and listening, and listening, waiting for the moment this turns and decides to be a country song. That turn never happens. Instead, yet again, we have another Pop song too weak to actually make it in that category, so hey, might as well try Country. Production kills this song, over reaching from the single piano at the start to the not-so-subtle strings and background vocals on the last verse. Play this song without announcing the artist and no one is likely to put it in the country genre, which is an ongoing problem with this entire category. The song is nominated multiple times within the genre but there’s no way it’s strong enough to deserve a win.

*When Someone Stops Loving You – Little Big Town

LIttle Big Town is known for its harmonies as much as anything and those play heavily into making this song appealing, right after the fact that almost everyone can identify with the emotion of the song. Country music loves talking about love, either having it or losing it and losing it tends to create the bigger hits. This time, the group pierces the heart with lyrics one might group in with “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” only slightly less heart breaking. Slightly. The lyrics are strong enough that one doesn’t really care if the verses sometimes sound a little too Pop. It’s a rare person who doesn’t understand the feeling of losing love like this. Grab a tissue and have yourself a dirty cry. You won’t be the only one.

* Dear Hate – Maren Morris with Vince Gill

One sees this duo listing in the nominations and has to wonder if the young Ms. Morris can come close to matching the seasoned Vince Gill. The verdict is: sort of. The harmonies between them work well enough because Vince has been down this road before, is an amazingly talented musician, and knows how to blend with just about anyone. However, when Gill takes the second verse solo, this becomes a different song. For those few seconds, the song really sounds Country and when Ms. Morris comes back in for the chorus it’s like being slapped in the face with your dad’s aftershave. The message here is similar to that of Loretta Lynn’s and is likely the reason Gill agreed to do the song. .

Meant To Be – Bebe Rexha with Florida Georgia Line

This song is confusing. Since when do Country songs come with a digital click track? Oh, wait, Ms. Rexha isn’t Country, is she? In fact, when one looks at the other matchups on the album on which this song appears, one sees names like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz. Florida Georgia Line is so out of their element on this one it isn’t even funny. One has to really stretch to nominate this song in any category and I can only think that it’s nominated for Best Country Duo/Group because all the other options sucked really, really badly. The one good thing about this song is that it’s short. The impossible contrast between vocal tones only hurts for three minutes.

Break Up In The End – Cole Swindell

Meh, I guess I can let this one slide. As a composition, which is where it’s nominated, it hits the Country market with all the big issues, especially a futile love and alcoholism. One could reasonably question whether this is about an actual relationship or some poor guy’s excuse for not starting one, but that’s ultimately irrelevant. Emotion runs deep with this song and that’s what ultimately matters with a good country song. I do wish it wasn’t so damn heavy on the production. This is one of those songs that would play better stripped bare with a guitar and maybe a stand-up bass. The music should be as raw as the lyrics and the heavy-handed kitchen sink production ruins that.

I Lived It – Blake Shelton

Another songwriting entry, let’s count down all the country clichés the song hits in the first verse: Daddy, Granny, screen door, church, Momma, trucks, getting drunk … And that’s just the start of this song that seems to pit country veteran against the rookies. The song gets to the crux of many of Country music’s problems: living the life versus just singing the songs. Oklahoma-raised Shelton was the perfect person to voice this song. He still owns and regularly visits a home in Southwestern Oklahoma despite spending a great deal of time in LA and Nashville. Shelton also gives the song a lot of country “street cred,” which never hurts this time of year. While the song hits all the typical topics, though, it’s a bit too smooth and a bit too gentle to get a person’s attention. This easily becomes background music where the message becomes lost. A more driving tempo would make a lot of difference here.

Space Cowboy – Kacey Musgraves

Do not confuse this with the song of the same name performed by the Steve Miller Band. This song isn’t nearly that good. Yet another song about lost love and breaking up leaves one with the opinion that country music writers must be a lonely bunch of people. Granted, there are numerous references to horses and cowboys and barn doors and gates, all part of an extended metaphor for leaving a relationship. But once again, between Musgraves’ Pop voice and a truck load of production the song didn’t need what we end up with is a Pop song with country references. For all the songs this year about love lost, this one leaves its listener feeling lonely, and possibly in search of a new radio station.

American Roots

Grammy Awards, Old Man Talking

I strongly dislike this category and remain quite upset at the Recording Academy for trying to lump traditional Blues, Folk, Bluegrass, and traditional Country all in the same bucket to compete with each other. This category is a disservice and disrespectful of all the songs nominated. They are all too different and cover too broad a spectrum of music to consider any one of them better than the other. While far from being a new category, it’s one of the most stupid moves the Recording Academy has ever made and there’s no damn good reason for it to continue. As a result, I’m a little more sympathetic toward the songs that got stuck here. They all deserve better.

Kick Rocks – Sean Ardoin

This is a big, hard-driving blues anthem that is best served by a big New Orleans-style band complete with harmonica and accordion in heavy doses. Fast-tempo’d from the very start, this song doesn’t take a break or even slow down until everyone in the band has had their say. One can easily imagine that in a concert setting this is the song that sets up a 20-minute jam session with everyone in the neighborhood sitting in on the fun. Sure, there are some lyrics here, and the whole idea of telling someone to “kick rocks” is as brash and defiant as the music itself. The lyrics are almost irrelevant, though,

Saint James Infirmary Blues – Jon Batiste

Over the past few years I’ve come to deeply appreciate the massive talent abiding in the body of Jon Batiste. This young man can run with the big dogs in any genre tossed at him and the fact that he’s been doing just that since he was a teenager speaks to how deeply and personally he understands music as an entity. Jazz is where he’s most at home, though, and what he does with this old standard is heart-stopping. In most every other cover of this song, especially Van Morrison’s, the dirge is treated with lush orchestration, a heavy, mournful introduction, to help set the mood. Jon doesn’t need any of that. He jumps right in with nothing but his piano, slowly adds some mournful background vocals, and eventually a single trumpet. As a result, this may be the most emotional rendition of this song yet. One probably wants a stiff drink nearby when listening to this one because it’s going to hit all the feels.

All On My Mind – Anderson East

It is the fully orchestrated version of this blues piece that is nominated and it’s easy to understand why it’s nominated. The song powerfully packs a lot of emotion into 3:44. Equally as compelling is the stripped-back “acoustic” (not really) version. Here, East’s heartfelt vocals shine more than in the full version where they sometimes get overshadowed a bit. This is one of those rare songs that works well late on a Saturday night, a snifter of brandy in hand, maybe a good cigar, while contemplating all the worries of the world and deciding that none of it really matters all that much. If one can time the brandy and cigar to end at the same time as the song, you’re ready to go to bed and sleep well. A song like this is the heart and soul of blues and deserves to be in a blues-only category.

Last Man Standing – Willie Nelson

It’s not fair to Willie or anyone else that this song is included in this category. This is pure honky-tonk country, the kind of music that country music embraced until it up and decided it needed to feel more stadium worthy instead of the corner of a backstreet bar. This is what Willie does best and he does it with a touch of his trademark humor. “I don’t want to be the last man standing,” he sings, referring to the fact that all his peers are gone. Then, one can almost hear that grin spread across his face when he adds, “Well wait, maybe I do.” Unlike the severe sadness of his “My Way” cover, Willie takes his role as the oldest man on the stage with a quick tempo and a sense of humor in this song that does its best to keep listeners from feeling too down about the fact he’s the only Outlaw left standing.

All The Trouble – Lee Ann Womack

This song feels older than it is. In fact, when I first heard it my instant response was to check to see who else had covered it. The answer is: no one. Womack perfectly captures the smoky tone we’ve heard previously in artists such as Bonnie Raitt. Ms. Womack’s not that little girl on the big ol’ stage anymore. She is her own defining presence and this song takes advantage of that maturity. If it has some trouble finding a radio home it might be because it could easily be dropped into just about any playlist and work, from country to blues to pop. Womack can handle the rough-edged tone and pull emotion from every note.The line “even Cinderella had to find her own way home,” resonates and I won’t be surprised if there aren’t at least a half-dozen covers this next year. I don’t see anyone topping Womack’s version any time soon, though. This is gold.

Build A Bridge – Mavis Staples

Many throughout the music world are keenly aware of how divided the United States is right now and the Grammy nominations have plenty of songs written to address that issue, offering hope, encouraging healing. At 79, Ms. Staples understands this issue better than most because she’s suffered through the racism and division at its worst. A respected member of both the Rock-and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Staples gives us the kind of action that invokes action. “I’m gonna build a bridge” flies directly in the face of the chants to build a wall. Mavis knows that walls are not the answer. The song is powerful, but ultimately one has to ask whether any of these songs are doing any good? Perhaps radio stations need to start putting the bulk of them on high rotation, let that message sink in a bit more.

Knockin’ On Your Screen Door – John Prine

This two-time Grammy winner is another country legend the Academy is afraid to let in the country category because he’d steal all the awards from the young folks who’ve taken over that genre. Prine flexes his country muscle with a rough-voiced song that everyone else wishes they could record but can’t. One has to have lived through some deep shit and clawed their way out to give this song the raw kick needs to resonate. That experience is obvious from the first note and is a large part of what makes this song work for him. I’m not sure anyone younger than 60 could even come close.

Summer’s End – John Prine

Having multiple nominations in the same category is not unheard of for an artist, but for the 72-year-old Prine it is an example of how flexible and varied his style is. Summer’s End is a more full-toned ballad inviting a lost love to “come on home.” Know that there’s a heart-wrenching backstory to this song that becomes more evident when one sees the video. This may be the only nominated song that hits hard at the opiate epidemic and the video gives Prine’s words extra meaning. This is John’s first original material in 13 years and there are places where his age shows, his words slurring on occasion and his voice trailing off the end of phrases. Summer’s End is a special song that deserves a lot of airplay and all the attention it can get.


Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

R&B has long been my choice for chill. Anytime I need to calm down and get over myself, R&B is where I turn and it rarely lets me down. The very nature of the genre, however, requires it to be constantly evolving and this year we see some especially significant changes starting with The Carters releasing their first album together, bringing two powerhouse talents to bear in a field that seems ready-made for them. At the same time, there are some “old school” voices in the mix that remind us how beautiful a seasoned voice is. If the rest of the nominations get one worked up, this is where we go to settle back down.

*Long As I Live – Toni Braxton

Long As I Live is Old School R&B. Ms. Braxton’s voice has only grown more smokey and sultry with time, making her distinguishing vocals all the more appealing. If her music was your groove “way back when,” then this song is going to feel as comfortable as your favorite pair of pajamas. When the song talks about “I’ll never get old,” we feel the richness of Ms. Braxton’s voice and are thankful that she’s still recording, still performing, and likely to keep doing so for quite some time. Equally impressive, though, is the size of Ms. Braxton’s more youthful fan base, Millennials who either weren’t around or were too young to care when she took home her first Grammy. Hers is a voice one cannot help but love and this song promises there’s going to be plenty to love for a long time.

Summer – The Carters

They finally did it. Jay-Z and Beyoncé brought their real-life hookup into the studio and the results were everything we hoped. Well, perhaps everything I hoped. The blending of hip hop and pop into a smooth R&B sound didn’t exactly please fans on the outer edges of the other genres. Those fans will have to get over their disappointment, though,because this album significantly changes the course of R&B in its brilliant merging of two of music’s biggest talents. Summer employs a traditional R&B band, complete with Hammond organ and a jazz flute. Carefully layered on top of that sound are Beyoncé’s smooth vocals. This song would have garnered a nomination if the accolades ended there. What puts the song over the top, though, is Jay-Z’s break that layers his contemporary sound over the old-school tracks. We may well be witnessing a historic moment for the R&B genre. Everyone else should take note.

Y O Y – Lalah Hathaway

My how Donny Hathaway’s little girl has grown! Nominated multiple times this year, Lalah makes a strong return this year with a dark, smooth sound that keeps the strong harmonies of her 90s recordings with a more contemporary instrumentation. I swear that’s a sitar I’m hearing in this song. Her voice has matured quite a bit from those early recordings and she seems ready to take her place in the current R&B market. She’s still a bit of an outlier in the genre, though, the influence of her daddy’s music still present. Y O Y isn’t edgy, which is not a bad thing but definitely separates her from the other nominees. This is a good song with a good sound, though, and Lalah makes her presence known all across the Grammys this year. It’s going to be interesting to see where she goes next.

Best Part – H.E.R with Daniel Caesar

Best Part is almost perfect. The acoustic start is one of the most beautiful openings of any song nominated this year. If only the producers would have stayed acoustic all the way through. Unfortunately, as the song goes and and gradually adds a distracting warbly synthesized sound, the whole tone becomes a meddled mess that distracts from the quality of the vocals. I looked for an acoustic version and couldn’t find one, which makes me sad. H.E.R. has a great sound and the vocals deserve a lot more attention than they are given in this recording. There’s no way for me to know whose idea the synth was, but perhaps next time they’re in the studio H.E.R. would do better to just unplug the electronics and stick with a natural sound.

First Began – PJ Morton

PJ stands out from the other Best R&B Performance nominees in a couple of ways. First, he’s the only solo male voice in this female-dominated category. Second, First Began is the only song nominated with a tempo marking faster than snooze. Add in some soaring strings toward the end and his is a very different take on R&B from what everyone else in the category is offering. In fact, one might argue that this song might do better were it in the Traditional R&B Performance category. After all, PJ’s sound does have a little more old school swing to it. He’s not afraid to take this inherently laid-back attitude and make it move a little bit. Perhaps it says something about our collective mood that we’ve leaned so heavily into the slow songs this past year. First Began is a nice break that, if nothing else, keeps us from falling asleep in our easy chair.

Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand – Leon Bridges

A high, sustained violin line with harp and glockenspiel has one half-expecting Nat “King” Cole’s smooth vocal to gently walk into the song. Leon Bridges’ amazing tenor isn’t quite the same tone as Coles but fits this song well and defines what makes the Traditional R&B category different from the regular R&B category. One can almost feel Bridges standing on the stage of the Apollo Theater dressed in a sharp suit in front of a full orchestra. The biggest problem I have with this song is that it’s barely three minutes long. One hardly has time to settle into the soft groove before the song is over, leaving one’s ears longing for more.

Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight – Bettye LaVette

Ms. LaVette’s cover of this Bob Dylan song has some challenges. First, it not only has to overcome the expectation one might have from Dylan’s recording, but Aaron Neville’s well-known cover also. Those are some mighty big musical shoes to fill and not just any voice can step there. To some degree, Ms. LaVette’s voice has a touch of that grit one hears in Dylan, though hers is one developed through years of living rather than the natural tone Dylan possesses. She’s nowhere close to being as smooth as Aaron, but she does come closer to his tempo, shortening the song considerably from Dylan’s six-minute marathon. LaVette puts a little more “mean” in her streets and more emotion in the urgency of her voice. It’s nice to get a woman’s take on this song. One might want to listen two or three times before moving on.

Honest – Major

There’s something about starting a song whose entire focus is honesty by singing the verses in falsetto. Granted, Major’s falsetto is on point and well tuned. We don’t hear him struggling to reach the notes as is often the case with other vocalists. Still, one has to question whether the move was really in the best interest of the song. When he drops into his full voice, the song is stronger, its message more clear and earnest. In moving back and forth one gets the impression that he might be afraid of his natural voice the way someone with anorexia is afraid of eating too much. Yet, the more he makes that transition the more one wishes he’d honestly stay with his natural tone.

How Deep Is Your Love – PJ Morton with YEBBA

Who the fuck thought up this disaster on vinyl? First, covering the Bee Gees and calling is Traditional R&B is just wrong on every conceivable level. Second, even adding YEEBA’s soulful voice is not enough to yank this song out of the disco mire. No matter what one does, there’s still a mirror ball and backlight dance floor and some fool strutting around in a white suit everytime this song is played anywhere on the planet. To call this traditional R&B is an insult to everyone else nominated and to the entire R&B genre. Moreover, recording this song was a slap in the face of everyone who enjoys R&B. I’ll allow that the song might be fun to perform in concert, but this is disco, man, any way one slices it.

Made For Love – Charlie Wilson with Lalah Hathaway

R&B loves a good duet and Ms. Hathaway’s voice is a nice match for Wilson, allowing him to relax a bit so that his vocals don’t always feel quite so forced as they do when he’s in his upper register. Still, Charlie has to put a lot of effort into staying on top of the sound. I’m not suggesting anything’s going on other than Wilson’s not as young as he once was and that’s starting to show a bit. This is still a great song that I’m enjoying listening to. Added note: Charlie’s currently on tour. He’ll be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 15. Those who have expendable cash would likely enjoy the experience. It’s nice to know that Oklahoma can produce something other than country musicians.

Come Through And Chill – Miguel, J. Cole

Come Through and Chill is one of the more contemporary sounds in the R&B categories and, like a lot of people, I’m still wondering if the original title might have been Netflix and Chill because this is exactly that kind of song. I can see the streaming service not approving of the reference, though. The instrumentation here is rather thin compared to others in the category but the touch fits the song. What doesn’t fit as well is the rapped bridge or the rather creepy idea that it takes three guys to convince someone to come over and hang out. I mean, those other two guys aren’t staying, are they? Or is Miguel only trolling for kinky mates? Not that it matters, I suppose, but it just seems a bit heavy-handed, dude.

Feels Like Summer – Childish Gambino

Can an R&B song be too smooth for its own good? Feels Like Summer pushes that envelope a little harder than necessary. This is one of those songs that is so consistent in rhythm and dynamics that it can sit in the background and no one notice. Seriously, the needles on the mixing board couldn’t have moved the entire song to get a sound this consistent. I’m not saying the song is boring, mind you. Feels Like Summer is a cool song and deserves a spot on everyone’s summer playlist. We need songs like this. Do we need them winning Grammy awards, though? Probably not. Were this to become a trend, we’d all be falling asleep in places where we don’t need to be falling asleep.

Focus – H.E.R

Oh, wait, everything I just said about Feels Like Summer? Copy and paste that here as well. The deathblow for this song is the harp on hyper reverb. Listening to that, all brain function shuts down and one immediately enters a comatose state. This song is so smooth and so pretty that one has to focus, and focus hard, to make it all the way to the end. There’s not even enough coffee at Starbucks to help. Next time you have insomnia, give this a try; it’s safer than watching CSPAN.


Grammy Review, Old Man Talking

Being raised in church and having played so much gospel music over the eons one might think that the Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music genre would be my favorite. It’s not. It used to be, back some 40 years ago, but I don’t even recognize this flaming pile of horse manure. Out of everything we listened to here, only two dared to mention God and only one directly referenced scripture (totally out of context). What these categories have become is little more than subpar R&B songs that were too weak to run in a regular category. These are songs designed for the megachurch, for people who want to be seen going to church but don’t want the burden of having to actually believe anything. I had to listen to two hours of hymns after I finished this category. B. B. McKinney has to be rolling in his grave.

You Will Win – Jekalyn Carr

This feel-good pseudo-Christian garbage is yet another in a too-long line of megachurch anthems that has no depth or spiritual meaning to it at all. If one is looking for any mention of God they’re not going to find it here. Why? Because God would just get in the way of You. This is a bastardization of the gospel that encourages people to focus on what they can do, not what Jesus can do through them. The line “Lay hands on your money” sent me straight to the nearest trash can so I could vomit. I’m willing to give contemporary gospel songs a little leeway, but this is so far over the line that one has to say “enough” and turn off the nonsense. I’d rather listen to Stryper.

Won’t He Do It – Koryn Hawthorne

Unlike the other songs in this category, Won’t He Do It wasn’t actually recorded for church so, in a way, it’s unfair to hold it to those standards. Won’t He Do It is from the soundtrack to the television series Greenleaf, which is all about the dark underside of a Memphis-based megachurch in trouble with the IRS, the FBI, and a whole list of other folks. One has to guess they’re not sitting in much favor with God, either. Of course, TV church is nothing like real church, even though the average megachurch does its best to present that level of production every Sunday. This song is heavily produced in a way that strips it of any form of sincerity. The R&B feel is too easily adaptable for mainstream audiences and has no real message to it. Perhaps it was popular with fans of the series, but it is not a seriously Christian song.

Never Alone – Tori Kelly with Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin has had a strong influence on gospel music for several years so it’s not the least bit surprising to see this song on the list of nominees simply on the power of his presence alone. While Franklin does get writing credit on the song as well, though, his actual participation is limited to about five seconds worth of an excerpt from a sermon. That’s it. Five seconds. The rest of the song is solid R&B. Ms. Kelly has a pleasant-enough voice and the song doesn’t make any critical errors. As an R&B song, it’s rather nice, though probably not a Grammy nominee. What this song is not is Gospel. Five seconds of Kirk doesn’t cut it. Insert eye roll here.

Cycles – Jonathan McReynolds with DOE

Recorded live, Cycles brings the sounds of church to the background of this song almost like orchestrated vocals. We hear the audience when the engineer decides we need to hear the audience, punctuating McReynolds’ vocals. In one sense, this song distinguishes itself within the category by actually mentioning “the devil.” Nowever, none of that does enough to keep this from sounding like the anthem for an overly-enthusiastic twelve-step group. If anything, the song is dismissive and disrespectful of mental illness, which is a problem the contemporary church has failed to address adequately. Too much of the song wastes time suggesting that one’s faith is a cure for depression. No. Do not listen to that tripe. Get yourself to a professional and get some real help. If one really needs help breaking the cycles of mental illness and destructive behavior, see a therapist.

A Great Work – Brian Courtney Wilson

A Great Work is the only song in the gospel category that is actually based on scripture: Philippians 1:6. The verse reads thus:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

There is a temptation here to think, “Finally, a gospel song that dares to quote the Bible!” Unfortunately, that excitement wanes as one listens to the song and gets the impression that everyone is little more than God’s Home Improvement Project and that once  he’s done with you he’s going to set you on a shelf with his other pretty little projects. The song takes the scripture completely out of context (not the first time that’s happened). I’m sure it’s another song that’s fun to perform in front of an enthusiastic audience and I know from experience how easily one can mistake the thrill of that excitement for something it absolutely is not: the presence of deity. Health and prosperity is not the gospel of Jesus and, regrettably, that’s where this song goes, right down the trash chute.

Reckless Love – Cory Asbury

One has to be theologically brain dead to even pen the words “reckless love of God.” How is it remotely possible for God to be reckless about anything? Are we saying that our relationship with God is haphazard, accidental, and left to chance, for that’s certainly what “reckless” infers. If that’s what one believes, I would dearly love to see the scripture they interpret as supporting that theory. This is feel-good pablum that tries to make God relatable by bringing him down to a human level when there’s zero biblical authority for doing so. God cannot be reckless about anything and still be God. If one is confused about the love of God, let me suggest one take a listen to this or this or even this. God’s love is a lot of things but reckless is not on that list.

You Say – Lauren Daigle

Lauren Daigle, Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury have written a very nice pop song with only the most distant of religious inferences.Unfortunately, the song doesn’t have any edge to it so to put it in the Pop category means it would be completely ignored. It’s totally inappropriate for CCM, though. Let’s stop playing with meaningless inferences that one has to struggle to understand. Gospel music needs to take to heart the words of the apostle Paul at the beginning of his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” I am rapidly growing tired of repeating myself in this category.

Joy – For King & Country

Are megachurches doing Vegas-style production numbers now? That’s exactly what this song feels like. Drop down the mirror ball and turn on the lasers. The music itself is dance worthy and the oft-repeated line of “let him move you” is just the sort of phrase to get a pentecostal congregation on its feet. I can see this being really popular with those dear souls who show up for church on Sunday still half-lot from Saturday night. Turn up the volume and everybody bust a move. Perhaps next they’ll install a full-service bar in place of the communion table. I’m sure that will really help attendance. You do know I’m being sarcastic, right? Please nod your head in rhythm if you understand.

Grace Got You – Mercy Me

Another dance song? I know it has been a minute since I darkened the door of a church, but the line, “You just got away with somethin’” doesn’t seem to fly with the basic tenets of Christianity. If anything, this sounds more like someone added a few extra voices to the hook of a hip-hop song. Using the word “grace” doesn’t make the song Christian any more than cracking one egg on a sidewalk makes an omelette.

Known – Tauren Wells

Known is a very pleasant pop love song. Sing it to your significant other on Valentine’s Day, it’s perfect for that. Actually, this cliché ridden song is more appropriate for a 14-year-old audience that still has fantasies about perfect love and hasn’t been jaded by being dumped via Facebook. What’s Christian about the song? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m done.

General Field

Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

Finally, and thank you for sticking in there this long, are the awards that are televised, the ones that everyone cares most about. Sure, getting any Grammy is a career booster, but getting Song of the year or Record of the year is bankable in terms of negotiating deals with record labels. It’s reasonably safe to say that all these songs have already received a great deal of airplay, have had their spot on the Billboard charts, and sold hundreds of thousands if not millions of units. Winning in one of these categories typically means another bump in sales and can help boost a winter tour. These are biggest awards on the list so let’s see what we’ve got.

I Like It – Cardi B. et, al

Cardi B has been immensely popular this year, even putting herself in the middle of some political conversations. All of her non-musical activities translates to huge sales of her songs. What’s interesting about her nomination this year is that the song isn’t an original. Instead, it’s a cover of Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 Boobaloo hit, I LIke It Like That. The original was extremely important to New York’s Latino community and the revival of the song has brought some of that excitement back, even though all the “guest” artists Cardi piles on is perhaps a bit excessive. The song is so popular that there’s even a four-second clip, and a brightly smiling Cardi, in Pepsi’s lead Superbowl ad. However, interestingly enough, it is the only nominee in the Best Record category that isn’t nominated elsewhere. That could be a sign that it doesn’t quite have what it takes to win this year.

*The Joke – Brandi Carlile

I’m still trying to figure out how this song, released in November of 2017, qualifies for this year’s awards. The song, part of a massive undertaking by Carlile and Nashville producer Dave Cobb, was the first release from the album, By The Way, I Forgive You. The rock-country aria is dedicated to those trying desperately to survive “The Joke” of American politics. The late Paul Buckmaster provides a rich string arrangement to go with the warm piano and some pretty impressive drums. The song has been out long enough that some of its original lustre may have waned but the fact that it is nominated in multiple categories all over the list is testament to how delightfully written the song is. This is a massive song with plenty of emotion and heart. There are likely to be multiple gramophones in Carlile’s hands before the night’s over.

*This Is America – Childish Gambino

This has been Donald Glover’s year in a number of different ways. After premiering the song on Saturday Night Live, views for the video shot through the roof, instantly catapulting the song up the charts. Some have called the song frightening while others call it genius. The video is loaded with metaphors and symbolism related to race and gun violence in the US, making it one of the most important records to permeate American society this year. The challenge is whether the Recording Academy as a hole is ready to give the Best Record award to a rap song. Historically, the Academy has a thing for sentimental ballads that are easily remembered and sung by a large number of people. This Is America hardly fits that requirement. This one is unique to Glover and it’s difficult to image anyone else even attempting the song. It’s downfall may be the fact that it’s too unique.

*God’s Plan – Drake

Is Drake as popular as Childish Gambino? Does it really matter? Both musicians have some rabid fans but Drake hasn’t spilled over into the mainstream this past year in the way Donald Glover has and God’s Plan isn’t as powerful a song as This Is America. In fact, the song has some significant problems. Someone set the autotune on high for this one right from the start to the point it becomes annoying after about four seconds. Add in the fact that, like many of Drake’s songs, this one is repetitive and void of any kind of melody and it’s difficult for this song to grab hold outside its base audience. Old ears like mine have difficulty with songs like this, though. When I have difficulty identifying a melody my mind shuts off rather quickly. The song may win in another category but probably not this one.

*Shallow – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga

No song on the list has received as much hype as has Shallow. The song from A Star Is Born has already won the Golden Globe for best song and the popularity has only grown. When Gaga called Cooper onstage to sing the song with her at a recent concert, the moment instantly went viral. That creates a problem for the Academy, though. Are they voting for the song itself or for all the public sentiment and popularity it has? To some degree, they need to consider both and no one will be terribly surprised if it wins. At the same time, though, The Joke is easily the stronger composition and this wouldn’t be the first time the Academy ignored other wins to go with a better song. This one could honestly go either way.

All The Stars – Kendrick Lamar with SZA

I’m not sure why this song was nominated. I’ve listened to it enough times to think that perhaps, just maybe, it’s SZA’s presence on the song that saved it from complete Grammy obscurity. Lamar’s parts are so heavily autotuned that one might wonder if the producer needed him in the studio at all. I’m more likely to believe that it is the song’s presence on the Black Panther soundtrack that provided the nomination for the song. Were this song to come along on its own, there’s no way it would be on this list.

Rockstar – Post Malone, 21 Savages

For old ears like mine, Post Malone’s Rockstar is difficult to hear. There are a couple of four-measure hooks that are repeated ad nauseum for a little over three and a half minutes. Add to that the fact that, at least from where I’m sitting, the song glorifies the very kind of toxic masculinity that we’re trying to remove from our society. With lyrics about “fuckin’ hoes and popin’ pillies,” this hardly seems like a song that sets a good example. I’m holding out for someone to give me an explanation of how the most offensive lyrics are somehow metaphors for something remotely redeemable. Anyone? Bueller? The comments are open below. Educate me.

*The Middle – Zedd, Maren Morris, & Grey

The Middle is a unique song in that one probably wouldn’t expect German producer Zedd to pair with a Country artist like Maren Morris. Trade rumors tell that Zedd went through twelve other people before settling on Maren. The song had a long road before its eventual release but all the careful attention to detail pays off with a song that has a light Pop feel to it that’s not too fast but not the typical ballad, either. This is an easy love song, the type of tune that might be playing on the radio when a young couple falls in love. As such, it’s well within the Academy’s standard modus operandi that the song could stand a chance of winning. However, given that it was released all the way back in January of last year and didn’t quite receive the same level of attention as The Joke, there’s some question as to whether enough Academy voters actually remember it.

*Boo’d Up – Ella Mai

In case you weren’t paying attention, Boo’d up was the romantic love song for the summer of 2018. There’s no way to count how many wedding receptions had this song on the playlist or how many relationships were brought together. The “different” song on Ella Mai’s EP Ready, even Mai wasn’t expecting the song to receive the response it has. Now she finds the easy R&B song nominated in multiple categories in addition to Song of the Year, something that hasn’t happened to a pure R&B ballad in more years than I can remember. Why the song is such a hit seems to baffle record producers but I am pretty certain it’s proof that solid song writing that pays attention to a singable melody can be a hit in any genre.

In My Blood – Shawn Mendez

In My Blood is one of those songs made for karaoke night when you’ve had a bad day and don’t care that you can’t actually sing. Generally speaking, I doubt there’s a Millennial in the US that can’t relate to this song on one level or another. In fact, that relatability is likely why it has done so well. There are emotions and experiences here that resonate with this generation of young adults more than any other song this season. Whether the song wins or loses the Grammy, it is still likely looking at a very long life on the karaoke circuit. What better way is there to address one’s miseries than by singing them out? Songs like this don’t always hit the very tops of the charts. With so much emotion and honesty present, it’s the kind of song one remembers throughout their life.

There you have it. I’ve done all my brain will allow me to do. The entire playlist of all the songs we’ve reviewed is below. We hope this has been enjoyable.

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Old Man Talking

We all have days where nothing seems to go as planned. Then, we have days where everything is a disaster, or at least, it feels that way while events are happening.

My disaster was more of a morning rather than an entire day, but that was enough. Faced with a number of deadlines, some self-imposed others established by external factors, I was already feeling a bit stressed when one of the kittens knocked a shot glass off the counter, causing it to break. Frustration. That was the last shot glass from that set. I cursed at the cat and cleaned up the mess.

Get the kids out the door, which is never an easy challenge, pause for a cup of coffee, then start prepping a photo that needed to ship this week to avoid higher fees. I have the frame sitting on the table, barely get the photo in the frame and the back re-secured when the same kitten decides to knock the frame off the table.

Glass shattered everywhere and I lost it. I don’t print standard sized images. Frames are difficult to find and replacement glass frequently has to be custom cut. With time already being limited, I feared that any hope of meeting the deadline, having the image hung, and any positive results that might be forthcoming, was all lying splintered across the kitchen floor. This was more than I could handle at that moment.

Kat came to my rescue. She removed me from the room, cleaned up the mess, and committed to making sure we met the deadline even though that required some scheduling sacrifice on her part. Meds followed along with several hours of much-needed sleep. By the next day, I was back to my normal, grumbly, self.

Everyone has days, moments, and events like that. We’re pressing along, stress building up often without our direct awareness, we start losing a bit of sleep, our schedule gets altered a bit, and then that one thing happens, maybe it’s significant or perhaps it’s small, but something happens that pushes us over the edge. We’re done.

Eventually, we get through the event, pick up the pieces, and move on. What often happens next, though, is a problem. Whether self-induced or externally fed, we start being bombarded by the judgment of having failed. We slipped. We weren’t strong when we needed to be strong. We were weak and being weak is unacceptable.

Regardless of their source, we fight these thoughts because of a social expectation that, as adults, we have to stay on top of things. We have to solve all the problems ourselves, we have to know the answers to every question, and we have to perform these feats of amazing emotional strength while smiling and giving off positive vibes and making sure we don’t crush anyone else’s spirits in the process.

We live in a society that does not give anyone room to fail. One slip is all it takes, one moment of foolishness, that one time where one just wasn’t thinking, and promising careers are tossed right out the window. Talent is shut down, put in a closet, refused any opportunity to apologize and continue, and blacklisted for the remainder of one’s life, all over one moment of failure.

Mind you, I’m not excusing criminal behavior. There are always consequences to our actions even when our actions were not intentional. Most of our failures, however, fall well outside the realm of criminality. We are most frequently condemned, or condemn ourselves, simply because of the fact that in that one moment we couldn’t be strong. We slipped. We cracked. How dare we?

When I talk about being weak, I’m defining the word as those moments where we allow ourselves to give up some level of control, to not be in charge, to not be the one making all the decisions, removing ourselves from any position of authority for the express purpose of not merely taking care of ourselves, but allowing someone else to assist us, allowing someone else to take the credit, giving others the chance to demonstrate what they can do. Being weak is not a position of self-pity, abdication of resolve, or complete dismissal of moral obligations. Rather, it is that position from which we can admit we don’t have answers, can find compromise on difficult issues, and where we don’t have to get our own way. Weak is the necessary balance to being strong.

As I’ve grown exceedingly older, I am finding more instances where “being strong” is not the appropriate response to an event or action. There are times when being strong is toxic, dangerous, and sometimes absolutely immoral. At the same time, being weak allows one a chance to heal, provides perspective and humility, and gives others a chance to be strong.

There’s a lot to unpack here as we tear down some popular preconceived ideas. Refill the coffee cup and let’s get started.

Being strong can be toxic

Old Man Talking

As a society, we have this misconception that being strong is an “always on” proposition. There is no “off” mode, no moment in which we are not on top of the situation and in total control. What we are doing is creating a virtual no-fly zone around our emotions so that we’re never in a position where we might be overwhelmed.

Having a handle on a situation is generally a good thing, but when we create that no-fly zone we risk being toxic not only to ourselves but to others. Sure, certain moments require that we rise above our emotions in order to achieve critical functions. If one’s house catches fire, for example, our first goal is to make sure everyone gets out safely. Call for emergency services. There’s no space in that moment to worry about saving Grandma’s 65-year-old Tupperware. One has to be strong to ensure everyone’s safety.

Once we get past that critical point, however, the need for that strong person diminishes. Crying is acceptable. Mourning all that’s lost is necessary. Worrying about what to do next is natural and aids in problem solving. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel those emotions and go through those steps of grieving, we are being toxic toward ourselves. Worse yet, if we don’t allow others to process their own feelings, especially children, we are spreading our toxicity to them.

If you’ve ever had a parent or someone else respond to an injury with the words, “just walk it off,” you’ve likely been a victim of toxic strength. We do the same thing with emotional hurts as well. “Suck it up.” “Just look for the silver lining.” “Stop being so dramatic.” Those are all examples of a strong person telling a weak person that their weakness is wrong. That kind of toxicity is damaging, especially when dumped onto children who are already battling with uncertain emotions.

None of this is to say that being strong isn’t a positive character trait in most cases. People who are strong overcome obstacles and challenges and get things done that no one ever expected them to do. Being strong can be a wonderful thing, up to a point.

Yet, what we find too often is that we take that strength too far. Because we went above and beyond under one set of circumstances, we expect ourselves to repeat that performance and we tend to expect the same if not more from others.

How do we know when our strength becomes toxic? Here are a few hints:

  • You sleep less than six hours a night because “there’s too much work to be done.”
  • You rarely take a day off and when you do you’re still doing work-related tasks rather than spending time with your family or a hobby.
  • You can’t remember the last time you had time for sex and it’s not because you don’t have a willing partner.
  • Because you put in 18 hour days you expect everyone around you to do the same.
  • You get upset when your family asks you to spend time with them.
  • You fail to acknowledge setbacks and failures, whether they’re yours or someone else’s.
  • People regularly accuse you of being too aggressive or overbearing and you don’t understand why.
  • Your “words of encouragement” make people cry.
  • You get upset when someone cries.

One can be strong without becoming toxic simply by realizing that everyone, including you, has limits that need to be respected. Sometimes our greatest feat of strength is telling ourselves to stop.

Being strong has a dangerous side

Old Man Talking

The university that I actually attended (as opposed to the one that bestowed an honorary doctorate on me) was not known as an athletic powerhouse. Our student body was divided between the pure academics and the artsy-fartsy crowd. Our school did play NAIA basketball, though, so there were a handful of athletes in the dorm, all on scholarship, all focused on doing whatever it is athletes do.

One evening, while walking down the hallway in the dorm, and only a couple of days prior to a game with a  major conference rival, I passed one of the basketball players and couldn’t help noticing he was limping rather severely. “Oh man, don’t tell me you’re out for Saturday’s game,” I said, expecting the worst.

“Nah, it’s okay,” he assured me. “Just a little banged up in practice. It’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

Saturday’s game came and went, he scored a bunch of points, no sign of a limp.

A couple of days later, though, I pass him again and notice the same limp. “Are you sure you’re okay? That limp look pretty serious.”

Again, he made what seemed to be a reasonable excuse and since I know next to nothing about the sport I let it go.

We had similar exchanges at the same point for three successive weeks. Then, just before conference finals, the sad announcement came that he had blown his knee and would be out for the rest of the season. What happened?

He was determined to be strong and carry the team through to the conference championship or further. He was so determined in that goal that he used over-the-counter pain relievers, ice packs, and topical lotions to mask the pain and keep the truth away from the team’s trainer. He swore his roommate to silence. His opinion was that he had to be strong for the team, he could address the injury during the offseason.

The injury didn’t wait for the offseason, though, and not only was he out for the rest of that season, he was unable to return the next, either. His basketball career was finished.

Persevering through hardship and fatigue is admirable right up to the point that it starts doing us harm. What your brain is telling you no longer matters when your body says to stop.

Here’s another example: Just this past week, the Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents a large number of the nation’s air traffic controllers, issued a warning that the government shutdown is putting air safety at risk because controllers are more fatigued than normal. Understand, we’re talking about one of the most overworked professions in the world. These people are strong well beyond any normal definition of the word.

Here are federal employees that are accustomed to working 88 hour weeks and now, since they’re not getting paid, they’re taking side jobs to pay the bills. If they’re taking side jobs, that means they’re getting sometimes as little as two hours’ sleep before going back to work. Representatives warn that it’s only a matter of time before someone makes a critical error, putting lives at risk.

This goes right back to that concept we were taught as children to “walk it off.” No, don’t walk it off. Stop, address the injury right now, even if it means losing a game, missing a deadline, or possibly even forfeiting a job. When one is putting their own life and/or the lives of others at risk in the name of being strong, we have a problem.

FInal example: long haul truck drivers. They have a schedule to keep. If they don’t get a load in on time, they’re the ones held accountable. These men and women are strong: nerves of steel, resolve of iron, and bladders that can hold an entire 56 ounce soda for seven hours. When bad weather or traffic puts them in danger of missing a delivery, they kick into high gear, drive longer than the legally mandated limit,and push on to make sure those strawberries are on the store shelves the next day.

Unfortunately, we’ve all seen what happens when being “strong” just isn’t enough. A driver doesn’t have to fall asleep at the wheel, just be tired enough to be distracted at the wrong moment during morning rush hour and suddenly the truck’s on its side, strawberries are everywhere, and no one’s getting to work on time. If all goes well, no one gets hurt, but too many times that’s not the case.

One’s desire to be strong should never put any life in danger. When it does, it’s time to back down.

Being strong is sometimes immoral

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Seems odd, doesn’t it, that such a sought-after character trait could be immoral? Yet, it can and there are a number of examples that you likely know by name. Here are a few:

Attila the Hun
Queen Mary I of England, aka Bloody Mary
Japanese Emperor Hirohito
Genghis Khan
Muammar Gaddafi
Roman Emperor Nero
Jim Jones (People’s Temple cult leader)
Saddam Hussein
Osama bin Laden
Idi Amin Dada
Pol Pot
Joseph Stalin
Adolf Hitler
Charles Manson

While, on one hand, we might be tempted to question the mental stability of any of these people, what is certain is that they were all committed to being strong. They each persevered and, to various degrees, triumphed in the face of direct opposition. Each pushed forward regardless of their physical condition or limitations. Every last one of them went beyond what was expected of them and some of them built great dynasties in the process. Many rose up from a place of oppression and poverty. These are people who knew how to achieve, people who set personal goals and surpassed them, and inspired others to follow them with supreme devotion. Up to a point, they are the very definition of what it means to be strong.

Then, they took it too far. The same strength that brought them to a place of leadership allowed them to commit unspeakable acts of atrocities that we hope are never repeated. The tales are legendary, but there are some facts that are undeniable.

Consider that, thanks to Hirohito, the Chinese capitol of Nanking (or Nanjing, depending on who is doing the translation) was so thoroughly devastated, hundreds of thousands killed and as many as 80,000 women raped, that 12 years later, in 1849, the capitol had to be moved to Beijing.

How do we know that building walls as a barrier to stopping determined people won’t work? Genghis Khan breached the strongest one ever built. He also went on to so thoroughly destroy both Asia and Europe that the region that was once Persia did not fully recover its population until 1959.

Pol Pot relocated a full third of the Cambodian population, put them to work in fields growing food they were not allowed to eat, and then killed them in those fields.

Understand, the immoral atrocities committed by these people and others like them require strong, charismatic people who inspire those around them to think like them, follow the ideals they set forward, and mimic their mindsets. If they had known social media, they each would have had Instagram accounts with millions of followers and would have inspired thousands of memes.

While these examples seem extreme and are, there are still plenty of people who take being strong to immoral levels. These are people who are abusive not just physically, but emotionally and verbally. These are people who are sexually aggressive, who demand complete loyalty from subordinates, and cannot tolerate not being in charge of a situation. From the outside, we may see someone who is “clawing their way to the top” of a corporate ladder, but inside they’re leaving behind a trail of ruined careers and destroyed lives as they use and abuse everyone with whom they come in contact.

One might like to think that taking being strong to such horrible levels is a rare thing, but the rate of child deaths per day in the US due to abuse and neglect has risen from 3.3 in 1998 to 4.78 in 2016.When one reaches the point where one can no longer tolerate weakness around them and see that weakness as a threat to their own strength, being strong becomes an immoral position and people get hurt.

There’s nothing wrong with being strong, mind you, inside of the parameters of improving oneself. There is a lot of good one can do by overcoming personal challenges and dominating their life situation. However, there is a significant tendency as one achieves those high levels of strength to have less tolerance for perceived weakness when actually we need weakness to provide necessary balance to our lives. There is as much power in being weak as their is in being strong when one balances both in the correct proportions.

Being weak creates an opportunity for healing

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Being strong often requires that we push ourselves beyond what we think we can do. That is a positive trait in that it helps us to achieve outside our presumed limitations. However, sometimes we push too hard and put both our bodies and our minds in positions where we need to back off and give ourselves time to heal, not merely physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

Being intentionally weak does not come easily for those who have fought so hard to be strong their entire lives. There is this fear that if we give in even for a minute that our whole house of cards may come crashing down upon us. Over time, we become so accustomed to having to be strong that we’re not even sure we know how to turn off that button.

Nature demands balance, however, so we have a choice: either we can create those moments of weakness for ourselves, or we can have them forced upon us. Having weakness forced upon us often involves the onset of disease or injury that finally reaches a critical stage because we never took the time to deal with the matter. Heart attacks, strokes, and even some forms of cancer are the ways in which our bodies force us into a position of weakness with the express purpose of creating time for us to heal.

One of the most difficult periods of my life came six years ago when I hurt my left leg while out on a rather simple photoshoot. What seemed like a minor twisted ankle became a major health event that left me in bed, on heavy medications, and frequently unable to walk without assistance. I was miserable because I couldn’t power through this situation and be strong, my body wouldn’t allow it. I would try to go and do only to find myself in bed for the next two days.

Only when I gave in to the situation and allowed myself to be weak, allowed Kat to provide some care, stopped beating myself up mentally for not being more productive, did my body begin to get better. Not that everything’s perfect, mind you. Those injuries are apparently permanent and still flair up to remind me to take a day off occasionally. Rest. Heal. Still, had I not given myself permission to be weak and heal, the situation would have become a lot worse.

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may be one of the strongest people on the planet. She has overcome bias in many different forms to become one of the most respected jurists to ever sit on the bench. Yet, over the past few years, she has continually wrestled with cancer and recently, for the first time ever, missed arguments at the court in order to recuperate from surgery. As incredibly strong a person as she is, she still had to stop for a while and let herself recuperate.

One should probably note that Justice Ginsburg’s time off was carefully scheduled so as to impact her court duties as little as possible. Taking those moments of weakness doesn’t mean we don’t fulfill our most important obligations.

What we find, though, is that when we take the time necessary to heal we are more likely to come back stronger, refreshed, more resolute, and often more creative. Allowing ourselves to be weak for a period of time aids our ability to be strong in the future. To deny ourselves these opportunities is foolish. We are much better positioned when we schedule our down times rather than having them forced upon us.

Being weak provides perspective and humility

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I bristle when political opponents criticize a world leader for taking a vacation. There is no one who needs scheduled down time more than the people responsible for the safety and prosperity of their country. Only those who have been in those positions can fully understand and appreciate the immense pressure heads of state are under every hour of every day. Without those breaks in their official duties, heads of state risk becoming incapacitated mentally and emotionally.

Perhaps even more critical is that leaders who don’t step away from their capital on occasion risk losing perspective. All the polling in the world doesn’t replace actually putting oneself in the position of those they govern. That hardline dip into reality, experiencing life without the trappings of power, is what establishes the difference between compassionate and responsive governments who care about their constituents versus authoritarian regimes that care only about maintaining power.

Finding success in being strong can set up an incredible head game. There are stages of life where being strong is a matter of survival. We do what we have to do to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. When our strength finally takes us to the point we’re not necessarily living hand-to-mouth, our natural reaction is to want to expand that success and we push harder to make ourselves stronger. As success grows upon success, we become afraid to push the pause button for fear we might lose some of what we’ve fought so hard to accomplish.

What happens, though, in this head-strong push to succeed is that we often lose a sense of perspective and objectivity. We see the potential for improvement, either in terms of financial gain or professional independence, and we don’t fully consider the consequences of our actions, or whether the move we’re about to make is everything it claims to be.

One place I see this loss of perspective most often is among those entrepreneurial folks who work from home. These people have to be incredibly strong because they don’t have the corporate structure around them to absorb any mistakes they might make. Everything is on their back, from filing taxes to meeting industry standards to addressing safety concerns. Working from home, being one’s own boss, requires significant sustained strength to avoid failure. So, when an opportunity comes along that shows significant promise, we tend to charge after it, choosing to believe the superficial information presented rather than digging in and doing full due diligence. After all, we don’t have a whole third floor full of people to do that research for us. If we don’t make a decision firmly and quickly, the opportunity may be gone. “Be strong and reach for that brass ring” is a mantra I often hear among the self-employed.

Unfortunately, that pressure to succeed opens us to make mistakes. Many become aligned with people and ventures that do not have one’s best interest at heart. People who are focused on being strong are also, rather surprisingly, most often the most easily deceived by others who appear to be equally strong.

A frequent example is multi-level marketing opportunities such as LuLaRoe. The opportunity, if one is strong and aggressive in their sales manner, is for significant growth over a relatively short period of time. For many female entrepreneurs especially, the clothing company seemed like a sure thing and those who got in early saw tremendous returns on their efforts.

Operating a legal multi-level marketing company is difficult, though. Too often, claims are not what they appear, reality differs greatly from perception, and a legitimate business model easily slips into illegal territory. When that happens, companies experience what LuLaRoe did this past week when the Washington state Attorney General filed suit against LuLaRoe for being an illegal pyramid scheme. Should the state of Washington be successful in their suit, thousands of downline entrepreneurs stand to lose their entire retail business because their perspective did not allow them to see the inherent dangers.

Failure, especially in business, is perhaps when we are at our weakest. However, that perspective is what makes us better able to succeed with our next venture. From that position of weakness, we have the opportunity to see the business landscape more clearly, more objectively. From the position of weakness, we are more likely to discern the flaws and how to correct them. In that moment of weakness, we are more likely to see through the lies, more likely to complete due diligence, and less likely to make the same errors again.

Failure can also be incredibly humbling, especially if there is a public face to our transition from perceived strength to weakness. There is a dominant temptation as our strength leads us to some measure of success to self-elevate our social stature whether that elevation is actually deserved or not. Self-assuredness, after all, is a strong and necessary trait. One has to be confident in who they are.

Being strong doesn’t make one better than anyone else, however, and nothing drives that point home like being forced involuntarily into a moment of weakness. As our perspective changes, so, hopefully, does any inflated sense of self-importance. A good dose of humility helps us to see where our aggressiveness might have hurt or inappropriately offended others. We also are likely to realize from this position that there are limits to our abilities and places where we lose strength by insisting on doing everything ourselves. A good dose of humility helps ground us as we move forward and allows us to maintain a more realistic perspective.

Being weak allows others a chance to be strong

Old Man Talking

One of the most difficult things for strong-minded people to do is ask for help no matter how seriously they may need it. Asking for help requires relinquishing some level of control, admitting that one cannot do everything, and taking on a position of weakness at least within a specified area.

I see this issue a lot with entrepreneurial clients. On one hand, they come asking for advice and in doing so often reveal their position of weakness. Yet, they are reluctant to actually let me help them. Instead, they prefer instruction on how to do it themselves. To some degree, they hope that by maintaining a strong position they can save on start-up and operating costs. What they don’t see, however, is that in their stubbornness they’re making errors that could easily doom their new business before it ever gets off the ground. The stronger decision is to admit where one is weak and let someone else step up and address that specific area.

While one strong person can achieve a lot, multiple strong people working together can achieve tremendously more. However, many people’s strength remains hidden because those in charge never provide them the opportunity to demonstrate that strength. By admitting that we are weak, especially in specific areas of expertise, we allow others to demonstrate their strength and thereby make the entire organization stronger.

The same theory applies on a personal level. Take household chores as an example. In many homes, one person does the bulk of the work because they’re the strong person whose perception often is that if they don’t do something the task isn’t going to be completed. Those opinions are often based on a certain level of experience that supports their perspective.

When we take a step back though, and from a position of weakness let it be known we can no longer complete certain household chores, we might be surprised to find one child has a gift for organizing space and that another has the perfect mindset for accomplishing detailed cleaning. Someone in the household might be a whiz at doing laundry and might actually find the chore relaxing (yes, those people do exist) but one can never discover those traits in others when they’re determined to do everything for themselves.

Allowing someone else to develop their own strength is challenging because one ultimately has to back completely away and take the weak position in order for them to succeed. For someone who is inherently strong, this effort is a tremendous test of one’s resolve. We want to step in, fix mistakes, do things more efficiently, rather than letting someone learn and develop their own style. Yet, this is the only way any business or other effort becomes sustainable.

My mother was at her best in the kitchen. She had learned from her mother and her grandmother and had recipes memorized to the point that much of the time muscle memory took over, allowing her to do things like grade papers while preparing a fantastic dinner. She rocked at cooking.

Then, I came along and burned the poached eggs. I was seven years old at the time and had decided that, early one Saturday morning, I would fix my own breakfast rather than waiting for my parents to get up. I had watched Mother poach eggs multiple times so I thought I had the steps down pat. My error was that I had never seen her add water to the poacher. There was smoke. Mother came rushing from their bedroom. The eggs were burned. At that moment, however, she realized the need to not only teach me to cook but give me the space to develop that skill on my own.

Eventually, as arthritis made it increasingly difficult for her to handle the heavy cast iron skillet or large pans full of boiling liquid, Mom’s ability to step back and let me help became increasingly necessary. As time has passed, I now find myself in the same position as my mother, needing to step back and allow little ones the chance to develop their own cooking skills. This is how we sustain the skills necessary to take care of ourselves. The fact that so many young adults don’t have those basic skills speaks to the difficulty their parents had in exhibiting any level of weakness so their children’s skills could develop.

Giving up control isn’t easy and letting someone else take over may mean mistakes are made that we have to go back and fix. Yet, that weakness on our part is absolutely necessary for society to continue to function in an adequate manner. We must give others space to become strong on their own.

Bringing Power To Weakness

Old Man Talking

When we insist on being strong all the time we inevitably build walls around us that ultimately do us harm. We not only lose perspective but we also lose our foundation as people assume we don’t need their help, that we are weathering storms on our own just fine.

We can insist on being the strong one so long that it eventually kills us. We close ourselves off from our emotions in the name of self-preservation. We distance ourselves from others so that they can’t see the cracks in our armor. We often become secretive because we fear someone might discover that we’re not as capable as we claim.

When we embrace a position of weakness, some amazing and powerful things can happen. Honesty, transparency, and openness begin to flourish. We begin drawing people to us who are complementary rather than adversarial. As we allow our weakness to let more people into our lives we become open to people who give rather than consistently take. We no longer feel that we have to maintain a constant attitude of defensiveness. We can relax. We can smile.

When we work from this position of weakness, knowing that we cannot do everything ourselves, admitting there are things we don’t know, we allow people to grow and evolve and learn along with us. The journey on which we travel begins to feel less like a solitary trek through the wilderness and more like a joyful adventure with friends.

There is power in numbers and the larger the numbers the greater the power but to achieve the numbers means we cannot be the strong one all the time. We have to embrace our weakness and in so doing we turn that weakness into power, creating an advantage that the solitary person cannot achieve no matter how strong they are.

Weakness also allows us to feel pain, to deal with sadness and grief effectively rather than trying to power through everything. Here, too, there is power as we allow ourselves to be embraced by those who truly care, hugged by those whose only desire is to hold us up. When we deal with our emotions honestly rather than stuffing them until “a better time,” we end up stronger because we don’t make that journey alone We come out the other side with a network of support and caring that lifts us up and provides us with a safe place to fall apart.

For all the memes littering the Internet telling us to be strong and courageous and bold and brave, we still need space to let ourselves be weak and cautious and reluctant and vulnerable. Yes, there are times when circumstances dictate that we push forward and power through, but on the backside of all those events are moments when we need to back off, reflect, gain perspective, and let someone else lead the charge forward.

Knowing how to be weak is not a negative character trait. Rather, it is the ability to embrace our weakness that makes us strong. In our weakness, we build a foundation of honesty, integrity, and openness. There is success, love, peacefulness, and happiness found in the balance of strength with weakness. We are never complete without both.

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Old Man Talking

Of all the music one hears in their life, what would you want to be the last song you hear before you die?

Normally I wouldn’t say anything but given how emotionally challenging it was to write this article, I feel it only fair to warn those sensitive to end-of-life topics that portions of this article could trigger related anxieties. Please use your best judgment in continuing.

This article contains several links with useful information related to the subject. Don’t be afraid to click on them and examine the information for yourself.

When a thought is put out into the universe on the scale of an article in The Washington Post one has to assume that there are a lot of people meant to receive that message. One can only speculate as to why so many people need that message at that particular time, especially when the topic isn’t one of national concern, such as the president losing the launch codes or some similar disaster. When the message strikes at a more personal level, one finds it difficult to ask the universe what’s about to happen for so many people to need that thought right now.

Such was the case when the Post published this opinion piece recently by Dr. Mark Taubert. Dr. Taubert specializes in palliative medicine in Britain. He’s the one who looks for the best way to make a patient comfortable when curing their disease is no longer an option. For many, he’s the last doctor one sees before death. Sounds like a cheery job, doesn’t it?

Dr. Taubert wrote the article after walking into the room of a dying patient whose family was playing Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” Dr. Taubert found the selection amusing, given the cheerful disposition of the music juxtaposed against the gravity of the inevitable end-of-life event. He quite nicely, and in fewer words than I tend to use, spoke of how our brain functions shift as we are in the process of dying, allowing our auditory system to receive a higher level of energy while other portions of our body, and our brain, are shutting down. He makes a case for making one’s wishes known in advance should our own families be faced with similar circumstances.

Articles like this tend to come off as rather morbid. No one likes to think of the inevitability of death, even though doing so is one of the most responsible and compassionate things one can do. With all the other negatively-toned news the Post has to published, I can’t help but wonder why the paper chose to publish this article at all, and especially right at this particular moment. A brief op-ed like this seems like perfect fodder for an online publication that needs something to fill space on a Tuesday, not valuable column inches in the Sunday edition.

I don’t believe accidents just “happen” anywhere in the universe. The implosion of a star millions of light years away creates a massive amount of energy that expands throughout the galaxy for eons, affecting everything it touches. If the op-ed team at the Post was convinced this was a good article to publish at this exact moment, I have to believe that a lot of people need to consider this situation right now, including me.

Before delving into the issue of trying to unravel which song I want to hear last, though, we need to consider the issues surrounding chronic and terminal illness as well as the manner in which one dies. Yes, these are challenging conversations to have but, again, we are at our most responsible when we tackle these issues before they become necessary. After making a will, discussing and planning our end-of-life care is one of the most important things we can do for our families. As for choosing a final song, well, that may be the most difficult aspect of all.

Planning For The Longest Life Possible

The Last Song I Ever Hear -- Old Man Talking

Everyone dies. We understand that. We don’t necessarily like to think about it, but it inevitably happens. If we’re fortunate, by the time we get to that stage in our existence we’ve lived a full life and are ready to pass peacefully. Certainly, not everyone gets that opportunity and we are more than aware of situations where lives ended without any warning. The amount of planning we can do for sudden death is limited to having a will and a pre-paid service plan of some form (I’ll discuss those later). However, for the greater majority of people, death is something we at least get a hint at. There’s no good reason to not give the matter some serious thought.

Let’s look at the facts for a minute. Those of us living in the United States have a reasonably long life expectancy, despite the numbers having shrunken slightly in the past couple of years. Most women can expect to live well into their 80s and most men into their mid-70s. Yes, death is sexist if one goes strictly by the numbers. Still, compared to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, we likely have a lot of life ahead of us. Few people are terribly surprised to hear of someone reaching the century mark in life. As medicine continues to develop ways for us to maintain a relatively decent quality of life, more of us may live to be 110 or even 120.

However, living a long time doesn’t necessary mean that we’re all that healthy.  

Roughly 65% of all deaths in the US are due to some form of chronic illness. I know, you thought I was going to say heart disease. Heart disease, cancer, lung disease, sepsis, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, COPD, and HIV are all among the rather long list of chronic diseases that ultimately prove fatal for those who have them. Those numbers skyrocket when one adds developing countries into the mix.

The thing about living with a chronic illness is that one can’t always predict how quickly it’s going to do its dirty deed. When caught early and treated correctly by a professional (don’t even talk to me about “holistic” cures), their effect can be minimized and one can enjoy a quality life for a very long time. Yet, one has to live with the knowledge that at any given moment something unseen and unsuspected can trigger a rapid advancement of the disease, bringing one to a critical state literally in the blink of an eye.

Whether it happens quickly or over the long term, we eventually get to that point where we’re no longer ambulatory, our quality of life declines, and our disease becomes terminal. Still, we might live several more years. My paternal grandfather lived almost 14 years past his doctor’s initial diagnosis. My father, unfortunately, was not so lucky and passed within a matter of months. Either way, death is more likely to take us slowly, over days, weeks, or months, rather than suddenly and unexpected.

Given such inevitability, it makes much more sense to plan not only for our eventual demise but for whatever term of palliative and hospice care one might need in the final period. Again, yes, I understand this is not a fun conversation, but it is a necessary one.

Giving Some Dignity To Death

The last song I ever hear -- Old Man Talking

The call came late in the afternoon, December 1, 2002. I was sitting in my downstairs office at home. The day was cloudy, the temperatures relatively cool for North Georgia. I don’t remember exactly what else had my attention, but I was waiting for this call. There was no hesitation in answering when the phone rang.

My father had started chemotherapy that morning. Weeks of radiation had failed to reduce the size of the tumor growing on the left side of his head. The hope, presented to my father as cheerfully as possible, was that the chemotherapy would kill the tumor and that surgery might be possible afterward. That wasn’t the way things turned out.

Mother was sobbing as she relayed the news. Poppa had responded negatively to the treatment and had almost died on the table. The doctor would not be making another attempt. Poppa’s situation was now terminal.

Instead of killing the tumor, the attempt at chemotherapy seemed to invigorate the damn thing. While we had already made a trip to Oklahoma earlier that year, we hastily made plans to be back there for the holidays, knowing that they would be my father’s last. We talked with the boys, attempted to prepare them for what was coming, but the truth is that we were all caught off guard. We had not planned at all for this scenario.

Unfortunately, we are not alone in being caught off guard. Of the millions of deaths that occur due to chronic illness, the number of families prepared to handle the challenges of long-term end-of-life care are few. Think you can handle some numbers? Here are some of the statistics most pertinent to our conversation:

  • Over eight million people annually receive support from a long-term care service: home health agencies, nursing facilities, hospices, residential care communities, and adult day service centers.
  • As of 2015 (the last year for which accurate numbers are available) 12 million Americans needed some form of long-term care (longer than six months).
  • 69% of persons over the age of 65 develop disabilities before they die. One fifth of those will incur over $25,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
  • The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that approximately 65 million family and informal (non licensed) caregivers provide for an elderly family member.
  • A national survey conducted by Myers Research Institute shows that the majority of assisted living facilities discharge residents whose cognitive abilities reach moderate to advanced stages. This often limits the patient’s ability to find suitable care outside a nursing home.

Now, how many people actually want to spend their last days in a nursing home? Not many. While the conditions of many nursing facilities has dramatically improved over the past 20 years, the greater majority of people would much rather live out their final days in their own home surrounded by faces they know (or once knew in the case of dementia patients). In fact, in 1999, the Supreme Court of the United States confirmed the right to receive care “within the community” as opposed to an institution whenever such care does not diminish the patient’s quality of life.

“Dying with dignity” is a phrase we often heat associated with arguments for selected life termination in the event of terminal diagnosis. However, that phrase should also be applied to that term leading up to one’s end of life. While how we die is an important conversation for some, the manner in which we live our final years, weeks, or days is important for everyone. If we want to preserve the dignity of our life, then we need to plan for that eventuality and discuss those plans with our loved ones.

Otherwise, families are too often left in a lurch, told they need to provide care for a loved one and having no substantive idea of who to call or where to turn. Siblings squabble, families splinter, and meanwhile the patient’s quality of life is reduced to the point where significant time is shaved off their life simply because no one knows what to do. In worst case scenarios, the government steps in, minimal care is provided, and any dignity that was left is lost.

Facing Our Fears With Peaceful Determination

The last song I ever hear -- Old Man Talking

My father’s last words to me were, “I love you, son. Take care of your mother. Tell those boys how much I love them.” His physical pain in those final hours was so severe that no amount of morphine was sufficient. Seeing tears roll down his face broke my heart. He did not look forward to death because, as always, he was concerned about his family more than himself. He did not fear death, though. He knew that everything surrounding the next step was secure. He was confident in his faith and in the knowledge that Mom would not have to worry.

I have never understood why we fear death so much that we are unable to discuss it intelligently and plan for its inevitability. For people of faith, so very much of the music and rhetoric that dominates religious services revolves around the promises of what comes after this life. Christians, especially, have whole volumes of hymns such as “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” “The Old Ship of Zion,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.,” all of which celebrate moving on beyond this life. For those agnostic or atheist, the end of this life is simply a transfer of our energy back into the cosmos. Allowing mythologies and old tales to subdue us with fear regarding death is something that has never made sense to me.

What I do understand, however, is Poppa’s desire to take care of his family, especially Mother. Most people (there are always ornery exceptions) don’t want their passing, or their end-of-life care to cause unnecessary burden or trouble for their family. My maternal grandfather lived with us off and on for several years and it always bothered him when any aspect of our lives, no matter how trivial, required adjusting to make sure he had the care he needed. While I tease my boys that I plan on hanging around and embarrassing them until I’m 150, the reality is that I hope they never have to worry about any aspect of my care. Love leads us to make our transition from this life as peaceful as possible for everyone, not just ourselves.

Achieving that goal, however, requires some determination and planning in three general areas that one can never address too early in life. When one considers the possibility that a stroke or accident or unexpected disease may leave us without the ability to participate in our care planning when we need it, the assurance that those possibilities have already been addressed allows us to live our entire lives with a greater level of peace.

There are three areas of planning one needs to address.

Financial Readiness

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the population can be divided into two groups when it comes to financial planning: those who do and those who don’t. I’m in the latter group. Not that I didn’t try, but when one’s income is inconsistent, as it is not only for most creatives or anyone who is self-employed or a serial entrepreneur, the consistent contributions necessary for intelligent financial planning are not always there.

Planning early is the advice financial planners always give, but in an economy that emphasises experiences over savings that often doesn’t happen. When we do realize we need to plan, somewhere past age 40, we start realizing that we’ve already missed out on a lot of options that would benefit us. Past the age of 45, a number of insurance options grow considerably more expensive and if one has a pre-existing condition or four, as many of us have, the best life insurance policies are often out of our reach.

There are a couple of necessary steps to take regardless of one’s circumstances. First, know what the costs are in your area. The Genworth Long Term Care Survey is a helpful resource that breaks down costs for one’s general region. This is helpful when one is considering their options.

Second, get some help. This is tough for a lot of us. Admitting that we need help planning for our final years feels fatalistic, as though we’re already giving up. We’re not. Asking for help is a move that makes us stronger. AARP has a number of suggestions (no big surprise there). However, what might make more sense is consulting a local palliative care provider who offers a full range of services. They often have financial planners on staff or can put one in contact with social workers who are aware of the full range of financial options.  Know that Medicare does not pay for what they call “custodial care,” so one is likely to need other options.

Long-Term Care Preparation

How does one plan for something when they don’t know exactly what they’re going to need or when they’re going to need it? Again, there are two critical steps that we have to consider. The first can be done to a certain extent online: know what options are available. Most palliative care companies have websites that detail the various services available. Interestingly enough, the VA website does a good job of covering a great many of the options, though I certainly wouldn’t recommend going through the VA to exercise any of those options.

The second step is a little more involved: deciding what you want. This is challenging because as we sit here right at this moment I know I’m not sure exactly what I want. I know I don’t want to be a burden on Kat or any of my boys. At the same time, I’m far to grumpy an old man to tolerate being in a facility as long as there are other options.

Earlier this week, I took a moment to watch the Netflix movie, The Last Laugh, with Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfuss, and Andie MacDowell. While the movie itself had a number of inaccuracies that bugged me, what it drove home for me was that very few of us want to be “put up” somewhere. We’d much rather remain active even if it means doing something out of character, like driving across country on a comedy tour or posing nude for an art sculpture. Another important point, however, is the need to communicate our desires with our families.

We’re not as likely to get what we want in our final years if no one knows what we want, and I mean in excruciating detail, such as wanting to have a hound dog by my side no matter what, and what might happen if a caregiver ever comes at me with gazpacho. I’ve never understood the point of cold soup.

Sure, we want to consider what happens when we reach that point where we can’t get out of bed unassisted or its no longer safe to make our own coffee. We also need to communicate what we want prior to that point as well. If we don’t want to look at latter life planning as a fatalistic exercise, we should make it clear exactly how we want to live.

FInally, it is important that we have someone we can trust who has some form of power of attorney. At any point where we are unable to communicate for ourselves for any reason, we need to know who has our back and that they’re going to respect our plans and wishes. There are various forms of Power of Attorney, so talk with a social worker or legal expert to determine which works best for you and then choose carefully.

End-Of-Life Planning

Finally, let’s deal with the inevitable. Talk about it, plan for it, and then don’t worry about it. No, this isn’t going to be a fun conversation no matter when it occurs. However, here’s what I do know: it’s a lot easier to make those decisions now than leaving them to a grief-stricken family. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Coming from the background I do, where not only did Poppa officiate at a number of funerals but family members owned funeral homes and I even worked in a couple during college, I am extremely well versed in how the family that seemed to be holding it together during one’s decline falls completely apart in all the worst ways after one is actually gone. Trust me, leaving your end-of-life planning to the grief-stricken is not advisable.

I no longer have any family members (that I know) still involved in the funeral business, so I reached out to Chris Highsmith, a former classmate who now owns Burckhalter-Highsmith Funeral Home in Vinita, Oklahoma. I wanted to know if prepaid, pre-planned funeral services were still available. They are, and I want to encourage people to consider this option no matter what other financial options they might have at their disposal.

Both my parents had prepaid plans that they had purchased when my brother and I were still very young. I cannot begin to express how much of a relief that was when they passed. When Poppa died, all Mother had to do was sign papers ordering the sufficient number of death certificates and deliver the suit in which Poppa would be buried. Perhaps even more critical, though, was when Mother passed six months later. Her death was sudden and unexpected. There was no emotional planning. Still, my brother and I walked into the funeral home and were immediately assured that everything was in place. We only had to provide her clothes.

Again, we are a unique family. The funeral director we were using was a family friend with whom we had worked for years. What I didn’t know, however, if plans such as the ones my parents had were still available for purchase. There had been talk in the late 80s and 90s of discontinuing those options due to a lack of interest on the investment.

Chris assured me of two important things: A number of funeral homes still offer the service, and yes, they are transferable. Just this past week, Chris was fulfilling a prepaid plan that had originated in California in 2002. This is important as many of us don’t know exactly where we’ll be when we pass. I’m still holding out for eventually moving to the West Coast. There are plenty of people who have dreams of spending their final years somewhere warm. That doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead and plan for this final event.

Do this. If the thought of going to a funeral home creeps you out, a number of funeral service providers, including Chris’, provide pre-planning forms on their websites. Let me encourage you, though, to develop a relationship with a funeral director. They really are wonderful people, often with the best sense of humor. In my opinion, this is just as important as having a will. Define exactly what you want and get that emotional challenge out of the way. Once it’s done, communicate to someone where those plans are and then proceed to live the rest of your life with all the bliss one can muster.

Listening To The Music

The Last Song I Ever Hear -- Old Man Talking

Now that we’ve gotten all the necessary planning out of the way, let’s get back to talking about music. Specifically, the music we want dominating the latter part of our lives. This is important on a number of levels.

First of all, for the vast majority of our lives music has played a role in all the important events we’ve experienced. We remember the song playing when we first fell in love, that song that just clicked at the first concert we attended, and the song we found comforting when we were really, really sad. We jam to music while driving, while working, and while at the gy. When music has played such an important part in all the rest of our lives it is silly to not include it in our end-of-life planning.

Secondly, there is increasing evidence that music has a positive effect on our health as we age. As I talked about palliative care with a friend who recently lost her father after a prolonged illness, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of his care providers would routinely bring her guitar and not only play music he knew but facilitated his participation, even if it was just tapping on a tambourine. Music helps us focus, at least for a while, on something other than the pain and loss of function that one often experiences in those last months of life.

Third, hearing is one of the last functions we lose before we die. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that as other body functions begin to fail our hearing is actually enhanced, making it all that much more important that the sound around us be carefully considered. Would one rather here the beep-beep-beep of life monitors counting down our final heart beats or something that makes us smile as we remember the heart beats we’ve already enjoyed?

What we don’t want is some random selection of songs that hold no meaning for us. I have a broad and varied taste in music but if someone thinks I’m going to tolerate a playlist of “golden oldies” from the 1950s, they are sadly mistaken. When I reach that point where I could “go at any time,” I better not be hearing strains of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” as I take my final breaths. So help me, I’ll come back and haunt someone if that happens.

Fortunately, we live in an amazing time where we don’t have to rely on our advice to family members or caregivers. We can create our own playlists of songs that actually have meaning to us, music that leaves us happy as we contemplate taking our final breath. There are plenty of ways of doing that, from putting songs on a flash drive to creating a playlist on one’s favorite streaming service. With just a little work we can rest easy knowing that some toneless contemporary drivel is not going to be stuck in our ears for eternity.

Mind you, we’re not talking about the music played at one’s funeral service. While there may be some overlap, the music at a memorial service is not for us but for the people who are left. This is a selfish moment. To hell with what anyone else wants to hear. Let this be your own playlist. No judgement allowed.

Sorting Through A Lifetime of Favorites

The Last Song I Ever Hear -- Old Man Talking

Of course, the moment one sits down to distill a lifetime of music memories into a handful of final choices, we begin to realize just how much music we’ve enjoyed over a lifetime. We also are likely to realize how much our tastes have changed. There are some songs that we thoroughly enjoyed in our teen years that we might not be able to stand now. How does one curate this final list so that it’s not 24 years long?

I cannot provide all the answers for you. Not everyone has complicated music tastes. I have a good friend who has been a country music radio DJ for over 40 years. His playlist is likely to be pretty straightforward. Mine, on the other hand, is all over the place. To help you narrow down your choices, here’s how I constructed my list.

  • Five songs from my earliest memories. For me, these are all gospel songs with a heavy tendency toward traditional spirituals such as Mahalia Jackson’s “Great Gettin’ Up Morning,” and Ethel Waters’ “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” Popular music was all but nonexistent when I was little so even though my belief system is dramatically different from my parents, these songs still tug at my heart and provide a sense of warmth and comfort.
  • Five songs from when I first started choosing my own music. I received my first transistor radio in the summer of 1968. Oh, but the wonderful songs I suddenly discovered! The best part was that it came with an earpiece so I didn’t have to divulge to my parents the rebellious sound choices I was making. Songs from this period include Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” Peter, Paul, and Mary’s take on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and, perhaps somewhat inexplicably, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel.” The line “What goes up must come down” is something I will always hear sung in my head and if one isn’t careful I must just get up out of my deathbed and dance to that one. The memories I have of that summer are still as fresh as any.
  • Five songs my early teens. That period between ages 12-14 isn’t especially long, but they are extremely influential and for many people accompany a lot of “firsts,” such as the first love or first kiss. For me, however, my parents’ influence was especially strong during this period. Living in extreme northeastern Oklahoma, it was only country music on the radio (FM radio was just getting started) and most of the opportunities I had for experiencing live music involved the church, particularly the resurgence of gospel quartets. This has stuck with me forever. I love the harmonies and the passion found in this music, even if I don’t agree with their precepts. All the artists from this period are gone now, but I’ll never forget watching Rosie Rosell sing “Oh What A Savior” or George Younce stepping into “This Old House.” I have a ten-hour playlist filled with this music and it’s still my go-to specifically when I’m editing nude photographs. Don’t judge me.
  • Five songs I will always want to hear one last time. Okay, calling this section of the playlist “songs” is a bit of an understatement. This is the music from my formal education in the field, the pieces that I’ve either played or conducted at significant points in my schooling. These five pieces alone are well over an hour in length. Sorry, not sorry. These are masterworks and, so help me, if there’s an ounce of muscle control left, my arms are coming up and my hands are going to move through all five. I also have to be very specific here, though. I was trying to explain this to Kat and she looked at me as though I am crazy. Not every classical recording is the same. If I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto in b-minor, it had damn well better be Van Cliburn at the piano or I’m likely to throw something. Similarly, if I hear some thin-toned rendition of the “Choral” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, know that I will get out of my bed, no matter how close to death I might be, and beat someone with the nearest baton-looking instrument I can find. The 1964 Decca recording with Leopold Stokowski conducting is pretty much the only one I find acceptable. The double bass sound is too thin on everything else.
  • Five songs from my mid-late teens. Yeah, we’re skipping straight over the disco years. I don’t need that in my ears. There were some classic songs from this era, though, and this was probably the era most difficult to narrow down to only five songs. The various playlists I have from this period would take three full days to get through if we played them non-stop. I narrowed down my choices, though, by thinking which ones would likely have the greatest meaning for me as I lie in bed wondering if my next breath might be my last. Morbid, yes, but effective. The five I ultimately chose are songs that would, in one way or another, be fitting were I to die while they are playing. If given a choice, I’d rather “Listen To The Music” be the last thing I hear, though “Dust in the Wind” is also totally appropriate. Any of these five are fine, thank you. Not that I’ll remember, or be able to communicate my appreciation, but those who know me best will appreciate the significance.

Why have I not chosen anything from later in life? Because, let’s face it, music from the late 70s-early 80s was the best. There’s a reason these songs are still popular even in contemporary culture. By the time we made it to the 90s too much of the music was being over-produced, digitally influenced, and in many cases just plain horrible. Why would I want to listen to anything when I’m dying that I don’t listen to while I’m alive?

Sure, I try to keep up with contemporary music and there are artists like Jon Batiste and Kendra Foster whose talent I greatly respect. I need to be awake and have my cognitive abilities in tact, however, to appreciate their music. While I enjoy what they’re doing, their music has not had the opportunity yet to attach to my soul.

One of the benefits of advance planning, however, is that we can always change things. If I live another 30 years (or 60) then I’m likely to revise the playlist, adding another section of music that speaks to me now. Planning ahead doesn’t mean that we can’t change things if our circumstances change.

What we have to realize is that we don’t have control over everything that happens to us. While we may live very long and active lives, and I certainly hope we all do, there is also the very real chance that one might suddenly find themselves with limited functionality, their body unable to fulfill all the tasks we expect from it. It is against that inevitability that we make these plans now.

I have absolutely no idea why the universe put this topic into the cosmic conversation at this particular time. As I’ve done research this week, I’ve come to appreciate the wealth of options that are available on every level. We who are past the age of dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse are surrounded by opportunities to remain active and vital participants in society even past the point of being fully ambulatory.

What I cannot over-emphasize is that we need to plan and make these decisions for ourselves and then fully communicate these decisions to our loved ones. How we spend our final years, months, and days should not be matters of hastily made decisions put off until the last minute. We control our quality of life for our entire life when we plan now.

Here’s my final playlist, for now. Listen if you like. More importantly, make your own. Let the last song you ever hear one that you can carry with you into eternity.

All images included in this article are the copyrighted property of charles i. letbetter and cannot be used elsewhere without express written consent.

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