When you witness others fail

I’ll admit it. I’ve had times when I enjoyed watching another person fall short. It’s not that I am an evil person; I just feel like people should get what they deserve. And what they deserve, is a swift hand of punishment for their crimes. Crimes against me or someone else, of course. Like justice has been served, right? Who says that this person should have everything that he wants? Why not me? Those are the initial thoughts and feelings I may have, depending on the situation. Sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does.

And I’m also sure that in those fleeting moments, you find two very distinct voices crying out from the inside. The first one says something like this: “Yes, he finally got what was coming to him. Bout time too. Now I can get back to feeling better about myself.” While the other voice says something like this: “Why would you even think that? Imagine what he is going through or if that were you. How might others react if that had been your failure?”

Well, what we have here are two very different responses to a singular event. Let’s take a closer look.

Indeed, a question of character is raised depending on which of these voices you hear first. Moreover, which of these voices is more audible to you is also of concern. Why? Well, think of it this way: what we feed, ultimately grows. And what grows, beckons more attention so it can continue to grow. So if you’re always indulging in voice number one, then you are continuously reinforcing a concept that people get what’s coming to them. And to take this one step further, that you alone are a proper judge as it pertains to proper punishment. Yikes. God complex, anyone? But, if you are feeding voice number two, then your immediate reaction is not so self-serving. And it’s not as cynical either. Heck, it may make life more manageable too. What a thought, eh?

So which sounds more appealing? I’m sure that most people would agree with the second option. It’s a “win-win” for all parties involved, but it’s also that much harder to do. Why? Because inwardly, we can hide our intentions towards others. We can witness someone falter and keep our hidden agendas to ourselves. We aren’t required to parade around with our inner thoughts plastered to our foreheads (what a thought though!) – so we can “fake” it, if you will. There is certainly a fear of being exposed, but that fear is discarded since we know that no one else can see what we see. And what we see are our truest of intentions. Kept for us, and only us.

This appears to be the safest route, but it’s actually the most treacherous. What we keep hidden remains close to our hearts and what remains close to our hearts eventually dictates all other facets of our life. In a way, we slowly destroy relationships with others just because of a little jealousy. If I’m really honest with myself, I can say that I feel that way at times. But wouldn’t it be such a relief to not have those secret agendas? To not be worried about who you gossiped to about who? I, for one, would love to experience that daily if I could. I know people who can’t wait to share the latest news on someone else’s problems. I’m sure you know of some yourself. And they burst like a flooded dam when they’ve got the “goods” on somebody. Why though? What did this other person do to deserve such ill favor from someone? The failure alone is usually harsh enough, isn’t it?

So why not kill that self-righteous monster before it rears its ugly head? Sounds idealistic, right? As in, “it can’t be done.” Sure, of course it sounds daunting, but it’s an idea that everyone would admit to wanting while few will admit to trying. So once again, why not try it? It’s something that warrants our collective attention. Internally, externally, and all the way through.

Into the funnel I go….

For as much as I razz on social media, one would think that I despise the concept altogether. That I believe it’s some terrible, horrible thing meant only to destroy socially acceptable behavior. Well, part of that may have some truth in it, but I don’t hate social media in its entirety. For instance, without social media I wouldn’t have this blog at all. And I’m sure other folks out there wouldn’t be able to connect with people they otherwise would never have met (for good or bad). So there is certainly some good things to be had in the realm of social media.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve recently decided to begin a “funnel” experiment with social media. In other words, I’m attempting to centralize my efforts. A single point of origin for the majority of my work and what I’m up to. And it’s starting with this blog.

After I finished my last post, I realized how much cyberspace I was already occupying: Facebook (personal and otherwise), Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, among others. This was all done in order to keep people from using my name or any of my ideas. I know, sounds narcissistic, doesn’t it? But from a business standpoint, this would make the most sense, would it not? You know – get the real estate before someone else moves in on your turf? Well, that may also be elaborate cover for my own paranoia but that’s what I was up to – making certain that nobody else could get the “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Thoughts…” pages whilst creating groups, links, and other various sites that could house the project. After a year of flirting with this, getting distracted, and tossing around failed ideas, I’ve decided that it’s best to minimize the effort. All things will just be coming from J.C.L. Faltot at this point. Done and done.

It feels good to finally put that in writing. Ideally, it would have been nice to come up with this plan earlier but that’s just how we live and learn. So into the funnel I go and as I do, I enter with the hope that what comes out of the funnel will be worthwhile for the new year.

Social media is no substitute for life.

I recently went to my 10-year high school reunion. A lot of people don’t go to theirs, but I went to mine. My graduating class, 2003, had about 120 students in it so I expected to see about 15, maybe 20 of my classmates. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than that – about 25 in total – and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that most people had gone on to do things they either enjoyed (job-wise) or had families of their own (child and spouse-wise). This was very encouraging to hear. I hadn’t attended in hopes of comparing my life to everyone else’s, I just figured it would be nice to go. And the time spent doing this was time well spent indeed.

The night went on and we shared stories with one another. We laughed. We joked. We reminisced on funny moments from the past and even took time to remember those who were no longer with us. This was difficult and a sad reminder that life is short, even in the space of 10 years, but there were good words for each of the people who had passed since our graduation day. Once again, this was most encouraging to hear despite the circumstances. And so, the evening progressed onward and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

But then something happened.

At one of our tables, I overheard two of my former classmates discussing their children with one another. One of the women stated how she had two kids and potentially a third on the way. The other exclaimed how excited she was and followed up with how her little one was doing. Listening to new mothers having discussions about their children is something I will never be able to relate to fully (you know, that whole pregnancy thing is something I just can’t do) but I can certainly understand the joy that comes out of new life in a family. That’s the good part of this tale.

The sad part is that I already knew all of this because I have Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Google+. I have most all of my social media bases covered so this was somewhat old news to me. Even if I hadn’t seen these folks for years, I already had a leg up on their lives. I had seen baby pictures; I’d ‘liked’ or commented on the new arrivals; or I’d perused old photos just long enough to discover what others were up to and how they were presently doing. I was “up to speed”, if you will. This was a little depressing, if just for that one moment, and I decidedly turned my attention to another conversation.

But then something else happened.

One of the mothers started a story about her child. And then she started another story about her new house. And then someone else chimed in about housekeeping and the lessons learned therein. And then another person spoke up about some other life lessons they had learned. The conversation went from social-media-reminder-time to normal-adult-conversation-about-life. How intriguing, right?

I was experiencing how the possession of social media was no substitute for actual life. This may seem like a “duh” statement, but consider that notion for yourself. How often are we content to just follow a person’s activity on the internet rather than pick up the phone and talk to them? A close friend or relative even. And how often do we accept commenting on a person’s status as being ‘enough’ to show support for them doing a tough time? The amount of time it takes to dial a number is the same amount of time it takes to write a post on Twitter or Facebook. There may be slight variances by mere fractions of a second, but I’m pretty sure they’re really close.

I’ve been particularly convicted by this fact as of late. I see the lives my closest of friends and family are having across the vastness of internet space and I sometimes feel like that’s good enough. Like that’s all I need to be doing to be a good friend or relative: just follow their daily posts and keep tabs on them. So long as no one is dying or in pain, we’re good, right? I’ll see you at a holiday or something and we can chat idly there too, right? Yep, that’s what we think. But of course, something will happen and I’ll be reminded of how silly that thinking truly is.

Case in point, I had a phone conversation with a high school friend (one who could not attend the reunion) a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen him for over a year, maybe longer. We were close in high school and closer afterwards but our careers pulled us to different parts of the U.S. Now, he lives two time zones away from me. Sad? Sure, but I’ve seen his wedding photos, replied to comments he’s made online, and have read that he’s just as witty as ever in his status updates. So I am at peace and in balance with our relationship, right?

Well, after a six month hiatus from speaking, we connected via phone and caught up on everything but the photos, the status updates and the comments. None of those things really mattered at all, really. He’s fond of cooking now; something I was shocked to discover, and I hinted to him that I was to be engaged soon (for the record, not as shocking to him but exciting news nonetheless). There was much life to be had in our conversation and I left it feeling like I’d been brought “up to speed” on the last six months of his life. A life that just couldn’t be summed up in a candid photo or a sarcastic one-liner from Twitter. No, neither of those could do the conversation – the connection we made – any bit of justice.

If anything, I felt cheapened by my own presumed assumptions. I had seen a photo of him jumping in the air so I figured that he was physically alright and yet, he’d had surgery and had been couch-ridden for days on end. Hence, his new obsession with cooking. I wanted to reference how I’d seen other updates or pictures of the past six months but hearing him tell me was far more gratifying. And when I reciprocated that discussion with my own life stories, I got the same result in return. So as our conversation ended, I wasn’t left pondering about something I’d seen or read out of context – I instead knew where he was in life. And he knew where I was. That was a good feeling.

So is social media the devil incarnate sent to break our ties with the ones we know? Some would say so. I’ll choose to say ‘no, not exactly’. All I’m saying is to not treat social media as a means for being engaged with people’s lives. Sure, you can follow others on social media and that’s all well and good, but do not mistake the experience for knowing someone’s story. The real thing is much more enjoyable, I assure you. Not to mention, it’s real too.

Pardon me – how is your day going, social media?

This month could be the death of me. In the midst of NaNoWriMo, seeking representation, and starting other endeavors, November is primed to stretch me in ways I never knew possible. Sleep has taken on the identity of both enemy and friend. My keyboard looks like a cruel form of punishment rather than a tool of the trade. I find myself staring at treadmills and free weights like they are lustful objects. Anything that could distract me from the work at hand would be a welcome escape.

And yet, here I am. Typing, blogging…ugh. I know I have to keep going and that’s that.

As an added bonus (and it’s a big one), I have a steady income and a home. I can wake up and not feel the sting of inaccessible internet or other crucial resources. I have a computer, fridge and a fancy Starbucks card to buy that tea I love so dearly. It’s these kinds of things that help me keep my motivation. A little gusto to keep the wind in my sails. And when I’m really bored, I check out Facebook, WordPress or Twitter to see what’s happening ‘out there’. When that’s done, I’m back to it and away I go. But when the day’s over, I try to relax. That, by and large, is a good feeling.

In light of this, I started something new. I began to ask myself a question. Not a tough one, but a crucial one nonetheless: how bad are things really? You know, if I had to make a list of horrible things that happen to me and those that are positive, what would that look like exactly?

You may imagine this being an external discussion: “Josh, just how bad is your life? Honestly?” To which I usually reply, “Not that bad, I guess?” To which my separate personality responds, “Yes, that’s right.” By this point, I stop the conversation entirely. Because let’s be honest, any continued dialogue would be unhealthy.

Like most people, I used to enjoy media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When they were new, they were exciting. People flocked to these things like they were giving away free food and drinks. And now, more than half the world has at least one of the above accounts and checks theirs daily. Crazy thought, is it not?

But what started out as fun has really taken a turn, I’d say. What’s Facebook like nowadays? People post their inner emotions every five minutes – and they aren’t normally the types of emotions you’d want to read or hear. “The world sucks”; “I hate everything”; “My test was stupid”; “Why are drivers so stupid”, etc. and etc. Reading these kinds of things all day, every day, is not good for your brain. Think about it this way – if I eat cupcakes or fast food every day, I’ll become unhealthy. My energy level may go through extreme highs and lows but ultimately, I’ll be weak, dreary and tired. My diet will be off and I will suffer the consequences of my choice food. But that’s what I’m filling myself with: crap.

Now, consider the same thing as it pertains to the brain. If I read depressing, angst-ridden, angry messages every morning then how might I feel? Or even think? All those angry posts I read will get embedded deep in my noggin, which could lead to me acting out in a similar way. And even if I don’t act on them, I may begin to form the opinion that yes, everybody must be pissed off and the world sucks. Ok, yikes.

If there were a program for tracking the overall mood of Facebook globally, based on certain key indicators in status updates, I’d be curious to see the results. Would people be more upset? Or would they be more happy? One can speculate, but I’m inclined to believe the former. Facebook, Twitter, etc. – they are more like sounding boards for the mistreated rather than a handy socializing tool. Don’t think so? Go to your page right now and read the top five or 10 posts in your news feed. I’m sure you’ll find what I’m talking about very quickly.

So what’s a person to do? Be a rebel and delete all forms of social media accounts? I know some that go that route. Maybe that’s you? If so, then don’t be afraid to unplug. It could be very helpful. But if you don’t feel that obsessed, and are just tired of the same old, same old, then consider another alternative: being mindful of what you are allowing yourself to read. This goes for more than just status updates. What am I filling my head with? What am I deciding to allow in my brain for further processing? It may not seem like an important concept, but it really is. I can’t stress that enough. Try it for a day. Try it for a week. Heck, just do it. So many people give up at the first sign of duress and then wonder why things never change. What’s the downside to actually trying though?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

The subtle things

I’m an uncle. A real one, too. Lucky enough to be an uncle and fortunate enough to have no requirements placed on the position other than the obvious:

a) have a brother or sister that procreates
and
b) permits you with visitation rights.

This weekend I got to play the part of uncle quite a bit. I spent some time with my nieces and nephews, each and every one of them. There are five in total: aged 12 – 3. I’m on the verge of being 29 soon so I’m essentially a “grown up” in their eyes. I come complete with a big person job, a serious relationship, and clothes that I pick out for myself. You know, all the traits necessary to be an adult when viewed through the lens of a small child. And it’s through this particular lens that you’ll see the world in ways that you once forgot. Or have been too busy to really notice.

For instance, I found myself playing a game with two of them that really opened my eyes to something. It all started with the 3-year old, Evan. He inquired that I go “hide behind the couch” a while. So I did. And when I did, he proceeded to jump over the couch, roaring loudly in my direction. I asked him what was going on and he mumbled something about a “dragon”. Luckily, his big sister of about four, Audrey, had overheard the game and came over to translate.

“He’s playing the dragon game with you”, she said.
“Oh? So he’s the dragon is he?” I said.
“Yes. He’s a dragon.”

I looked at little Evan and saw his eyes light up. The connection had been made: Evan clearly enjoyed being a terrifying, yet fun little monster. When he realized that I now understood the game, he wanted Audrey to get in on the action too.

“You, Audrey, go in dare (there),” he said and pointed to the spot behind the couch.
“Ok, Evan,” she said and grabbed a nearby blanket as if it were some form of protection.

“You…you go in dare (there) too,” said Evan and I did as I was told. I squatted behind the couch next to my niece, waiting on the dragon outside. Audrey curled in a ball and snuggled up close to me. The experience brought back some memories. Specifically those where my brothers and I would play a similar game. We’d hide out in various parts of the house and then chase each other down depending upon who was tagged as the “monster”. Since I was the usually the biggest, that designation typically fell on me. But here I was, crouched low with a person one-fourth my size, anxiously anticipating the onslaught of a boy even smaller than her.

Yeah, I was excited. Wouldn’t you be?

Then, Evan attacked. He jumped over the top and pretended to breathe fire and spew flames from his mouth (I discovered that this was fire much later, but for sake of the story, I’ll condense). Audrey shrieked and hid herself under the blanket whilst I pretended to be scared too. Then I responded with a flurry of well-placed tickles to Evan’s armpits and sides, thus sending the beast back to the other side of the couch. Until the next attack, of course.

This went on for a few rounds and I’ll admit that I was having fun. Evan was having the time of his life, Audrey was enjoying the tickle retaliation and I knew I was keeping these kiddos busy while my older brother and his wife took a breather. Then something really interesting happened. When Evan retreated back to the other side of the couch for the fifth or sixth time, Audrey curled up close and asked me a very simple, yet crucial question:

“Who will save me from the dragon?”

In the middle of a game like this, you may think this question to be of little importance. That her inquiry is just a result of the game at play. But be careful not to miss this moment. Luckily, I was prepared.

“I’ll protect you, of course.”

Audrey smiled big and inched closer just as Evan “attacked” once more. I played like I was scared for Evan while doubling as a calm protector for Audrey. I acted aloud with a “Oh no! Audrey, who will stop the dragon?” To which she replied, “The knight! The knight will!”

So I jumped up and wrestled Evan to the ground (softly) to a roar of laughter. Audrey emerged from the cave behind the couch as I let Evan back to his feet. At this point, I thought that the game was over, but it wasn’t. For when Evan stood back up, he asked me another intriguing question.

“I fly?”

Fly, eh? Poor grammar aside, I thought about Evan’s request. Well, he is pretending to be a dragon. Flying around would make sense, would it not? Dragons breathe fire and cause havoc, but they also fly. Fortunately, I felt prepared for this type of situation also.

“Yes, you can. You ready?”

I hoisted little Evan up and proceeded to “fly” him around the living room, dipping and diving, doing the best I could to simulate a soaring dragon. I was pleased to hear sounds similar to “fire-breathing” coming from his mouth as he flew around the room. Unfortunately, Evan’s fire-breathing is just an advanced form of saliva-dumping so the living room was ultimately covered in “fire” by the time we were through. A few trips more and I was spent. Uncle Josh couldn’t muster another go-round; I was done.

After explaining how arms tire from too much use to Evan, I took a seat next to the other elders at the party. Audrey and Evan went back to playing, this time by themselves or with another relative. These kids have nuclear reactors for energy sources, I swear!

I was happy to have kept the kids busy, but honestly, what happened here? What happened during this game?

Here’s something to ponder: what’s the alternative? What if I tell little Audrey that I don’t know who will protect her. And then offer no protection. What if I tell little Evan that he can’t fly and that I am too busy, that I need to do something else? Or that flying is stupid? Well, I won’t be winning any favorite Uncle awards, but that’s not the point. Eventually, the games will stop. Evan and Audrey will grow up; they’ll become adults and they’ll hopefully be playing with their own nieces and nephews. But what will they pass down to those children?

A hopeless and jaded perspective of the world? Or some semblance of mystery and excitement? Only one of those options has a future that’s worth living for.

I don’t need kids of my own to see how people get tired of protecting their youth. Being full-time parents doesn’t seem to be on people’s agendas anymore (and for the record, I think my brothers and their wives are doing a fabulous job – I think I need to make that clear). Why is that? What’s so much more important to parents? Money? Status? Convincing ourselves that God isn’t real so we think we can do everything on our own?

Rather than presenting young boys with the option to be warriors and dragons, they are told to take pills behind closed doors and still the slumbering champion. And rather than presenting young girls with white knights or soft places to land, we tell them to sit in front of a television and watch raunchy TV shows. And that the only way to be noticed is to flaunt your sexuality while at the same time be “credible”. That’s a hypocrisy that has no place in any young girl’s mind. It’s a message that only breeds confusion and distracts them from who they are meant to be.

So are these subtle things? Right now they are. But watch when these children grow up. The things that were once unassuming won’t be unassuming anymore. And what was subtle will become a reality – their reality. That’s what we, as parents and adults, should be paying attention to. That’s what we need to focus in on again. Because that’s what will ultimately matter down the road.

Tornado Warnings, Tornado Watches, Tornado Touch downs, Tornado….

I’m often baffled by weather reports. It’s not that they’re presented in some overly complex or complicated manner, it’s just that I don’t understand what their purpose is sometimes. Specifically, in the case of tornadoes. Why all the hoopla when it comes to tornadoes anyway?

Most anyone can tell when a bad storm is brewing, can’t they? You look into the sky and you visibly see the dark clouds congregating. The air becomes a little colder, the wind blows a little faster, and every animal within a certain radius either scurries into hiding or disappears altogether.

And then there’s us. Human beings. We stare up into the atmosphere, take it all in, and then wonder if it’s really going to storm or not. We look at the person next to us and pretend like we know a thing or two about rain: “Hey, it looks like rain” (and by all accounts, it usually does). And when the rain actually does come, we can reassure ourselves that hey, we’re pretty good at predicting the weather.

That’s the long and short of forecasting storms. Nothing too puzzling about it. But then there’s tornadoes. The brother of the hurricane; sister to the tsunami; and the cousin of the earthquake. You’ve got your extended family like the hailstorm, the blizzard, and the tidalwave, but tornadoes are truly a force which stands alone. Mudslides, flash floods, and volcanic eruptions can be just as few and far between, but nothing grabs the attention of local weathermen (and the casual onlooker) like the tornado.

They’re somewhat alien-like, aren’t they? Like a big tentacle coming out of the sky, just waiting to snatch up us puny Earthlings. It’s all very War-of-the-Worlds type stuff and yet, it’s a common phenomenon that we have to avoid and calculate if we are to stay well clear of the tornado’s wrath.

Which is why we have so many ways to announce their approach. The tornado “warning”, the tornado “watch”, we even have smaller versions of the tornado called “microbursts”, which kind of become tornadoes but aren’t really at all. It’s like we wanted it to be a tornado, but hey, it just didn’t have the whole funnel thing down enough. Move along please.

I’ve often wondered why that is the case. Why we always get in such a tizzy as it pertains to tornadoes. Is it because of the movie Twister? A film which puts Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt as certified “storm chasers” – folks that literally rush after the nearest tornado in hopes of being able to study these anomalies of nature. Think Jaws but without the water and you’ve got a good handle on what Twister tried its hand at accomplishing. Audiences were introduced to Cary Elwes playing a bad guy, “Bob’s road” became a real place, and people were led to believe that tornadoes made sounds like screeching aliens or roaring lions as they tried to “devour” everything in their path. My favorite part in the movie (somewhere near the middle) is when we’re educated on what an F-5 tornado is. For those who aren’t up to speed, the F-5 is a term of measurement on the Fujita scale – a scale which calculates how vicious tornado is by how it destroys or “eats”, as portrayed in the film. And when someone asks what it would be like to witness one, a fellow storm chaser slowly states, “The finger of God”.

Ooo, I just got goosebumps.

Well, Twister isn’t that old of a film and I’m fairly certain that tornadoes have been around longer than Bill Paxton or Helen Hunt, so what’s the deal? I know that many people (myself included) will frequently have dreams where a big tornado, scary and nasty, sucks them up, never to be seen again before waking up in a cold sweat. I, for one, have been chased by bears, wolves, and crazy people with chainsaws in my own dreams (don’t judge) but nothing is quite as terrifying as being sucked into a tornado. Look up what that means in a dream dictionary and it’ll tell you something like this: “you’re in turmoil”, which shouldn’t be much of a shock anyway. But the truth is, there’s a reason why we’d make a big budget film about tornadoes and a reason for why they’d represent tumultuous circumstances in the deep subconscious parts of our minds. And that reason is two-fold: tornadoes present us with an incredible sense of awe and simultaneously, an overwhelmingly unpleasant sense of fear.

In one regard, we are amazed by their power. A single funnel cloud can lift a whole house from the ground and deposit it miles away from where it once stood. And because of its dramatic power, the tornado is something to be afraid of. There’s nothing cutesy or cuddly about a rampaging twister – you either get out of the way or face the consequences of being swept up in its path. But that’s not all. Tornadoes are very specific in where and when they touch down. Unlike a hurricane which covers a huge blanket of space, the tornado leaves a trail that is easily seen from up above. Like the footprints of some giant monster moving about the countryside, tornadoes end up leaving their mark wherever they go. In that way, the tornado seems to be alive somehow; like it’s actively picking and choosing where it decides to run amok. We all know that it’s not possible for the tornado to decide which way it goes, but its unpredictable nature appears to give some illusion of thought process. Even if it’s totally chaotic, we still feel like the tornado was out to get us somehow.

Then there’s the fact that we can’t fight back. We don’t call in the national guard or the army when a tornado is imminent. That’s silly. The tornado will have its day and then it’ll be gone. Like a really bad in-law or a sudden rush of diarrhea (great parallels, right?), the tornado cannot be combated through conventional means. There’s no special weapon to take down a tornado; we can only move aside and wait for the chaos to be over.

I find this all rather fascinating, to be honest. As a kid, I loved storms. My family had 10 acres of land which sat on a hillside overlooking a vast valley. The horizon stretched from one end of the Earth to the other, or as far as you could see. So when a storm rolled in, you could see it coming from miles away. That was pretty cool, as I recall. And I sometimes wondered what it would be like to see a tornado coming in from off in the distance. Trees would sway from the mounting currents of wind, the grass would come up out of the ground, and the furniture on the front porch would move slightly, but none of those of things would have remained if a tornado were to hit unexpectedly.

My family’s house was never hit with a tornado and for that, I am grateful. But I always wanted to see one up close anyway. I’d be mindful of weather reports in our area and if the chance arose to see a touch down, I’d think about running off to go see it. And that’s when it hit me. The other realization as to why the tornado is so awe-inspiring and so deadly frightening at the same time: its proximity.

We can’t get close to hurricanes and be untouched, we can’t sit through a blizzard and enjoy the scenery, and we certainly can’t observe an earthquake in casual fashion. But what we can do is take in the sights and sounds of a roaring funnel cloud that’s within striking distance. That’s the difference-maker. I’d wager to guess that when people hear “tornado watch”, there’s a mixture of emotions taking hold inside. On one end, there’s that normal reaction which says, “Ok, I better stay inside tonight”, but I’ll bet there’s another part of us that says, “I wonder if it’ll get close enough that I see it up close.”

It’s interesting how that works. Most people don’t go running down to the nearest shoreline to see a tidalwave or a hurricane as it approaches (that just ain’t right), but the tornado gives us an opportunity to get up close and personal. To be feared? Yes, absolutely. Don’t go running out to storm chase because of this blog. I”m not saying that, but bear in mind the sheer magnitude of seeing one in close quarters. A truly frigtening experience, and yet altogether stunning at the same time.

Or just as the movie says, like the “finger of God”.

Being “Busy”

I’m thinking of writing a short book on the concept of being “busy”. Its meaning, its over usage in American culture, and its reason for being a thorn in my side for many, many years. It’s not just me either that being overly busy affects. No, everybody I meet has a way of telling me they’re “busy” in one form or another. Can you relate? I’m sure you’re heard them before too:

“Things are just crazy right now.”
“I’m backed up with a lot of stuff.”
“My days are so hectic. I can’t even remember what day it is.”

If you were to unpack each of these sentences, you could deduce the following truths about the person or persons who gave you these statements: that life is out of of control for this person and they cannot foresee a time of rest in sight. Would that be at least semi-accurate? We’ve all felt some measure of chaos in our life – that’s for certain – so to hear this kind of response is not unheard of. In fact, I have probably given the same answers at one point or another.

Taking this idea a step further, when else might you hear these statements? Maybe after asking the person when their schedule is free? Or when they can “hang out” with you and others? Yes, I’m sure you have. If you read between the lines, you can deduce the following as well: this person does not have a good way of saying “yo, I just don’t have time for you right now.”

Ugh. I really get tired of hearing that excuse, personally. It really gets under my skin. And I’m sure it gets under other people’s skin too. Who likes being told that they’re unimportant? Or that they do not warrant the time or the effort from another person? Last I checked, nobody. But each party will smile, nod their heads, and come to some odd agreement that this exchange of pleasantries is quite alright.

Well, that kind of chatter just isn’t “alright” with me. I loathe it. I despise it. Heck, I don’t like hearing it. What’s the problem with just being honest with somebody else? What are we afraid of? Plenty of things, it seems. People are always more afraid than what they let on. And one of our biggest “afraid moments” is the fear of being discovered for a phony. Despite all the ranting about owning a busy life and a hectic schedule, we fear being uncovered as some poser. That our public image as a go-getter or a semi-important figure will be distorted by a few extra minutes put someplace else. So in order to keep that facade up, we hide our true selves beneath the most common (and detremental) of common phrases: “I’m just too busy for that.”

Ugh. I hate typing the phrase as it is!

But even in the midst of being “busy”, we must also be wary of the overcommitter. You know, the one person who claims that he or she can be at an event, at a specific time, but fails to be there nearly every turn of the bend. I’m sure you can think of a few in your own world. These people aren’t necessarily bad or inherently spiteful, they just feel the necessity to always be accommodating. But in doing so, they overcommit and they end up letting down somebody in the process. And when they do let another party down, it can become strikingly evident as to who falls where on their general list of priorities.

For me, I’ve done this quite a few times as well. I overcommit to a project or a gathering and within a short period of time, I realize the error of my ways. Unfortunately, it almost always comes too late in the game. And I’m done in.

But alas, there is hope for the “busy” person and the overcommitter: be honest. It’s just as simple as that. And yet, it’s also that difficult.

I was challenged by a buddy to try and go a week without telling a half-truth or a little white lie. I think I lasted about half a day until I was sunk. I hope that’s not overly shocking to anyone. Try doing that yourself and see how far you get. If you make it more than a day, then I would say congratulations. And if you can make it a whole week, then you’d make an even greater case study on the subject.

But what does this all mean? Are we all liars, cheats, and phonies? Well, not exactly. I’m referring to some very specific circumstances and so, I do not want this to be taken out of context. None of us want to be labeled as liars, cheats or phonies so why not try and be that 100%? Tough gig to run these days, I’ll admit, but think of the benefits. For example, no fear of exposure. In an angst-ridden world, wouldn’t that be a relief? No hiding away parts of ourselves in little black boxes, coveting the very things that make us feel weak or powerless. Instead, we wouldn’t have those boxes – we’d have treasures of other people’s lives. Instead of saying “I’m too busy”, we say, “I’d be interested in giving my time, but please understand that I have priorities too.” I sounded it out and it takes less than 2 extra breaths to work that all in there. That doesn’t sound too hard, now does it?

I’m sure that some folks may read this and say, “Whoa, who slighted you lately to inspire this post?” And that would be a perfectly reasonable question, so here’s my response: myself. For so many years, I’ve told myself that I’m “too busy” to really go after a career in writing. “There are so many things I need to do first”, I’d say. Or “I don’t think it’d be possible with the way my schedule works”. These, among other equally frustrating self-doubts, kept me anchored down, below the surface and without a means to come up for air and breathe. On that same note, I kept overcommitting myself. “I’ll tackle this project first and then I’ll get to what I really want to do” or “That event is just too much, I need at least a month of planning for that until I can get back to my passion.”

You can see how a few words of self-justification can keep a person fixated on the problem without ever having sight of the solution. Eventually, if we are able, we must break free of this mirage and set sail for better harbors. Not safer harbors, like the saying goes – just the sort of harbor that you’re meant to anchor down on. That’s what freeing one’s self of being “busy” looks like. You’ll always have things to keep you busy, but it should never be for so long that you forget what’s truly important or where you’r headed.

For me, that important thing was a pursuit of writing. Ironically, the things which kept me busy, that I thought were life-giving, kept me from being me. It’s an interesting revelation if you can ever get to that place of personal solace. Don’t get me wrong though. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning going “Wow, I see the light” and everything changed in tune, but I did have enough epiphanies to see my own truth: that what blocks our futures (what blocks our vision) are “busy” things. And our justifications for staying busy are merely the politically correct ways we say, “Hey, I’ll get to that later” or when it’s most convenient for me.

So what is yours then? How do you stay busy and moreover, how do you tell others that you are? That’s as good a question as any and could just be enough to write a short book about.

Ok – my Game of Thrones post is here

I’ve been watching this show for a while now. Not reading the books, just viewing it week-to-week. I knowingly skipped out on season 2 because I didn’t want to pay for HBO, but with all the twists and turns awaiting the characters in season 3, I decided to pony up the dough and watch.

At this point, I feel that the series needs no introduction. If you are reading this, then you probably have some interest in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series already. There’s really no need for me to start summarizing basic plot details or popular characters – you have likely heard about Game of Thrones one way or another.

With that in mind, what’s to say about it? There’s a ton of buzz lately about a recent episode; one where three major characters are killed off (unexpectedly) in what the books call the “Red Wedding”. Now, for any other series, this would be unheard of. Who in their right mind would be so bold as to eliminate some of their most popular leads? Well, Game of Thrones apparently. In one fell swoop, three primary protagonists are slit by the throat, shot with arrows, and stabbed with daggers. All acts committed via the treacherous activity of a character whom you are lead to believe was in the just the entire time. I realize I should be saying something along the lines of SPOILER ALERT!, but that’s moot at this point.

But that’s just it – it’s not a spoiler if you’ve been watching this show long enough. You are inclined to expect the unexpected with Game of Thrones. If the character is likable or even semi-honorable, Game of Thrones’ author, Mr. Martin, will certainly find a way to bludgeon or kill this character within a few short minutes.

And then it’s quickly off to the next poor sap who tries to do what we would call, “the right thing”. It’s not about the strong surviving – it’s about who can betray who the first and not get caught while doing it.

I had been trying to put my finger on this notion for some time now. I was initially intrigued by Martin’s rich use of history and eye for detail. This was very similar to a Tolkien or Lewis fantasy and since I’m a fan of those two guys, I figured I’d give Mr. Martin a try.

As you can probably surmise, that’s where the similarities ended.

Where Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Narnia etch elements of hope into their storytelling fabric, Martin’s rips hope out from under nearly every character. Ideas like chivalry and honor are afterthoughts. And you can forget about marrying for love – Martin uses the act of a wedding as the primary force behind uniting peoples together who merely want more power. Or in the extreme case of this past week’s episode – a wedding is used as a decoy to invite people into your home so you can promptly slaughter them.

Now, here’s the good part of this post. I was reading some reactions to this sweeping phenomenon of a show and one that caught my attention related to an interview Martin gave. Within the interview, he went on to say that he dislikes stories where good and evil are blatantly obvious (a la Tolkien and Lewis) and prefers to surprise his audiences (no argument there). By making these statements, Martin has inadvertently set himself up for something. Something that a fan such as myself has an issue with. And that issue is this: how the heck does he (Martin) plan on ending this thing if he loves to cut the legs out (sometimes literally) from every major character? If there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, then won’t the ending be unfulfilling somehow?

I would imagine that most people are following the story because they are interested in Martin’s mastery of narrative. But hey, that narrative has to end eventually, right? Shouldn’t that be a concern? A grandiose tale deserves a grandiose ending, does it not? And even if Martin’s series is full of mixed messages, changing alliances, and broken characters, won’t there be some sort of transcendent ending when it’s all said and done? One would think so, but I’m not so sure. I mean, I have my opinions about how I would end it, but this is someone who is not me. The direction is foreign to me, strange to what I’m familiar with, but ultimately, I’m still interested. It’s new; it’s different, and it’s against the grain of what I’m used to seeing.

How did guys like Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe become so popular? Well, they introduced something brand spanking new. And that’s what Martin is doing. However, I’m unsure as to just how this guy is going to keep it up. And truthfully, I want an ending that’s more than just a twisted climax. I want resolution. I want completion. I want a semi-hopeful ending. And in the midst of a huge, overarching story, shouldn’t it come to that somehow? Shouldn’t there be some semblance of a “happy ending” for at least one of these characters? I would think so. But then again, Game of Thrones has surprised us before. And since history has a way of repeating itself, I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked when the ending (no matter what it ends up being) surprises me yet again. Will it be honorable in the least? Well, someone like myself hopes so, but that remains to be seen.

Why I will gladly be in your wedding party

Two friends of mine took the plunge last weekend. They got hitched; they exchanged vows; they received their license to wed; in essence, they got married, folks. That’s cool stuff all the way around.

Weddings have historically been a great experience for me. Granted, I’ve never been a groom, but I have been one of the groomsmen on several occasions. And I’ve also had the honor of being the best man for my best friend. The entire experience that a wedding brings is really phenomenal. At no other event (save funerals) do friends and family gather in such large masses. People will fly halfway across the country for a wedding if they are able and even if they aren’t, someone will usually shell out a few extra dollars to help pay for plane fare just so they can get there. Heck, decades-old grudges step aside for weddings. Uncles, aunts, cousins – anyone who has a beef with someone else will still find a way to get to the wedding for the sake of being there.

They may be only be going because they want to see if their adversary gained weight or lost hair, but hey, they are coming all the same.

But what is it about weddings that are so attractive? Why do so many people attend them? Well, there’s lots of reasons, but if you ask me, it comes down to one simple thing (and I promise not to be sarcastic here) – the beauty of the moment. That’s my honest opinion and belief.

Never again will we see a shimmering bride, walking down the aisle to her groom, in the same way, at the same time, in the same fashion. Yes, people do get divorced and remarry, I am not oblivious to this fact, but never again will it be like this time. The bride and groom may take vows again in future years, but I’ve said already – it won’t be the same twice. For in the moment the bride reveals herself to the groom – who is standing at the front, next to the men he has chosen to share his day with – nothing will ever be exactly like this time, this place, this experience.

When it comes to human beings, we like to be there for the “big moments”. The times where we can say “I was there, were you?” There’s an element of awe that we take great delight in with one another. And if we aren’t there for this big to-do, we have a sense that we missed out on something really spectacular. Getting to watch a video recording just isn’t the same. We have to be there in order to enjoy the wedding in all its splendor. That’s how I perceive weddings at least. A fleeting beauty that forever etches itsleef in the minds and memories of all who attend.

As I stood next to my five comrades (aka the other groomsmen) this past weekend, I couldn’t help but get the sense that this wedding was truly beautiful. As were so many others that I’ve been a part of. That level of emotion really stays with a person. And when it’s all said and done, you find yourself wanting more of that feeling if you can manage it.

Which is precisely why I try to make as many friends as possible. It may be selfish of me (you can say it is if you want though), but I want to be in more weddings than I can count. What better way to enjoy life than to be present at one of the happiest moments in another person’s life?! That’s how I like to look at things. So far, I’m up to 5 apperances (four in a groomsmen outfit and 1 as a reader). I figure I’ll squeak into another one or two in the near future, but consider this as an open invitation to any/all who need groomsmen. I don’t charge anything but I will require that my date be allowed a seat close to the bridal party. That’s all I ask in return. And hey, since I’m a writer, I may just share that experience in a book someday too.

I wouldn’t want anyone to feel slighted, so expect an invite to my own wedding if I’m in yours. It’s only natural to return the favor, is it not? I won’t claim my wedding to be the most spectacular you’ll ever behold. But can you imagine a lineup of about 30 groomsmen and bridesmaids on either side?

Yeah, that’d be a once in a lifetime experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

What’s the deal with drivers these days?

Maybe it’s just me, but hey, what’s the deal? Seriously. It seems as though every time I hit the road, I’m encountered by one of three things:

1) Tailgating (driving too closely behind)
2) Speeding (driving too fast)
or
3) Slow Drivers (this one is self explanatory)

It’s as if everyone I meet out there has a personal vendetta against me and my car. I’m not really sure why – I just know. Whether I’m sitting at a stoplight, driving on the highway or just leaving my garage, I can feel a certain disturbance in the Force that says, “watch out”. Just the other day I was waiting at a four-way light when I noticed a car behind me come streaking up. The person stopped abruptly behind me, within inches of my back bumper, but instead of moving backward, this person crept up to me even closer! What’s up with that?! This person was so close to my backside I couldn’t even see their headlights any longer. When that happens, you know that the distance between you and the front of their car is mere fractions of an inch.

But why do that? I mean, the light will eventually turn green. We are both aware of this (as fellow operators of motor vehicles) and we are both in the knowing that when that light turns green, I will proceed forward. So why the lack of personal space? Better yet, why the need to be so close to my hind end? But what’s even better (if you can sense my sarcasm) is the reaction I get after I start my car when the light changes – anger. Not from me, but from the person in back who is apparently upset that I didn’t hit the gas like a bat out of hell when the green signal came on.

Ok, I’m not a violent or angry person by nature, but come on. Really? Unless you’ve got a pregnant wife about to go through labor in your backseat, I don’t see the reason for such a response. Moreover, if I can see that you’re ticked off at me for being “slow”, then chances are I will continue my “slow” behavior throughout the duration of time we spend together on the road.

It’s times like these that really test my patience. Not so much with the other person; just my own. I know I shoudln’t be looking over my shoulder constantly or be overly concerned with the person trailing me a mere six inches away (at 60 mph, no less), but for whatever reason, I can’t always help myself. I wish I could. And I’m sure so many others are in the same boat.

By some strange circumstance, driving a car has become a very personal experience for people. Our car – its make, model, etc. – are all reflections of ourselves. But even more so, they’re like statements to all who observe us. How much money we make (or are willing to spend), what we like to drive (gas-guzzling giant or mini-mileage machine), and where we are in life (single with a sports car or married with three kids and a minivan). It’s the very reason cops have a tendency to pull bright, red sports cars over more than any other vehicle. Red is a color of attraction and additionally, it fits the stereotype of someone trying to make a statement. Sorry all you red-car drivers – it’s just statistics talking.

But there you have it. Driving is as personal as walking down the street and seeing a stranger on the sidewalk. You exchange glances, maybe nod the head, and then you go about your business. Nothing crazy, just a simple gesture before you go about your day. The only difference is that a car places about a ton of metal and plastic between you and another human being. And because of that fact, we think we can push the boundaries of personal space. We press up real close, become agitated over another’s slower-than-snail’s pace behind the wheel, and we blurt out expletives best left for a Tarentino movie. Forget those bumper stickers that say “Baby on board” or “How’s my driving?” – nobody cares about that anymore. They only care about where they’re headed and how long it’ll take them to get there. That’s about it.

Maybe we should all go back to riding trains again? Or mandate that everyone take the bus to work? I’m sure this would give plenty of people a job considering the amount of buses and new trains we’d need to be operated. That’s a plus, right? And maybe by way of making people share space with others just down the street from them, they might actually get to know who lives near them. This is, of course, a very unrealistic idea – especially considering how people are less apt to want to spend time with other people nowadays. But hey, I’m just spitballin’ ideas here.

In the good ol’ days of driving, cars were as much a novelty as they were a means of transportation. Owning a car was a sign of status. If you could afford a clunker that went a little over 30 mph, then you were a high roller. And when the auto industry started upping the ante on horsepower, cars became a science experiment. How fast can we make them? How sleek can they be without being too sleek? These questions were raised and we answered each one with a “yes, we can make them faster and yes, we will make them sleeker”. Then, at some point, cars stopped being a sign of status. And they stopped being a neat science experiment.

Naturally, I’m talking about today’s cars.

With a decent enough credit score and a monthly payment that can be paid off in 30 years, Joe Smith down the street can afford a $25,000 sports car just like anybody else. And what’s more, that car will have enough giddy up to compete with just about every other car on the road.

So where’s the fun in that? Suddenly, I’m upset by this debacle. I thought we were supposed to have some diversity out there among the masses, weren’t we? And speaking of diverse selection, have you seen the 2013 models vs. their 2012 counterparts? Aside from a few changes in headlights, I don’t see much difference. So why would I buy the 2013 model if the 2012 is pretty much the same thing? Bleh, now I’m just irritated.

Well, wait a second here. I find myself unusually perturbed right now. Why is that? Am I ticked off at cars in general? Is that my issue? Is the guy behind me not really angry with my driving, he’s merely upset that his car is as generic as mine? Hmm. Could be, I suppose. Perhaps that’s our problem nowadays – everything is too much the same. Or maybe our isolation in the car keeps us from remembering that yes, there are actual people driving and sharing the road with us out there. They’re not robots or some scourge of the Earth meant to make us late to that meeting we didn’t properly prepare for. No, these are actual people. And if we are never to know these people, then why bother with caring about who’s behind the wheel in the first place? I suppose that may make the most sense of out anything in this rant.

Or maybe not. I guess that’s just another thing to ponder as you’re out traversing the highways. But if you could (and I know some people will do the opposite just to spite me), please try to stay back a few feet if you can. I promise you that the light will turn green, I will begin moving forward, and wherever it is that you are going – I promise that it’ll still be there when you get there.

And if it isn’t there, then I’m sorry. I have no other words than to take the bus if you’re so worried about being on time. Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting on the way there. Just saying.