Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's been a while

When I was younger, I used to write poems.
They were not good.
They were stuffed with youthful agony and strife.
I was so emo. I listened to a lot of Dashboard and even more Bright Eyes.
At first I was ashamed of writing them. I used to feel ashamed about a lot of things I shouldn't have. I used to not feel shame about a lot of things I should have.
Growing up is funny. I'm one of the lucky ones for a thousand reasons...
I hear people say my life is perfect and it brings me shame.
I have strained relationships others take for granted.
I work... and then I work... and then I work for what I have.
I look a certain way, both my youthful visage and my general countenance and people make assumptions.
I have it pretty good and I still question every aspect of it.
I question... what if I didn't have my parents? What if I never met Father Dan? What if I never drank a  drink? What if I actually said the things I wanted to say when I was growing up? What if I grew up somewhere else.

I ask because I care.
I care because I see
I see  fear and hate
I see how easily they avoid me.

We don't ask because we're scared
We're scared of our shame
We fear and we hate
We're emotionally lame

Nobody teaches how
Nobody teaches why
Until it's too real
Until we accept the lie

We're not special
Our lives are not exempt
Embrace this fear
Fight the hate and lament

Be scared
Be sad
Be better
Be mad
Be lucky
Be crude
Be more
Be you

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainbow Flags and Neil Gaiman

I've been listening to a lot of audio books on my commute to and from work.

It's pretty perfect. About 35 minutes each way and I feel like a literary genius. I've been at my newish job for 10 months know and I wish I would have tracked everything I have listened to. (Author's Note: I just decided to do this).

There have been three highlights to this process for 3 very different reasons.

  1. Brene Brown. I am in charge of my college's summer reading program and people are constantly suggesting books to me. I have actually listened to 9 or 10 of these things and it is stuff I never would have made time for before. So it's making me better at my job.|
  2. Elmore Leonard. Good god that guy could write a story. If you've only seen Justified or Get Shorty or Out of Sight, dive into any of his books. There is a formula and they shouldn't work, but they work so well and it will make you want to be so much cooler than you are. It has made me want to be so much cooler than I am at least.

    Stories are good. Stories are important.
  3. Neil Gaiman's voice. Whoa baby. I had read American Gods a couple of times a few years
    Pictured: Neil Gaiman's face
    ago. Actually read it with my eyes, rather than my ears. It's fantastic. Everything about it. At this point I think I've read 7 of his books or collections, or he's read them to me to be more specific. Let me tell you, the four people reading this, god damn that man has the greatest fictional reading voice in the whole world. (President Obama wins for non-fiction... this is not a debate, this is truth. Nick Offerman is a close runner up in the fiction category).

    Besides his voice is his message. He writes for anyone and everyone and he talks about writing and reading a lot. I believe one of the reasons he has been so successful and stuck with so many people is because of his lack of assumptions and his honesty. Gaiman says things like, "No one has ever farmed on Pluto before. Well, maybe they have, but I haven't heard of it happening." That is probably a terrible example, but it shows my point. He doesn't make the assumption of knowing or understanding everything. He is constantly learning and simply living in the world around him, taking it in and hoping for the best from everyone without establishing expectations.
So this is my jump off to talking about my neighborhood a little bit. I've been thinking about expectations, how we create our own narratives in every situation, both good and bad (mostly bad), and general understanding. It's easy to find the negative in basically anything. It's easy, but it's also really boring. This is not a high horse conversation, I can get as negative as the next guy and I write my own internal narratives that convince me I'm ruining something, or someone hates me or everything is all my fault. Sometimes it's true, most of the time it isn't. 

Challenging these narratives, like Neil Gaiman and his angel voice naturally does, isn't necessarily
Pictured: Stupid Good
difficult, but it doesn't come naturally to many people. One of the books I just finished reading with my ears is "Rising Strong" by Brene Brown (It's stupid good). Many of these thoughts have come directly as a response to that book, even thought I'm not putting it at the forefront of this post. I'm still processing a lot of it. Processing is good.

The main lesson to steal from Brown and that book for the sake of this one sided conversation is that everything changes when we assume everyone is doing their best. 

This is hard. It is important.

Important things are hard.

Let's bring this all back together

I was walking back from the playground with my kids last night. I was pushing the double stroller and we were listening to "Say It Aint So" by Weezer blaring out of my phone. On each side of the street their was a rainbow pride flag hung. This is a big thing on my block. In the last year at least 1 has been burnt and 4 others have been stolen or ripped down in the night. There was a rally about it that was attended by hundreds of people on very short notice.

I started counting as I walked and listened to my kids singing along to some of my favorite songs that I've forced into their brains. In the two blocks on the way back to our house there were 9 rainbow flags, 7 American flags and 1 Blue Lives Matter flag. 

Listening to other people's thought and ideas, fiction, research, interviews, essays, whatever it is, forces your brain to listen to another perspective. We're constantly writing our understanding of our personal stories, even if they never leave our frontal lobes (I know nothing about science, so I don't know if the frontal lobe is where this level of thinking actually takes place). We can look at a series of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes as a tragedy and snap shot of the shit world we live in. Or we can look at the rally and the fact that at least 5 of the pride flags hug on my block are hung by families of allies who are raising their children to believe in love above all else. 

Responding to hate with love. Just like Gaiman responds to the unknown with the possibility over certainty. Just like Leonard let's you assume the best in criminals while they're committing a crime. Just like taking the time to listen to someone read to you allows you to question your world with wonder rather than scrutiny.

When I see those flags I think of rewriting my narrative. Choosing language that helps and encourages others to rewrite theirs. Finding the positive and focusing on that while I move forward. Assume the best in people, even the shitbags, and consider the possibility that they are doing their best, even if their best isn't all that great. I might not have been able to do that so easily or actively without the sweet sweet voice of Neil Gaiman.