My Apologies (What Can I Do?)

I normally don’t post anything here over the weekend. I just decided early on that I needed some time to unplug and rest up before Monday morning rolled around again. Sometimes, though, things happen over the weekend that simply can’t be ignored. I experienced something like that Saturday, so I feel as if I need to get this out before the emotion of it fades from memory.

To the kid in the Old Navy store Saturday… I apologize.OldNavy_t670

You couldn’t have been more than 13. I doubt you were even that old. I’m always a terrible estimator of age, so forgive me if you are significantly older or younger than that. The point is, you didn’t look very old to me. You were also receiving a verbal dressing down from your mother (I suppose she was your mother?) as I passed you in the aisle, so I tried not to make any kind of eye contact. I moved past quickly, but I couldn’t help but hear those awful, awful words she said to you…

“If you don’t quit acting like that, you won’t get ****.”

That may not have been precisely what she said. I do distinctly remember the word “****” being used, though. I have a daughter who just turned 13 and another who is about to be 11. I have two sons. In a flash, I thought of all of them. I think I may have even broken stride a little bit. “Someone should do something,” I thought to myself. I’m not sure what your reaction was. I don’t remember you saying anything. You weren’t yelling or pitching a fit or anything, though. And, presumably, a woman who gave birth to you just used the “s” word on you right in the middle of a crowded clothing store.

I’ve never really understood the complex relationship between parents and children and profanity. My dad could curse a blue streak in a heartbeat. In fact, after he had his first stroke, profanity became sort of a comfort, as those words were the ones he said most clearly. He never cursed at me, though, at least not that I remember. I don’t recall my mother ever cursing at me either. They definitely got mad at me, no doubt about that, but those words were never thrown into my face. And, even as an adult, I never wanted to curse in front of them. It just wasn’t right.

wpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseballSome children and adults – especially males – respond to tough talk and tough love. They develop fearsome admiration for the drill sergeant who whips them into shape through whatever means necessary, even if it means totally breaking them down into quivering heaps before beginning to rebuild them again. There are a great many of us, though, who do not respond to that version of “love” at all. We bruise easily. We wind up recounting the painful moments of our lives to someone on the other side of a notepad eventually, not because we’re weak necessarily, but rather because we just weren’t equipped for what life threw at us.

I’m not sure which camp you fall into, although I could easily see you filing that moment Saturday somewhere no one would see it for a very long time. I wanted to say something. I wanted to try to defend you somehow. What good could those words have done for you? Even if they harmed you, though, what could I or anyone else have done for you in that moment? People who deliver public beratings of that nature are not usually people who can be reasoned with. Any communication would have probably would have just resulted in another fight, this one more vicious than the first.

Still, I feel like I let you down somehow.

You didn’t deserve that.

I apologize.

Advertisements

The Invisible Alien

I believe I may be an alien being from another planet who possesses the power of invisibility.

“Crazy talk,” you say? “Not so,” I reply!

Consider this…

Nearly every computer or technological question I pose to humans is met either with a look of quizzical fascination or with the words, “Hmm, I’ve never heard of that before.” Perhaps there is some otherworldly electrical current which courses through my fingertips, rendering laptops and personal computers helpless before me. And maybe my knowledge of an alien alphabet keeps me from being able to enter passwords correctly, therefore keeping me out of websites and accounts it is crucial that I gain access to. Mankind appears incapable of solving these dilemmas for me.

I also possess the gift of being able to utter words into the air which are beyond the auditory perception of human alienears. Sometimes, it is as if what I’m saying isn’t heard by anyone at all. At other times, it is obvious that I was heard, but a response to my words is found lacking. This could be because I speak in some of dialect which I perceive as English, but is actually a type of speech birthed in the outer realms of space and transported by me to this rock known as Earth. I may also possess a different type of hearing which renders my measurement of volume inaccurate. What seems loud to me may be a whisper to someone else.

Whatever the causes, I seem to be able to move largely unnoticed through this world. I possess relative anonymity in a town I have lived in all my life. I have skills which appear to be fairly easy to ignore. My face is so unmemorable that a person I had actually met twice before told me that I reminded them of a picture they had seen on the news that day of an escaped convict. At my 20-year high school reunion, I ran into a former classmate who still lives in our hometown who asked me how work was going at the newspaper – somewhere I hadn’t worked in nearly a decade at the point.

Of course, I’m playing all this for laughs, but there are definitely times in my life when I feel as if I truly do not belong on this planet. I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to complete my college registration. Questions about usernames and passwords were met with largely blank stares. Did I stutter? Am I dense, and that is why I can’t figure this stuff out? Or am I over-thinking problems to the point where people don’t even understand my questions? No one is ever completely and constantly misunderstood, but certain days have a way of making me feel as if really am speaking a different language than everyone else.

This is presuming, of course, I actually manage to get someone’s attention. I cannot count the number of times recently I have been point-blank staring at someone and said something they appeared to have not heard whatsoever. Yesterday, when I got home, my two sons were running around the side of our house. I called to them; they didn’t even break stride. Am I that uninteresting? Have I said so many useless and trivial things in life that everyone just ignores whatever I say, whether it is important or not?

When did I become someone people could stare straight through? Or was I this person all along and am just now realizing it?

I am getting better at accepting who I am and realizing my personality traits are what they are. I’m also trying to figure out how all these parts of me make up a useful and functioning person. The real fear, though, is that I’ve waited too late to get started. Maybe I spent too many years in space. Maybe this is as good it gets for an invisible alien.

The thing is, though, there’s no way to backtrack from here. The alien wouldn’t come to Earth if he didn’t think there was something worth coming here for, and there’s nothing much in the outer limits worth staying there for. Adapting, improving, evolving, learning… These are the ways we aliens learn to survive in what can be a hostile environment sometimes. It’s not just a matter of survival, though; it’s a matter of learning to love and to live and to find a voice that asks questions worth hearing.

Tuneful Tuesday: What I Like About You

Okay, first of all, this song really has nothing to do with depression, nor have I ever associated it with any particular feelings of melancholy I may have had. In fact, it’s one of the few songs I can simply shut my brain off and enjoy simply for the heck of it. It’s got energy, it’s easy to sing, and it has a rippin’ harmonica solo. What more could you ask for?

The website www.bebraveandtalk.com published an article in April of this year titled “10 Depression Symptom Analogies For Those Who Have Trouble Understanding.” It contained some remarkably profound observations on how living with depression might be described to someone who has never dealt with it. My favorite analogy had to do with self-loathing (Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sentence is.). Here is how this feeling was described…

“What if that person you can’t stand being around, that person you have a hard time finding good qualities in, that person you just can’t seem to like, was tied to you with a three-foot long rope for an entire day? ‘No way in hell,’ you are probably thinking. Well, if you suffer depression, that person is tied to you permanently. That person is yourself. It is a very sad, but very true, reality of depression. The majority of the time during a depressive episode the sufferer thinks very negatively about themselves, and they might even have feelings of self-hatred.”

Every now and then, I’ll be given a worksheet or an exercise asking me to identify positive qualities about myself. You would think I had been handed the algebra portion of the SAT test (Please, math geeks, do not shrug your shoulders and cockily ask, “What’s so bad about that?”. Things will turn ugly very quickly.). I can usually hit on a couple of obvious points – “I write well” or “I’m a good bass guitar player” – but, for the most part, I struggle to come up with answers. And even if I do believe I am good at something, I usually feel as if no one cares; it’s not useful; a billion other people are better at it than me; or I’m never going to be able to use it for anything.

This song is basically a guy listing all the things he likes about a girl. I’ve always found it easier to list good qualities about other people than about myself. I wondered today, though, what if that guy had to write a song about all the things he liked about himself. Would it come that easily? Would it be that positive? And would there be a harmonica solo?

Yes, once again, I seem to have successfully taken a fun song and analyzed most of the fun out of it. Another of those qualities I don’t like about myself all that much. The good thing is, I think this song is strong enough to withstand it. I guess it’s time I wrote one of my own that can, too.

Bring It On

As I mentioned in my last post, it looks as if I’m going to be a student again. I received an email Friday indicating that I have been conditionally accepted into the Ed.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Murray State University. The “conditionally” part consists of my keeping a 3.0 GPA for my first nine credit hours. Piece of cake, right?

hate_schoolThis may come as a surprise to all my friends I grew up with who considered me a super-nerd for all those years, but I never really liked going to school very much. I know, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Duh, no one liked going to school very much.” I guess to a certain extent that’s true. I didn’t know very many boys and girls who couldn’t wait for the big, yellow bus to roll by or, later on, for that home room bell to ring. There was a lot more high-fiving done at graduation than occurred on a Monday morning, for sure.

“Disliked” is probably not as accurate a term as “uncomfortable” was for me, though. That feeling of high school awkwardness that most people shed once they hit their college years never shook off of me. I actually went through whole semesters at the university level without speaking a word to anyone in my classes. I hated going to buy books and getting i.d. cards made and figuring out where I was supposed to park. I don’t remember many days that I wasn’t just anxious to get the whole process over with.

And, yet, here I am again.

I still have some things to work out. I’m going to be making some calls tomorrow to confirm what’s going on with my financial aid, and I’m going to be meeting with an adviser tomorrow as well. I’m strangely not nervous about any of this. In fact, aside from occasionally wondering how all these classes would be paid for, I haven’t felt the usual jitters about immersing myself in the collegiate classroom experience again. I figure this either means I’m on the right track, or I’ve just been away so long I’ve forgotten what everything is like. I’m hoping it’s the former rather than the latter.

I really don’t have much more to say about this at the moment. This post was just more to say this is where I am, and this is where I’m going. Or, at least, I hope I’m going. Now, where did I put all those papers…?

Nobody’s Perfect (So Don’t Act Like You Are)

For those of you wondering where I have been for the past few days, let me offer up a brief summation…

First off, my laptop died (or, at least, it started letting me know it had plans of dying very, very soon), and my Wednesday evening was spent having dinner with a friend who had agreed to look at it for me. On Thursday, I had an interview with two professors from the graduate program I’ve been trying to get into … and you can now strike the word “trying” from that last sentence, because I found out Friday I’M IN! I’ll write more about that another day. And then last night, I blew off writing anything to eat tacos and watch a movie. I know, what dedication to the craft…

The last post I wrote had to do with Bruce Jenner, and my blog received a rather large spike in viewership as a result. To be honest, though, I wasn’t particularly comfortable writing it, because it felt as if I was attempting to cash in on the Topic of the Day. It did have a connection, though, to mental behaviors and psychology and even depression, so I put my hesitations aside and plowed on.

For the past several days, I’ve been pondering another very public situation – the downfall of Joshua Duggar. I’ll try duggarto summarize briefly: Josh Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the Duggar clan featured on the (currently suspended) TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He was formerly the director of FRC Action, the non-profit political action and lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. He resigned from the position May 21, after reports became public that he had molested five girls (including some of his sisters) when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Because of his status as a Christian family advocate and the fact that is the son of parents who have chosen to bring 19 children into the world, Josh Duggar quickly became an easy target for anyone with a bone to pick against religion, conservatism, large families, and basically anything else the more liberal pockets of society seem to be opposed to these days. Even before any of this information came to light, however, people were referring to the Duggar family as “freaks” because of the way they chose to live. For Joshua Duggar’s failures to be pushed into the publicly eye so vehemently was simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Let’s put it plainly: What Josh Duggar did was wrong. Even if he was the victim of teenage hormones run amuck, a man or boy simply cannot ever do what he did. At the same time, his family (most notably, his molested sisters) seems to have forgiven him, and no further incidents beyond those teen years have been discovered. He is 27 years old now and has a wife and children of his own. No charges were filed, and all the parties affected seem to want to move on.

Why are we staying on this then?

The more I think about the answer to that question, the more I come closer to the following conclusion: I’m not so sure people are half as mad about what Josh Duggar did as the fact that he and his family had worked very hard to lead us to believe nothing is or ever was wrong with them. The Duggars have written books and spoken at conferences and appeared on television, and never once did they mention this skeleton in their closet. Josh Duggar thumped plenty of podiums with FRC Action, always displaying a righteous indignation against evil in the world. You may have thought the Duggars were weird, but you also probably couldn’t find much to call them out on. They made fairly sure of that.

As a self-deprecating kind of person, I gave up a long time ago trying to present myself as anything other than flawed. Even the best of us have made mistakes, though. I would think at some point while the Duggars were earning all that money on their television show and books that they might have mentioned this unfortunate chapter in their lives. Not a word, though. That, I believe, is where the outrage lies. If you’re sitting on a secret, don’t push yourself out in public in front of everyone and tell them how good you are. At least own it at some point.

Strangely, I dislike the Duggars now because of the good things they tried to present, instead of the bad thing they tried to hide. Does everyone need to shout their deepest, darkest secrets from the rooftops? No. What they can do, though, is not proclaim their righteousness from every street corner either. There are none of us who are perfect, and we do the world a great disservice when we try to convince everyone that we are. The damage will come eventually, sooner or later. Promoting goodness is a positive thing; claiming to have the market cornered on it is not.

I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

We Lost The Story

bass heroesI have a book beneath my bathroom sink titled Bass Heroes. It is compiled of interviews from the 1970s and 1980s with famous bass players pulled from the pages of Guitar Player magazine. The roster of interviewees is a veritable Who’s Who of elite bass players, including Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, and Paul McCartney. I bought the book in Nashville several years ago in a music store. It was long enough ago I couldn’t even tell you the name of the store.

Why is this book beneath my bathroom sink, you may ask? Mainly for ease of accessibility. If I could compile a Bible of bass playing, this book would be it for me. It has been an invaluable resource, and even though it was published over 20 years ago and some of the players featured in it are now deceased, I still pull it out and read it from time to time. Its edges have become frayed, and I’m actually quite shocked it’s held together this long, but I imagine I will hold onto it until it crumbles into dust one day.

There are definitely tons of tips and discussions on bass playing techniques and instruments and amplification and even a touch of music theory here and there, but that is not what keeps me coming back to this book over and over again. What compels me to keep reading it is the stories it contains. Clarke struck out from Philadelphia for New York in the early 1970s with basically nothing to his name but his electric bass and some clothes. Wyman once tried to reach out to high-five a fan and fell off the stage, colliding with the concrete floor seven feet below. Noted blues bassist Jerry Jemmott, who played several sessions with the late B. B. King, nearly lost his ability to play at all after an automobile accident in 1972 left him severely injured.

To me, a person’s story is just as (if not more) important than what they have accomplished or how they managed to accomplish it. The story makes up the fiber of their being. How did they get from Point A to Point B? How did that journey influence them? What was their point of decision, the path that changed their trajectory? What was it that elevated them from a normal to an extraordinary life? These are the factors which drive ingenuity and encourage individual thought, and they are also the sparks that leap from art to encourage others to strike out on their own journeys.

Unfortunately, this type of book would be difficult to compile today. The majority of guitar and bass publications I pick up now are made up of at least 75 percent product reviews, which really sucks for a guy like me on a limited budget. More than that, though, the stories have been pushed to the side. Even if an artist is chosen for a feature interview, the majority of it focuses on either that artist’s latest project or the instruments and equipment they used to record it. My heart sinks nearly every time I pick up one of these publications these days. I can actually find better interviews free on the internet.

The point I’m getting at is this: Our stories are vitally important, not just to us, but to others who may get to hear them later on. When we lose our stories, we lose our emotional connections with each other. When we become more about gear and machinery and impersonal objects, we lose our ability to inspire. The newest effects pedal on the market never inspired me to get better at my instrument, but hearing Sheehan talk about learning all of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar parts on the bass makes my wheels start turning. Could I do that? And, if I couldn’t, what would my story be?

The human experience is what makes us what we are, not the tools of the trade. It would be like asking what kind of evel2hammer John Henry used or what brand of gasoline Evel Knievel filled up his motorcycles with. Toys are cool, but stories stand the test of time.

What’s yours?