The Fallacy of All or Nothing

It’s possible to be happy and sad at the same time. I find myself in such a situation right now. I’m happy for many reasons, but I’m sad about the events that have unfolded in the world around me as the outrage grows over the senseless murder of George Floyd, yet another black person killed because of the color of his skin. The list of tragic black murders continues to grow and yet nothing changes. Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be?

When I was a young man and the ferocious flame of idealism roared deep in my soul, I had convinced myself that institutional racism ended with Brown vs. Topeka in the Supreme Court if only because the truth was too hard to look at, too contradictory to everything I thought I believed. I grew up in the rural south in a time that seems lost in today’s world. It wasn’t uncommon to meet people who spat racial epithets as if that made them bigger than their scrawny little brains proved. In fact, I remember my high school experience more for the racial fights than I do for the friends I made and the girls I crushed on. It was an embarrassment that I vowed to leave behind in the dustbin of unfortunate circumstances.

Had you asked me back then what I thought the year 2020 would look like, I would have painted a picture of progress, forward-thinking, and collaboration where the best ideas won out over recessive tribalism. I might have even suggested that the “Us vs. Them” narrative would have died an ugly death at the feet of intelligence. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Instead, the tribal instinct has grown rather than been stamped out in the name of enlightened progress. The “Us vs. Them” narrative has taken an ugly turn. We are no closer today as human beings than we were when I still harbored that youthful idealism. Today, I’m a cynical, old man with nary a flicker of idealism remaining in my darkening soul.

In the place of progress stands a paper tiger of sorts, the all or nothing autocracy. You have to be one thing or another. There’s no in between, and there’s certainly no room for logic or common sense. The moronic talking heads would have us believe that it’s too complicated for anything more than that, and the sad thing is that many people cast aside their hard-earned critical thinking skills and accept these simpleton arguments. The world is being dumbed down for us. We only have to accept it and ignore that everything is more complicated.

Never mind that it is possible to love the ideals upon which your country is based and be critical of it at the same time. It’s possible to support law enforcement and be critical of bad players and demand justice when those bad players show themselves. It’s possible to always stand for the national anthem and sing along with pride yet support those who feel that the nation doesn’t value them as much. These things may seem like contradictions, but despite what the pundits may have you believe, life is not black or white (no pun intended). It’s gray, very gray.

I’ve been very complicit in all of this. I’ve tried to vote for candidates that offered the best chance for a common future that we can all be proud of, but I’ve largely failed to effect any change. The fact that we are limited to two parties that do nothing more than shamelessly pander to the fringes of their membership, both of which have bought the all or nothing argument hook, line, and sinker, gives me no hope for any immediate change or progress. I’ve never walked the streets in protest. I’ve convinced myself that if I lived my life in a way that exemplified my ideals that it would somehow change the course of history, but it hasn’t. We’re stuck. My generation has been useless. We’ve largely failed. I’ve failed.

If there is a glimmer of hope, I see it in my kids. Of course, both of them are near peak idealism. I see my former self in them when I talk to them about serious things. I’ll give my opinion if they ask, but I mostly let them talk. I want to draw from their youthful enthusiasm. They don’t need to be saddled with the weight of my experience. Experience is a great teacher, but it’s also a cold-hearted bastard. Both of them are better than I was at their age. They are more intelligent and more passionate than I was. I don’t speak of the painful realizations that are to come. I hope they can transcend these things and push the world forward just a little. That’s my hope. If that happens, then my life was worth it. I will have made a tiny drop into the ocean of life that someone, somewhere heard for a brief moment.

The Biggest Dick

Every morning, I start my day in similar fashion. I stagger downstairs to pour myself a cup of coffee (it’s programmed to be ready by the time I get up) and make myself breakfast. Then, I get on my computer to read the news while I eat breakfast and enjoy that first cup of the day. My enjoyment usually ends there because the news cycle is a barrage of depressing and unflattering stories. I often have to flip over to Instagram to get some relief from the misery and idiocy. My Instagram feed is mostly of dog pages I follow. You can’t be miserable when you’re looking at puppies.

In today’s media circus, where anyone who can spell d-o-g can yell from any virtual corner without any substance of facts, it’s become apparent that we’re slowly devolving into a fight over who has the biggest dick. The social media one-upmanship is less about logic and reason and more about winning a pointless battle. I’m especially embarrassed for my gender because our behavior clearly shows we’re definitely not the brighter sex. We’ve become a bunch of wannabe men in the high school locker room bragging about how big our dicks are, and any threat to our exaggerated size estimates will set off a barrage of idiotic aggressive behavior similar to what you’ll see at the zoo when one of the male monkeys is threatened.

Nowhere has this become more evident than in our politics. There’s nothing more embarrassing than seeing an impotent, old man posture like he’s some young stud about to conquer the world. Our political discourse has really become like the locker room of some posh country club where a bunch of old fools cling to the supposed conquests of their youth inflating what remains of their flaccid egos. Instead of doing things, they’re talking about things, and of course, they’re bragging about who has the biggest dick as if that even matters.

I look at leaders like Jacinda Ardern, and I have to say it’s way past time to give the women their due. They can’t do much worse. At least they won’t be limited to arguments about the size of their members, nor will they overreact if their manhood is threatened. Ardern has proven cool and unshakable (literally in one recent incident) unlike the grunting and crotch scratching I often see on this side of the pond. It’d be nice to have a well-balanced discussion and a logical path to decision making, but maybe I’m asking for too much in a world dominated by shit-throwing monkeys. Surely, there are others out there who see this for what it is, or maybe this is just the dead-cat bounce of that idealism I possessed so long ago when I was young.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to break out the measuring tape. I’m going to settle an argument once and for all…

God, Guns, & Porn

This past Memorial Day weekend, my family and I drove from Atlanta to Orlando. It had been 32 years since I last made the drive down Interstate 75 into the heat and humidity of Florida. Back in 1988, my good friend Marshall and I made the trek down to Florida to celebrate his high school graduation in what would become a memorable trip for a couple of high school buddies.

Some stories from that trip still live on in our collective consciousness simply because of the sheer brazenness of our youth. For instance, we were walking near the beachfront in Daytona beach when a drug dealer approached us and asked us if we wanted to buy some coke. Back then I was a smart ass (okay, I still am), so I responded that I preferred Pepsi because, for some reason, I thought that’d be funny. Luckily, Marshall ushered me out of there before my mouth got my ass kicked or worse. Back at the hotel a short time later we laughed about it; although, Marshall’s laugh was a nervous one.

Needless to say, this trip was more benign. The passage of three decades will do that to you. The drive hasn’t changed much. It’s still boring as hell. South Georgia offers nothing that is worth recommending in terms of sights. One is left to stare at the endless billboards that litter the side of the freeway as bugs commit suicide on the car windshield.

At least the billboards offered some entertaining contradictions as we sped through the raining insects. As I sat in the passenger seat while my teenage daughter absorbed her first road-trip driving experience, I amused myself by reading the billboards. I couldn’t do much else, like read a book, while my daughter drove because I had to be prepared to spout a dad-ism about driving at a moments notice. That’s too much pressure to relax and read a book.

Anyway, the billboards. If they offer any insight into the local zeitgeist, it’s a confusing one. There were numerous billboards for “the world’s largest” adult bookstore and a cafe centered around a stripper pole. Both emphasized the fact that they had ample truck parking. The locals must love their truckers.

I found the trucker fascination a little humorous when it came to the spas that apparently dot the interstate. They too have ample parking for truckers. Now, I’m not a spa patron, but I’ve seen the spas my wife goes goes to, and I’ve never seen a semi parked out front while the driver gets a mani-pedi. I could be wrong, but these spas may be a little different.

The selling of sex certainly piqued my interest, but my attention shifted as the billboards grew in number and audacity. I noticed a plethora of gun-related billboards. It’s no surprise that Southerners love their guns. When I was growing up in the South, just about every hillbilly had more guns than he had teeth. That affinity hasn’t changed as the billboards attest, but I couldn’t help but see the sex connection because instead of some toothless redneck toting an assault rifle that he used to hunt squirrels, there was an attractive woman firing a machine gun at an unseen target while encouraging drivers to stop and take a gander.

We passed on the machine gun, but just when my testosterone-fueled masculinity reached its peak, the billboards threw some cold water on me with a series of holier-than-thou religious billboards. Southerners excel at good, old-fashioned religious guilt, and these billboards broke out all of the trite cliches. Never mind that the series of billboards I had just read encouraged me to purchase illicit sex and kill something.

I don’t remember what the billboards were advertising 32 years ago when I first made this drive. Maybe they were similar back then too, or maybe, I’m just a lot more cynical now. Some things never change.

Balance

In 2013, I ramped up my running. I had just completed two years of more than 1,500 miles each, and I decided I wanted to go even higher. I started running every day for a period of time, shunning days off to get more miles. It paid off early on. I ran my best marathon time ever in March of that year. I ran my first 50K in September, and I finished the year with over 1,600 miles. Looking back, that was the year I peaked, which in some ways is kind of sad but expected given the relentless passage of time.

It was also the last year in which I didn’t suffer from some sort of nagging ailment (that relentless passage of time again). Early in 2014, I started experiencing ankle pain. It got bad enough that I had to see a doctor and ended up taking three months off from running. I barely finished with 1,000 miles that year, and I haven’t been the same since. I’ve learned to live with the pain, but it has noticeably slowed me down. Nowadays, I’m just happy I can run, but if anything, that year taught me the importance of balance, not just in running, but in life.

Anytime something gets out of balance, an event happens to swing things back into equilibrium. It’s no accident that equilibrium pops up again and again in our high school science classes. The natural world seeks balance. Ancient philosophies considered equilibrium an integral part of their outlook. The whole concept of feng shui is built around striking a balance with the natural world. In other words, while things may swing toward an extreme, they’ll eventually come back into balance. There’s no way to avoid it; it will either happen by choice or force.

We all juggle so many things in our lives. If one thing takes precedence over the others, those other areas begin to suffer. In the short run (pun intended), it’s sustainable, but in the long term, it’s not, and that’s when the pendulum swings back the other way. You can fight it all you want, but in the end, you’ll lose. We all do.

Silver Lining

Unfortunately, the dumpster fire that is 2020 is already a forgettable year and we’re not even halfway through it. I’ve already written off any plans I had for this year, and I’m hoping 2021 proves to be better. I would say it can’t be any worse, but I don’t want to tempt the fates because living in poorly-written disaster movie is about as fun as watching paint dry.

That being said, it would be melodramatic to say nothing good has come out of this. Sometimes, there’s a patch of blue in a gray sky, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point that out, but first, it helps to have a perspective on a typical day in the pre-pandemic era.

With two teenagers in school and both my wife and I working, our weekdays were a churn of seemingly endless activity, and our weekends were mostly filled with things we couldn’t do during the week plus any fun activities we had planned. The days and weeks flew by. I’d blink, and another month had passed. There were days when I barely saw my kids. Being teenagers and all, they’d hole up in their rooms after school with their doors shut. I rarely made it home for dinner on most days because there was always something more to do at work. I’d come home and reheat my dinner and chat with my wife while I ate. Time for bed. Repeat ad nauseum. Phil Connors had nothing on me.

The pandemic changed all of that. First, schools shut down and relegated my kids to online learning at home. Then, my wife started working from her home office, and a week later, I joined them working from my home office. Suddenly, the four of us were together all day every day. Gone were the commutes and after-school activities and programs. The weekends, often crammed with chores, errands, and activities, became drawn-out days void of any intentions. My kids, like feral animals in the night, ventured outside their rooms for long stretches of time because even teenagers cannot soak in their own privacy indefinitely. They need some social interaction, and in desperate times when all else is lost, they’ll socialize with their parents.

It took a bit to get used to this new home order. With our usual routines upended, new ones formed. We have dinner together on most nights. Even if I have work to do, I can walk the 40-odd feet from my office to the dining room and have a meal with my family. The conversations have been wonderful ranging from the humorous to the serious. Even my son, whose predilection for grunting one-word answers to any question, has emerged as a thoughtful conversationalist. Weird times these days…

Just about every evening, all four of us take the dogs for a walk. We have a standard route we take weaving through the neighborhood, carefully maintaining social distance from our friendly neighbors whom we see regularly these nights. The mile-long walks offer up more opportunities for conversations, which helps my wife and I feel more connected to our sometimes brooding teenagers. I worry about how hard this is on them. They are disconnected from their friends and the other social aspects of school, but one thing I’ve noticed is how resilient they are, how much they have adapted and accepted our current state of affairs. They’ll be alright when this is all over (whatever “over” ends up being).

I can’t help but think that this significant pause in our lives is giving us a chance to connect with our kids on a deeper level than we would have otherwise at this point in their lives. In the former order, it was easy to keep moving forward without much concern for the moment. They’d be less inclined to engage with us because there were too many other things going on – school, activities, friends. Now, there’s just this void that stretches on for days, weeks, and months, and we’ve filled it as a family.

The hardest part of being a parent is letting go. It’s a necessary part of the circle of life because you want your kids to grow into independent adults, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. One day too soon, these two will venture out on their own and have lives completely separate from us, but for now, we’re getting an opportunity to enjoy our time with them as we’ve all been thrown together in isolation from our usual busy lives. If that’s not a silver lining in all of this, I don’t know what is. I suspect that years from now, when it’s just my wife and me, we’ll think back to this time and remember it more for the opportunity it gave us than for the inconvenience it caused.

Dancing (or Writing) with Myself

Billy Idol, that hyper-cool rocker from the 1980s, said it best when he sang “There’s nothing to lose and nothing to prove” in his hit “Dancing with Myself”. While his love-lorn song about dancing solo may have been a hit with fans for its rhythmic beat (and let’s be real, Idol was just so cool back then), the lyrics tell the story of a traveler (a rock star, perhaps) that’s missing that one girl but makes the best of being alone.

While I can’t imagine that the life of a rock star is one of loneliness, I can say that of the writer is in many respects. It’s a solo act for sure. Hours spent pounding away on a keyboard, thinking through plot lines, or simply reading and re-reading drafts are not activities that lend themselves to group engagement. Sure, writing groups exist that remedy the isolation, but I find such groups feel like swimming in very choppy water where I get tossed from side to side by the waves of varying opinions that often conflict with one another. It’s like purposefully tossing myself into a giant blender and trying to avoid getting dizzy. I’d rather not.

Instead, I spend all of my writing time holed away in my office. By now, I’ve amassed thousands of pages of writing on this blog, in my Scrivener program, or in various documents. Much of it unseen or untouched by anyone but myself. I have seven novels that made it to the first draft. I have several incomplete novels that linger in a purgatory of sorts. I feel like a hoarder watching over my room full of books and stories that are piled up to the ceiling, some fanned open and others stacked in haphazard columns that threaten to topple over. On second thought, let’s chuck the hoarder imagery; that gives me the creeps.

I’m sure the next time I sit down in my chair to start writing I’ll hear Idol belting out the chorus to this song, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll pull up the song on my phone and have a listen. You just never know what will inspire you to write.

My 300th Post

On February 11, 2014, I welcomed everyone to this blog with my very first post. By that time, I had been writing on a regular schedule for almost two years and I felt it was time to put some of my work out into the world. I envisioned this blog as a place to experiment with ideas and share concepts, sometimes incomplete, with others. Although I had three novel drafts under my belt by that time, I was just beginning to find my groove.

A lot has changed in the ensuing six years. I’ve continued to post to this blog. It has evolved as has my approach to writing. I closed down a separate personal blog and combined all of my efforts here. I’ve written several more novel drafts, but my output has slowed dramatically over the past two years. I’ve started and not finished a couple of novels, but I’ve continued to write, even if the stuff I’m writing is just random, personal anecdotes. I’ve played with different ideas and genres. I’ve read more and learned more.

Sometimes, it feels like I haven’t progressed much from six years ago. I’m still unpublished, but to be fair, I haven’t pushed anything in front of an agent in over two years. My focus has been on getting better, and the only way you can get better is through practice. My one writing goal this year is to take a couple of writing courses at a local college, but that has been delayed by the pandemic that has all but ended in-person courses for a while. I’ll consider taking the courses virtually if this continues much longer.

To be honest, the push to get published sucked the fun out of writing. For a while, I was sending stuff out regularly, and if I heard anything back, it was all negative. Even the most positive person can only take so much negativity before it takes it’s toll. I decided that I’d rather write for an audience of one and enjoy the hell out of it than continue down the path I had originally plotted, so I stopped. I even considered stopping this blog and just storing away my work on my hard drive for my own creative outlet, but for now at least, I’ll keep posting here. The fact that I’ve made it to my 300th post constitutes some level of perseverance considering I’m mostly talking to myself.