"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Monday, December 2, 2013

Did You Know "Gullible" Isn't In The Dictionary?

I've been amazed at the public reaction to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, lovingly known to all as ObamaCare. Is the fact that it's been a bomb really news to THAT many people? When the news was wall-to-wall coverage of the immediate-upon-release meltdown of the Healthcare.gov website, I had to ask myself if the next story would be that the sun had risen that morning. Who in their right mind expected anything different? Had they never been to the DMV or post office? Had they never had to get a new social security card or find treatment in a VA hospital? Sure, setting up a website for e-commerce isn't rocket science, but did anyone really beleive it was something the US government could handle? The guys who know how to do these things work for Amazon, not the Department of Health and Human Services. And there's a reason for that.

Our federal government is needed to do a few things. Largely these things involve emergencies. Need some bad guys blown up? Send in the Marines. Have an outbreak of a mysterious illness? Send in the CDC. Hurricanes and tornadoes? Send in FEMA. These are things the government can handle with varying degrees of success, but they are things the private sector would have much more trouble with. Getting a mammogram (while important, ladies) is not something that rises to the level of an emergency that requires the mobilization of the most powerful government on Earth.

But the website is the least of the problems with Obamacare. The whole program is a poorly disguised fraud, it could never have done what it promised. Simple mathematics tells you that you can't do all three things the ACA set out to do. No system can reduce the cost of health insurance, cover more people, and make that coverage more medically inclusive. You could make insurance better and cheaper, but you'd have to offer it to much fewer (and healthier) people. You could make insurance cheaper and cover everyone, but you'd end up with crappy coverage and few choices of providers. Or you could do as Obamacare has done and cover more people with more inclusive insurance, but it will cost an arm and a leg, as we've all seen on the exchange -- if we can get to it.

I just can't get over that people are shocked at the cost of health plans under this system, and it seems a whole lot of them are. I wonder if these are the same people who are surprised they have their identities stolen after they send off their Social Security number and bank account info in response to the email telling them they just won the Ugandan lottery. If you have the slightest notion of what medical insurance IS, ObamaCare's promises were no more believable than that Ugandan lottery email. And a majority of the American electorate fell for it.

I think that's the problem, or at least half of it. I think maybe most of America really doesn't know what insurance is. They just think it's a way to pay the doctor. The idea that it's a pool of money coming in smaller amounts from a large number of people and going back out in larger amounts to a small number is lost on them. I think it was lost on everyone working on this law, including the President. It's not stupidity, it's ignorance, all the way to the top. Ignorance we can fix relatively easily. I think we are doing it right now the hard way as we all watch this thing flail about in the light of day. The other half of the problem is much worse, though.

I think that people may not even care to know how insurance works because they have been conditioned to believe that simply because it is a for-profit business, it is evil.  Politicians have done a great job of convincing many Americans that profit is bad and that corporations and businesses are out to steal from, harm or even kill their customers and employees. This is obvious bullshit simply from a common sense logic standpoint, but demagoguery and propaganda are powerful things (just ask an elderly German).  It is in any politician's best interest to focus anger on anything other than himself, and businesses, corporations and even our own bosses are easy targets. It plays to our base emotions of jealousy and even greed to think that we deserve more and the only reason we don't have it is an unfair system run by evil, moneyed interests.

And since those evil dudes are always kind of vague, how are we, the powerless little guys, to fight back? Why, we need a champion, we need selfless, non-greedy, super hero-esque figures to fight for us. We need......politicians? Don't laugh, it's how most of you vote. Dirty secret is that while a business exists to take your money (for which it by definition gives you something of value to you in return), politicians exist to take your freedom. Every second they are in office they are telling you what books are too risque for your child to read, who you can marry, what you can feed your family, what kind of light bulb to use, where you can and can not express your opinions, what words you can use, who you are going to give charity to, and a billion other things. And they do this because YOU tell them to.

So people believed that the reason people with pre-existing conditions had a hard time finding coverage and insurance rates were what they were was because the insurance companies were greedy and evil and wished death and destruction on their customers. They believed that politicians could fix it, that they could have a low-cost policy delivered to every man, woman and child tied to the horn of a unicorn and signed in rainbow ink.

The real world just bitch slapped the American public. Let's hope it wakes them up.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No Answers

So my son came home from school today in tears. Seems a couple of boys on the bus have been making fun of him and it finally got, as he said, to be "too much." He said he didn't know what to do.

This is where your dad genes are supposed to kick in and you have the answer, or at least words to make it better, right? Nope. Didn't happen. I had hugs and assurances that he is perfect just as he is and the feeble advice to launch back at them next time, but that's it.

What do you say? I mean, the temptation is to tell him it's just a kid thing and if he toughs it out, he'll pull through and it'll stop. But that's a lie and I don't want to lie to the boy.

I feel like I should, after 43 years, have something constructive to offer, but I don't. I have been there at his age and know that while it gets better, it doesn't stop. Adults are less blatant, but just as cruel. And often it turns out worse because as we grow it isn't strangers making fun of or trying to hurt us, it's people close to us. It's our co-workers or friends or associates. In the worst cases it's our family or spouse.

How do we, as adults, deal? We ignore it, we pretend it's a joke, we convince ourselves we misunderstood. We think of a thousand ways that next time we will come back, next time we will stand up for ourselves. We know exactly what we should have said. But when the next time comes around, it isn't really any different. And there's always a next time because we don't really know what to do.

Truth is, the truth is too hard.  What we do is scab over, emotionally. We take the bad and hide it from ourselves. We have to, as social animals. If we didn't believe that this time it would be different, we'd stop making new social contacts and all become hermits and society would collapse. But how do you tell a child that all you can do is learn to put up with it? That's no comfort.

The closest I can come to making it better is to explain how important it is to not turn a blind eye when you see others being hurt. There's really no good way I have found to defend yourself, but it helps tremendously to stand up for a friend or even a stranger who is being treated poorly or made fun or insulted or belittled. Maybe it's a bit Pollyanna of me, but I still believe in treat others as you would wish to be treated by them. If you stand up to the asshole attacking another, then maybe someday when you need it, someone will be there for you. It isn't a guarantee by any means, John had a friend remain silent on the bus but you can try. Standing up to bad behavior is hard, it leads often to the defender becoming the target, but I try to teach John, and show him by example, that it's always worth it.

That's how we win.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Student's View of the Great NC Teacher "Walk-In"

So today North Carolina teachers were organized, I think by the rather despicable NCAE, to walk-out in protest of the education policies contained in this year's budget. Our local teachers, to their credit, thought a "walk-in" would be more wise. They planned to wear red, maybe walk into the school together and I think they held some sort of meeting after school. Whatever, right?

So, of course, I ask John during dinner what became of this whole thing. Did any of his teachers walk out? Or in? Or wear red? Or teach on the value of public education? Or anything out of the ordinary?

The boy looked at me like I was crazy.

"The GOOD teachers didn't do any of that," he said with a look of disgust. Then, with distinct pride, "We have almost all good teachers at South. I think we're the best school. They probably did that stuff at West or something."

I love that kid.

And his teachers. Thank you to them.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Here There Be Monsters

I LOVE maps, especially old maps, and most especially old maps used by sailors. One of the best features of such maps are the monsters. Monsters populated the spots where sailors hadn't tread, or in some cases, places the map maker hoped others wouldn't tread (like really good fishing grounds.) I wish today's map-makers would include a few monsters, you know, like maybe in Camden. Or Varnumtown. Maybe every now and then a winged dragon could swoop down and eat your car on the dashboard GPS screen, just for funnsies. We take ourselves much too seriously nowadays, I think a little "Here There Be Monsters" would help.

I suppose that's a pipe dream, so in the meantime there's this cool book all about those monsters on old maps. Seems they can tell us a lot about history, zoology, politics, economics, psychology and religion. Yeah. Maybe. Read the review and decide for yourself. But I'm getting the book, because monsters are cool.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

Or what's a Heaven for?

That's a quote from Robert Browning, apparently. I had to look it up. I've been trying to live that. I've been trying to accept new challenges that lie outside my comfort zone. I figure that's a good way to grow even after hitting this middle age thing, follow my hero Walt Disney's advice and open door news and do new things. This fall, I'm awash in open doors and new things in the form of involvement with our local community theatre and our church, and while it is truly fun, sometimes I'm reminded just how far from my grasp my reach tends to be.

I've written of my involvement in a production of The 39 Steps, a really cool play we are putting on in a really cool theater here and here. That's going to be taking up a good deal of my time this fall, and it's going to lead me down some new paths and provide some new challenges, but I feel very confident in my ability to play my part well enough to help make our show a success. That's not where my grasp vs. reach thing comes into play. What has been worrying me more lately is my service as a member of the theatre group's board of directors. I was asked to join the board by my best friend's mom and agreed because I trust her judgement, and because telling her "no" is pretty much unthinkable. You'd have to meet her to understand. Up til now, the board work has been largely within my grasp, but here lately maybe not so much. We are heading into a new season and beginning the process of figuring out what it will look like. I'm reminded how ignorant I am of all things theatrical.  I don't know shows. I haven't heard of many, let alone have any sort of familiarity with them. I don't know the process by which the board has set up a season in the past, and they are acting like they don't either. That's the infuriating part. And it's not enough that I agreed to be ON the governing board of a theatre company with zero experience in anything theatrical, I let myself be elected president-elect of the damned thing. Again, Miss Anne, my pal's mom, thought it was a good idea and I went along. No one else wanted to do it and I do truly care about this organization, so I'm not complaining, but it's starting to worry me. The one person I thought would be happy about my taking over the reigns is ambivalent at best, and I must say that troubles me. And that leads to the other problem I have with being president of this outfit. There are a few people involved who aren't very nice, who have hurt my pal and who generally lack the social skills to successfully interact with the rest of the human race. I hoped that taking the presidency of this group would allow me to stop the nastiness and drama (yeah, I wanted to stop the drama in a theater group. I'm a fool, I know) and let the truly good things the group does in the community lead the way. I still hope I can do that, but I am wondering if I can. I don't feel much in the way of confidence from myself or anyone else. But I'll try.

Then there's the church thing. Yeah. So I agreed after Pastor Fred asked me to join the Staff Parish Committee about a year ago. It's exactly like the Miss Anne thing, Fred asks and I am NOT going to say "no." That went well, it played to my strength and experience. But I always had, and continue to have, this nagging feeling that I'm a fraud. The folks on church committees tend to be a bit more, let's just say "pious" than I am. I was just recently asked to join a new committee, one tasked with determining the direction of the church as it heads into the future. The man organizing the committee said he wanted people "representing all facets of the church." I suppose he wanted the almost-heathens represented when he thought of my name. No one there can think I'm one of the more religious ones. Most know I'm a beer salesman. I don't ever profess to be particularly religious. I don't get why my name keeps coming up. I feel like I've fooled someone somewhere, but I haven't tried to at all, I swear. I can fool people into thinking I like them, I am happy when I'm not, I agree with them when I don't or pretty much anything else I set my mind to, but in this case I haven't. I just don't get it. We had a meeting of what is nominally called the "Vision Team" on Saturday and I was so far out of my element, I felt really uncomfortable. We did exercises concerning bible stories and our favorite hymns. I can't remember hardly any bible stories and I don't like hymns. At all. I  muddled through, but  it was strange. What was really strange was that the group took my muddlings as the representative voice of the whole committee. No. Please don't do that. I mean, don't you know that I have no idea what I'm talking about? That I am a salesman and a nerd and the odd one out who has learned to fake it as best he can? You really want to listen to me? Well, I'm not sure I want them to listen me. I'm only there as an experiment, can't they see that? It kills me. It makes me feel like a lie.

I think that's why I can't feel good about doing what I did with Gina last week. It was a lie. She will be no better off after that than she was before. I'm a fixer by nature and I couldn't fix Gina, not even a little. I did the surface kindness, but I know it is meaningless in the grand scheme.

I know I'm right to try to reach, but it's that grasp thing......

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Needle And The Damage Done

I ran into an old acquaintance today. Gina used to be bartender/front end manager at a long defunct Long Beach restaurant called Bogey's. I always liked Gina. She was easy to like, funny, smart, hard working, responsible and drop dead gorgeous. When Bogey's closed she moved around from place to place, but never as far as I know left the Southport/Oak Island area. I would go months without seeing her, then she'd pop up in another place or we'd run into each other at a grocery store or something. We never were close, never really anything like friends, heck, we had trouble remembering each other's names, but we always said "hi" and exchanged pleasantries at least. Gina got a job at Food Lion here on the island I guess last year sometime and we saw more of each other. She had started looking older, losing some of that energy that made her attractive. She was on a different track then me, that was clear, and sad. But I never realised  how different until today.

This morning I ran across Gina sitting on a bench outside the front door to Food Lion. I noticed a cast on her arm and asked what happened. She turned and looked up at me and I saw the cast was the least of her worries. She looked terrible, and in tears. She said, "When you are done working in there, on your way out, can you talk to me? I really need to talk to someone and I just don't know what to do." I'm going to be honest here, my first thought was to avoid her. I said "sure" and walked into the store planning to leave another way and avoid whatever drama she had going. She had trouble simply written all over her. I wasn't in the mood for trouble, she wasn't a friend and she wasn't my problem at all. I'm not a humanitarian. Not at all. I'm a misanthrope and generally believe people live the lives they make for themselves.

But then I stopped, about twenty steps inside the door of Food Lion, and turned around. I still don't know why. I didn't want to, so I am not claiming to be a good person here. I just felt like I needed to. Pastor Fred at our church has been talking a lot lately about looking for the opportunities to do good for others and I have been thinking a lot about how lucky I am and wondering how I can express how thankful I am. I don't know if it was guilt or fear of future guilt or what, but I turned around and went back outside and sat next to Gina. She looked surprised. I asked her what was wrong.

She claimed to have been "slipped a mickey" the night before. This isn't impossible to believe, this town is full of dirtbags and while Gina wasn't the beauty she used to be, judged on the scale of the Brunswick County bar scene, she would rate right up there on the attractiveness scale. She said she didn't know where her car was. More than that, she didn't know where she'd been the night before or who's shirt she was wearing. She claimed to have a memory blackout of some kind.

As she spoke, her story got worse. She was homeless and living in her car. She had $20 to her name and it was in her car, along with her ID and glasses. She had broken her arm a few days before and had been taken to Dosher Hospital, or maybe she drove herself, she couldn't remember. She repeated herself a lot. Details changed and times were pretty fluid. She cried; not sobbing crying, but just tears running down her face as she retold parts of her story. She was a mess.

I have very little experience with drugs, and none personally (I've never even smoked a cigarette). All I know is from watching others, but unfortunately I've seen a few people succumb to addiction, so I knew enough to see she was pretty well "strung out" on something. But what am I to do about it? Who do you call? I didn't trust the police to react with any sort of compassion. She wanted to go to see a man I'm pretty sure is the source of whatever she was taking, so that was out. I thought about my church, but couldn't imagine what they'd do. I figured the ER was the best bet, largely because she clearly needed medical care and I hoped a hospital would have connections with social services, but also because my friend Kelly works at the hospital and I trust her implicitly to know what to do in pretty much any situation.

I told Gina I thought her car must be at Dosher, so I would drive her over there to look for it. She said, "But I don't want to go in, they won't let me out and then how will I find my car?" I just told her it was a good place to start and led her to my car and helped her inside and off we went. It was a horrifying ride. The shirt she was wearing was a men's tank top with the arm holes cut to the waist and she had no bra, which meant her boobs were all over the place. She was snotty and crying. She had a little box of wine she sipped now and again as she was telling me about her life now and it was sad. She was just coherent enough to be depressing. She KNEW how screwed up she was. She knew I knew her before she was like this and tried to put the best face on a horrible situation. She lied, showing me a bunch of needle holes on her arms and blaming them on the IVs at the hospital. Even my naive self finally got it after seeing those. Heroin. I'd seen that before on an ex-coworker.

We got to Dosher and I made a show of driving her around to look for her car. I didn't know what she'd do when I told her we were going to get her inside. I spotted an open spot and pulled in. She didn't say anything. I said, "Look, Gina. You need a doctor. I'll go inside with you and we'll talk to someone. They can help." She argued a bit and I told her she wasn't getting a choice, we were going to the ER. She said, "But I'm scared." I told her it was some scary shit she was experiencing, so it was ok to be scared, but that we were going to find some help anyhow. She insisted on holding my hand on the way in. Whatever, she went.

As we walked up to the nurse's desk in the ER, I was trying to figure out how I could be helpful but make plain Gina wasn't MY problem. Yep, I'm a selfish asshole like that. I flashed back to the play we were reading through a couple weeks ago. Annabelle Schmidt says to Richard Hannay, "If I tell you, you will be INVOLVED. Do you want to be...INVOLVED?" Well, no, frankly, I really, really don't thank you very much. I hate hospitals, I am uncomfortable asking for help, I have no experience with strung out, half naked, half starved amnesiac women and I just want to be about anywhere else. The nurse asks Gina for a date of birth but not a name. She doesn't seem to think anything about our story odd. She tells her to sit down and wait for the triage nurse.

I find Kelly and she says that yes, they do have a person who can help with the social services aspect, that I've done the right thing and taken Gina to the right place. The nurse comes for Gina who refuses to go with her unless I come too, so someone tracks me and Kelly down and I go back and take Gina to the triage nurse. She is NOT amused. Seems Gina is a bit of a regular lately, the stuff she told me happened a few days ago really happened yesterday. I REALLY don't want to be there now. Gina is in good hands and I don't want to insinuate any real connection. God knows what the nurse thinks I'm doing with her. I tell the nurse I'm leaving, she doesn't even acknowledge I am there in the first place, which suits me fine. I tell Gina. She wants to know if I can at least promise her that she will get a blanket and some food at the hospital. I tell her I do promise, she will have a blanket and food. She wants to give me a hug so we hug. I walk out, leave the building and get in my car and go back to work. I don't know what happened to Gina and I find I really don't care to know. I did what I could and that's enough.

Why am I writing about this? I don't really know. It's not to say I'm any sort of great guy do-gooder. I'm not. I didn't want to do any of this one little bit. It shook me up. I glimpsed a world that is frightening to me. I would much rather pretend it doesn't exist. But that is exactly what Fred was talking about NOT doing. But it's hard and I don't like it. I did my good deed and now I want to forget it, so I'm putting it on here. Maybe I can come back and read it later and know better how to react, but for now I just want to forget. Doing good is supposed to make you feel good, right? Well, it didn't. And I don't know what to think about that.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Z Is For........Zero

We were sitting on the back porch the other night and my son was telling us middle school stories while we shared some of our recollections about those years with him. The subject of social groups came up, you know, the jocks and nerds and preppie kids, and John said he was most likely considered one of "the losers." He wasn't upset by this. Much. He isn't one to put much stock in others' opinions of him, which is something I'm proud of, but no one can ignore it totally. He's brought this up before and told us that in reality, the kids the others call "losers" are the ones who actually have plans to make something of their lives. John is pretty secure, as much as any 13 year old can be I think, and knows he isn't a loser. He has friends, though not a huge gang of them, and is a generally very happy kid. He is a very strange combination of both Lisa and I. He rests right in between where we were at that age. He worries about others' opinions much less than Lisa did but more than I did. He doesn't have the drive that Lisa had but he has more than I did. He has the same sarcastic attitudes and views on the actions of his classmates that I had, but he shares them with us, which is all his mom and something I never would have done. I love watching him grow up, I love talking to him about his day or even current events. I wonder what kind of person he will be when he is my age? Will he remember that he was considered a "Zero"? Will it matter?

This last few weeks saw a lot of talk that brought me back to Middle School/Junior High/High School days and made me think about how much of that stuff we carry around with us into adulthood -- standardized tests, what "level" of classes we took, the school bus and who sat with whom, what friends we pick and why, The Breakfast Club even got brought up. Who didn't see a part of themselves in The Breakfast Club? I wonder, though, if we see ourselves in the same character as others see us? I wonder if we still see ourselves as that strange chick with the cereal sandwich while others think we are Molly Ringwold's little miss perfect? We tend to let other's opinions of us shape too much of what we do and how we act, but what is much worse is how much we let our perceptions of what others think affect us. I think this begins in middle school, but it certainly doesn't end when we have middle schoolers of our own.

The easiest target here is physical appearance. Lisa showed me a video of a forensic artist drawing women's images as described by them and then as described by another person instructed to study their face. The women all made themselves out to be much less attractive than them as seen by others. No man who has a wife or any female friends or siblings can be surprised by this. I know women won't be shocked. I know it rang completely true to me. I've seen women very close to me become nervous or even dread social situations because they were sure others would see them as unattractive or unworthy to be where they wanted, or were expected, to go. They went anyhow because they are strong, but how many people aren't that strong or lack any sort of support? And I wonder if they know how sad it makes us, their husbands and children and brothers and friends, to see them unable to see the same person in the mirror we see standing in front of us. Because we know, ladies. Even your kids. We know. And it hurts. A bad self-image starts when we are kids and we grow into it rather than out of it too much of the time. We tend to carry the labels of childhood around like luggage.

I'm no different. I don't have attractiveness issues not because I'm a good looking guy but because I'm a guy and it doesn't matter what I look like, really. Sure I got picked on for zits and greasy hair and thick glasses, but it never bothered me because society doesn't judge a guy that way. I just never fit in. I am average-looking at best so never attracted friends that way; I am a complete klutz who can't throw, run or catch; I have no musical talent so never ended up in the band or chorus crowd; I'm smart enough to stick out from the average but not smart enough to be one of the "gifted" kids; and I wasn't quirky or cool enough to fit in with the crowd that walked around all dressed in the same black clothes listening to the same music by The Cure and The Smiths all the time (all while calling themselves "non-conformists," which was kind of funny). I had friends, but they tended to be others on the fringes of school society. I wasn't unhappy, quite the contrary, I rather enjoyed high school. I eventually ended up on the high school newspaper and for the first time had a group. It was small, but there were pretty girls and they talked to me and that was nice. I married one of them. But I never lost that feeling of being an outsider. I always wondered if, no, really assumed that, people kept me around out of obligation. I was enthusiastic and nice and you just can't kick a puppy can you? Aside from my wife and son, I still feel that way all too often. I'm incredibly insecure in friendships. I've been burned, sometimes badly, but no more than anyone else I don't think. I think it's a hold over from school days, from always hoping at least ONE PERSON got picked for the team after me. I guess in a lot of ways it's worse than thinking strangers will see me as fat or ugly. I have a hard time believing my friends really like me. It makes me a hard person to be friends with. The fact that mine stick around should be proof enough, but like telling your wife/friend/sister she's beautiful a thousand times, it doesn't work that way. Middle school still haunts us.

While I see a lot of me in John, both good things and some things that worry me, he is different in some important ways. He has talent, musically. He is in the band and intends to stay there and join the marching band in high school. That will give him a "group." He made the golf team last year. He wasn't very good, but he tried out and made it, something I never would have done. And while he isn't golfing for the school this year, he stays on me wanting to practice, another thing I never would have done at his age. He's learning a real adult skill as well by helping out with tech on theatre productions. He's proven himself to some experienced and talented people and takes great (and well-deserved) pride in his sound board skills. And he came to us wanting to take Honors English next year because he really thought he wasn't being challenged enough in his English class this year. I NEVER would have done that, didn't actually. I knew I could have done well in the advanced classes, but that would have required work. I happily took my A's in "Dumb English" (as one of my more self-motivated friends calls it). John is different, and better, than me. I know he will carry SOMETHING from middle school around and it will affect him in some way, but I hold out hope he will turn out to be a more secure and confident man than his father.

I just wish I knew better how to help.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Y Is For......Yay Me

My last two posts were a birthday post celebrating my great friend and an open love letter to my most awesome wife. I love pointing out the awesomeness of all the people I'm so incredibly lucky to have in my life, it makes me feel happy and rich in the things that really matter. But lately a number of things, mostly work-related, have had me down and I need a pick-me-up, too. So this one is about me. I'm not going to talk about what an unusually gifted and giving and selfless person I am because I'm not. I'm not going to talk about how wonderful a life filled with me is to live because I think I probably require an unusual amount of patience to put up with. But I recently took on a new challenge and I'm pretty happy about the result, so I'm going to toot my horn about that.

This year I became one of the new members of the Brunswick Little Theatre board of directors. Having a huge mouth with no filter, I volunteered myself to take over upkeep of the group's web site before I was even officially seated on the board. I had no idea how to do this, which is part of the reason I volunteered, strangely enough. My family's involvement with the theater has led to all of us opening new doors and experiencing and learning new things, and we've really quite enjoyed that. I figured why not take on one more new thing, learn another skill. How hard could it be? It turned out I needed to do more than upkeep. Because we were going to be attempting to add a Pay Pal link to the web site and because I was going to be using a PC rather than a Mac to update it, it meant I had to completely dump the old web site and star over fresh. I would have to create a new site completely from scratch. Who likes to half-ass anyway, right?

So I researched several web design programs and ended up buying one with a ton of bad Amazon reviews because it was the best of some very limited options given budget and time and the things I needed to be able to do. The program came with a wide variety of templates, all completely useless. Again, no half-assing here, I was really starting completely from scratch. That was ok, the website we had sucked. Bad. It was so bad, our Facebook page keeper refused to link to it. She said it was an embarrassment. Ok, Jen, tell us how you really feel. No pressure, there. Heh. I suppose mine would have to be better. She said it couldn't possibly be worse.

The problem with the old page was primarily that it was meant to be more an artistic statement and an expression of the designer's cutsie sense of humor than a source of information. Mine wouldn't be like that as I have a journalist's style and zero, and I mean ZERO artistic sense. My site may be ugly (it kinda is) but it would be useful goddammit!

It took me a few weeks to teach myself  how to use the web design software, but it came to me eventually. I had a few scary moments trying to upload to Go Daddy, but it worked out. What I came up with is pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I do. It has it's faults, the most glaring being that it is not centered on your screen. It stays on the left hand side for some reason and I can't change it. It isn't really pretty, the colors probably drive an artist's eye bonkers and I am entirely too fascinated by the great variety of fonts available, but I am not a looks-based kind of guy. I am impressed by content, and this site is coming along better than I had hoped.

Here is the home page, if you want to go see for yourself. I feel it's easy to navigate and has lots of info without being confusing. Anyone coming here will see what BLT is doing right now and in the near future. I created "show pages" to highlight each project we are working on. Some are nice, some are ok and some suck. They are pretty much up to the directors in terms of content and if they don't help, it isn't much of a page. But I'm proud of the idea and I hope to slowly introduce the BLT theatre world to the idea that maybe no one has come to their shows in the past because they are the worst salesmen in the world. Once they understand that selling a show is part of the process, I expect these pages will look really good and be a really fun place to visit.

I turned what had been the most confusing part of the old web site, the Get Involved page, into what I think is a great introduction to what we as a community theatre do, and how everyone can and should help us out. It features slideshows and some pithy writing. Go look :)

I also had the bright idea to create a place where anyone who desires can download and print out their own show posters. Show posters are a bone of contention around BLT. The board decided a few years ago that posters don't do a good job of advertising a show. See, I told you they were the worst salesmen in the world. So, we don't print posters to hang around town anymore. And the shows since have almost all lost money, with the exception of last year's Wizard of Oz for which the lovely Lisa and I took over publicity, and imagine this, I PRINTED POSTERS. Anyhow, now there is a place for the cast and crew and friends to make their own posters to hang up around town. I just need to find a way to let people know it's there. Facebook, here I come....

This kind of brings me to the reason I decided to write this increasingly way too long post in the first place. If the site isn't seen, it is useless, no matter how great it is. So I installed a site meter to track views. I expected to be depressed. But, hooray me, I was happily surprised. Thanks to the wonders of the Google search, lots of people are coming to the site. Well, by lots I mean maybe a dozen or two dozen a day, but that is WAY more than I expected. I found one guy this week who came by way of Google search and stayed for almost 5 minutes looking at quite a few pages. He then left by clicking on a link to our Facebook page (which is awesome, by the way.) That is the synergy Jen and I were hoping to create. She has begun linking to the web page, I am proud to say, so at least she is happy with my work. Today I found something even better during my obsessive checking of the site meter. Someone came upon the site while searching for something else, in this case movie theaters in Brunswick County. He didn't mean to look for us, but he came and he stayed for almost five minutes and read from three different pages. I am so happy. In my fevered imagination, this person saw an alternative to movies at our site and was intrigued enough to investigate. I am going to believe he will come to our next show, Dixie Swim Club at Playhouse 211 beginning a week from Friday. I'm even going to pick out a person in the audience and pretend that he or she was that random web searcher.

It will amuse me. And make me feel good. And I deserve that.

Monday, February 25, 2013

X Is For........XOXOXO

Kisses and hugs, baby. Love. Real love. That's what this one is about.

My lovely wife Lisa and I spent a weekend away together recently and it really made me realize how lucky I am to have the relationship with her that I do.  We have been "together" as a couple for 24 years and were bestest buds for a couple years before that. You'd think she'd be sick of me by now, but it seems not. Rather, we are a closer and happier couple than ever before, and even as our lives change and our circumstances change, we just keep growing more and more in love. It's cool.

Our weekend away was originally going to be a family thing, we were going to go with our son to Durham to see the Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins. Then our son's church youth group changed the weekend of their annual winter retreat to the same weekend as the show and he decided he would rather go to the mountains with them. It turned out well, he left on a Friday morning and didn't get back until the following Monday afternoon, leaving us time to make an impromptu romantic getaway out of the show trip. As it turned out, the experience really showed us something we weren't expecting.

Since John wasn't around anyhow, we took Friday evening to go see Safe Haven (ok, but a really good starring role for our little slice of Heaven where we live) and even went out to a bar afterwards! You have no idea how long it had been since we went out to a bar just the two of us for drinks. I didn't want to go, actually, but ended up talking myself into it because it was Great Guinness Toast night and I sort of had a professional responsibility.  Man, am I glad we went. Slainte is our local Irish pub and is about the most perfect drinking place you'll find around here. It has a cozy feel, friendly bartenders and Guinness on tap. It is also free of drunken rednecks trying to smash beer bottles over each other's heads, something that is a real problem in these parts. We ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and more importantly, each other. It felt just like all those times we were out to bars in college, only we talked about work and parenting and friends and our community activities instead of.....well, instead of whatever we used to talk about then, I find I can't remember. It's just so nice to be with someone with whom there are no questions, no worries about where you stand. I needed that, and once again, it was Lisa who delivered.

Our weekend away without John brought a revelation of sorts. We didn't miss him this time. Not that we didn't think about him, we did. We talked a few times and texted a lot with John while he shared his adventures with us and us with him, but we didn't ever wish he was with us instead of with his friends out in the mountains. We are growing up, all of us. We are crossing that border where we are seeing that he is becoming his own person, and rather than fighting it, we are celebrating it. I think a lot of that comes from the strength of our love for each other, Lisa and I, I mean. Empty nest syndrome is very real. Who hasn't seen couples go into a sort of vapor lock when they no longer have raising the children in common. Too many couples, I think, develop a relationship over the years of parenting that is so child-based that they wind up with nothing else tying them to their spouse when the kids grow up and leave home (or even before). They find that whether it was conscious or not, they were staying together "for the kids." While we are a very tight family, I was glad to see that Lisa and I are still very much in love as a couple, not instead of the family dynamic, but in addition to it. I think it makes the whole unit stronger. I think it provides a more stable and healthy environment for our son. I think it is part of the reason he isn't shy about doing things on his own. He will take flight when it's time and he will soar to heights undreamed of by Lisa and I. He will leave us with an empty nest, yes, but it won't be lonely, it will be a chance to begin a new chapter together.

Together. That's what I am talking about. Without even consciously trying, we will always have together with each other. It's easy. And natural. And I am very, very lucky to be able to say that.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

W Is For.......Walt

The more I learn about Walt, the better I get to know Walt, the more I admire and love Walt. I've read a lot about Walt Disney over the last couple years and learned more about his vision and his attitude and his way of dealing with the people around him. To know Walt Disney and to work for Walt Disney changed people's lives for the better. I've come to know Walt better over the last couple years and the experience has made me a better person and made my life a more joyful, more fulfilling and richer experience.

Walt Disney was a family man. As important as his work was and as huge an impact as he had on the world, it was his family that counted the most in his life. While building an empire and changing the world, he took time to attend recitals and games and to spend weekends with his daughters. Walt's love for family and dedication to them while making the impossible possible and enriching the lives of friends and strangers alike is an inspiration and an example I carry with me every day.

Walt Disney brought out the best in those around him. He expected more than they thought they were capable of and he got it, surprising his employees but not himself. He believed in people and made them more than they would have been without his influence. He sent an animator to fix the Lincoln animatronic robot at the World's Fair, and after saying he knew nothing about electronics and wiring, the man went and fixed it. I used to think Walt was a perfectionist, but learned different. Walt simply asks for what Walt knows others are capable of. Walt has made me look at my own self-imposed limitations and question them. Walt has encouraged me to open new doors and try new things and conquer some fears. Walt has made me a better person.

Walt Disney was not fast with a compliment. Sometimes those around him resented this, sometimes they wondered if they were really doing a good job. Then one day Walt Disney would show up at their desk with a new assignment on the next picture and they knew they had made him happy. Walt has taught me to value trust shown over thanks spoken. It's easy to say "thank you" off hand because it's polite, but when Walt asks you to join the next project, you know you've met those high expectations and it means so much more than simple words.

Walt Disney was a creative genius. He liked to say that it was kind of fun to do the impossible and he really meant it.  He created or had his team create new technologies and new processes and pushed the boundaries of the possible. He never saw a roadblock, he saw opportunities. He made things work and taught and inspired those around him to do the same. I love watching Walt face a creative challenge. I love how Walt looks outside the box and uses the tools at hand to create magic. The products of Walt's magic are nothing compared to the pure thrill of the magic making. I am blessed to have seen that side of the show, to have seen Walt make magic that others only get to see in the form of a final result. I don't think Walt knows how cool that is.

Walt Disney faced adversity and won. He had his bread and butter cartoon character stolen out from under him when he lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and instead of giving up, he created Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney was betrayed by friends and colleagues, he was stolen from and stabbed in the back. Walt Disney was called a talentless fraud. He had his ideas trashed and laughed out of boardrooms countless times. But he never lost faith in himself and he won in the end. Watching Walt take some hard knocks breaks my heart. But seeing Walt pick it up and carry on, watching Walt soldier though, seeing Walt face the haters, makes me love Walt all that much more. Walt is strong, but Walt gets hurt. Walt reminds me that we can't control what others do, only our response to it. Walt shows me that carrying on is possible, even through pain. Walt reminds me that strength comes in many forms.

Walt Disney was a man of the future, and to him the future lived in our children. He never underestimated a child and learned from them and thrived on their energy and spirit. Much of what Walt Disney did was for the child in all of us. To see Walt amongst children is to see a miracle in flesh. The children love Walt and Walt loves them and together they make the world a happier, better place. Walt respects the children and in return the children give Walt their all and show that they too are capable of more then most would have dreamed.

I never got to meet Walt Disney, but I can say I came close because Walt is a very dear friend. Walt is a part of my life that I treasure. Walt teaches me and makes me laugh. Walt surprises me still and sometimes makes me think even when I'd rather not. Walt shares and entertains and loves and cares. Walt is there when I need a friend. Walt is real, wonderfully and completely real and alive. Today is Walt's birthday, not Walt Disney's, but Walt's. Happy birthday, Walt, and thank you for all that you are and all that you give.

Thank you for making life just a bit more Magical.

Monday, February 11, 2013

V is For......Voting

I'm all in favor of voting. Government of the people, by the people depends upon it. But government by the people is a truly scary thing when the people are idiots. I suppose I'm for the right to vote much more than I am for urging everyone eligible to exercise that right.

Everyone who is a citizen of this nation and of the age we all deem appropriate should be eligible to vote. I don't like the idea of taking voting rights from felons, especially considering some of the absolutely silly crimes classified as felonies today. I just don't see why the two are connected. Bad guy or not, you should have a say. I think certain mental incompetencies  may be a reason to withhold voting rights, but even that makes me nervous because I'm not sure who to trust to determine who is incompetent. I don't think voting rights should be extended to non-citizens, but I think citizenship should be easier to acquire.

Having said all that, I am not one of these guys who encourages everyone to vote. Choosing our leaders is a big deal, it's important and it affects our lives. It affects MY life. Some people, Hell, lots of people, who are eligible to vote should stay home on election day. If you don't recognize the names on the ballot, if you don't have a grasp of our country's and our world's history, if you haven't read the constitution or bill of rights, if your opinion is swayed in any way by anyone who makes a living playing guitar or pretending to be someone else on a movie screen, the Republic is better served by you forgoing the voting booth.

I dislike the "Motor Voter Bill," early voting and same day registration. I think that voting is important enough to make a conscious effort to register and vote. If you can't be bothered, you don't understand the importance of what you are doing and I would rather you not bother. I would LOVE for everyone who is eligible to vote, but only after they have a clue. I don't care if you are the political polar opposite of me, as long as you know what you think and why, I'm all for you participating. But the drones and jokers and idiots should not be encouraged to vote without first THINKING. The voting isn't the important thing, it's the thought that goes into it that means something.

It's like having a baby. Being a Dad is the most wonderful thing in the world and everyone should have the right to do so. But being a dad is much more than making a baby. It's harder and scarier and more than 100% worth it. It takes effort and love and responsibility. Like voting, done for the right reasons. Voting doesn't make you a participant in republican democracy any more than making a baby makes you a dad.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

U Is For.....Use Tax

Ok, maybe it's cheating writing two tax blogs in a row. Whatever. I just wanted to make it clear that while I'm a libertarian, small-government kind of guy, I'm not for totally de-funding the government. Here's an example of a tax I'm fully in support of. While I am open to the Libertarian argument that such things as public works, even road building, are best left to the private sector, I think that is never going to fly with most people. Around here, waterways are almost as important to our economic well-being as roadways. These need to be kept up, especially the inlets leading from inland waters to the sea. An argument could be made that everyone benefits in some way from open inlets, and it's true as far as it goes, but those who use them on a regular basis receive much more benefit. North Carolina is looking at raising the boat registration fee and using the extra money to pay for dredging of these inlets. It's not a perfect solution, the inlets to be dredged will be politically determined to some extent and there will be waste as there is with all government programs, but this is still a good idea.

Use taxes like this one are the most morally defensible of all taxes. They ask those who use a service or facility to contribute more to that service or facility than those that don't. It's funding of government for the purpose of doing the things that government does. I'm fine with that. My problem with taxes is that the left, and particularly President Obama, see taxes not as a way to raise needed funds but as a way to punish those groups they dislike. Using tax policy as a political weapon is immoral even if the desired result is "fairness." The ends do not justify the means.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

T Is For.........Taxes

Tax season has officially opened, so why not? I truly believe our tax system is killing our country. No amount of spending cuts or tax increases will prevent our eventual (and sooner rather than later) economic meltdown if they are made within our current tax system. Our tax system discourages risk-taking and hard work, it chases wealth out of the country and it intrudes on our freedoms. I wrote about what I see as the solution here. It's called the Fair Tax and while it isn't painless or perfect, it would correct the problems I just mentioned overnight.

But I don't want to go into a huge discussion of the whole system of taxation today. I just want to discuss two aspects that I find from discussions with my friends are very misunderstood.

Corporate Income Tax

This one gets tossed around every election season. It's easy to use it to show the poor put upon middle and lower class voters how much you care about them and how you are going to stick it to their mean, evil, greedy bosses and those greedy CEOs they see on the news. It's one of the most over-used and sad populist themes out there. I despise populism, by the way, and this demonstrates why.

The only source of tax revenue in this country is the citizens of this country. Period. Corporations don't pay taxes, you do. When that congressmen who cares so much about the average working guy raises the corporate income tax, it's the average working guy who pays it, and then thanks the congressman for it by voting him in again. Businesses get their money by selling products or services to you. When they need more money, to pay taxes for example, they simply charge you more for the product or service. But, you say, why don't they just make less profit? Those greedy investors don't need it, they already have a bigger car then me and a pool in their yard to boot! Ok, that also is an option, but who pays for that really? Who are these "investors" who receive the windfall from these corporations' obscene profits? That's you too, pal. If you carry insurance of any kind (home,  car, health), if you have a 401k account or an IRA, if you belong to a union that gives you a pension, if you work for a company that offers a pension, if you work for the state or county or city or federal government and have a retirement plan, if you have a savings account then YOU are the greedy investor. The lion's share of stocks in this country are owned by mutual funds, banks,  insurance companies and retirement and pension plans. Individual investors are a small slice of the pie. When companies cut their profits to pay taxes, you have less money for your retirement or pay more for your insurance. In the end, it's the "average Joe" who pays ALL the taxes.

If you work at all you pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes, if you make enough you pay income taxes. You see those. But you also pay all the other taxes you don't see, the ones that you think are levied on "the other guy." If you buy a loaf of bread at Food Lion you are paying the corporate taxes for Food Lion, the bakery, the distributor, the farmer, the maker of the trucks it was delivered on, the makers of the ovens, the makers of the tractors, the seed vendors, the silo company, the agri-chem outfits that made the fertilizer and pesticides, the vendor of said chemicals, the ad agencies that promoted the sales of the trucks and ovens and seed and chemicals and bread and the list goes on. You paid the gasoline tax on every gallon that was burned in the production and delivery of that loaf. You paid the environmental taxes on the diesel and the extra mileage taxes on the 18-wheelers. You paid for compliance with every regulation from seed to loaf and from bolt to truck. You paid all of that, not Food Lion or Merita.

Corporate income tax is a lie and a deception. And the American people fall for it every single time.

Social Security

Talk about lies and deceptions. This is the be all and end all.

If you work, you pay the Social Security tax. Call it payroll tax or FICA or whatever you like, you pay 12.4% of your income below $113,700. If you are self-employed you get this, but if not, you're probably calling me a liar. The 6.2% you see come out of your check if you work for someone else is only half. Your employer pays the other half, but like the corporate tax, this isn't coming out of your employer's pocket, it's coming out of yours. It is part of the cost of employing you and as such is part of your compensation for whatever work you do. In order to continue employing you, you  must provide more value to your employer than the total  cost of your employment, be that taxes or health insurance or benefits or straight up pay. That is how businesses work. If your employers cost of employing you go up, you need to provide that much more value to him in order for it to be worthwhile to keep you on.

Ok, what happens to that money? I recently heard some friends, and very smart ones, blow off the recent increase in FICA taxes as not a big deal because it was going to social security and the program needs it. I'll admit to being a Libertarian and as such not a fan of government programs of any type. I see Social Security as a trade off of freedom for security and I don't like it. Having said that, I'll admit that Social Security is one of the most useful and used programs in our whole government. It offers real help to real people, both as retirement income and dependent income in cases of a parent dying. It does real, measurable good and I am fine with the majority opinion that we keep it around in some form. But let's get rid of this fiction that there is such a thing as a Social Security Trust Fund.

When you pay the Social Security tax it goes to the Social Security Administration. It is used to pay benefits and any extra, there is very little now but in the past there was a lot of extra, is used to purchase US Savings Bonds. This is where the fiction comes into play. People who know better would have you believe that money invested in bonds actually exists somehow waiting to be spent when the system needs it. It does not. Every penny not spent by Social Security is spent by the rest of the government. It's gone. What we have is IOUs from the US government to the US government.

Look at it this way. You have $100, $50 in a savings account and $50 in a checking account. You know you need that $50 in savings to pay a bill at the end of the month, but you REALLY want to buy something that costs $100 right now. So you take the $50 out of savings, put it in checking and buy your new toy. You write yourself a note reminding you that you need to put that $50 back in savings and go about your merry way. Come the end of the month, what do you have? Paul Krugman and his ilk would have you believe you have $50 in savings because you told yourself you owed it to yourself. But unless you found a way to replace that money between the time you spent it and time you needed it, you don't really have anything but a worthless note.  That's what the Social Security Administration does. It loans it's extra money out not to outside agencies like a bank would, it loans it to itself. If you had loaned that theoretical $50 to your friend, at the end of the month you'd have an asset. You can enforce a loan agreement and get your money back when you loan it to another. But you can't when you loan it to yourself. A loan from the US government to the US government is not an asset. Both the Social Security Administration and the general fund have the exact same revenue stream, you.

The money you pay into Social Security is spent on benefits, yes, but also on smart bombs and drones and Obama phones and to pay the dude who tells you how much water your toilet can use. When the money coming into Social Security doesn't cover the benefits, and that will happen in the next 10 to 15 years, we will need to either take more money from the American workforce or stop buying things or both. We don't have a savings account and no extra money taken today will ever go into one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

S Is For......Schadenfreude

I'm a huge fan of the German language. Not so much so that I ever bothered (despite three years of classes in high school), or will likely ever bother, to learn it, but I enjoy knowing about it. I like the language's tendency to introduce new words for new things by simply stringing together old words. Flugzueg is the German word for airplane, made from "fly" and "train." The German language has always struck me as very logical in an engineered, mechanical sort of way. There are also words in German that don't translate so well, and in my mind don't need to. I love them the way they are. Gem├╝tlichkeit was described to me by my first German teacher as a word meaning roughly "hospitality." I've found since that it is more. It means the feeling of coziness and comfort and belonging one gets from being welcomed and accepted by others, especially into their home and their life. I am incredibly blessed to know in my bones the meaning of this word with respect to my closest friends. English has no single word for that. I was recently introduced to the word Zaftig. It describes a woman who has curves, who is pleasantly, attractively and even alluringly full-figured. It has roots in an older Middle High German dialect word for "juicy," so there ya go. I love this word and wish it was embraced more often in our society. Doesn't it even sound awesome? Zaftig doesn't sound cutesie or even worse condescending. It is the kind of word that when applied to another sounds respectful and admiring. But even better, when applied to oneself it sounds proud and self-assured, even powerful. Our language has nothing like this and that says something not very good about us as a culture. Weltschmerz goes a long way toward describing exactly what had me feeling down last month. It means in short "world-weariness." It is the feeling that the world is full of meanness and cruelty and that the the bad guys win and the innocent suffer and there's nothing we can do to stop it. I felt that.

Far and away, my favorite German word is Schadenfreude. It means, put very simply, happiness at another's misfortune. Sure, that could be a bad thing carried to extremes. It could even be kind of psychotic if you were happy every time someone else was in pain or had troubles. But that's not how I interpret the word. In my world, Schadenfreude is tied to Karma. I got damned tired of seeing bad things happen to good people. I got tired of seeing people act horribly, even hurt my friends, and suffer no consequences. I started to wonder if Karma was broken. This year I found out it is not. Once again a friend was attacked, rather personally, while trying to do something good. But this time it turned out differently. This time people recognized the good and supported it, and by extension supported my friend. No one would begrudge me or anyone else being happy about that. But that isn't Schadenfreude. I'm also happy that the people acting maliciously, that attacked my friend's competence and tried to prevent something good happening in our community lost. I'm happy they got frustrated and angry. I'm happy they found little or no support. That IS Schadenfreude and I make no apologies for feeling it and even reveling in it.

One thing our participation trophy society has forgotten is that winning means nothing without losing. We want to believe that everyone is good-hearted and kind, that conflicts are the result of misunderstandings and we can solve them by coming together and working out our differences. Sorry, but that just isn't the case. We humans have real negative emotions and tendencies. We feel hate and jealousy and greed and envy and we sometimes act on these feelings. We purposefully tell lies to hurt others, we insult and degrade, we condescend and tease. This isn't misunderstanding. This is behaving badly. All too often the failure of our society to accept that we are capable of such behavior leads us to make excuses for those engaging in it. We blame it on a personality disorder or assume we misunderstood what surely were fine intentions or worst of all we blame ourselves for somehow bringing this behavior on. Sometimes, though, perfectly healthy people do mean things on purpose that we did nothing to deserve. It isn't a happy thought, but pretending it isn't true does us all a disservice. We owe it to ourselves and to our society in general to recognize bad behavior and call it out or at least beat it back. It's the right thing to do. And when we do it, we shouldn't feel the least bit bad about being happy we did and that those responsible for the misdeeds paid some price.

Schadenfreude. Embrace it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

R Is For......Rattled To The Core

I lifted that phrase straight from the sermon Pastor Fred delivered yesterday. He chose Three Kings Day to talk about the Slaughter of the Innocents. Every boy child under three in the city, killed. When it's words on a page, it is one thing, he said, but when we see horror with our own eyes, we are Rattled To The Core. He went on to discuss Newtown and parenting and mental health and desensitizing our children to violence.

I'm not desensitized. After years of violent movies and TV shows and video games, I still flinch. My wife laughs at me a little, says it's cute, but when there is pain or blood or something awful on the TV or movie screen, I react physically and noticeably and don't even know I do it most of the time until Lisa points it out.  This weekend we went to see Les Miserbles. This is a musical, if you've not heard, that takes place during some early 19th century political upheaval in France. It's not a happy film. It was a good film, and I quite enjoyed it, but one part got to me, one scene really did Rattle Me To The Core. There are young revolutionaries in this story, and one of them is very young. Gavroche is his name and I judged him to be about 6 or 7 years old. The thing is, he is the spitting image of my best friend's son, Milo. He has the same longish dirty blonde hair, the same slim build and almost the same little face. He has maybe 10 or 15 minutes of screen time, but during that time I totally fell for him, and for the same reasons I have the softest of soft spots in my heart for Milo. He is totally himself, he laughs often (and laughter is not a big part of this movie), he has a look in his eye that says "I might do anything at any time, you better watch!" He is fearless in the way only a child can be. He does the right things at the right time despite being an "outlaw." He is an impish little guy. I'm so stupid, so naive sometimes. I'm just happily watching as the kid crawls out through the barricade to fetch dry powder. I smile as he taunts the Royal French troops pointing rifles at him as he scampers around. So when what should have been the obvious happens and the boy is shot, twice, and killed, I actually cried out/sobbed/yelped loud enough that the people in front of me turned around and looked. Then they did a close-up on his little face and I lost it. I  missed the next few minutes of the movie because I couldn't see through the tears.Yeah, I know it was a movie, it was acting and special effects and camera work. Still, it put it right in my face and I let go.

It wasn't just the movie, I'm sure of that. After Newtown a lot of things have been swirling around my brain and they used that image, the image of a kid who looked so much like a child I treasure, I really do love in a real and personal way, to emerge into the light of day. Or at least into the dark of the Shallotte movie theater.

I cried out for all those kids in Newtown, gunned down while at school. They were in the safe place and it didn't help. They were surrounded by adults who they trusted and who cared for them abundantly and it didn't help.

I cried out for the parents of those kids who will likely ask "Why?" for the rest of their lives. They will wonder what if they kept them home that day? What if they hadn't taken that job and  moved into that school district?I can't imagine the Hell.

I cried out for my friend who needed to see light in her life and instead, right before Christmas, was shown this darkness. My friend who couldn't bear the thought of leaving her children that night and so gave me the gift, totally unintentionally, of giving me a way to help someone in a small way when she asked me to "smooth things over" for her at the theatre show we were both supposed to help out with that night. My son was with me, helping to make theatrical magic, and that helped, too.

I cried out for my wife who was away for the day and couldn't hug her son until late that night.

I cried out for Angel, my almost nephew, who never got to see this world, neither its joys nor its horrors.

I cried out for Heather, my sister, who had to give birth to her first son as a corpse. I cried out for the pain and scars that has left on her and our whole family. Why does it have to be kids? Why?

I cried out for the Helbigs, a couple we are just getting to really know, who lost a son of their own as a toddler. Kelly was a light in the darkness, a beacon of sanity and hope and compassion in a sea of confusion. She kept putting things up on Facebook, things based in the lessons of her own tragic pain, that made such perfect sense, that brought hope. With everyone else going to pieces, she held it together. I tried to thank her for that last time I saw her in person and utterly failed to find the words. I'll try again, this is important.

I cried out for Jenny Cairns. I hadn't thought of Jenny Cairns in years. She was one of my best friends as a little guy. She was blonde and smiley and full of energy and ideas and spirit. She played cars and rode bikes like any boy would. She made me very happy. She was run down and killed while riding her bike in the street just in front of her house in the middle of the day by a drunk driver. She was 8. I had been thinking of her because it had occurred to me that we, as parents, can't keep our kids safe. Short of locking them up, and even then they could find a way to hurt themselves. We can do everything right, just as the Helbigs did, just as the Cairns did and just as the parents of the children at Sandy Hook did, and still the unthinkable can happen.

There was a lot wrapped up in that sob, no wonder it attracted attention. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by either my reaction or the fact that it got noticed. I feel things and that makes me who I am and that's all I can be.

Fred ended up his sermon by trying to answer the question every preacher has certainly gotten since the Sandy Hook shootings. It's asked in hearts everywhere who don't have a preacher to ask it of as well, I imagine. Where was God? His answer fit in with what passes for my own theology. God is us. God was there first and foremost to take all those children away from pain and suffering and into his embrace. But he was also there in the teachers who tried to save the kids. In the firemen and police and rescue crews who responded. In the clergy and mental health professionals who came to console and listen and comfort. In the outpouring of sympathy from all corners. God won't save us from ourselves, from stupidity and evil and sickness and pain and suffering, not until it's our time. But he lives in us and through us. We need to be God's hands in tough times, we need to be a friend to friends in need, we need to love strangers and family alike. And just as importantly, we need to see that sometimes, while we are asking "Where is God?" He is right there in that friend asking if you're ok, offering a dinner or a hand to hold, even forwarding a stupid joke. God is us and we are God. And somehow, we'll all get through together.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Q Is For.......Quit It

Someone recently told me I was making a situation worse by trying to help. Even though this is patently untrue, my response was to apologize. It doesn't matter who it was or what it was concerning because it wasn't the least bit unusual, I do this all the time in work, home, friendships, everywhere. My New Year's resolution is to Quit It.

My knee jerk reaction in lots of situations is to say "I'm sorry." And what's bad is not that I don't mean it, but that I do. I actually accept blame for things I haven't done, that aren't at all my fault or aren't even bad in the first place. Everyone screws up and I do as well, but not nearly as much as I tend to think. I just have a hard time accepting that. I lay too much guilt on myself, accept too much responsibility. I try to fix things, it's in my nature and not something I'll ever stop. I need to realize that that's a good thing, whether it's welcome at the time or not, and that just because everything doesn't immediately turn to unicorns and rainbows it doesn't mean I'm a failure.

It's largely my own fault. It isn't often someone makes me feel bad about something I've said or done or not said or done. I tend mostly to do it to myself for some reason. A friend actually praised me last year for being the "son, husband, brother, father and friend" that I am. I am going to enter this year taking that to heart and consciously reminding myself that I really am exceptionally good at all those things. I'm done apologizing for being kind, for trying to help and for doing my job.

This all sounds very Stuart Smalley as I read over it, but whatever. I needed to say it. I know I'll make mistakes and when I do I will make amends.  But as far as apologizing (or holding it in and feeling bad) when I haven't done anything wrong or especially when I've done good, this year I'm going to Quit It.

Friday, January 4, 2013

P Is For....Political Correctness

I know, it's low hanging fruit, everyone says they hate the PC Police and the stupidity of political correctness has been pointed out ad naseum. I want to try to take a bit of a different tack and talk about the horrible effects it's had on our sense of humor and why that is important.

I take the whole Sandra Fluke thing as my example. Here we have a 30-something woman talking about bankrupting herself trying to afford birth control. In a sane world, as soon as the country heard this, it would start looking forward to the Saturday Night Live skit the next weekend. In past years, she'd have been a long running burlesque or vaudeville show joke. Whether or not you agree with her contention that it is not only Constitutional but morally imperative for the federal government to force Party A to pay for the birth control of Party B, you should be able to see the humor potential in the way she went about making her case. Sex has been a basic building block of humor for 1000's of years, and there are important anthropological reasons for that. Those reasons themselves would take a long time to explain, and like most of anthropology they are about as un-PC as you can get, so I'll leave them alone for now.  Suffice to say laughter is one of the things that makes us human and if you can't laugh at your own politics, you aren't very secure in them.

That's what I think is the unseen damage of the tendency to shun ever saying or doing anything to make others feel uncomfortable. It leads people to be intellectually lazy, to hold onto their own ideas without ever considering what they look like to people informed by a different experience. Understanding that what you think or believe may actually be funny to someone else, and accepting that without getting into a tizzy of offense, doesn't mean you don't really believe what you believe. It actually means that you have thought through your own positions enough that you are secure in them and can step back and laugh. We are losing that in this culture. We are becoming a bunch of thin-skinned, humorless drones, and that's no laughing matter.