Tag Archives: Literature

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

A convicted child rapist’s face was being shown on TV.

He was 19, and convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl (which is heinous and disgusting in every imaginable way).

The Orange County, California judge hearing the case reduced the convicted rapist’s sentence to 10 years, even though law mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for child rape convictions.

I was sitting in the living room with my mom who was visiting. She joined the chorus of people absolutely infuriated by this judge’s actions.

“Doesn’t this upset you?” she asked. “What if that was your son?”

“Assuming it’s true, it’s troubling. Yeah. I don’t know enough to make a determination one way or the other.”

“He was convicted of rape, Matt,” she said.

“Sometimes an 18-year-old has consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend and gets convicted of rape.”

“This is a child, Matt.”

“All I’m saying is I don’t always believe everything I see on TV. In my experience, there are always two sides to every story,” I said.

“This judge was way out of line,” she said.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But for the sake of argument, can you conceive of a situation in which an adult could be accused of molesting a child without actually molesting a child?”

My mother often works as a substitute school teacher.

“Yes, actually. I can.”

I didn’t know as much about that particular case as I do now. I think that kid did sodomize a 3-year-old family member, and it’s immeasurably horrible and disgusting. And I don’t think judges should be able to arbitrarily create new legal sentences out of thin air.

But when I first heard it, I didn’t jump to conclusions. I’m glad I didn’t. People always jump to conclusions and roughly half of them are wrong.

That’s a life skill I’ve only learned in my thirties. I used to be like many others and rush to judgment and be wrong half the time.

Everything Feels Wrong Sometimes

I was going off.

Really getting on a roll.

Mom was the only person there to listen. I was probably annoying her the way she sometimes annoy one another.

Our education system is in crisis. Our health care system is thievery.

Our entire way of life was pissing me off, and I felt the need to unload on mom about it.

We’re born and then we get herded into the school system where we are taught what they want to teach us (Don’t learn what YOU want and are interested in! WE know better!) so that we can “get a good job someday.”

Why do we need a job?

It’s because we have to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat, and transportation to and from our jobs, of course!

I get the sense sometimes that they—“they” being people super high up the decision-making food chain in magical Fuck-Everybody-Land—just want people to go get jobs and follow their rules, so we keep buying things.

They want us to buy all their stuff. And then more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff.

We can’t be happy without all this stuff!!!

That’s why we need our jobs! For the stuff!

That’s why you have to play by the rules! So you can be happy and buy stuff!

I don’t like how we all got brainwashed into believing we HAD to do it this way. But with almost everyone buying in, it’s so hard to escape the machine.

You can’t quit your job! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t pull your kid out of school! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t spend your time doing what you want to do! Follow the rules! Spend your whole life working for someone! That’s THE WAY.

I’m in a phase, I guess.

My mom is a very religious woman. She probably didn’t like me using the word “bullshit” so much during my little rant, but I didn’t care.

“I get it, Matt. I do. But that doesn’t exist on Earth,” she said. “What you want? What your heart wants? You’re describing Heaven. And the entire point of our time here in this life is about getting there. Nothing else matters.”

It wasn’t an unwise thing for her to say. You have no idea how much I want her to be right. I hope she is.

But you know what I muttered to myself?

Well, fuck. What if there is no heaven?

It’s because I don’t always believe everything I hear on TV.

We All Want to be the Catcher in the Rye

I just finished the book last night. J.D. Salinger’s classic ended up in a place I hadn’t seen coming.

I had no idea how the book got its name, but it all made sense in the end.

Holden Caulfield is a troubled 16-year-old feeling disenchanted about growing up in a world where it often feels like EVERYONE is chasing things that don’t matter.

He’s nostalgic for the age of innocence and he wants to be the guy saving all the children from running blindly through the field and falling off the cliff into adulthood when the world turns harsher, colder and uglier. Sometimes, people fall off the cliff before they’re adults because older, messed-up adults like the 19-year-old molester in California steal their innocence.

Holden can’t stand it.

I can’t either.

You feel it when the big kids tell you there’s no Santa Claus and you realize how foolish you must have seemed to believe such a tall tale.

You feel it when you find out an old neighbor man used to diddle up people you love when they were little kids, telling them: “Shhhh. Now don’t you tell anyone.”

You feel it when you get older and realize all the adults are just as messed up as you. When you realize all these people you grew up loving and admiring all have dysfunctional marriages because everyone is having sex with people they’re not supposed to or drinking too much or gambling away their life savings.

You feel it when masked men cut off people’s heads.

You feel it when police officers gun down unarmed citizens who are running away from them.

You feel it when you get divorced and you’re just like: Damn. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was so good when we were little and we just played.

We didn’t know what was really going on and some people think ignorance is bad, but maybe it’s better. Because if we’re not pursuing happiness, what are we pursuing?

You get so tired sometimes because there isn’t just one problem to tackle. There are unlimited problems.

And sometimes we’re not very good multitaskers.

We have more people writing hate onto walls than we have people to clean it off. It’s because we all get so tired and there’s never enough time.

“If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.” – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit crazy.

Maybe it’s because of genetics.

Maybe it’s because God really is there feeding me the strength and grace and hope I chase constantly.

I don’t know. But I hope. I always hope.

Sometimes we’re knocked down. Other times, we fall.

But we have grit. And we get back up.

I don’t stay down long. You can’t kill me.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way to look at everything.

In my experience, there are always two sides to every story.

Always new ways to reframe things. Always new, better questions to ask.

For one, short moment, Holden was able to feel peace.

He felt happy.

He looked around and saw more than phoniness.

His little sister rode the carousel in the park.

Round and round and round.

And that was it. Nothing else happened.

There was nothing bad.

Nothing that might stand out to us as particularly good.

It was a moment of just “being.”

Without judgment.

A moment full of innocence and nostalgia.

He was so happy.

He probably wanted that carousel to keep spinning and spinning and spinning forever because then maybe he’d always be happy.

The carousel can’t keep spinning forever, though.

We have to wake up tomorrow and pay another surprise bill or fix something that was working fine yesterday or deal with some new family crisis.

Because things always change and life always happens and we have no control except how we choose to respond to it.

It feels good to be angry about it sometimes. To point out all the phonies and their bullshit.

But maybe a better use of our time is looking forward to that next carousel ride.

That next moment of happiness.

And hold onto it for as long as we can.

And be grateful it happened.

And then look forward to next time.

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“Why the hell not?”

Holden Caulfield doesn't get everything wrong.(Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

Holden Caulfield doesn’t get everything wrong. (Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time.

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist, and while we don’t share a ton of similarities (largely because I’m 20 years his senior, and grew up in a small Ohio town), we share two ideas I think are really important.

1. We can be intelligent and well-educated even if it’s accomplished in unconventional ways and mired in self-doubt. 

Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. John D. Rockefeller. Walt Disney. Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Charles Dickens.

Icons, all.

School dropouts, all.

All that means is, while I very much respect people with advanced degrees in higher education, and people who use traditional channels to educate themselves and advance their careers, the thing that really kills me is when people don’t play by the rules.

When people don’t ask for permission to do something with their lives they really want to do.

They say: Sorry. This isn’t for me. I’m not like everybody else. I’m going to go do this other thing. My way.

And they don’t just succeed. They soar.

I may never be anything like those people. After all, I am 36 and work in a cubicle.

But I sure do admire them.

2. It DOES NOT have to be this way.

Your love life. Your financial life and career. Your spiritual life. Your physical appearance. Your mental and emotional health. Your geographic location. Whatever.

Holden calls up his old friend Sally and gets her to agree to a date. And she shows up looking good. Really good. He’s a madman. He really is. And he just comes out and asks her to run off with him. He’s got some money.

Let’s go start a new life, he says.

And she says it sounds fun and all, but people can’t just do that.

You can’t just break the rules and go live whatever life you want.

Holden thinks that’s bullshit. And it’s exactly when I decided to love him.

“Why the hell not!?!?” he asks.

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. Two 16-year-olds shouldn’t run off together and live in some New England cabin with no means of taking care of themselves.

But that’s just old-guy, parent Matt talking.

I agree with Holden’s inclination to ask WHY NOT!?

People don’t think about this enough. People never think enough. I never think enough.

We never ask ourselves the right questions.

What are the right questions?

They are the ones that challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative. A better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

You do NOT have to stay in your soul-crushing job.

You do NOT have to go to that family event you’re stressed about because your mother will be disappointed if you don’t.

You do NOT have to say “yes.” Say NO. Say “no” a lot.

You do NOT have to go back to college to get a better job.

You do NOT have to have a “job.” You can make your own.

Because you CAN do whatever you want.

Sometimes I think about how fast time goes.

Holy shit, my son is almost 7.

Holy shit, she’s been gone two years.

Holy shit, I’ve been sitting at this desk for four years.

Holy shit, I’m 36.

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me already happened. I can’t figure out what I’m so afraid of, because you CAN’T KILL ME. And the day I’m finally wrong about that? I’m not going to be around to eat any crow.

And I don’t know when that day is going to come. But it might be tomorrow. Maybe even today.

We waste so much time doing things we don’t want to do because we lie to ourselves and believe them. We MUST do this! We have to!

No, we don’t.

You don’t really have to do anything.

Write down the 10 things that matter most. The 10 things you want most. Consider everyone you love.

And then maybe spend the rest of your life only pursuing those things.

The things that matter.

Don’t tell me you can’t be happy unless you follow the rules.

Don’t tell me people can’t just do that.

Because I’m with Holden.

Why the hell not?

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The Eye of the Beholder

“La Lecture” by Pablo Picasso

Little-known secret: I’m not particularly cultured or well-educated.

Sorry to disappoint you.

I mean, I have some refined tastes and I’m well-mannered when you’re not the shitty driver next to me I just muttered murderous things to from the safety of my vehicle.

But I don’t know about things I should know about.

I have a reasonably high IQ, so I can learn things quickly and fake people out. But because I committed most of my youth to athletic pursuits and wasted almost all of my reading and viewing hours on fictional escapism, I’m now more ignorant than a person who writes things as often as I do, and is raising a human being, should be.

I think we can all agree our Trivia Crack percentages paint a pretty distinct picture of our education and should be listed on our resumes. Yes, I’m ashamed that while I win the vast majority of my games due to my nearly 9-out-of-10 correct answers in Sports and Entertainment, my scores in Geography (79%), History (77%), Science (77%), and Art (76%), leave something to be desired.

What kind of a fraudulent writer gets 25 percent of his questions wrong in the Art category? This guy.

You see, I’m guilty of wanting to be the guy at parties that knows everything about everything, but I’m evidently not willing to put in the work to do so.

I love film.

But I’ve never seen Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or The Shining. But I’ve watched Back to the Future and Office Space and Terminator 2 a combined 14 million times.

I love music.

But I’m not obsessed with Elvis or The Beatles (though I acknowledge their greatness), and I don’t really get why everyone loves Bob Dylan and The Clash. I dig The Doors and Robert Johnson and Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, but I almost never play their albums over the new music I get so much joy out of discovering and sharing.

I love books.

But I’ve read so little of Twain and Orwell and Salinger and Hemingway and Dickinson and Vonnegut that I literally feel shame when I think about how much I’ve ignored the best at what I aspire to do. I just always liked reading Dean Koontz and John Grisham and Michael Connelly novels so much, I never stopped until I was old enough to gravitate to non-fiction.

Am I wrong, or bad, or dumb for making those choices?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What does it mean that I know Chandler’s last name on Friends and the specific date Marty travels back to in Back to the Future and that I’m close to a walking encyclopedia on the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan years, but that I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye or Fahrenheit 451?

What does it mean that I generally prefer cinema to stage performance, and photography to oil on canvas?

I started thinking about cars.

About fashion.

About architecture.

About food.

About wine.

About politics.

About religion.

Ask a hundred people about those things, and it’s almost certain no two people will align exactly.

Heidi Klum married Seal and I was like, what the-!?

Emmy Rossum married Adam Duritz and I was like, what the-!?

Tom Arnold married Roseanne Barr and I was like, what the-!?

But maybe there’s nothing to understand.

Maybe trying to is a big waste of time.

There are people who want to live in desert mountain caves and kill people who don’t agree with them because they believe in different versions of the same story.

I don’t understand why they wouldn’t rather be nice to people and attend fun parties on Saturday and hang out on the beach and go to a great concert and watch a ballgame on television more than blow something up. But they wish I was dead, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it.

Kim Kardashian is the most popular person on Twitter. Her stepdad is now a woman.

So is one of the Wachowski brothers.

I adore this painting by Pablo Picasso.

I don’t like the one above at all.

But I bet most art fans do.

Just like most music fans love The Clash.

Just like most literature fans have read the classics.

Just like most film buffs have seen Casablanca.

Whatever I am needs to be okay. Whatever I am IS okay. I secretly think all the things I like are better than all the things you like, but I’ve learned enough to finally understand that input gets filtered and measured so differently from human to human.

The diversity should be celebrated because it’s anything from boring.

Maybe so long as no one’s getting hurt, we just let people be themselves, no matter what.

We know what we know. Love what we love. Want what we want.

And most of the time, there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” attached to it. It just is.

Every day more things are created. More things to get to know and love and want.

Things you get to make and put out there.

Things I get to make and put out there.

And not everyone is going to get it or love it or want it.

But some will.

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The Level Playing Field

typewriter

I will never be able to run faster than Usain Bolt or swim faster than Michael Phelps.

I will never be as intelligent as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking.

I will never throw a football as well as Peyton Manning or dunk a basketball like LeBron James.

I lack the physical prowess, mental aptitude and genetic resources necessary to be a great athlete or a genius astrophysicist.

But I look down at these keys I punch expertly like an old pro: 26 letters, 10 numbers and a handful of symbols.

That’s it.

That’s all there is.

And my fingers dance. A beautiful sound I fell in love with during my days in the newsroom. An orchestra of tapping. The sound of a thousand word choices being made simultaneously in the great exchange of ideas.

One of my biggest childhood regrets is that I never learned how to play an instrument. I’ve owned two guitars, pianos and keyboards, and a full drum set. And other than some average-at-best trumpet playing in middle school, I’ve never been able to make music—something I love very much.

I have a mother and sister who are both very talented, musically.

I wish I’d inherited those same gifts.

Equal Opportunity – Since 1878

The modern QWERTY standard keyboard has been around since 1878. I once made the keyboard a metaphor for dating after divorce. It totally worked.

That’s how long everyone has had to get to know these keys: 136 years.

I haven’t taken any polls, but my guess is there is a higher percentage of proficient typists living in 2014 than there’s ever been given that so much of our time is spent in front of computers or mobile devices all using the same keys.

I just look at it. It’s simple genius. My brain completely ill-equipped to understand how I’m able to punch all these keys in exactly the right order to make each sentence. Endless possibility. That’s what this device represents. A world without limits.

This is the keyboard used by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and the New Testament Gospel writers. (Just kidding.)

But it WAS used by Mark Twain. By George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson. By Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. By Ernest Hemingway.

It was also used by Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook. By Bill Gates to create Microsoft. By Larry Page and Sergey Brin to create Google.

Just look at the keys in front of you.

Punch these buttons one way, and you have Not-So-Bright-Internet-Message-Board Guy: “wtf your a idiot every moran know the knicks goin all teh way !!!!!111!!!!11!!!”

Punch them another and you end up with my drivel.

But somewhere in that endless sea of possibilities is the perfect combination of keystrokes. The perfect combination of words that make magic. That change lives. That introduce new ideas. That will pen the next Oscar-winning film. That will earn the TV news anchor her first Emmy. That will win the Noble Prize for literature.

And you don’t have to be the strongest. Or the fastest. Or the smartest. Or the best. You just need to have the keyboard and be brave enough to tap it. Disciplined enough to rewrite. And courageous enough to ship it.

You might even rescue someone 1,000 miles away.

The internet has made it easy. And we have no more excuses.

You have a song to write that will stir our insides.

An idea to share that can help change the world.

A story to tell that might save a life.

Everyone uses the same keyboard. No advantages. The same keyboard. The world’s greatest achievers. Using this exact same tool. What might be possible?

I was wrong.

I am a musician.

This keyboard, my instrument.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

A glorious symphony.

Calling you. Calling me.

Go create.

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