Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ever-Ending Joy of a Know-it-all

Boys, times will come around in this life where you'll have the right answer.  They're usually outweighed by a plethora of times where the right answer is inexplicably absent.  Nevertheless, it's exciting to have the answer.  Maybe that's why I love trivial factoids so much.  I've always loved to memorize the tiniest, most unimportant little facts.  You never know; maybe someone, someday will fancy you their hero because you happened to know the top speed and type of transmission of the 1955 Chevy Bel-air two door hard top.  That info would surely come in handy, someday.  There you'd sit, beaming with pride, as onlookers gasped at the randomness of your knowledge.  Surely they would be so taken with it that they would COMPLETELY gloss over your social ineptitude and the curiously symmetrical bowl-shaped haircut that your mom swears is stylish.

But, sadly, you'll probably just come off looking like a know-it-all little vat of who-gives-a-crap facts with a borderline autistic ability to find meaning in the meaningless.

So, you have to stop yourself.  Stop yearning to contribute to every single problem that anyone has ever had.  Form a complete opinion, not just the hot topic words du jour.  Nothing in the world continuously reminds of this than election season.  Boys, God only knows what the political world will look like by the time you are grown, especially considering the exponential dumbing down of the U.S. voting populace in 2012.  Knowledge takes time.  It takes living.  But mostly it takes exposure.  These days, politics feel more like a dangerous game of three card monte.  You only see the blur of hands gingerly moving about in a carefully orchestrated dance built on misdirection, leaving you begging for any hint, albeit slight, of which one to choose.

People are busy.  Forty hours are usually unable sustain a growing family alone.  So we're pulled.  We are pulled to our kids, to our jobs, and to our ever declining hobbies.  We are stretched, like too little butter and too much bread. I always loved that phrase.  It's so descriptive that I actually gulp at the thought of trying to swallow dry bread.  I digress.  Once we are stretched to the point of breaking, the last thing on your mind is trying to research who to vote for, or their political history.  So you make a terribly easy choice.  You vote on religion, or party, or style, or a snazzy speech or two.  What you're miss are the details.

You miss the curiousness of a junior Senator, with very little political background suddenly becoming the next great hope.  You miss the son of a former president and head of the CIA whose cabinet is immediately filled with the same power players who've been in and out of every administration in the last 40 years.  You miss an orchestrated power couple built for speed and selling power.  You miss an extremely aggressive manipulation of religious pandering to buy votes, with very little return other than a growing divide.

A divide of the populace.  The deeper the divide, the easier for thinly stretched, well meaning people to pick the obvious good rather than the obvious evil.  The republicans are obviously greed infatuated corporate monkeys who love nothing more than to use the Good Book (giant print edition) to crush in the skulls of anyone who ever thought Nancy Pelosi had a good idea and the democrats are obviously evil God-hating satanists hell bent on couch surfing the day away and goosestepping all the way to food stamp line.

That's what we're told.  That's what we're sold.  Carnies and rubes.  And it works.

It breaks my heart and confuses my mind to see two groups of generally good people, so connected by their humanity, their struggles, their nation, and their God attack each other so viciously solely based on simply picking the wrong card.  "But Jamey, we ain't connected by our God.  I'm a baptist and that crazy liberal ain't even read Leviticus."  I believe we are connected because we are created.  We are created by a God that loves us.  You're not loved more than another.

Kids always ask their parents which child they love the most.  I did.  I'm sure you will.  I never understood what was so hard about picking a favorite when I was a child.  I was sure it had to do with not wanting to hurt the lesser child's feelings.  I was ignorant of a parents' love.  You're not loved a little, a medium amount, or a lot.  You're loved.  It's a definite, complete state of being that is so powerful that it is only insulted by assuming that a lesser love could ever exist.  I feel the same way when I ponder the Love of a Creator for all of His created.  We are loved.  It's that simple.

 But we look for wars.  We look for battles.  Every since little boys imagined their first tree limb to be a tommy gun, or every little girl longed for whatever it is little girls long for, we've all searched for conflict.  It's exciting to have a cause.  It's exciting to have an answer.  Today it's called the war on religion, or the war against the constitution, or the war on human rights.  I've seen no declaration.  I've seen no attacks.  It's not war.  It's a discussion, and discussions benefit from input, and from collaboration. 

Quick question for you.  Who's winning?  Who are the great victors raising their flag high atop the battlefield.  Republicans?  Democrats?  I doubt either group feels like they are winning.  I would imagine that they mostly just feel opposed.  Opposed to the rhetoric.  Opposed to the speeches.  Opposed to the ignorance from both sides.  Opposed to the lack of peace.  All the while, the divide grows.  It grows until we feel like strangers with no bond.  It grows until we tire, but are ever stoked to action by those that actually benefit. 

So boys, I challenge you to dig deeper.  To ignore the noise.  To seek no wars.  To seek only those things that bind us together.  And if you haven't figured it out, this isn't simply about politics.  It's about how you live every day.  If you constantly tout your own answers, you'll undoubtedly miss the truth.  If you constantly seek conflict, how can you ever be expected to find peace?  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Changing Spots (This Might Hurt a Little)

Boys, there will come a time in your lives, hopefully many of them, where you count the till.  That is to say, the till that is your life.  It rarely happens in youth, but seems to be an almost daily occurrence as the years pass and the calendar begins to work against you.  The till, in this case, is an assessment of where you came from (the influences and inspirations), where you are (as honest and brutal as necessary), and where you want to go (pipe dreams and all).   Sometimes the answers revolve around you as person, or you as a father, or you as a spouse.  Sometimes they may not include much of you at all, as you take account of those around you and those with whom you've chosen to associate.  Either way, I hope one thing for you; that you would be honest with yourself.  No matter the cost or the repercussions.  That honesty will serve as your true North and will hopefully clear your path of the distractions that keep us from who we're truly meant to be.  That said, I can only pray that my own decisions in this, and yours, will prevent or lessen the inevitable "what could've beens" that mortality tricks all of us into believing.

From my earliest years, that I can remember, I was always a musician.  Be it the piano, the trumpet, or singing, I was always involved in music.  The curse of it was that it came easy.  That's not meant to be boastful or braggadocios, but rather, it's meant to be telling.  That statement, being fact, points toward what held me back from counting my till for many years.  In school, other subjects didn't matter, I had music.  When the time came to choose a college, it didn't matter.  Wherever I went, I knew I'd make music, and would more than likely be successful at it.

But you see, something happened along the way.  I lost my true North.  While I gained great enlightenment and enjoyment from my musical career, I saw no future.  There was no path.  In fact, most of my years of performing had only brought seclusion and loneliness.  It wasn't necessarily the cat's meow to be a great baritone in small town South Mississippi.  And the competitive nature of the college environment only seemed to further separate me from having relationships with my peers.  It was dog eat dog, but I didn't have an appetite.  That's not to say that I wasn't competitive.  I was.  Voraciously so.  The problem was that winning never gave me what I wanted, and losing never hurt as bad as it should.  This was never more greatly emphasized then when I decided it would be a good idea to go out drinking tequila the night before the finals of a regional singing competition, where I felt I was favored, and ended up being so hungover when it was my turn to sing that I forgot the name of my piece and who composed it.  I sang well enough to win, but it was so obvious that I wasn't IN the competition, that I ended up finishing second.

This was the first sign.

If I'm going to be honest, the second sign was my general mental condition at the time.   I wasn't living for a future.  I was selfish.  Your mother seemed to be the only person in my corner, as she always has been.  Maybe to a fault.  Maybe she should've ditched the head case, or maybe I'd disguised just how deep my despair ran even to her.  Either way, she was on board, and we began to plan for the future.

Somewhere along the way, 9/11 happened.  The world seemed bigger, and scarier.  In truth, maybe the sensationalism of it all worked a little too well on an early 20's know-it-all.  Either way, I began to wonder a scary thought.  "Was music my only skill?"  Had I spent so many years taking the easy road of expectations, that I'd forgot that life was about the challenges we don't see, or the fears we've yet to dash?  Either way, I knew that it was time to make a move.  This was further reinforced by one of my professors who gently suggested that there was no way I would ever be a successful music teacher.  I think her heart was in the right place, but she had all the tact of a bulldozer.

It was clear.  My spots were destined to change.  The time had now come to be uncomfortable.  To be unsure.  Nothing makes you more unsure than boot camp.

That's right, I unceremoniously dropped out of college, with one semester to go, and enlisted in the Coast Guard.

It seemed like another crazy and half thought out move to most, but to me, it was just what I needed.  I needed to be in the pack.  To struggle.  To fight.  To fail.  I needed to see that I could prove myself wrong; that I could move the mountains of doubt in my mind, no matter how small the rewards.  What happened next is a story for another time.  But the winning wasn't in the result; it was in the trying.  That's what changing your spots is.  It's real, unadulterated trying.  Yearning.  And those who come with you?  Those are the ones that are worth it.