We’re more alike than different. Until we recognize this and act upon it through kindness and understanding, the shitshow will continue. We can’t blame 2020. And it’s not a certain group, team, color, race, sight or sound. It’s you. And it’s me. We aren’t making the best decisions we can. We’re moving along in our own worlds, creating narratives that are wound around belief systems we’ve been fed and have accepted, most of the time without question. Cherry-picking bits and pieces to fill our pages. Fulfill our needs. Support our dos and do nots.
It’s amazing, really.
A big crow waits beside a black trash bag set at the curb. He’s waiting for his moment. He wants to tear, pick and pry until he gets the goods inside. He knows that if he digs enough, he’ll get what he wants. He’s clever. Patient. Knows what it takes to survive.
A V of geese glides high above. Escaping weekend gun jockeys, traffic, and the stresses of life on the ground. North and South. Up and down. Inside each one of them, a compass. Getting from point A to point B. Mating for life.
My kids were so happy this morning. Shaking off the tireds with Fruit Loops, chatter about the upcoming day—my son sharing the weather report for his soccer game, my daughter excited because she saw Will Ferrell on an episode of The Office. It’s good that they are able to wake, dress, brush, wash, pack backpacks, and plan for the day. They are moving forward by leaps and bounds, growing stronger and smarter, forming ideas and opinions, fighting hormones and fear. Establishing themselves—sometimes in the most challenging ways—as individuals. It’s not all unicorns, ice cream, and balloons. At the same time, the kids evolve and change, so do we—the parents.
SB is upstairs now. She’s dropped them at school and has returned for breakfast. It’s highly likely to be two fried eggs and toast. She will eat, get centered and rebalanced, then head out into a day of work. She’ll drive past that crow as he swallows a half-eaten trash burger. Shake her head. Think of her kids and smile, as she catches a glimpse of the geese. Up there so high. Safe from the stresses of the ground.
This kid thing isn’t easy. That’s why it’s rewarding. They push and stretch and shape you in ways you could never imagine. It’s all good though. As long as you can keep your guts out of it as necessary, and make logical decisions based on reason, they turn out okay.
None of them are perfect. But this is a mistake many parents make. They pump their kids up and up and up so that they end up being self-centered, self-important, and delusional. Lots of potential presidential candidates, I know. But I want my kids to aim higher.
We eat meals together and they eat what’s served to them. We take family walks, hikes, and bike rides. Their online time is limited. They read books. Paint. Draw. And exercise. They are taught to do their best to listen to others, to seek to understand, and fight only when absolutely necessary. I have to admit, though. There’s only so much I can do. Once they leave the house, it’s a crapshoot.
I can only hope they make good decisions.
I’m not a great parent. I would consider myself so-so. But I’m trying and I am doing what I can to learn as I go. I have always had little faith in those that profess to know the answers. I’m stubborn. I learn the hard way. And I expect my kids will be the same. But that’s okay because it’s important to me that people find their own answers. Don’t follow blindly. Don’t believe everything you read, hear, or see, especially if it aligns with your beliefs.
Question, question, question. Everything.
It’s okay to have different answers. To do things differently. Individuals and families have to find what works for them. Be mindful of others. Be kind. Be aware that you aren’t the only being spinning around through space on a big ball of dirt.
I’m not saying that what I do with my kids is better than what you do with your kids. If feeding them fast food, buying them everything they want, fighting their battles for them, and letting them get fat from drinking soda, snacking on Ho Hos and reveling in inactivity is your happiness and their happiness, have it at.
The virus is picking up pace again. At least that’s what the news reports. I’m not sure if it’s that more people are getting it or that we’re discovering that more people have it. I suppose that’s the same thing, but what I’m trying to get at is if we went around testing everyone to see they were allergic to bee stings, we would quickly discover that many more people are allergic than previously thought. We would see that many die and many suffer, and that bees change lives forever in negative ways.
And the people that complain and say they’re changing the world by creating awareness would march and shout. And the people that hate bees anyway would have an excuse to exterminate them and all their insect friends. The grasshoppers, the ladybugs, and then the butterflies. Fuck those nasty butterflies, looping all over the road in the sunshine while we’re trying to get from point A to point B.
Yes, the haters would want to keep all insects out. They would probably start by focusing on ones of a particular color or pattern then move on to the ones that don’t fly quite like the others. Maybe start with a giant wall. Or a net. When that won’t work, it’s time to arm everyone with Raid and flyswatters. Maybe call it a right and add it to a document that was written three hundred years ago. It will give people a little more pride as they grip that handle and swing, swing, swing away at that wretched brown house moth.
Humans are the problem. We believe we’re so goddamned important. Some of us live by books written by humans that tell us how great we are and how great we can be—especially, if we believe the words of these particular books. Some believe in TV. Twitter. Facebook and YouTube because we don’t want to believe in books.
We don’t take the time to pick ourselves apart while observing what’s all around. If we did, we would see that our pieces are shared and common. We’re part of everything. Part of the trees, the water, the air. Part of our friends and enemies. The doves, the frogs, the stars, and the oil that runs beneath the crust. But we’re lazy. We want the world and we want it now—money, love, freedom, and happiness—and we want it given to us. We want our fair share.
Those of us that see this mess, that sense the vibrations and are seeking to understand, are busy building rockets so we can get the fuck out of here before the powder keg gets lit by some carrot-faced billionaire. There’s a couple thousand of them in the world and I’m sure more than one is getting a foot rub under the sun by some poor kid that’s there thinking it’s just a summer job and he’ll never have to get higher than mid-thigh.
This isn’t our planet. It’s shared. We’re guests. That’s why we ought to work together to take care of it, to take care of each other. But we don’t. We’re selfish, driven by our personal agendas, our will to be powerful and control. We believe we’re all-important and so we shout and tweet and post because we have special, original opinions that need to be heard. We want to be right. To feel good. We want to change the world. And the only way to do that is to accumulate likes from the like-minded, followers that are just that, followers, and get the sheep to hit SUBSCRIBE.
In short, we’re getting too big for our britches. We can’t believe we’re part of a bigger plan that doesn’t align with our expectations. And so, there are fights. Frustration. Little needles of hatred poking under the surface as we smile at a neighbor who’s staked a red or blue political sign in their yard. And those that have the balls to raise anything but (insert your flag here)? Shame on them.
We need to get out of and over ourselves. Break up what we know. Push and challenge ourselves to understand the bullies, accept the so-called oddities, and fight the urge to conform. Learn to listen. Open your eyes. Pull away from the screen and take a look around. The time we have created is running out. There’s no stopping it now. It’s going to get you.
The virus. An asteroid. Famine.
Abuse. Neglect. Murder.
A giant, rolling wave.
A head-on collision as you swerve to miss a butterfly.
Or maybe, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll die in your sleep. If that’s lucky at all.
In the kitchen. Taxes on my mind. Knowing I need to get them done because if done right, we’ll get money back. We need this money to live this life we’re living. I understand that the sum of your belongings means nothing. But once you accumulate and have, you expect. It’s ridiculousness at its best.
So, I’m making French Press coffee from beans I’ve just ground. Starbucks French Roast. And I’m falling into the pit of guilt. It’s not the guilt’s fault. See, I do this often. Every day. Many times each day. Instead of enjoying an experience, like a silky, smooth cup of coffee, I start thinking of the people waking up on the street. In the cold. People with real problems, like aching, starving bellies. Pain that they can’t get prescribed away. Humans, that for one reason or another, have chosen the street. Their decision-making may have not been well-informed and certainly could have been affected by mental illness, substance abuse, lack of education, disease, and general hopelessness. Or sometimes, people just get a bad shake. They are, of course, without choice. Surviving by sheer will.
And that’s only the beginning. I’ll find one of these folks in my head. See them, hear them, feel them, and wonder, how can I help? What am I able to do from my place here on the 45th parallel to get the war vet to the soup kitchen and a counselor? How do I help the opiate addicted illegal immigrant and her three young boys out of the car their living in and into a home? And what about the old man living in his shack out in the sticks with no running water, no phone, no electricity? He can’t walk anymore. He finds it impossible to do much of anything. He sits in his chair, looking out over his frozen front yard toward the road where his mailbox used to be. It’s gone, he thinks. The snowplow that came through last week blasted through it, sending his disability check flying off into February, only to be buried out there somewhere with another layer of snow. Not that it matters. He can’t get to town to cash it, anyhow.
I sip the coffee. Damn, it is good.
I check my watch. An Apple watch, of course. Those are the gifts we give each other. Obnoxious. Does anybody really need to have the world strapped to their wrist? But it is telling me to get moving. Yesterday, I smashed my move goal. Burned just over 1,600 calories. Jogging, walking, elliptical, and free weights. And I’m shameful. How stupid is that? I’m ashamed that I’m able to do these things, look out for my health.
And I love the watch.
I head down to the basement. Get here to these keys. This computer works well. It’s taken the thoughts from inside of me and saved them for the past five years. That’s the typical age when one should consider replacing a laptop. I admit it. I’ve been looking at the 16” MacBook Pro.
Wasn’t it an apple that supposedly got all of us into this?
I’ve been abusing these keys for about twenty minutes. I’m at that point where I know I could go for hours—probably write The Great American Novel—but it’s here again. The pit. My daughter has friends over. Two of them. They slept over last night. It was my wife’s idea. She’s up there now, sipping tea. Touching her iPad Pro. Playing Candy Crush or shopping for clothes for our Spring Break trip. We’re going to Jamaica. But, I’m not up there, you see. Those little girls are chatting, munching cereal, slurping milk. There’s nothing I can do up there. I have nothing to offer, but I’m supposed to be up there. My wife may not actually think this, but that’s what the pit is telling me. I shouldn’t be down here writing, cleaning out the noggin’, getting myself centered, doing what I love—stringing words together. I should be up there.
And once I’m up there, doing whatever it is I can to help—putting away dishes, vacuuming, sitting on the couch and watching TV, just BEING there—the pit will remind me of what I committed to years ago, when I was just a kid.
I’m going to be a writer, I said.
But it will have to wait. At least until the taxes are done.
Thinking about stupid shit. Like buying a new computer. The price of XRP. Why I feel guilty all the time—about wanting to drink wine, eat chocolate and meat—and how even though I’ve lost over 50 pounds in a year, I still am not happy with my body.
In the meantime, Australia is burning to the ground.
Kids are starving.
Animals are freezing in this cold.
And there are people that can’t read, don’t have a roof over their heads, and no food to eat. And here I am, alone at the kitchen table surrounded by art on the walls, books on the shelves, electronic devices in drawers on counters and on end tables. We’re a spoiled bunch, us living here on White Street.
We have earned it.
That’s what I like to think.
I have sacrificed. But probably not to the degree necessary to receive the great fortune we have. I have worked—hard, since I was fourteen. From writing sports articles for The Alpena News to stocking shelves at Fishers Big Wheel, I made sure to pull my weight. And over the years, the heavier I got, the harder it was to pull it.
I remember working the gun counter at Dunham’s when Johnnie Slampsaw came in. He wanted to buy a shotgun. I showed him a Mossberg pump. A .20 gauge, I believe. He had a couple young kids with him. They were dicking around by the clay pigeons. Messing with a tree stand. They were with him, but I wasn’t sure they were his.
He didn’t recognize me. He looked hollow. Felt empty. Like he did back in grade school. He was one of those kids that felt paper thin. He was scrappy. A fighter. He was emotional too. But I never felt much from him. He got into trouble a lot. Even years later at Thunder Bay Junior High. Doing the wrong things to get attention. And then, there he was. Years later. Looking worn out and run down. I remember during our conversation I said his name, Johnnie. That took him back. Now, as I remember it, I think he was filling out a form to purchase the gun. He had a question about something on the form, kept looking back at those kids, and was flustered. That’s when I said his name, Johnnie. I can’t recall why or in what context, but it made him stop and look at me as if I’d just slapped him.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“I went to school with you,” I said. “It’s me, KJ Stevens.”
He paused. Mustered up a look of disgust.
“You got fat.”
“Yeah, thanks. College. Beer. Some weights.”
He didn’t care that at one time we knew each other. That I saw him throw baby Killdeer against the side of the Maple Ride Elementary School gymnasium. Laughing, as they hit the pink bricks and were crushed and bled and died. Some of them sticking to the wall for a moment before they fell to the ground. The mother Killdeer behind us, running in circles, faking a broken wing. Him and Stan and Charlie and Wendell killing those baby birds. He didn’t care that I dated his sister for a recess. I thought I was loved. That I was a somebody. Afterall, we had exchanged notes. Stood near each other. And giggled. She was a year older. I was a quiet, nervous, self-conscious, wimpy little bitch. Just a kid full of my own issues, trying to make my way. He didn’t care about any of that then and he didn’t care about any of it now. He wanted to buy a shotgun and he wanted to get those kids out of the store and he probably wanted to shoot them. But he didn’t.
He shot himself.
In the face.
One of our schoolmates, Pete, was on the scene as a volunteer firefighter. He told me about Johnnie’s demise a few years after that meeting at Dunham’s.
It was a mess, he said.
Johnnie had gotten into drugs. Depression. Had probably been abused.
So, he did what any other pain-filled person would do when all they want is rest.
Johnnie didn’t have it like this.
Being a chubby husband with healthy, happy kids. A beautiful, smart, creative wife. Johnnie didn’t drink wine and feel guilty about it. He didn’t have three cats. A dog. A ferret. He wasn’t planning on taking his family to the Caribbean for Spring Break. Johnnie didn’t have any of this.
But maybe he could have.
If he would have toughed it out. Not gone the selfish, self-centered route.
Sure, I know it’s a sickness.
All of us do. Especially those of us that have been living with it. Thinking about it.
But we don’t do it. Because none of this is about us.
It’s about them. And when you get outside yourself and realize how important all of this is to everyone else, you don’t buy the shotgun. You don’t call an old schoolmate fat. You don’t go down that deep, dark hole that those before you dug.
Instead, you stay on top. And even if you fall below the surface awhile and get pulled into the darkness, you know that you must come up.
I’m not sure if it’s laziness or delusional behavior, but
the way you’re doing it is wrong. Unless your kid can pull herself up by her
bootstraps and make herself better because of some intrinsic values given to
her by God, magic, or happenstance, she’s probably going to repeat the shitty
pattern you’ve laid out before her.
Pop-Tarts, Mountain Dew, and candy bars.
Pajama pants in public, 33 extra pounds, and selfishness.
Throwing your weight around like you matter.
You fucking dummy.
We are on a ball of dirt, whirling through space and time,
and you actually believe you’re special? That you’re somebody? A force to be
reckoned with that deserves respect?
Get over yourself.
You cling to people that support your thoughts because you’re
afraid of growth, change, and accountability.
Blame the government. Blame your neighbors. Blame your
genes, your family, your friends.
The issue here isn’t everyone else.
Parking like an asshole.
Cutting in line.
Putting people down so you feel better.
Parenting via fats, carbs, wifi, and stupidity.
Dragging your kid down, down, down.
Burying her in layers and layers that will shield her from
ever having the opportunity to live the life of beauty she was meant to have.
All because you’re just another mouth-breather.
Afraid to rise up, do the work that’s important, put on your
big-boy pants, and take a stand.
Those that do, I suspect, have pain. Or boundless energy. Or are so narcissistic that they don’t know any better.
Dan Rather says, somewhere in his new book—and I’m paraphrasing here—that we shouldn’t feel sorry for people. Instead, we need to empathize. Seek to understand. Extend our hand, reach, and bring people closer.
Because when we are close—just sharing space—there is always the great chance that we will find our commonality. Create community. And unite.
But what Dan Rather has to say, and what I have to say means nothing if you are unable to recognize that most of what you know isn’t yours. It was put into your head, as truth, by somebody else.
You have been taught to believe in God, taxes, and Santa Claus. You have been taught to tie your shoelaces, turn the other cheek, and to stand at attention for the flag.
It’s a shame really. How easily we are duped. Shamed. Made to fit into sheep’s clothing when we are the mightiest of wolves.
Aching to howl.
Barefoot and ready to fight.
Fearless, as we kneel and allow our enemies to take the first shot.