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.
Everyone suddenly knows what it is that drives a young man to arm himself with a weapon and extinguish light.
Driven by their own beliefs, agendas, and experience, they label, pigeon-hole, and validate. Nobody seems to consider that perhaps all of it is more complicated than what we read and hear and see. We want so much to make sense of it, to understand and control it, that we do all that we can to simplify it.
After all, we have kids. We want them safe. We are good, God-fearing folks, and we believe most definitely that there’s a right and a wrong. That it is good or evil, black or white, left or right.
But maybe that’s the problem.
We spend so much time pushing people into places we think they belong that we forget.
Sleeping and waking and working and faking. Doing whatever it takes to survive.
And when we are cornered, afraid of what may become of us and everything we believe to be true and right and just, we bite. We fight. We lie and cheat and steal and walk into schools with weapons wanting to kill those sacred, beautiful things we once had—innocence, possibility, dreams—all because we’re afraid that life as we know it is being destroyed by the OTHERS. The liberals, the conservatives, the waffling wimps in the middle, the whites, the aliens, the blacks.
It’s always somebody else’s fault.
The immigrants. The corporations. The lazy bastards at home milking the system.
I know night when there is no time tick, tick, tocking and all of our efforts are fading.
So sometimes I listen to music in the dark.
Bon Iver’s Blood Bank or Manchester Orchestra’s April Fool. Maybe even Eddie Vedder driftin’, driftin’ away.
But it only makes me remember that I have a secret I don’t know how to tell.
We do it because we are bigger than this. Because we have everything and because when we are surrounded by those we know and trust and love, we are alone.
We know tired. It simply becomes the norm. And we know more than most, that we have everything. That life does not need to be better. That it never gets easier. And we believe in God—the place we came from—because it’s in our daughter’s eyes, our son’s smile, and the buzz of hummingbird wings.
There’s no getting out of this. But sometimes, we look at the clock to see if it’s time.
But it’s not.
And never is.
I have to be patient. And fine. And better.
Modigliani’s long-necked ladies watch.
Snoopy taps the typewriter keys.
And goddammit, I’m sure everyone has had this—a dark, stormy night—but I can’t let it get to me.
There isn’t a noose that’ll hold me. A bullet that can hit the spot. And I’ve been in darkness deep enough to know it’s not strong enough to pull me under.
We all know I’ll always rise to the top, break the surface, and breathe.
A man stands outside in pajama pants and a hoodie, while the yellow dog sniffs undisturbed snow under the weighty boughs of the sleeping evergreens. And the fuzzy stars shine. Stuck in the middle of fading in, or fading out, and it’s another night of unsettling silence in a Michigan winter that shows no sign of mercy.
Invisible fingers are reaching—touching deep—penetrating his skin. Squeezing with all their icy might to grip, hold tight, and shatter the bones within.
He feels the crack coming. Is aware that this reckless life has filled his fibers with fissures that cannot be repaired. But he believes enough in silly things—like true love, grace under pressure, and finding god on his own—that he musters enough strength each night to fight for dreams that leave him hopeful each morning. And so, he is able to swing his feet over the edge of the bed, put one foot in front of the other, and create meaning in his messy existence and he is able to savor the sweetest things.
Like staring up into the dark blue sky. Getting lost in an instant of bright movement. Brilliant motion that shifts the plates and shakes the core. Makes the warmth rise up inside so that the spirit tingles, and the touch of the dog’s cold nose on his hand gives him the sensation that he’s taking his first breath. That he has been given another chance. To be better and stronger. To live again as if all of this is unfamiliar and new.
Good morning. It’s bright, sunny—another day ripe with possibility and opportunity—as long as we embrace what we have and are willing to push on into the unknown. There’s a lot of good to be put into the world and I can do it, but today, all I really want to do is hole up in my writing room with a heater, some booze, and ideas. That’s where the real work will get done. That’s where I’ll feel the most success. That’s the place I’ll emerge from feeling weightless and happy. There’s nothing like being alone with everything that’s been piling up in your head and picking through it. Saving the good. Pitching the bad.
Actually, that’s what I probably should do—pitch the bad. If I worked harder on creating awful stuff and plastering it all over the world, I’d probably more successful as a writer. But, like some dope, I am hanging on to that personal code bullshit I picked up in college. Trying to create words that have weight, so that they stick and remain not for a day, a week, a year, but for at least a few decades. My goal is to write enough good stuff so that one day my kids are left with it and they can sit alone in some old big attic of a big house and read pages and pages of what I’ve done so they can fall in love with life again.
I know, I know…sounds weird. How do I know that my kids won’t love life? What’s with the attic and the window? We don’t have that now. And what makes me think my kids would get more out of my writing than reading Hemingway, hooks, or Atwood? And what about biographies or history books, or TV? I’m not sure, I guess. But I’ve always had this image of my kids all grown up going through boxes of writing. Pages of it. But that would mean I’d have to print it out and I don’t do that. Maybe that’s something I ought to start doing. And I should also start writing in a more disciplined manner. This half-assing it “when I have time” is bullshit. If I really wanted it and if I truly thought it was something I could do well enough to pay the bills, I’d do it. Instead, I spend my days making ends meet by helping a team of people sell conveyors. This is not a bad thing. Everyone needs to do the work necessary to support their family, and I do like my job. The only thing is, I see the end coming. And it’s coming quicker than I had ever imagined it would and I just want to be happy. Deep, at the core, happy.
So, it’s a bright, beautiful day. I’m trying to write, clear my head, strike a bit of balance before I turn into WE and we start this day. My daughter is right next to me playing Pictionary by herself and is perfectly happy drawing and guessing all on her own. One of our cats, Chedder, is helping her. My wife is filling the house with the wonderful smell of bacon. And I can hear my son—just a week into being 11—groaning and talking to himself as he stretches in bed. He’s probably not happy that we are all up and noisy at 9:21 am on Sunday. And with all of this life so alive and brewing, I’ll step aside to do some silent writing in my head. The type I’ve trained myself to do over the past few years. Observe, listen, record. Observe and listen and record.
I remember being six and standing in the cheese line at the fairgrounds with my Mom and brothers. It was a beautiful, bright day. There was so much light around. I remember the light so well.
All of us were wearing hand-me-downs or Salvation Army specials. There was more than cheese, of course—“provisions” is what they called it, and I remember powdered milk, cereal, and other necessities and my belly grumbling with hunger and excitement as we received the plainly labeled packages that would be rationed for weeks—but it was the cheese line, no doubt, because that’s what kids called it at school. Their Moms and Dads apparently hadn’t ever hit a bad patch for long enough to make them swallow their pride and stand in line to feed their kids. Nearly every day, I heard all about the lazy, good-for-nuthins that stood in line for food they did not earn or deserve. Kids learn a lot from their parents, I guess, so I got to hear firsthand from my classmates how lazy, stupid, and selfish we were—especially my old man. It ate me up to hear how awful we were for taking handouts and no matter what I said nobody gave a good shit that my Dad worked his ass off. When he got laid off, he did everything he could to provide. He worked odd jobs for those in our rural town that could afford to hire a helper. He fixed things for family and friends. He picked bottles and cans to cash in on the deposit money. And when things got tight in the fall and winter, he shot deer so we had meat on the table and waiting in the freezer. Dad applied for jobs, spent lots of time at the unemployment office, and was always busy never giving up. Eventually, he got hired back at the factory and made a very good living. One that gave us everything we would ever need. We weren’t rich by any means, but he worked for decades not because he liked ruining his lungs with shop air, and not because he wanted to lose his hearing to shop machines, but because he wanted to give his wife and kids a good life. And because he got a little lift in the form of a social welfare program. Hell, that little boost coupled with his tenacity and devotion carries on into today.
For the most part, I don’t fuck around. My wife and kids come first. And I do everything I can to make sure that ends meet and overlap so that there’s at least a little left over to give. But still, on a night like this—kids just put to bed in their cozy rooms, my wife sipping wine watching high def TV, and me at these keys sipping vodka and Sprite as nine bells call out from the church down the street—I know I’m not doing enough. None of us are.
Less than a mile away, there’s a third grade boy dreading going to school tomorrow because he’ll be teased for wearing hand-me-downs.
Down 2nd Avenue, just north of the bridge, there’s a little girl that just wants a warm bath.
Somewhere in this sleepy lakeshore town coined as a “warm and friendly port,” there’s a man that’s made some bad decisions, but doesn’t deserve to be sleeping on a concrete slab.
Everywhere at every moment there’s a spirit that needs a lift and yet we choose to walk away. We judge quickly and embrace cynicism because it’s easy. We don’t want to think. We don’t want to feel. We just want to live our own little lives and don’t want to be bothered. And when we do this, we die a little. Oh, it’s imperceptible. It can be ignored. Shrugged off. After all, it’s our money and our own life we’re looking out for. We do a fine job of distracting ourselves from what’s really important quite easily. We buy shit we don’t need. We’re afraid to believe. And we follow like sheep. Donating to political campaigns and scrolling through Facebook all along the way. Little do we know, those little deaths all add up and eventually the light is pulled away.
Nearly 10 years ago, I wrote a book called Pilgrim’s Bay. I worked my ass off on it because I loved the characters as if they were real people in my life. Always, it was as if they were waiting for me to come around to visit and listen and remember their story so that I could share it with the world. I lived and breathed those characters and their story and did my best to do it justice. The result was a small book written as well as I could write at the time. It didn’t break any sales records, but it was well-received by those that read it. A few years after its publication, I was contacted by an editor in London. He was an ambitious man starting his own publishing company. He liked Pilgrim’s Bay and loved the characters almost as much as I did. He wanted to re-issue the book, but with a couple conditions. One, I revise the book to make it better. Two, I change the title. The title he proposed, BLACK, wasn’t that much of a problem. I liked it because it focused on the feel of the book. I was fine there. The request to revise the book was a little harder to consider. I was done with Pilgrim’s Bay. I didn’t want to change it. And I didn’t believe that I could make the book any better. A strange thing happened though. I put away my pride. I took the feedback into consideration and I revisited my old friends to get their story straighter and clearer than ever. The time that had passed between original and rewrite had made me a better listener. The result is BLACK. If you’ve already purchased Pilgrim’s Bay, maybe you don’t want to buy BLACK, but for those of you that haven’t read Pilgrim’s Bay, please give BLACK a chance.