Simplicity and Quietness

Simplicity and Quietness

Turkey and dressing, a day filled to the brim with professional football, the parades and the beginning of holiday sales that you almost have to risk your life to take advantage of. These are just a few of the things many of us will be thankful for come Thursday when we gather around the table with family and friends, some we see often, others it may have been a while.

We will all walk through the motions of saying we’re thankful for health and family, safety and well being, but are we really? I suppose one can make the argument that Thanksgiving has become the “official” start of the holiday season, and in the process it, in a way, can set the tone for our particular season. When I was younger, Thanksgiving was boring to me. It was just a reminder of what Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would be, and how far away they were still. It’s only been recently that I have really begun to enjoy it for its own merit.

I am excited for Thanksgiving now! It’s not because of the food or the fancy dog show, it’s because for the first time in my life I feel very thankful for a lot of people and a lot of amazing opportunities in my life. I couldn’t be more blessed but I should be so much more grateful than I am a majority of the time and Thursday will be my day to attempt to reverse that order.

A couple weeks ago social media and a couple different news broadcasts wasted a fair amount of their energy trying to piss everyone off over a red cup. I would say that most people could care less what any coffee shop puts on their cup, and the cup is definitely not what I want to focus on because I’m one of not-caring people. Instead I want to focus on a statement from Starbucks vice president of design and content, Jeffrey Fields.

In a statement where he explains and defends the cup he simply says that the design of the cup is “embracing the simplicity and quietness” of the season. I don’t know whether or not the explanation is genuine. But I like it. I’m also willing bet that at least a few of the small number of people actually offended by the cup will be attending an expensive and extravagant Christmas production at a church that will most certainly not reflect the simplicity and quietness of the season.

I’ve thought a lot about simplicity and quietness as the holidays have approached this year. We’ve already been watching add after add for this companies newest gizmo and that store’s Black Friday Door Buster, and not a one is the least bit tranquil. Some do a good job masquerading as such, showing us grand scenes of families gathering together and informing us how their store isn’t opening on Thanksgiving so you can have that family time before you come to buy whatever item they sell that you just can’t live without.

I’m not going to bitch and moan about the commercialization of Christmas. I actually enjoy the gifts. I enjoy shopping for loved ones, online that is. All of those things are still fun to me. I agree that there are some people who place too much importance on these things, but I take pride in not being one of them. We’re always being sold something whether it’s the middle of July or Christmas Eve, that’s a fact of life. What I don’t care for is being sold an idea that just isn’t realistic.

So many advertisements present their product or store as being the key to the perfect holiday season. So many shows will have the characters you’ve watched all year meander their way through several holiday themed conundrums only to arrive at a perfectly prepared meal on a perfectly decorated table. I have never once seen the perfect holiday season, and I don’t want it.

We’re so caught up in the romanticized idea of the holidays that the simple joy they bring is replaced by the disappointment of feeling like we’re inadequate because our season didn’t live up to our expectations. This isn’t about the gifts or the decorations, it’s about us. The holidays are just a tiny break from the chaos that is the rest of our lives, but obviously the chaos is still there. The mistake we make is believing that the holidays themselves will somehow make all of that go away when we get all the little details perfectly right.

If you burn the turkey, laugh. If having to cook for thirty people stresses you out, be thankful you have people to cook for. If you just can’t find the gift that a special someone has had their eye on, be grateful that you have a special someone who lets you know what they want because they know you care for them enough to pull your hair out trying to find it.

It’s a time to rejuvenate, not a time to work ourselves to the bone. I know that there are most definitely stressful aspects of the holidays, but I think keeping in mind that the holidays aren’t a natural occurrence nor are the days by themselves divine might help. There days we’ve set aside that for whatever reason you or I happen to be celebrating can give us joy. When we lose sight of the real meaning of the holidays and the real reasons we get to be off work for a couple days, we start trying to forcefully manipulate man made joy into them. Then all we end up with are some awkward family dinners.

This year when I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner I want to be quiet and still. I want to listen to my loved ones more than I talk. I haven’t seen some in over a year, and you never know what the next year brings. I want the messy, crazy, stressful holidays. I don’t want to forget to enjoy those loved ones because I have some false hope that this year we will have the perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas. I simply want whatever this year’s season has in store. The good, the bad and the downright unpleasant.

In order to practice what I preach so to speak, I’m not going to ramble like I normally would. Instead, I want to go think about simplicity and quietness some more. Hopefully, over a hot cup of black coffee and a slice of homemade pumpkin pie.

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The Chink In Our Armor

The Chink In Our Armor

I’m three days late writing this week, because I had no idea what to say. I felt like I could not write what I initially started, given the terrible events we have watched unfold around the globe. I also felt I could not find anything to say about the attacks in Paris and the rest of the world that hasn’t been said. So with that, I am going to try my best to be short and to the point.

Before I continue, please take a moment and watch the video linked below. The language is colorful, and it may be a tad comical, but I believe it is a sentiment we can all share:

John Oliver – Paris Attacks

John Oliver is exactly right. They’re assholes. While that is a very light hearted way of looking at an incredibly heavy subject, I appreciate so much that as colorful as he was he didn’t jump on a political bandwagon. He didn’t try to lecture his viewers on why these attacks did or did not reflect Islam as a whole. He didn’t condemn anyone except the men responsible for so much death and pain.

I grappled for days with what to say, then I saw a video that moved me, please take a moment and watch this man’s story:

You Will Not Have My Hatred

All I can say is that is the most incredibly powerful response to the most incredibly devastating event. Their attacks accomplished exactly what they wanted them to. We’re afraid. We are terrified of ISIS like we’ve never been before, and rightly so. They are a scary organization. However, I don’t want them to be the focus of my writing today. They don’t deserve my attention, my anger or my hatred. They don’t deserve any of it, and I will be damned if they get it.

On the night of the attacks I spoke with a good friend about how people react to these horrors. We both talked about how we remembered 9/11, we talked about how we would most likely remember the attacks that night. We also came to a point I had never considered. The urge to simply be angry and respond with more violence and hatred is a knee jerk, childlike reaction. One that, if we are all honest, we’re probably guilty of to some degree.

For the last week now, we’ve watched as congressmen, senators and governors have all called to turn away refugees due to an increased threat of terrorism. I will admit, due to that knee jerk reaction at first I agreed in many ways.

I’ve been trying very hard to think about the big picture. I’m trying very hard to picture what ISIS is trying to do. I’m trying very hard to think about where the West and the United States fit in that picture. I think ISIS and terrorists all over the world believe they have found a chink in our armor. They will use our compassion and our values against us, and here is how.

They are going to create a conflict between what we tell the world we stand for and our own safety. ISIS did not create the refugee crisis the world faces today. There is no way that they could have engineered a humanitarian crisis that is at least fifteen years in the making. I won’t be foolish enough to give them that much credit. I do think however, that I would be mistaken to not believe they will take advantage of it.

There are thousands upon thousands of innocent and well-meaning men and women coming to western nations from all over the Middle East. Among them, will be doctors, attorneys, simple merchants. There will be people coming from wealth and poverty, and yes there will be members of ISIS among them as well. This raises the question:

Do we let refugees in? Or, do we send them back?

We have a choice to make. Our values and integrity are directly being questioned. We are the city on the hill. We are supposed to be the light of freedom to the rest of the world. We have two options right now to reflect that light to the rest of the world. Will we be the city on the hill that leaves a gate open to help the thousands in need, even though leaving that gate open requires immense personal risk and sacrifice, or will we be the city on the hill that builds a 300 foot wall and seals them self in while thousands more die on the other side?

I don’t know what we will do ultimately. I don’t know what the right thing to do even is.

It is very possible that the United States’ supposed values should lead us to keep that gate open. We’re fighters, but not just on our own behalf. We should never claim to fight for freedom and liberty if we are only preserving freedom and liberty for ourselves. Doing so in its very nature tyrannical. Our founders never intended for this country to be the greatest nation in the world. They never intended for us to essentially run the world economy. We arrived at this point by standing for our values.

What is more important to us now? Is it our position as the military and economic powerhouse of the world, or is it our values? Are we really willing to secure ourselves by turning away thousands of human beings? Most likely sending them back to their homelands where they face incredible desperation and in many cases death.  Is it the right thing to open our borders and bring in the multitude of the innocent along with the minority of the guilty? Is it more important for us to be 100% safe, or compassionate and merciful?

I honestly believe that the time for political debate and solution to this problem is over. Whether we like it or not, the United States we are trying so hard to preserve will one day cease to exist as we know it. I don’t know why, I don’t know how but history tells me it will. When that day comes and goes, the things we will be remembered by will be the things that we stood for.

We are trying to have the national debate over refugees from a view point of ‘we are the biggest and the best, and we will always be the biggest and the best’. We quickly need to determine if our current convenient and relatively safe way of life has taken the place of liberty and justice for ALL. When we are no longer the world leading super power we are today for whatever reason, what we valued in times like these will be what historians write about us.

If we turn the refugees away, we will be required to take the fight to ISIS and stop them in Iraq and Syria. If we allow refugees a safe haven here, we are still going to need to eventually take the fight to ISIS, but we do increase the risk of that fight finding its way to our homes. No matter what decision we make, it is all in vain unless we decide to confront the root of the problem. Nothing changes as long as ISIS and their perverted ideology are allowed to exist.

Before we are too quick to politicize this issue, it’s very important we consider every option. Not a single aspect of the crisis we face is cut and dry. I don’t know what the best decision is. It is an impossible one. My only prayer is that as time moves on we can reflect and say we made the right choice. In the meantime, I pray for France and I pray for the world.

My Life In Three Adoptions

My Life In Three Adoptions

Yesterday was World Adoption Day. Millions of people all over the country drew smiley faces on their hands and took to social media to share with the world their personal stories of – or simply just their celebration of – adoption. If I had the stomach to be on social media and post more than I already do, I would have done the same.

I have been surrounded by adoption my entire life, and I could not be more thankful. I have had the rare opportunity to be on both sides of this incredible situation. I have been both the family receiving a baby (or in our case babies), and I have been in a duo of scared teenagers who decided to give their baby a better life through adoption. Both situations were scary. Both were incredibly hard. I would go through both again today without a second thought.

My sister came into my life on a summer afternoon. I was relatively unfamiliar with adoption, being that I was only five years old. Unbeknownst to me, my mother and father were in the process of becoming foster parents for some time. I remember being in the passenger seat of our 1995 Ford Windstar van, and we were driving quicker than usual. Even at five years old I could tell my mother was nervous.

That afternoon a social worker brought my sister to our house. I remember sitting on the floor and just watching her all night, until my parents made me go to bed. I don’t really remember what I thought about how she came to be in our family; I just remember thinking that I loved her. She was my sister. A little piece that was missing in our family was put in place. We were complete. Or so I thought.

Over the next five years, my family fostered several children. My sister was shifted back and forth from her biological family and ours several times before we finalized her adoption. I’ll never forget realizing how hard that must have been on my parents. I couldn’t understand it at the time. To this day, I still can’t understand it fully.

Several years later, on a cooler November night, another social worker brought my brother to our house. This time was different. I don’t remember lying there and watching him all night like I did my sister; I remember worrying about him because he would not stop crying.

My sister’s situation was becoming more settled by this point, and even though I can’t remember the exact time line. My brother’s adoption was the complete opposite of my sister’s. There would be no tumultuous back and forth. My parents would not be up worrying about whether or not they would get to keep him. We had no real clue where his family was. I’m sure they exist, I’m positive they are out there somewhere, but when he came to our house that very first night he was there for good.

Both of them are grown now. So happy, and so healthy. My parents did the greatest thing I had ever known anyone to do. I always admired how much they loved my brother and sister, and how easy it was for them to do so. I remember when I first began to understand the situations they had both been adopted from, I thought that I hoped my parents loved them more than me. Not because my parents didn’t love me; they adored me. My siblings needed that much love, and more. They deserved it. And they got it.

As I got older I started to think to myself that one day, when I was older, whether I was married or single, I would adopt. I’ve always wanted to; I still do. I will someday. I thought for sure that the next time adoption would significantly alter my life would be when I welcomed a child into my own home. When I gave some little baby in need a home. I was very, very wrong.

High school came along. I was a teenager and absolutely positive that I had the world by the balls. I had everything planned out. I wanted to move to Boston, go to Berklee College of Music and then somehow miraculously pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt touring the world as some ridiculous musician. Don’t laugh, I was a teenager.

My sophomore year I started taking journalism class because not only was I a musician with some serious delusions of grandeur, but I was also a fairly intelligent dork, that liked to write. It was in that class I met the woman who would become my “high school sweetheart”.

She was a year older and the editor, and at first neither of us were greatly taken back by the other. I don’t think she even acknowledged my existence until my second semester. I had noticed her, but I was really only interested in chasing as many girls as I could, and I was 99.8% sure she had a boyfriend anyway, come to find out she didn’t. Long story short, once we did realize the other existed, we quickly became best friends.

For me it all culminated to one afternoon when we were on a deadline and I had left something in the journalism room. I had no responsibility other than my own articles at that point so I figured I would go, grab whatever I had forgotten and leave. I went in to find that my editor and best friend had just suffered what can only be described as a stress-induced breakdown, and had literally thrown every piece of paper, binder, computer mouse, keyboard and writing utensil within her grasp all over the room.

As I helped her clean it all up, neither of us said a word, but I knew I felt something.

Weeks turned into months, and a week before Christmas we had our first “date.” Taco Bell and a movie at her house. It was sweet, it was high school love. We spent the next two months figuring out just how to define our relationship, how to smoothly transition from “best friends” to “going steady.” It was an amazing time, and I genuinely believe we were as happy as any other couple that young has ever been.

I’m not trying to write our love story down; it’s written and anyone who wants or needs to know it any better already does. I’m giving all these details to make it clear we really did care for each other. That way it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine what happened next.

Sex. We were teenagers. Of course it happened. Of course we thought we were immune to the most obvious outcome of that action. Well, guess what? We weren’t!

Our relationship went on for nine months and we started to, or so I felt, grow apart. After a very rough month in particular, I left her. In the middle of a football field on Friday night, I chose to not love or care for her anymore. I wasn’t nearly as grown up as I thought I was. Had I known at all what was coming, I would never have made that decision. Not because the timing looked really, really bad on me but because we were about to need each other more than ever before, and I had just torn a hole in our relationship that we wouldn’t repair for a long time.

Not long afterwards, she found out she was pregnant. When she told me, I remember sitting there terrified. I didn’t say a word for what felt like hours. She finally looked at me and simply pleaded, “Please say something.”

I still couldn’t talk. I was scared. More scared than I had ever been. Only few things have ever given me as much of a scare since then. I don’t remember what we said until we said one thing: adoption. We decided that day that adoption was the only option for us. And so our journey began.

Several weeks later we began to date again. I don’t know if this was simply out of fear, necessity, or actual love. I like to believe the latter; regardless it wouldn’t last. We began to argue more and more about the fact that even though adoption was the right choice, it would require a huge sacrifice on her part in the form of the physical separation from our son, which – knowing what I know now – of course she was afraid! I, like so many other boys in my position, thought I knew exactly what she was going through. I thought it was exactly what I was going through. It wasn’t.

I pulled away from her, using the excuse that if we kept getting closer I thought it would be harder for us to choose adoption. Maybe that was actually a part of it. If it was, I inflated it way too much. I knew adoption was the right choice, but I also knew that I didn’t get to make the final choice. So, I emotionally withdrew from her, and this time, she called off our relationship, but I had already left her.

If you’ve kept reading this far, thank you. I wanted you to have the basic details before I got to my point. Adoption gave me my brother and sister, and it would give my son a home and a family. There are three types of adoptions though: open, semi-open, and closed.

Some people don’t know this (I didn’t), but there is something called a closed adoption where the parents place the child up for adoption and intentionally don’t swap contact information with the adoptive family, and therefore never see the child again, at least until he or she is an adult. This is what my brother and sister have. There are also situations called open adoptions; this is where the birth parents can remain in contact with the child and his adoptive family. Semi-open adoptions have terms which define when and how the birth parents can be in contact with the child, fully open adoptions are as you can imagine, fully open.

Open adoption saved my life.

Over the next several months, even though we had broken up again, we went to a couple meetings together regarding the process of placing our baby up for adoption, I even went to one doctor’s appointment. We met one day to look at a book telling us about the family that she thought she would like to meet. We argued and debated. We had long phone conversations. We said bad things to each other, we apologized, and we said bad things again. All of this sounds like any other teen pregnancy. Then we met our son’s adoptive parents.

They were, and still are, two of the most loving and generous people that I have ever met. They didn’t just want to adopt and give our son a home, they wanted us to be able to watch him grow up. They didn’t just want us to watch him grow up, they wanted us to still be his family. They didn’t just want us to be his family, they wanted us to be their family. They had another little boy dying to be a big brother. I loved that. That was me not too long ago.

That’s when I think everything started to change. Not for me as much, but for baby-momma, as I’ve come to affectionately call her. The day we met them, she was a wreck. Exhausted, most likely from the fact that the separation she had feared this whole time was being realized. I don’t know for sure, but she went back and forth. Later she began emailing the woman who would be our son’s mother and she felt better.

It took me longer to come around. In a lot of ways. I wasn’t physically connected my son, yet. She already was. She was already putting our son’s interests before her own, and I think knowing that he would be so loved, whether she decided to keep him or go through with adoption, made her feel better as well.

The matter was far from settled; we had many more details to debate, and debate them we did. Long nights with no sleep were abundant. I was becoming erratic. I was terrified she wouldn’t choose to go through with adoption. Of course, this was because I really believed that adoption was my in son’s best interest; I knew they could provide for him in ways we could not …but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also for selfish reasons.

I wasn’t ready to be a dad. I wasn’t ready to man up and be responsible for my actions. I hadn’t done so up to that point and I was terrified of having to do it all at once with no choice in the matter.

The day came, and my son was born. His mother and I had not spoken very much in the weeks prior to his birth except for little details here and there. In fact, I’m very sad to say I wasn’t at the hospital when he was born. That night though, we talked for hours as she sent me numerous pictures of the beautiful baby boy that our high school romance brought to life. We were both happy. For her that separation she had feared was finally here, and she was sad. We were both exhausted as well, her more so than me. I myself was conflicted. I was terrified of going to the hospital because of differences I had with her family and friends, but I wanted to go sprinting down the halls looking for whatever room they were in because I knew I should be there. I wanted to be there. Looking back on it now, that’s exactly what I should have done.

This story is by no means a sad lamented collection of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” moments. This is the greatest story of my life. I can’t even tell it in a way to do it justice. Ten days after his birth, the adoption was finalized. My son was with his family, and everyone was so amazingly happy. I have never in my life seen a moment that depicts joy as well as the photo of them all gathered round when everything was finalized. That is happiness. I know what that photo also represents for baby-momma, and I could write a whole article on that alone. That moment of pure love and joy was worth everything that happened and if I had to do it all again for just that picture, I would.

It doesn’t stop there though. It wasn’t until a week later that I met my son. I drove to his adoptive family’s house, and for the first time held that precious little boy. For the first time I experienced that I wasn’t just some dumb teenager whose carelessness resulted in them adopting a baby: I was their family too. It was amazing. On that first trip however, the wonder of that realization was totally lost on me.

I was numb. Yes, I was enamored with that baby boy. Just looking at him made me smile. It also terrified me. I didn’t know where I fit in his life. I knew I wanted to fit, I knew his parents wanted me to fit, but I didn’t know how. You know that old saying that everyone tells expecting parents? The one about how a woman becomes a mother when she finds out she is pregnant and a man becomes a father when he holds his baby for the first time? It’s true.

You see, I knew adoption was what my son needed. I knew undoubtedly that he would be better provided for and be happier. I knew it was the right thing for him. I had also convinced myself that it would excuse me from growing up right then and being responsible for my own actions. I was so wrong.

When I learned he had been born, I could hold the weight of it. When I learned the adoption had gone through, I could hold the weight. When I held him for the first time, I could hold the weight. But when I got in my car and drove away that night, the weight was finally too heavy, and I pulled to the side of the road to buy my first pack of cigarettes as it crushed me.

I had just left this amazing situation that was truly the most incredible thing I had ever been a part of, and all I felt was guilt. I had finally become a father. Not in the biological sense, because that was long recognized, but in the sense that for the first time I realized that he was the most important thing in the world to me. And I felt like I realized this nine months too late.

All that time I had to be a better dad by being there for his mother, and I had wasted it. All those opportunities to keep a brave face when she was scared instead of getting scared and defensive as well, and I’d squandered them. Those nine months were the only time where I was his “dad” not his “birth-dad,” and I was a terrible one.

These thoughts kept running through my brain as I slowly fell apart. I pulled over God knows how many times to just sit on the side of the interstate and cry on the way home. I felt myself slip away. I was realizing I would have to be honest with myself and a lot of other people about the fact that I wasn’t the man I should’ve been, because I wasn’t even a man yet. I started to derail.

I spent the next year and a half consciously and unconsciously trying to destroy myself. I was wracked with guilt and hatred for the person I had been. I had come to love my son and his adoptive family so much and all I could think about was how badly I had failed them. I knew that his mother had her struggles and that made it worse for me. I kept blaming myself more and more. I would wake up at night thinking I should have been better, I could have been better. If I had, then this would be so much easier for us both. I wasn’t a dad at all and my son was going to hate me one day when he learned how much of a schmuck I was to his birth mother.

That’s how open adoption saved my life.

If we had kept my son, the immediate necessity of caring for a baby day to day would have completely outweighed the importance of me coming to terms with myself and his mother. By the time I would have been able to do so, it would’ve been way too late.

If we had chosen a closed adoption, then the pain and loss of never knowing him…never knowing whether or not he was happy, would have only worsened the rift between his mother and myself. I could have never made my peace and I would’ve continued to throw myself away like I had been doing.

We chose an open adoption. We chose two amazing people who made us and our families a part of theirs. I get to see my son on his birthday and Christmas and in between. I get to have the kinds of conversations with his adoptive dad that make me realize how blessed I am. Like the one I had with him on a park bench one summer day that let me see I wasn’t the bad dad I made myself out to be. I get to see his moms love and cherish him. Yes, that’s moms the plural. My son has two moms and two dads and it’s amazing. I get to see him and his older brother play and argue the way brothers do.

I was able to mend my relationship with baby-momma, who is now one of my closest friends again. I’ve met and really like her significant other. I am happy. Without our family the way it is now, without open adoption, I would not be.

I gave this brief synopsis of my story to say one thing. Thank You!

Adoption is a huge decision. Just like closed adoption wasn’t the right choice for us, open adoption may not be right for everyone either. You have to weigh your options and make the best decision for you and your baby. You may even keep the baby. That is amazing too!

To anyone who may read this while going through an unplanned pregnancy. Do not give up! Do not feel lost or hopeless. You are not by any means.

If you are an expectant mother, I applaud you. I pray for you and I know that everything will be wonderful for you and the baby. If you choose adoption, thank you. If you choose to keep your baby, thank you. Either way, you have made this world a better place and your child will always be grateful to you for that.

If you’re an expectant father, scared out of his mind the way I was, that’s okay. I think that’s the one thing I wanted to hear that I didn’t. It’s okay to not know if you want this. When that baby comes, you will. Whether you know it or not.  It is absolutely 110% okay to be scared.

In the meantime though, there are ways you can make this easier on yourself. Don’t run. Don’t hide. You may not be ready to be a man yet, too bad, it’s time to be. There is a woman carrying your child that is more scared and more terrified than you will ever be, and she’s not worrying about herself as much anymore. She’s worrying about the baby you created with her. It’s your job to worry about her in all the areas she might forget, whether you’re together or not.

Lastly, to the families that adopt children: I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough. You are life savers. You are dream makers. You are the people that have changed my life for the better twice now, and I was never even adopted. Thank you so much. For everything you’ve done and will do. I will always have nothing but respect for you, and one day I hope to join you as well!

What our Halloween costumes say about us.

Halloween was last weekend. For years it has always been one of my favorite holidays. Whether it be trick-or-treating when I was younger, getting to be one of my favorite comic book heroes for one night or simply a metric shit ton of candy; I love it.

It’s changed so much over the years. Now that I’m an adult costumes have gone from trying to be as scary as possible to being as skanky as possible. Candy apples and Snickers bars have been replaced by beer and Jell-O shots. All of that is great – well, within reason. None of that however is what strikes me most about Halloween these days. It’s what the most popular costumes actually are.

I’ve always wanted to have one year where I grew my hair out, applied the perfect make up and donned a purple overcoat and green vest perfectly. I want to look just like Heath Ledger’s infamous portrayal of everyone’s favorite villain: The Joker. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

When “The Dark Night” first hit theaters, Ledger’s depiction of The Joker shocked and amazed me. Partly due to the fact that Ledger’s untimely death had only occurred six months prior, I felt that I had never seen a darker or more menacing villain. I was hooked from the line, “What doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.”

That year, thousands of trick-or-treaters went to extreme lengths to recreate the villainous clown for Halloween.

That trend has continued and The Joker is still one of the most popular Halloween costumes. This year Kylo Ren, a Star Wars villain no one has even seen on screen yet, also shot up to the top of the ranks. Why do we love the bad guy? Why do I love the bad guy?

I’m going to try to talk from my point of view, here because I might be an anomaly. Maybe (hopefully) I’m the only one with whom incredibly awful villains resonate. I don’t think that is true though; pop culture tells me it’s not. Movies have always built up the bad guy. Recently though, it’s so much worse. So much darker. I truly believe it reflects the world that surrounds us.

September 11th changed everything. That is, of course, the most obvious thing I can say. Obviously it changed the course of history. Obviously it changed the future of the United States and our allies. It didn’t just change the world in very broad, all-encompassing brush strokes though. It changed the world one individual at a time. And it directly changed me. I never realized how much until recently.

Horror like that has always existed. We just never had the ability to watch it live before this. All of a sudden every single American and half of the rest of the world were tuning in to watch pure carnage. More bloodshed equaled higher ratings, and ratings equaled money. After the tragedy was sufficiently in the past, at least far enough to try to move on to the next big thing, every single news broadcast disintegrated into a heated debate of “Holy shit! Who will blow us up next?”

We spent the next seven years rolling tanks and soldiers into Afghanistan and Iraq, chasing terrorists and toppling dictators. Whether we were right to so or not, it was unquestionably horrific. Couple this with the ten mass shootings that occurred in the United States between 2001 and 2008 and it was clear to see that the beginning of the 21st century was marred by one thing: death.

The majority of Americans, including my young self, had nothing we could relate this to. It was just heart wrenching violence without reason. It scared us completely and it was numbing. Then in 2008, I saw The Joker carve a Chelsea Smile into a man’s face on a movie screen and it resonated.

It didn’t resonate because I’m sick and twisted. It wasn’t because The Joker would ever plausibly exist in real life. It struck a chord because I knew exactly what that evil looked like in real life. It looked like men and women leaping from the top floors of the World Trade Centers. It looked like teachers and students being rushed from classrooms with their hands above their heads because their friends and colleagues were murdered. It looked like car bombs and crying children in the Middle East. It looked like us.

That’s why I think it’s so popular to be a villain on Halloween now. I pull for the bad guy. Not to win, but simply to be more evil. The argument could be made that like any cardinal sin, I want this because the more of it I get, the more I need to get my fix. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. As long as the movies stay evil, then real life simply doesn’t look as bad.

Terrible villains give me hope. I know the good guy will win in the end. I know that the hero doesn’t go down in the third act. I’m praying that’s true in real life. Every time the world-ending bad guy falls, it gives me a little hope that someone is finally going to stop the last terrorist. It gives me hope that someone is going to get to the next mass shooter and stop them before they kill. It gives me hope that someone is going to rescue the millions displaced by civil war in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

And all of a sudden, I get it.

On Halloween, we dress up as what we are afraid of, and I am afraid of facing the truly horrible things that my generation, like it or not, must answer for. That’s why I always want to dress up as a villain, and others actually do too. The villains I see in movies give those horrible things a face; they make them manageable.

At this point I want to divulge that I feel like I’ve written nearly two pages of self-righteous babble. My initial thought for this post was to go into this great big plea for us to all do the right thing and blah, blah, blah. Everyone who reads this knows we should be doing the right thing. If you want to read that, there are a million and one different places on the internet for you to go.

We can’t change the terrible things we see. At least, not the way we see them now. Do you want to know why? Are you sure you really want to know why? Because we don’t really think about it anymore. It’s not inability, it’s not the governments fault. It’s just so much easier if we don’t let it affect us the way it should. Maybe that is healthy. If we let it affect us the way it should some would never sleep again, others would find no reason to wake up in the morning.

We see it on the news and we tune it out as soon as the new episode of our favorite absent minded sitcom comes on. Sadly now there are so many people who don’t even turn the news on, because hey, out of sight, out of mind.

If you read this, if you acknowledge that for some screwed up reason I couldn’t go to sleep for a solid week trying to think about how to tie this idea into something meaningful, then I simply ask you to THINK.

I am not going to sit here and beg you to donate to a charity or to volunteer somewhere. I’ve never done those things myself. I’m ashamed of that. I don’t think I am the only one, either. Again, I hope I am. I wish I was. I hope I’m the only person who has such a dark outlook due to living in the 21st century, and I know deep down, I know I am not.

It’s time to resurrect thinking. I’m not talking about deep philosophical thinking. I’m talking about the kind of thinking that can lead you nowhere else but to the point of believing that every living human is your brother and sister. The kind of thinking that makes you realize that some of your siblings truly face things that look just like the scariest movie villain you’ve ever seen. The type of thinking that leads to feeling.

The next time you watch The Avengers or Batman, please think about the fact that somewhere, someone sees the same exact evil that they are going to face in that movie. Do you know what the difference is? There isn’t a miraculous billionaire to save them. There are no super heroes.

I’m not going to go into a call-to-action here. That goes without saying. If I wanted to, I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know what my “cause” is. With that being said, how could I ever ask anyone to give their time and energy to anything? I can’t. I can’t ask you to give your time to civil rights. I can’t ask you to focus on starving children in Zimbabwe (although we should at least do that given how much attention we paid to a certain lion named Cecil from the same country).

I can’t ask anyone to do anything for anyone else. Because sadly, I haven’t given anything to anyone. I can do this: I can ask my generation to think. We are the generation of the villain. We are the generation of the evil-doer. We are also the generation that can stop all of that. We just have to start by being willing to actually think about these things.

We have to rise. Not to stop the atrocities across the great, wide world, but to acknowledge and face head on what we saw on September 11th. We witnessed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. We watched in awe the Arab Spring. We looked on as Syria and Ukraine fell into civil war.

We watched James Holmes walk into a movie theater, kill 12 people and wound 70. We watched the Sandy Hook shooting. We’ve seen evil make its mark. Now, we need to stop ignoring it. Life goes on, yes. No, these things weren’t our fault, many times there was nothing we could do to stop them. We were simply innocent bystanders. But it’s time to stop getting distracted by our blissful 21st century indulgence.

We all love a good villain, so let’s start thinking about how we can stop the ones we know all too well and be our own heroes.

How Social Media Changed My Haircuts

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” – Winston Churchill

I’m attracted to my barber. It’s funny how 50 years ago, a man would never have been able to say such a thing, but the last five decades have been filled with unyielding social progress, and the next five show no signs of slowing down.

Now I should clarify; I am attracted to my barber, who happens to be a woman. She does a damn good job too. That’s been one of the wonderful things about progress: gender roles that seemed arbitrary years ago are becoming just that. In the olden days, a man cut a man’s hair and a woman cut a woman’s hair. That was that. Even though a haircut is such a small detail in a much larger conversation about how far we’ve come in our society, it’s the small detail that made me think.

Fifty years ago I would have went to any barbershop and paid for the same haircut (mind you I would have paid much less for it) but I never would have enjoyed the awkward experience of trying desperately not to stare at the person providing that service. Because as we all know the person with a straight razor and scissors so close to your neck is the last person you would want to offend.

The honest truth is I’ve never in my life looked so forward to going to the barber shop. Hell, at this point I’m planning special events left and right to have an excuse to get a haircut. I think she knows as well as I do that the last two times I’ve been in, it probably could have waited. She probably realizes I was looking for another opportunity to talk with her. That’s the heart of the matter; I’m really just looking for any excuse to have another good conversation with someone that, for some reason, is very easy to talk to.

With all that being said, I cannot for the life of me find a good moment in any of these conversations to ask her to have a simple cup of coffee so I could learn if she’s really as interesting as I think she is. Why is that? There are a slew of “pickup artists” trolling the internet with their chauvinistic ideas who would say that I just have no “game.” The point they miss is that I am not on the basketball court and I’m not shooting a three pointer with half a second left on the clock to win the NCAA tournament, but I am now going to stop writing and fantasize momentarily about how awesome THAT would be.

Truth be told, I think we have to go back to progress. Progress forward has given us so much, yet we keep moving forward so fast we are forgetting to pack important items for our trip. For example, all I want to do is ask this seemingly wonderful woman to coffee. It should be simple. But it’s not. Somehow I forgot to pack my vulnerability yet still remembered to bring the crippling fear of rejection.

My generation is a generation of progress, socially and technologically. Sadly, it’s taught us to hide behind screens, cobbling together sentences with less than poor grammar and waiting for someone to reply. We are addicted to having the time to craft and rehearse what we will say, to make sure it looks perfect in a text message. The immediate elation or devastation we feel from asking a question and getting an answer in person terrifies us because we’ve never HAD to do it. Until my last haircut I refused to believe I was in that group.

Simply asking her online did cross my mind, and it shouldn’t. That’s cheap, inauthentic, and should never be the basis for any human interaction. Sadly, if I were to go that route, there is a chance she might say yes. Not because it’s a good idea, not even because it’s socially acceptable, it’s just the new normal. It’s sad that women have become used to being asked if they want to “Netflix and chill?” via some form of instant messenger. Come on men, really? Doesn’t any other man agree that we owe any woman we meet a lot more respect than that? Not to mention we owe ourselves a tiny bit more.

SIDE NOTE: After reflecting on that last paragraph I’m making a decision that the new focus of my life is to eradicate the term “Netflix and chill”. Netflix isn’t a verb, it’s a noun. Chill is what we do to beer, wine and other delicious adult beverages. The term “Netflix and chill” will henceforth never be mentioned on this blog again. Men, it’s time to grow up.

A friend recently told me about an experience he had while searching Google for a method to keep his pipes from freezing during the winter. He had typed in “How to keep…” and the most common search Google brought up for him automatically was “How to keep a conversation going.” What? Are we really so far removed that we need a how to guide on how to have a conversation? I can’t believe the first thing that we learn to do as humans is also the first thing that we forget. Why is that?

In one of our boundless leaps forward in the human experience, we forgot to bring the importance of human interaction. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen anymore; we aren’t quite yet an “idiocracy” of the living dead, but we most certainly have forgotten the value of real human connection. We don’t make phone calls when we are away, we text. We don’t write letters to loved ones, we tweet.

We are experiencing life through a series of photo-shopped pictures and status updates. For god’s sake CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have Snapchat accounts. There are people only getting their news on Snapchat. Let that sink in.

I have never thought of myself as someone who lacks confidence. There are not many things in this world that make me nervous, anxious, or scared. With the way culture is now though, it only makes sense that I would have developed fear in these situations.

“What if she says no in front of all these people?” “What if her co-worker says something?” “What if she just isn’t interested?” These are thoughts that we have had for years when approaching someone we find attractive, but before we never had an out. There wasn’t another way. What is the last thought that runs through our minds at the end of the endless slew of “what if’s” now?

“Why don’t I just ask her on Facebook?”

I’m sitting here writing, and all I can think about is how lonely we are. I’m not attracted to my barber simply because she is gorgeous, I am attracted to her because there is chemistry there (seemingly) and she is interesting. I personally spend my day working on a computer in my office and, I’m sad to admit, scrolling through Facebook every 30 minutes to see if someone has posted a funny video to distract me from my real life; it is desensitizing me to values that should matter. I don’t think I’m the only one, either.

We’re dying to connect like we used to. We are desperate for anyone anywhere to just look at us and say, “This isn’t the way it will always be.” We want someone else to say it, someone else to be the bastion of light and substance in a world that is increasingly dark and empty except for the blue light of phone screens. We don’t want to have to be the ones to say it because to say it would in turn require action. If we admit we have a problem, we would have to take steps to correct it. We would have to put the phone down, maybe even turn off Facebook and Twitter.

We want someone else to say this because we want someone else to sacrifice their luxury and make it all better for the rest of us. Not going to happen. We will never go back from this, Pandora is out of the box and she’s pissed. Even still, the values, connection, and simple love we crave aren’t gone. They’re still here. We forgot to buy them a plane ticket to the 21st Century and like a crazy ex, they’re chasing us down the runway as fast as they can, begging and crying to not be left behind. The plane is taxiing, but we haven’t taken off…yet.

Progress is good. Social media can be a wonderful thing. The fact that I can write this and potentially thousands of people (let’s be realistic, tens of people) can see it is amazing. The last time we had this much potential with technology was in the 15th Century with the invention of the printing press. Think of the incredible things that have already been done with the internet and social media. Think of the incredible things to come. Let’s just slow down, and take an inventory of the things we don’t want to completely lose as we continue forward.

The bottom line is that whether or not we are happy about it, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever your particular brand of social poisoning happens to be, it’s here to stay. So are we. So are relationships. So are real conversations. There are still real people out there that would love for you to take the chance, get out from behind the screen and simply say “Hello”.

Now I’ve rambled on for damn near three pages, and I realize that I don’t get to just sit here and complain without being willing to get off the plane, go back and pack a few things and see if I can’t catch the next flight. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to the barbershop…

Welcome…

You know those conversations that make you think? When you sit around with friends until four in the morning, drinking black coffee, maybe even smoking if your heart desires, simply talking about whatever comes to mind, you know the ones. That is my whole purpose for this blog. I will try to weekly empty my brain out to see if there is anything worth talking about. Some will be funny, some serious. Some will be good, others will be bad. Some will be just for the sake of being. I have no real goal in writing this, simply to talk, maybe to just a few good friends, maybe to friends I haven’t met yet.

If you’re looking for articles like “Seven Halloween Costume Hacks” or “Five Signs Your Significant Other IS Cheating On You”, you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re looking for any kind of serious advice whatsoever, you will also be disappointed. If you’re looking for a good read for your short smoke break at work that just might make you think a little, there may be something here for you.

I’m excited to see where this goes if anywhere at all and hope that you will come along with me wherever that may be.

Sincerely,