T.V. Party

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As I approach my 45th year on this planet, it occurred to me that my longest relationship was also my most dysfunctional. So when I ended it, or I guess I should say changed it, last fall, I never realized how much my life would be better. For over 44 years it raised me, made me laugh, cry, cheer, and provided me with more entertainment than my mind can even remember. Then I decided it was hurting me, so I said enough was enough and cut the cord to the direct cable television line coming into my house.

I wouldn’t say I was addicted to the tube of boob but I was negatively influenced. During the government shutdown in 2013, after countless hours of cable news and political programming, my wife woke me from a violent nightmare and said “that’s it, you have to stop watching that crap.” My three daughters created stand up comedy acts and satirical skits imitating me screaming at the small screen when the New York Jets, Alabama Crimson Tide or Atlanta Falcons lost another football game. I can’t even bring myself to talk about what I did when LOST ran that ridiculous series finale a few years ago.

On October 1st, 2014, approaching six months ago, we decided to get rid of our live cable feed and depend solely on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (Prime) to watch recorded shows. This means live sporting events, news programs, and basic cable no longer happen. Not only do we; me, my wife, and three daughters, aged 19, 11 and 10, not watch t.v. like our parents or grandparents did, but we don’t even view it like the majority of people our age. It’s changed our family dynamic.

It seems like everyone complains about technology and so many are convinced society went to hell in knockoff handbag 30 years ago when MTV showed Madonna’s bottom in a wedding dress. I can’t name anyone who hasn’t whined about people being addicted to their “smart” phones and the ability to ruin someone’s existence with a naked picture in less than a second. But I contend the way we’ve watched regular television is every bit an issue and that even means Andy Griffith Show reruns on TV Land, which I can no longer view.

Since cutting cable, my family is tighter, more conversational, and kinder. Sure, we “binge-watch”, which wasn’t even a term until like a year ago, shows on the networks we still have in the home. But we watch together, hit pause or stop when someone wants to talk, make a meal or do an old bit about me screaming at the Jets’ Mark Sanchez throwing a pick six against the Patriots in ” the old days” when we had cable.

Tossing the main line has turned us into a bunch that hangs out together. My girls don’t lock themselves in their rooms to watch their tvs or phones. My wife and I only view television together, although Netflix adultery is a thing, I’m less inclined to commit it because I’ll reveal my indiscretion over social media because I still have a problem with that. There’s less complaining about people staring at their phones and computers.

I was all for cutting cable because it dropped our entertainment budget by over sixty percent. I don’t miss sports or politics or live news because the internet, the media that are social, phone apps and online newspapers provide me with what I need, but I want it all less than I did before and I usually only view them while I’m in the same room with my wife and kids while they watch some show on the services we kept.

Television used to be the event where I separated myself from my family to escape, Now, tv has turned into a party, where all the attendees are focused on each other, unless something cool is happening on Twitter.

Everybody Knows That You’re Insane

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Ten years is a long time to do anything, but in terms of writing online, it deserves to be considered an eternity. I sat in bed last night listening to a blonde on my floor to my left, my golden retriever, and a blonde in bed next to me to my right, coo themselves into beautiful slumber while realizing an anniversary was happening. Sometime this week, this month, a decade ago, I began writing on the internet.

It’s a bizarre “celebration” involving MySpace, a crumbling marriage to someone else and crippling loneliness. I can’t even tell you why I typed the first few words into cyber space (does anyone even use that term anymore?) but I think it was because I was looking for a connection.

The wheels had begun to turn that later became the machine of divorce, loss and a new way to become the writer I’d wanted to be for years but delayed out of fear and obligation.

I started a music blog to talk about the music I loved, the music I hated and the music I wanted to discover. That led to new friendships and a way out or in, I’m not real sure which, that later led to a completely different life. I eventually revealed a lot about who I was and wanted to be.

That blog lasted almost over a year, became a casualty of my broken firstmarriage, then I started another a year after that. This all snowballed, slowly, into what is now my existence as a published author of two books and active media that are social accounts that have seen me to travel and get my thoughts out to tens or hundreds or thousands, or well, more than a couple of people a day.

During my 25-year high school reunion two years ago, a long-time friend who knew me when, asked me a question that I couldn’t answer with a straight face.

What’s it all done for you?

I think I told her it had connected to me to like-minded people who’ve made me smarter, given me many laughs and taught me things I’d otherwise never known. That all may be true, but the harder perhaps colder truth, is the past 10 years have shown me that love is not inside a computer but in the hearts of people who are honest especially those I can touch.

I’ve been struggling in year ten of this adventure to the center of the screen. I haven’t become as successful as I thought I would be sharing my ideas. I’ve sold just enough books to say I’ve sold some books. I’ve garnered just enough fame on other sites to say I’m the guy to wrote that thing that ticked off some people. I’ve typed just enough to be able to shout “present” when the internet Gods, if there are still any left, do a roll call.

In other words, writing online is just like life. Moderating your expectations and counting your blessings will classify you as a survivor.

This blog turns five-years-old in a couple of months. It was inspired by the biggest change in my life over the past ten years, my second marriage. Shortly after we married in 2008, my wife said “you should blog all the time but do it right”. I don’t know if I accomplished the “right” part but having a place to show my general insanity has been cathartic and I’ve met some amazing fellow whack jobs while becoming a better person for my wife, kids and myself.

One of the first things I ever wrote online, back in 2005, was a CD review of the then new Queen Of The Stone Age disc, Lullabies To Paralyze. I gave it a B, I think, and it only took like maybe seven comments before someone called me an idiot preceded by an obscene action verb. Oh, internet, you’re so, well, whatever. I think they were right, it deserved a B+.

Here’s to 10 insane years.

Bull In The Heather

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If you truly love music, you remember the moments when a song or an album changed your life. One of these pronounced occurrences happened to me in August 1988, two weeks before I turned 18, when I played the vinyl record of Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth on the college radio station turntable at the University of Alabama where I attended college and it transformed me. They became one of my favorite bands overnight.

Until then, my rock influences had been mostly commercial, mainstream acts like the Allman Brothers, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen or whatever hair band was big at the time like Motley Crue or Def Leppard. Sonic Youth was the opposite of these groups, check that, they were anti-them.

Atonal, loud, mixed-up, bizarre, poetic, literate and weird in a good way, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation took me to a place I neither recognized not understood, for years. I found the band’s videos on MTV’s 120 minutes and became addicted. The front man was Thurston Moore, a six-foot six shaggy-haired proud uber-geek who thumped his guitar. But the center of the experience was bass player Kim Gordon.

Tall, androgynous, talented, and aloof, she was like David Bowie but female and so interesting you couldn’t stop watching or listening. Unlike other women in bands, I didn’t fantasize about Kim Gordon, she was older, 17-years my senior, she was more like the killer big sister or fantastically cool aunt you just wanted to hang out with, learn about music from, and become enthralled by her stories.

For two and a half decades, this was how I imagined Kim Gordon. She was married to Moore, their union was rock’s greatest success story, starting in 1984 and lasting until 2011, broken up, shockingly so by his infidelity. My parents are still married after forty-five years so this is how it seemed if my folks did break up. No more Thurston and Kim, and as a result, no more Sonic Youth. It was devastating.

When I heard Kim Gordon interviewed on NPR recently and learned of her memoir, Girl In A Band, I almost didn’t get it. My daydream nation of how Kim was couldn’t be touched. Then I mentioned to my wife that the book was out, and before I could explain to her I was scared to read it, she ordered it over her phone.

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Girl In A Band is part history textbook of the alternative music genre of the 1980s and 1990s (my favorite kind and time in music), part travel guide to the art scenes of Los Angeles and New York, and part personal account of how a self-made artistic giant accomplished it all.

Kim Gordon’s writing voice is just like her musical style in Sonic Youth and brand as a visual artist and journalist. There’s an interesting distance, almost Lou Reed-like, combined with heart-breaking personal narrative of a mentally ill brother, unexpected but fulfilling life as a mother to a now 20-year-old daughter (only a year older than my own) and a rock and roll marriage that fell apart in the most banal way, ever. Music books or I should say, books about music people, are best when they are equally revealing as they are mysterious. Kim Gordon pulls this dynamic off, flawlessly.

Sonic Youth changed popular music from the underground without ever compromising their integrity. In Girl In A Band, you learn it was because of their artistic phenomenon bass player who kept it all from becoming normal.

Handle With Care

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I’m not one of those people who believes the world’s going to hell in a hand basket but if there’s one thing that’s different about now, than before is how people act based on their advertising. The woman who fortified my trust in humanity and my religion, Christianity, seemed straight out of central casting from a black and white movie in the 1940s. Her show of kindness and follow through on how she presented herself were so spectacular, it taught me a lot about myself.

Other than my job, house, and gym the place I spend most of my time is the grocery store. My wife and I maintain an equal partnership and one of my duties to keep the family dynamic strong is hitting the local market three to four times a week.

With a new bed delivered, moving out the old one, renting a truck and helping my wife putting everything together my day was already overwhelming. I had my list all 2015’d, in a note on my phone. I stumbled into the store knowing I’d forget something, because it’s what I do.

Attention defective as I am, I still people watch. The older woman who moseyed behind me as I checked out was small in stature, impeccably dressed in a gray dress, her white and black hair as close to a bouffant as this era would allow. She was at least my parents’ age, mid sixties, and proud to be so.

I counted my items, checked my phone, and realized I’d forgotten the penne pasta, the key ingredient for what my wife was making. Sensing my demise, I sighed, apologized to the clerk, and turned to the lady. That’s when I noticed the silver cross around her neck and the religious symbols on her coupon book.

“Ma’am, I’m so very sorry. I forgot something, do you….”

Before I could finish, she smiled, revealing a crooked toothed grin, and replied.

“Honey, me waiting a few minutes is nothing compared to the trouble you’ll get into if you go home without whatever you forgot. Just, go.”

I’ve been struggling with my Faith, not in my belief that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I need to live my life according to his teachings, seeking salvation at each turn, but my Faith in others, especially fellow “Christians”. Being a lefty or progressive Christian who makes part of his living writing online has been trying the past few years. Politics aside, because they don’t pertain here, I’ve watched my fellow believers disappoint and anger me, mostly with how they treat others. I’ve found myself more short-tempered, increasingly cynical, and losing hope that those who profess one thing about themselves rarely reveal it to be true.

I ran to the pasta aisle, snatched a box then showed some sweat when I jogged back to the lady, the teenaged boy clerk, and the rest of my order. She smiled again and remarked.

“We barely knew you were gone.”

Fluorescent light caught her cross and I was frozen for a few seconds at how perfect the moment became. I paid and thanked the woman for her profound kindness.

The times are rare that people who present themselves a certain way deliver on their promise, but when it happens, it’s fantastic. I can’t wait for it to happen again, because that’s what I’m praying every day. I hope I can follow her example.

No Compassion

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The first time I walked into a therapist’s office, I counted the steps from my car to the front door, forty-eight, and I made the trip four times before I went inside. I was broken, mired in a divorce, hobbled by the crutch of alcohol, and unsure if I wanted to see the thirty-sixth year of my life till it’s conclusion.

Within a few not quite one hour but paid for as such sessions, my pro determined I was not only battling mental illness but was also a grade A type 1 co-dependent. I was capable of grand empathy and compassion for others, but at the cost of my own identity and well-being.

After nine years of on and off therapy, quitting drinking several times, and remarriage that brought my family to five, a wife and three daughters, I’ve improved my ability to take care of myself, but only incrementally. I’ll fill every person’s cup in the room then realize I’m thirsty an hour later because I forgot mine.

Years ago, I rejected the traditional notions of “manhood” and decided being compassionate, kind, emotional, and empathetic was who I was and perhaps something to be mocked politically or by other men, but not something I’d apologize for any longer.

My oldest daughter is a 19-year-old college freshman, recently pledged to a prestigious sorority, member of the honor roll, with dreams of becoming a surgeon. When I was her age, I wanted to be a famous writer and journalist. Almost everyone I knew discouraged me because it was a lofty goal and they thought I should be more grounded. I give my daughter the opposite advice. I tell her to be selfish, for now, because when she’s older, she won’t be able to look after number one. The irony is, these words come someone who has never been selfish enough. My “do as I say not as I do” must make my girl laugh hysterically when my back is turned.

One of my favorite songs comes from the Talking Heads, No Compassion. It’s a punk classic and the actual definition of ironic because it’s the opposite of what the songwriter meant and definitely the polar position of my worldview.

I know I need to be more compassionate to myself, but there always seems to be someone who needs it more. At least I know who I am.

 

Bury Our Friends

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Cold-natured and prone to complaint when discomforted, I left my coat in the car, braving the walk across a parking lot in February air toward the funeral home doors. The wind was sharp but it spoke to me, so I stopped a few steps short of the entrance and felt the chill of needed wisdom.

A friend from high school whom I’d kept in touch with through social media lost her father suddenly, two days before. He was only in his late 60s, the same age as my own dad, and represented only the third parent of anyone I’d known or grown up with who’d died. There are markers in your life that shake you. When grandparents or anything with “great” in the prefix pass, it’s sad, but understood and accepted.

My wife lost her father a couple of years ago and my cousin, whom I’ve treated as a sister, lost her mom shortly after. It stops you when the generation just ahead begins to leave, because, well, you’re next.

I just wanted to walk in, pay my respects, tell the person whom I’d shared math class and a lot of high school football losses with how sorry I was but I listened, to the wind. It told me to make the time I have more precious, meaningful and worth the scars my mind and body had endured.

I went inside and saw regret. It was everywhere. Most of all, it was in my heart. As I watched the sweet remembrance video of my friend’s good-hearted father, I realized that if I were to die now, the second half of my tape would probably just be me sick with worry, staring at my phone.

It all made me understand that I’m not afraid to die, but I’m terrified to live. I knew my friend and her sister loved their dad and their thoughts of him were amazing to hear and see.

When I left the visitation, I stopped a few feet short of my car and felt the cold move into my bones. As I reach this certain age and begin to bury my friends, I’m reminded of what wind represents, as the records I’ve listened to by Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, and Scorpions document. Change is evitable but it doesn’t have to be definable. Before it’s me in a casket or urn, I need to be the father my friend is missing now. Most of all, I need to pay attention to the small moments caused by the big things.

Here’s Sleater-Kinney.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?

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As I walk on through this wicked world,
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity,
I ask myself, Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?”

 

A booth at Applebee’s is probably the least likely place for an epiphany to occur, but it happened to me today. While I waited for my wife to meet my 10-year-old daughter and I at the Nickelback of eateries, I delighted in my youngest kid’s fascination with watching a Hulu Plus replay of WWE’s Raw on her phone. Then, one of my favorite songs played on the sound-system, Elvis Costello’s What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding? Its perfect opening lyrics crystallized my mood, quieted my three-month brainstorm, and led me to figure out what to do with my writing future.

As a city person residing in suburbia, a liberal surrounded by the conservative blood-red state deep south, and a moody, dark weirdo dude in love with and living among 4 sunshiny women, I’m used to not ever fitting in. Lately, it’s affected something that means a lot to me, writing.

I’ve been in a 3 month funk, frustrated by failed publishing ventures, overwhelmed by my real job and future projects, and burned out by hate mail generated by my online presence, I found myself on hiatus from hitting “send” on anything.

As the man also known as Declan McManus’s guitar filled the restaurant, I found the “note” app on my phone and typed a few sentences including “I know who am” then hit save. After 4 1/2 years of prompts, fiction, knee-jerk commenting on current events and pop culture musings, I decided the personal essay is how I’ll spend 2015 with My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog.

I’m not a happy person. But lately, I’ve been flirting with contentment. Eight months ago, I started a personal physical improvement project that’s seen me drop eighteen pounds, and use exercise as a way to help manage my mental illness. I have two books in final manuscript ready to edit and rewrite, with release dates coming this spring and summer, just like I did in 2013 when I published my first two fiction novellas.

As much I like discussing politics and pop culture, it seemed to bring me more pain, hatred and misery than light in the darkness of insanity. Maybe I’ll mix in my lefty perspective and contrarian snobbish views on entertainment but there will be a point combined with my personal life.

Elvis Costello spent the first decade of his career pigeon-holed as angry young man looking for a fight. He entered middle-age laughing every time he played What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding? There’s nothing funny about those sentiments, except that so many others don’t see the humor in thinking they’re a joke to begin with.

It’s time I expressed myself in away that’s more honest.

Here’s my favorite Elvis.