First Night In Jail (MLS598-5.4)

In college, I was still in the army reserves- so one weekend a month was totally destroyed for me hanging out with a bunch of older guys playing cards in camo. Occasionally we’d need to wash Humvees or crank up the radios to be sure they were working, but I was a radio guy in a medical unit, so I often just tried to look busy as they did training or I was the “wounded” they had to carry around.

I got a little sick before a 3 day weekend “In the field.” This means we go out and play real army, setting up tents, building a perimeter, etc. I got REALLY sick that week on wednesday and thursday went to the infirmary at the school. I was given an antibiotic and told to stay in bed. I called the unit, left messages, and called the day they were leaving but nobody answered the phones… they were packing trucks.

That sunday night I was feeling better and went out to grab some real food- I had enough Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for a lifetime. When I got back, my roomates told me that a police officer had stopped by and had some questions for me, but that he had assured them I was in no trouble- but he was trying to get some information about the bike I had reported stolen a few months earlier.

That wasn’t entirely true.

I called the cop using the number on the card and he asked if I could just swing by the station to give some more details on my bike. I did as requested and was promptly arrested.

“For what?” I asked.

For being reported Absent Without Leave for military duty with the US Army National Guard unit 851. I was thrown in a shared cell for the night with nothing but my pajamas on and there were no beds or blankets left. I was scared to death (I was little super bible boy at the time) and just kept to myself and tried to sleep in the corner on the concrete.

I was released the next day after the Unit got back and they heard the messages from the campus infirmary and my repeated calls, 1st Sgt screamed in my face for a few minutes until he read the diagnosis and saw I had early pneumonia, and then he backed up realizing he had been breathing my breath the whole time he was being a dick.

I don’t know if he got sick after that, but I suspect he did… otherwise I would have heard about it again the next weekend drill. Top wasn’t nice- that was impossible for him… but I didn’t get special attention, and I took that as a win.

————————————-

Just to fill it all out, I was also arrested 2 other times in College. Once for surfing in the wrong spot at Tybee Island, and the other time for “giving a false name to an officer” because he was harassing one of my skateboarding friends and he asked my name… I told him it was “Alfred E Neuman” and he didn’t think it was as funny as I did. Nothing happened either time, except a small fine for disobeying a lifeguard and nothing at all for the Alfred E Neuman thing… but all my friends thought it was hilarious that the guy that held the big bible study in his apartment every monday was the only one of the skating/surfer crew at Georgia Southern that had ever been arrested, even though most of them smoked pot, drank underage, and had left stores multiple times while “forgetting” to pay for stuff! 😉

 

They always said “Rob won’t have sex with anyone, but that doesn’t keep him from getting screwed!” Cool

First Time Buzz (MLS 598 5.4)

I was at a party after a conference where I was helping promote a new program for schools like mine. There were lots of us, living our lives out of our individual high schools, but we had come together with this single mission in mind- to spark creativity for high school kids. We had worked at this school conference for 3 days together and were wrapping it up with the successful business people that supported us at the event.

I had never had alcohol before. I kind of grew up sort of nerdy, and though I had finally broken out of the “unsocial nerd” group with a new haircut, wardrobe, and girlfriend in 11th grade, I still never went to the kind of parties where kids drank alcohol. Then it kind of became a point of pride that I was one of the few people I knew who had never been drunk, high, and was still a virgin. That became part of my identity.

I was sitting next to my friend Nico, a great girl who just always made me feel so comfortable just being myself. She said “You need some wine. You’re always too uptight.” I explained that I had never had a drink before and it was kind of a point of pride for me now- I never gave in to that peer pressure.

“So, do you still feel pressured to drink?” she asked. I said that I didn’t, and she replied “Well then, maybe now you need to resist the pressure to have this self imposed pressure. Sounds like the only thing holding you back is pride or ego… and that’s just as bad as having a glass of wine according to most moral codes, right?”

Well crap. I hadn’t thought of it that way. “You’re right. I’ll have a glass- but only if it doesn’t taste like earwax.” I had developed a theory that all alcohol tastes like earwax. The way that I know the taste of earwax is a completely different story.

About a glass and a half later I was feeling quite relaxed and giggly. I didn’t feel afraid of saying anything stupid and doubting my social skills at all. It was a truly enjoyable experience, I’ll admit.  Especially for a socially awkward nerd like myself.

 

It’s a strange thing getting drunk for the first time on a school trip. I felt like such a rebel! All the kids at church and school would absolutely die if they knew Rob Schwartz got drunk! Everyone knew I was super-straight laced- it was kind of my “thing.”

 

But at 38 years old, it was about time for this high school teacher/youth pastor to lighten up a tad.

Centered Set VS Bounded set (MLS 598-5.1)

This topic fascinates me- and has for some time. My favorite flavor in life is redemption, and that’s a flavor that can only be tasted after the bitterness of “sin.” I use the word as originally intended by those that penned the bible- an archer’s term that simply meant to “miss the mark.” We have brought it to a place to mean something more like “evil,” and I don’t think that’s very helpful.

I loved the films this week, even though with travel for work I was unable to get to writing- I did have them downloaded to my iPad and watched while stuck in airports and hotels, and thought a lot about what all of this means to me these days. My perspective is shifting so much on all of these topics I really have to ruminate a bit to figure out where I’m at these days- It used to be so clear to me and now it’s totally fuzzy.

True Grit- I’ll take the minority view and make my stand pointing the guilty finger at Mattie. I absolutely don’t deny that Tom Chaney is guilty- and deserved consequences for his actions, but Mattie had allowed herself to be consumed with vengeance, and this brought most of her suffering. As it’s been said: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. I’m impressed with Mattie. She’s certainly mature for her age and seems smart and cunning, but her desire for vengeance was her undoing. As is always the case- the more we try to make others hurt to try to quench the pain we feel from a loss… the more we hurt, and it tends to spill out on those around us. So often, we try to put out the fires that consume us with a bucket of acid and do more harm than if we’d just laid down and smothered the flame.

I like Mattie. I also like Rooster, but I think both have missed the mark like most of us… the problem is that Mattie doesn’t seem to be able to look over her shoulder and check how far she’s getting from what she actually wants… peace over her father’s death. There is a way to get past the suffering in our lives- no matter how unjust; but as it’s been said, and eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. She is likable, obviously intelligent, and I positively love her snarky retorts. I just feel sad that so much is wasted on such an expensive task that won’t pay off the way she believes… revenge never does.

For that matter, neither does what most of us assume is “success” in our society- revenge, like riches, over promises and under delivers.

Orange Is The New Black– I’d like to also take another obscure perspective on this one as well. The worst “character” in the show is a “Justice” system that doesn’t serve the population that it should protect well.  My favorite part of the show is seeing the vignettes of the characters’ pasts that flesh out the story and character. Some were impulsive, some were selfish and greedy (which I’d call “bad”) , and some were just put in situations that left them feeling like they had no other options than to resort to a crime to escape… and perhaps they were right.

Mendez is the most obviously bad in the traditional sense- abusing his power position over people who are powerless to defend themselves. He sees people as objects for him to use for his own pleasure or to boost his ego. That this was known by the other guards and nothing  significant was done is what makes the system even more guilty. When Mendez falls in love with Daya and set up to take a fall, I feel some pity for him… but only because he was manipulated and used. I suppose in a way, it’s the only just punishment for how he used and manipulated others.

My title refers to an important concept I learned when trying to figure out my relationship with church. Bounded set thinking measures actions and uses checklists alone, disregarding orientation or direction of movement. This would be like a religious guy who doesn’t drink, smoke, commit adultery, etc.. but is a mean spirited, judgemental, arrogant asshole. If you’re familiar with the bible, this is how the “pharisees” acted. They did the right things, but only to be praised and respected for it, and were basically always looking for ways to find wrong in others, but had no sense of forgiveness, mercy or grace.

Centered set thinking looks at motivations, circumstance, and direction of movement… this is someone who may have done a lot of wrong or made mistakes, but was oriented and driven by noble/just/good intentions. Robin Hood would be a perfect fictional analogy. To use a biblical reference, this would be Jesus himself- who “broke the law” of obeying the sabbath to heal a blind person, or turning tables over in the temple because the visitors were being treated unfairly by the moneychangers there.

I don’t think I believe in “good” or “bad” people… just good or bad decisions, and each one is a possible turning point. If you’re trying to do good, trying to help others- you’re on the right track… but if you’re trying to “get ahead” for your own purposes without considering the damage you could be causing (or are intentionally causing) by being mean, unfair, or overpowering someone weaker than yourself- you are being “bad”, even if there’s no crime on the books to charge you with.

 

I think about this a lot, but I don’t think I explain it well- I hope it makes some sense to someone out there and helps give you something to ruminate on!

Socrates, Jesus, and Bonhoffer (MLS598-5.2)

My fave criminal? Super difficult for me because I find it hard to ever champion someone who unfair to get themselves ahead at the expense of others…  but NOT when someone stands up to unfair laws or systems to help others. Those people are my heroes. When an unjust system is running the show- the only option is to do what you can to diminish or overthrow unjust rule. Breaking laws to climb over others is reprehensible- but breaking laws to lift others up is a moral imperitive.

This brings me to SocratesJesus, and Bonhoffer.  Socrates and Jesus probably need little introduction- and as I’ve started to study Socrates more personally, I’m stunned by the similarities between the two of them. Both were tried and “convicted” of a crime similar to today’s treason or conspiracy against the government, but both did so by simplhy encouraging others to think for themselves and question the bullshit of the power structures that fear a free thinking people who question the authority that only thrives when unquestioned.

Bonhoffer was also a rebel. Though he started as a pacifist in Germany as Hitler came to power, soon he began to resist, and eventually was a part of a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer.  He was caught and eventually hung for treason just a few months before the war was over. These people suffered because they fought for the right for people to think freely, disagree with the powers in place, and do so peacefully. The fact that all three were sentenced to death for their “crimes” shows that the system needed to be checked.

I wanted to also write about another favorite who is a contemporary, but I don’t know that he’s ever been brought to trial and convicted, but I’m also a fan of Shane Claiborne. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr is another hero who spoke truth to power and was arrested for it.

Fighting against injustice, defending the poor, helpless, and under-represented is what makes someone a hero. Abusing power of any kind (physical, fiscal, or Political) is the worst kind of wrong- and I endeavor to be like Socrates, who referred to himself as a “gadfly” as he kept biting and bothering those who would attempt to subdue rather than support the people they had influence over or contact with.

Real Threads and False Threats (MLS 598.4.1)

I’m pretty late getting to the films this week as I was traveling- and it seems many of us have had the same feelings about the films. I’m pretty hooked on The Keepers and plan on finishing the series- and as one who has been trying to develop a  meditation practice (and also wrestling with my relationship with the church/religion of my youth), I really enjoyed Dhamma Brothers. Like many of you, The Master didn’t resonate so much, except for what seems to me to be the common thread of the kinds of religion that wants to free people, versus the kinds of religion that tries to free people.

I tend to think that I can see/sense when someone is being manipulative, but I’m also keenly aware of the natural human tendency to process everything through a confirmation bias, but this is an idea close to my core. I think I might be trying to identify patterns- what a poker player would call an opponent’s “tell.” I’m not sure that people always have “tells” and when someone seems on the outside completely different than what appears to be on the inside, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Frankly, the film “Tabloid” is still hanging on- how the woman in the film seemed so “normal” but had this incredibly broken relationship with reality and morality.

That film seemed to fit more here than in week 2 for me. Sex played a supporting role, but an unhealthy connection to forcing others to see the world through one lens seems to be the main character. I feel like this is true of religion- some people have an honest, personal experience that they want to share with others that are interested (and only those interested), and those that feel like their faith is little more than an obligation cart attached to a punishment horse, with only their fearful idea of “God” in control of it all. Sadly, I remember what that felt like when I was much closer to that experience, and I’m here to finally confront the truth itself.

Of this week’s films, the one that resonated with me most was the Dhamma Brothers- and I actually wrote down one of the quotes to meditate on later:

“I thought my greatest fear was growing old and dying in prison. In truth, my greatest fear was growing old and never knowing myself.”

This is the core of it all. Knowing yourself, and knowing truth. You can’t find one without the other- and I’ve been wrestling a little with a chicken and egg scenario about this. I think that I believe that you have to know how to find truth first. I tend to be fairly logical and analytical- and I probably repress some of my emotions; but I have also known so many people that get so tangled up in their emotions that they can’t see the truth at all, even when there is evidence that their beliefs are internally and inherently contradictory.

But that’s why I’m here in this program, and that’s why I think we’re all here- to find out what the Truth actually is. Facts are easy to find, and as my debate teacher in High School always said- “there’s always evidence to backup any statement, the facts can be on your side… even when you’re wrong.”

I want to get rid of all my own internal contradictions. My break from organized religion and deep dive into spiritual practices and beliefs is all a search for the truth. The early philosophers all the way to your witty friend who gets too deep when he’s stoned- truth is available in all of this… There may be facts that contradict it, but that doesn’t make it false.

Inherent bias. Cultural bias. Confirmation bias. Logical fallacies. Blind spots. We all have them- and I believe our job as humans is to get beyond the caked on mud of past experiences and all the attempts that others have made to manipulate us, or that we have made to deceive ourselves…

And to finally come face to face with the truth under the facts.

F*ck You- a Prayer (MLS 598.4.4)

It was about three or four weeks after catching her in the act. I had been through the typical gaslighting phase for a couple months, but there was no way she could talk herself out of this one, no matter how much my mind wanted to explain it away. I couldn’t sleep in the bed we once shared anymore- even seeing the door to the master bedroom made me see it again in my mind’s eye. My kids were home- asleep in the other room as she betrayed us in our own bedroom.

In the coming weeks and months, lots of stuff in the house made me see it again in my mind’s eye. The argument we had through most of the house as she hit and kicked me, trying to get the camera. The couch we sat on where I held her- only an hour after witnessing her betrayal and said “I can forgive you, but you have to stop. We can get through this, but both of us have to do the work to fix this. I can’t float this family alone anymore if you keep jumping overboard. I can’t keep the boys afloat if I’m saving you.”

But she didn’t. And I couldn’t.

I discovered later in the hospital that the first night she actually crossed the line physically, I was on a camping trip/retreat with my two young boys with guys from my bible study. The boys and I talked about life around the fire with other men and their kids. I loved that it was honest and never got preachy. This was the kind of church I had been looking for. I remember staying up late one night to talk to Brent, the local Radio talent who was also in the churchrock scene I grew up in.  I was telling him that night about how it seemed there was a wall between us.

But now I couldn’t think about God. I couldn’t think about church. There was nothing but betrayal. Not only by her, but by Him. Not the other guy. God had betrayed me.

I was laying in the bed in the spare room on the other side of the house. Hearing my kids talking as they fell asleep made me feel comforted. But when they fell asleep, all I heard was her- lying to our family. Lying to our friends and church. Her accusations I was literally going insane for being able to imagine she’d do anything so “disgusting.” Her denial of what was really going on.

I wanted to pray. I had been so deeply committed to my faith for my whole life. I was deeply committed to my family, doing everything that was asked of me the best I could. I was exhausted from working 60-70 hour weeks because my wife was convinced we needed the extra money. I had approached her about 6 months earlier in tears saying I couldn’t do it anymore, that I needed to spend more time at home and less time working, but she was convinced we needed the money. “Just till the end of the year” she had asked, and I had committed to another 6 months of this exhaustion- for her and for our family.

But she didn’t need the money as much as the time. When I was at work she was building a wall in our marriage and in his. Between spouses, but encircling paramours.

I laid there, eyes wet with tears like they were every night. I loved her. I loved my family. I loved my commitment. I loved that I had waited my whole life and gave my wife all of me- parts of my life nobody else had ever shared. My body,  my children, my home, my soul.

I wanted to pray that God would restore it. Make it new. That’s supposed to be his business. But so is goodness and faithfulness. I never slipped in my marriage, either before or after the ceremony. I was a virgin on my wedding night, and refused the advances of women at conferences, at work, and at church over the years. I did my part, He owed me protection for my faithfulness, didn’t He? I “kept the marriage bed pure” like I was supposed to, didn’t He have an obligation to protect that one thing I had been most faithful about in my whole life? Wasn’t there a reward for this? I had been led to believe there was. I had led others to believe there would be.

No. There was only betrayal. By her, and now by Him. The two people who were supposed to always be faithful and always be on my side had both betrayed me. I had talked to Him for a while about it. I begged and bargained. I pleaded and offered trades. I’d die if I could die with the two most important loves of my life faithful to me. Just let me know that I wasn’t a worthless piece of shit that wasn’t worth being faithful to. The two I was most faithful to had both betrayed me, and I was sick of the begging, bartering, and dashed hopes.

It was almost like I had split. There was a part of me that wanted to still be faithful at least to God- I had given Him nearly all of my life. I was committed. I was serving, sacrificially. I had helped hundreds of kids get closer to Him. I had been serving in college and youth ministry since I was a kid myself at 15. That part still wanted to pray. But the last few weeks it had shifted.

Now the other me was growing stronger. The one that doubted. The one that was hurt. The one that was confused and angry. The one that had been betrayed by his God and his wife. This other me had just shifted to gain the majority position.

I couldn’t hear the angry one until he spoke out loud. In my mind I remember thinking, “Just say ‘Dear God…’ and start the conversation- it will continue if you can just start it.”  I thought that’s what would come out of my mouth. I wanted to pray for weeks but couldn’t make the words come out or even finish the sentences in my mind. Prayers just got caught on the ragged edges of a broken heart.

But I finally did it. I heard the words come out of my mouth. I heard my own voice, in the dark, hoarse from tears. I heard my voice pray what my heart had been feeling since that night I saw her betrayal in our marriage bed…

“Fuck You.”

I waited for the proverbial thunderclap. I waited for the reverberating voice of rebuke shouting “HOW DARE YOU” from the heavens. I waited for the searing pain- the feeling of my soul on fire.

“I said FUCK YOU! How fucking dare you turn your back on me like this.   I could deal with any loss, but I can’t deal with this fucking betrayal first from her- and now from You. FUCK YOU!”

The tears were flowing hot down my face. I felt my face burning with anger. It was pitch black in that room but I could tell my face was red with anger, frustration, and a sprouting hatred for both of them. Both of them who I’d give anything for, but who couldn’t even give me the benefit of not stabbing me in the back.

There was no thunder. There was no fire. There was just nothing.  I never felt so alone. I had given my life for a lie. I had dedicated myself to an illusion.

But then… I heard it. It’s not an audible thing when God speaks- it’s the same voice that encourages you to take chances and be bold in pursuing your dreams. It’s the same voice that points out beauty in the darker times. That voice that says “you can pull this off” just when you’re about to give up on yourself. The voice that points out the beauty in your family member in the middle of a fight and extinguishes the anger that you’re fanning to flame.

“I know.”

That was all. In those two simple words I understood the entirety of it. He knew I was hurt- He was, too.  Both of them hadn’t betrayed me, she had betrayed both of us. He was standing with me, not against me. He wasn’t on my side because I was faithful, he was on my side because I was hurting. His faithfulness isn’t a reward, it’s just who he is. He can’t help but be faithful to the hurting and the scared.

He couldn’t stop her from doing what she was doing. But He stood in solidarity with me and the wife her lover betrayed. He stood with my two sons, and their two daughters.  He understood I was angry. He knew I felt betrayed by Him- even though He was with me all along.  He understood that I couldn’t see that He had also been begging her to stop destroying two families. He was as hurt as I was. And though He could do something about it, that just wasn’t His way. I don’t understand exactly why, but I know it’s the same reason He never stopped me from doing things I knew I shouldn’t- things He knew would hurt myself or others. It’s like when a kid bullies my kid at the playground- I don’t punch a smaller, weaker bully to protect my child even though it’s in my power. Even without the fear of consequences, I still just wouldn’t overpower a weaker person with vengeance on my mind or to protect my children. He works the same way with all of us.

I understood that He wouldn’t change her actions or even her mind- but He could stand with me through it. He would whether I wanted Him to or not. He wouldn’t impose Himself on me, but He was immediately available anytime I wanted someone there. Faithful even when I was ignoring Him. Present even when I didn’t notice. Forgiving even when I was telling Him to fuck off.

He always had been there for me. He was, and is, and is to come.

Note: I don’t like to capitolize Him/His/He when speaking about God, but I wanted to be clear about when I was talking about Him (God) as opposed to him (the affair partner). I also use the masculine gender when referring to God out of habit, but doubt that God even has gender as we understand it. And if He does have gender, I suspect She has both. 

Measuring it wrong

We’ve been measuring failure wrong. It has very little to do with how much you have or don’t have. It has very little to do with how much you’ve done or still hope to do. It certainly has nothing to do with the car you drive or the name sewn on the ass of your jeans . It can’t be weighed on a scale, located on a map, or summed up in a monthly statement.

Failure is not a measure of position. It can’t be a point that can be charted on a graph. It is also not a measure of speed or progress. You can be going very fast in the wrong direction.  Failure is, by it’s very nature, a measure of potential energy.

Failure is the opposite of impressing the people around you. If you are using someone else’s ruler to measure your success, you have already lost the game. It’s like taking someone else’s prescription to cure your disease. The medication must be taken by the patient it was prescribed for in order to work.

Ironically, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the only eyes that can see the true depths of your beauty, of your courage, and of your worth will never gaze directly into them…

except in the mirror.

Struck (MLS 598.4.2)

I had never seen the leaves. I’d heard of how amazing and beautiful they were so I hopped in a car with 2 friends from work and on a whim, decided to drive to North Carolina and see the leaves change.

As we were getting into the mountains, I remember seeing some of the trees with changing leaves. It was pretty, but only one tree in every 10 was changing. It didn’t have the profound impact that everyone had told me about. I was starting to get pretty disappointed.

“Aren’t they pretty? The colors are amazing.” Stacy said as we wound up the mountain. “What do you think? It’s amazing, isn’t it, Rob? I told you!” I played along, not wanting her to know I was slightly disappointed. I had just expected to really be profoundly moved by the colors and beauty that everyone had told me about. I realized that I had just built it up too much in my mind and there was no way reality could match my expectations. Honestly, I think I was a little upset with Stacy and Barb for building it up so much- there was no way I’d enjoy this with the expectations they had built up in my mind.

Then we crested the hill and looked into the valley. All three of us gasped- the color literally took our breath away.

It occurred to me that there is no way that this sense I was feeling offered any biological advantage. There was no scientific reason for the sense of profound gratitude and beauty I felt. There was no evolutionary advantage to this kind of profound beauty. If I were in the wilderness, I’d need to be getting busy prepping for the impending winter, not stopping to admire the beauty.

Silently, I began to cry, struck by beauty. Struck by the realization that this was simply a gift, from the universe to me. For no other reason except to let me know that God is on my side.

Overwrought (MLS 598.1.3)

He was brushing his teeth when he caught my eye in the mirror. “What’s up? Looks like you’re overthinking shit again.”

“Yeah. I had to watch this movie for class about some girl who lied about being a survivor from 9/11. It seemed she made up this terrible life narrative just to get some attention and pity- I felt kinda bad for her. She seemed to organize the group well and had a lot of skills that were valuable to the group, but she had to be a victim to feel OK. It was like she had a whole Fight Club thing going on. That’s the only way she thought she could belong.”

“You mean when he tries to split the support group schedule with Marla?”

“Yeah. ‘I want bowel cancer.’

I hated that movie when I first saw it because I thought it was so bent… but maybe I hate it because it’s so close to home? I feel like the only people that like me are the ones that feel bad for me- and maybe I lean into that.”

He swished the water he had cupped to his mouth around before spitting it out- intentionally sloppily- into the sink and shook his head. “Here we go. What the hell with all the self-pity bullshit all the time? Why the hell do you do that? It’s like every thought you’ve ever had is followed by the phrase ‘…and that’s why people don’t like me.’ in your head. It’s bullshit and it’s annoying. I’m seriously sick of it.”

“It’s true though, right? I can hear it in your voice right now. You just said you’re sick of it. There’s something about me where everyone gets sick of me after some time, so I kinda bail before they have to.” I looked in the mirror and realized I had toothpaste on my cheek. Sometimes my arm is still clumsy from the stroke and I look like a cripple. I hate when it shows up so obvious and everyone can see. I wiped the offending toothpaste and spit off my face.

“I said I was sick of the bullshit, not you. But it’s hard to tell the difference. Sounds like the 9/11 girl was your psychological doppelganger. The annoying part is the pity party, not the real you. The lie that “nobody can stand you” is the part nobody can stand. I don’t like that- nobody else likes that. Paradox is your thing? The only one that doesn’t like you… is you.  There’s your fucking paradox. ”

“‘Nobody else likes that?’ Did someone else say something? I don’t blame you, I just want to back off a little so I don’t annoy them.”

“Perfect example of the bullshit. Perfect example of what people can’t stand.” 

“My mess- I should clean it up.”

He looked at me in the mirror and said “Fuck you and your self-loathing bullshit. It’s boring.”  He stared right through me- waiting for a response. 

I stared back and after a minute said, “I know.”

He rolled his eyes and just walked out- shaking his head, frustrated. Silent and frustrated. This is the effect I have on other people- closing their mouths, and closing their hearts.

We didn’t talk to each other again until that night. The frustrated arguments always start at night right as we’re trying to get to sleep. Lying in bed when the lights are out and it’s been quiet a while, I want to talk it out and get to the bottom of it all. I pride myself on being honest, but I think I do lie. Mostly to myself.

I’m such a weird, introverted freak that I just don’t get out and spend time with other people. I’m always “should-ing” on myself. So I work a little more. I think if I create something that people can actually use, that would be worth something…

I would be worth something.

But the only time I really talk about it is when I’m in bed about to fall asleep and start the stupid conversation again. I know where it’s going to go; it’s where it always goes- nowhere. Nowhere for hours.

Lying there in the dark I bring up the one stupid quip that will be guaranteed to lead to another drawn out, unproductive discussion about how I screwed up.

Lying there, alone.

Liar Liar (MLS 598.1.2)

Sadness.

That’s all I felt for this woman (from “The Woman Who Wasn’t There“) that was so unhappy with her own life that she manufactured a horribly tragic one so she could be pitied as a victim. Her “dream life” was a really sad one. She did this while nudging real victims out of the way so she could be the “winner” at tragic loss. I can’t wrap my head around someone who is so distracted by their stories that their real life is just as un-real as their shtick.  It did seem to me that she really was invested in the story… it was so detailed and sad. The only way she believed she could find true love- the kind she dreamed of- was to create a whirlwind love story with a dead man. It was so detailed and had such a resonance of nostalgia when she spoke about those little details… “We told everyone we got ‘Maui-ed.'”

I was a teacher for 20 years. I saw kids every year in class with all kinds of personalities, all kinds of approaches to life, all types of dings on the side panels of their soul from experiences that brought them to my class. If you’re teacher with your eyes open – this is always the toughest part of the job. Yes, you’re overworked and underpaid. Yes, you need to pay for classroom supplies out of your own empty pocket. Yes, the parents can be just as much of a pain in the ass as the most rambunctious teenager (at least the kids have an excuse – their young). That’s just the price of changing the world.

I think I might’ve met kids like Tonya. Kids that are always trying on a different personality so others liked them because they thought nobody would like the personality that came with their order. Kids that manufacture or exaggerate difficulties they’ve had to overcome, thinking that their story gives them some sort of victim “street cred.” They think it’s exciting to be the focus of attention… not realizing that it’s the same kind of morbid fascination that makes people rubberneck at an accident on the road. Sure, they’ll slow down to look… and then drive away to continue their lives and forget about it by lunch.  It’s normally pretty benign when kids play these games- maybe even necessary for some- but I’ve seen some kids that begin to lose traction and slide sideways on the road. Most of them recover, sometimes without ever even suffering a scratch. Others need to end up in the ditch to realize it was a bad plan to begin with. Being a teenager is hard.

I think one of the biggest problems is most of us are trying so hard to live up to somebody else’s ideals. Sometimes it’s a parent that thinks their kids exist to make them look more respectable.  Other times it’s some bullshit American dream they have so they can impress the neighbors across the street they’ve never met. I definitely think that some of this comes from just living in a world that’s spinning out of control with some weird social game that’s kind of like a really demented form of last man standing. It’s not enough to win anymore. Everyone else has to lose. I was never really comfortable with this kind of game. I’m generally a weirdly introverted  guy and I get spooked around people I don’t know. But even with my clumsy social presence, I want to play game that was a little bit more like The Blob Game.

I was a youth pastor for a few years in college. I absolutely loved it – and I really loved games that ended up with everybody winning. One of my favorite ones was called “The Blob Game.” It’s a lot like tag, but when you tag somebody, you have to hold hands and start tagging other people. Soon the group learns to circle people or trap them in the corners… you just keep playing until there’s no single players left. But at the end of the game it’s just one big blob- and everybody is on the winning team.

I really want a world like this, but it doesn’t seem to work this way. Sometimes even the person that’s never supposed to let go of your hand – the one that supposed to always be on your team – they quit playing the game or even join the opposing team. Some people only keep you on their team long enough to get what they want – and they kick you off the team right before they hand out the trophies. Bottom line, these are selfish people. They’re not evil or bad… they’re broken. They are still dangerous, to be sure, but I feel more sadness than anger toward them.

I seem to have a strange attraction to this kind of person. They play the part of a broken little bird the same way that Tonya Head did. I always think of that old Tweety and Sylvester cartoon where Tweety drinks Dr. Jekyll’s formula. Sylvester stalks Tweety in an attempt to get a nice little snack for lunch – but right before he catches up, Tweety turns into the big Mr. Hyde Tweety and kicks Sylvester’s ass. Upon regaining consciousness, Sylvester looks at Tweety puzzlingly (as Tweety has returned to his normal size) and wonders what the heck happened. Granted, Sylvester was trying to eat Tweety and got what he deserved… but what if Sylvester was just trying to help Tweety get out of a bind and got the same treatment? Not cool, Tweety.

This is a really confusing way to live. All the gas lighting, emotional manipulation, victim play, blame shifting, and crocodile tears can drive any sane, caring person precariously close to the edge. Sometimes I wonder of this type of person is romanticizing some sort of Thelma and Louise ending to these little games they play. Sometimes I wonder if they’re just a victim themselves- kind of like a worm on the hook used for bait. It probably doesn’t matter HOW they got there- if you play the game you end up getting baked (uh… not in a good way).

For me, the question is “What do we do with this?” Do we stop helping in case we’re being manipulated? Do we quit the game because somebody cheated one time (or even once a day)? I’m nt sure protecting yourself from the pain is worth the isolation… even though I tend to keep giving isolation a try these days.

I don’t think most people try to cheat. I don’t think anyone wants to be broken. People just want to be a part of something – something bigger than themselves. And if you don’t have that, or can’t find it, or don’t know where to look… Maybe some people feel like their only option is to create a real-life virtual reality to live in. It definitely sucks to be an NPC in somebody else’s RPG – but maybe it’s our job to just keep looking for another game work actually get our hands on the controller.

I don’t like some of the shit I’ve had to deal with. I definitely have some scars. I feel a lot like Jacob though. He was this guy in the Bible who met God and ended up in a fist fight with the creator of the universe until he got a blessing. So God broke his hip and give him a limp for the rest of his life- and everyone who knew him knew that he got is ass whipped by God. But he’s also the guy who literally got to tangle with the creator of the universe. That’s some major street cred in the ancient near-middle east. God hooked him up with some cool blessings down the road, too. But I think the moral of the story is that you’ve gotta stick to your guns through the pain to get the prize.

I think there is some real beauty in that story. Yes, he got his ass whipped by God and had a limp for the rest of his life. But what a story! Leonard Cohen has a line in one of his poems that says “there is a crack in everything,  that’s where the light gets in.”  I just believe that that’s true. Everything that’s worth something has to cost something. If it doesn’t – no matter how awesome it is – you just won’t appreciate it.

The reason that Tonya’s story is so sad is that she worked so hard for acceptance and inclusion in a group that she simply didn’t belong to. But how different is that from sinking in debt to buy clothes to fit in with the popular people?  Or buying a house to impress your friends or family or because you think it makes you somehow “more?”  Or a car to impress people you hardly know when you pull into work? These things are definitely not as offensive as what Tonia did – but maybe it’s just as sad. Either way, you’re playing a role to get people to like you… but if they do, it’s going to be the role that they like, not the real you.  They’ll only dig your illusion- and the love or adoration they give you will be as false as the story you used to earn it.

Be who you are. Revel in your unique combination of brokeness, failure, and uncertainty. Embrace your scars. Love the messy sketch in the mirror. And let us see it. You have so much more to offer than exaggerated/fake pain or manufactured/borrowed success.

Want to fit in? Be a clumsy, broken, banged up generally insecure failure like the rest of us. We can’t love you until we know you.

And we do want to know you. We want to know the real you.

At least I do.

 

Hi Tonia, I’m Rob. It would be nice to meet you- scars, scratches, dents, and all.  I’m fucked up, too.