Saturday, February 28, 2015
Later today, a few friends and I have planned to do an online defensive driving course together. We figured that if we've got to sit in front of a computer for five to six hours, we may as well have friends nearby to sympathize, because they'd be going through the same thing.
As I thought about the course though, I realized it was a helpful starting point to talk about being defensive. A manager back in my A&P days once said to me, "You're always so defensive," and it really hit me. Other friends have called me out on being too qualifying, always following up a statement with a "but" or "if"-like phrase. And it's true. I was like that, and I still am.
Because I believe in keeping things open all the time, even when I want to shut someone up or even shut them completely out of my life. I often think about the end goal of Heaven, where we'll all be united in love...and lest my nonreligious friends grow uncomfortable, let me qualify once again: I'm an idealist, even for life here on Earth. I've seen the power of forgiveness and love work profound changes in people's lives who have no business being friends, let alone even talking to one another.
I'm on the defensive all the time, because I know I should second guess myself more often, and I clearly see how many others should second guess themselves all the time too. Instead, we go on the offensive way too much. We bury our feet in the sand, we cross our arms and put on a smug face, and we say what we believe is right, and we swear we'll never, ever budge.
Being "on the defensive" can be a bad thing when we do it offensively, with our arms crossed and feet buried in the sand, unwilling to move from our beliefs or creeds. When we're on the defensive in an open way though, when we're willing to put ourselves out there in the world in a manner that will sometimes mean we get hit, we can better learn to adapt, to learn, and to grow.
Sometimes, being on the defensive just means steering the wheel away from aggressive "drivers" in life, but if you learn to do it well, it can also mean teaching others by example, showing others how cautious, conscientious, and open-minded you are behind your own steering wheel.
Friday, February 27, 2015
-3.6, 90,049 (+10,133)
I'm home sick today. Blah. I started feeling quite off around 4 PM yesterday at work, and thought about leaving early, but stuck it out the last hour. Symptoms: sore throat, congestion, and an overall feeling of blah, but last night I was also briefly dizzy and nauseous when I got up to pee.
I hate being sidelined like this, especially since it came up so quickly on me yesterday, and though I guess it's a mixed blessing falling on a Friday, I doubt I'll have the energy to get much done today anyway.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
It's been a crazy winter, much colder and nastier in every which way than we've had in a long, long time, certainly worse than anything else I've experienced in my adult life.
On January 20th, I got a flat tire on my way home from the gym. For over a month now since then, I've been driving Andy's car each day, which means dropping him at the train station and picking him up each night. It can be a pain, and has thrown off my schedule a bit, but I'm grateful to him for the ability to use his car at all!
His inspection is almost due, so we'll have to get my tire replaced soon. I would have done it earlier, but my car quickly became trapped in snow and ice in the driveway, and it's just been easier to ignore the issue, quite frankly.
My health issues have teetered between annoying and frustrating as well. In January of 2014, I went to the emergency room for chest pain, which in retrospect seems to have just been my first real encounter with bad heartburn, and in the year since, I've made close friends with TUMS and the rare aspirin. "WELL, LET ME TELL YOU" as my friend Luxor would say, I went to the doctor finally this week, and he's put me on a simple regimen of daily Prilosec and Aleve for two weeks, after which he assured me I'll never have the pain again. "From your lips to the ears of whomever is listening!" I said with a big smile, and he repeated his confidence. "From my lips to God's ears," he said. It's only been a couple of days, but so far, so good!
And finally, a few words about my weight loss pursuits. I'm doing well, and though I've been on a crazy plateau of late, I feel like I've turned a corner now. The stresses of this winter have caused me to eat too much and exercise less, and I imagine I'm not alone in that experience. What gives me great hope is that between my soon-to-be-remedied car situation, the quickly approaching spring, and the healthier lifestyle I'm pursuing, it's looking like spring will be good to me. As my 40th birthday arrives on May 1st, just 64 days from now, things are looking very, very good!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
There are some things I just won't talk about publicly, but twist my arm in private, and maybe give me a cocktail or six, and just wait 'til you hear what stories I could tell. In my brief 4 years as a monk, I don't think any of the vows were completely safe, but for the most part, things were exactly as you'd expect them to be.
I could tell you stories of how poverty was easier than you'd think it was, or how obedience was worse than you'd ever guess at (you didn't think you had a right to open your own mail, did you?), but I suspect gossip about chastity is what you'd really want to hear.
So let me be very clear: I never broke my vow of chastity, but I did absolutely come close on multiple occasions. I was a kid, 18 to 22 while I was there, and I was gay, living in a house with only men. That's like throwing a straight college kid into a sorority and expecting him to be an angel. It's impossible. It was impossible for me at least. You better believe I tried very hard at first, and weeks went by before I...well, before I spent a particular kind of private time with myself. When I finally did, it felt both great and awful at the same time, and I understood what Adam must have felt when he bit into the forbidden fruit.
I don't know why, but I genuinely thought my attractions to guys would go away once I joined the monastery (which was not the reason I joined). I joined because I felt God called me to be there, and I still believe this to be true. Getting past my homosexuality was just a happy side effect, another impossibility, I quickly learned. Still, my affections for and attractions to other guys were thankfully rare, and my extremely busy school and monastic schedule were enough to keep me distracted.
By my senior year of college though, my fourth and final year as Brother Sean, my headspace was more and more confused. A good man I knew from college helped me very much, never pushing me in any way to leave the order, yet assuring me I was a good person despite my same-sex attractions. He helped me see that truth is not licensed out to only one person or church. For his grievous sin of being a genuinely good and loving human being to me, the brothers of my community tried to have his tenure revoked. Even worse, he was led to believe I had turned him in. My guess is, more of my personal mail was opened, and other invasions of my monastic space (all under the umbrella of obedience) led to this.
Between the small gay books' section at the Hofstra University Library and the Village Voice copies I'd occasionally pick up at the local 7-Eleven, I only had slight hints at a possible gay community that might welcome me one day. And this was 1997! The world was about to change in a very big way, yet for all I knew, my homosexuality might remain a secret even if I left the order. I had no hopes or dreams of a better tomorrow in or outside of religious life, and soon fell into the worst days of my clinical depression, which lasted until the fall of 1997, well after I was shown the other side of the monastery door.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
For 300 days in a row now, I've written an entry in this daily blog, and for 300 days in a row, I've hoped someone might read what I had to say, and possibly even like it on social media (sharing is rare, I know, but always a bonus).
So today, for Day 300 of my 365-day journey from age 39 to age 40, I thought I'd just make a small announcement for the sake of those following along as I'm writing these...
Finishing Forty will be published as my fourth book later this year, sometime in the fall. 50% of all profits from the book in 2015 will also go to my charity of choice, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. More on that later.
If you're reading this in book form, today was the day I made it official, and I hope you've enjoyed paging through these many different entries. The good news, for both reader and writer alike, is that we have just 65 of these left now. Though I truly love to write, the pressure of keeping this up EVERY SINGLE DAY has been difficult to say the least, especially on busy work days when I try my best to squeeze it in quickly between jobs, or on weekend mornings when I'm watching TV and sipping coffee, only to jump up and realize I haven't blogged yet.
SOOOOO, thank you for reading along, and thank you for all the link-clicking, post-liking, and post-sharing you all do. I genuinely appreciate every one of you very, very much! Thank you!!!
Monday, February 23, 2015
In my books on Heaven and Hell, I created a word to describe the darkness we all hear whispering to us at times, the counter-force to conscience. Fiardiakula (pronounced fee yard e ya coola) is like the devil on your shoulder, tempting you all the time.
Whether or not you believe in such things, we all have both good and bad thoughts all the time, and I feel it's important to own and recognize your worst self if you're ever going to conquer it.
My worst self is easy for me to spot, because it's the tendency in me to trump others' feelings over my own need to be right. I bring people down, often publicly, or otherwise make a giant ass of myself trying to be funny or flirtatious in a most unattractive fashion. Usually, I can spot this tendency in the moment or soon afterward, but other times it's just beyond me to see it.
I'm also immersed in my worst self when I expect more from people than they're willing to give me, when I judge others for not showering me with attention or love, or otherwise look down on them for giving me any less than the highest praise or support.
Now don't get me wrong. There are still good reasons to feel real emotional responses to real slights against us, but when we take it to the next level, we tread on dangerous ground. Human beings are not Mad Libs. You can't just write your own perfect story, filling in the blanks with real people and situations against reality. Life will play out how it will, and the choices of other people will always be theirs, whether you like it or not.
So when I look at my worst self, my worst tendencies and unfair judgments of others, I don't do it to focus an unnecessary degree of attention on it or bring myself down. Instead, I look at my worst self in order to find my better self, my highest self, my highest purpose. My fiardiakula will always be there whispering in my ear, trying to convince me to believe the darkness, but if I really listen and focus on where it's coming from, I'll have a much better chance of finding light in the other direction.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
For the past four weeks, my diet and exercise plan has plateaued, as in flatland-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see kind of plateaued. It doesn't surprise me though in the least, because I've barely been keeping up, exercising only once or twice each week, and eating healthy only most of the time.
Still, I'm not giving up! I just need a new head game here, because clearly my overeating and gym skipping is NOT going to do it for me. I need to be harder on myself, and maybe even more judgmental of myself to get this done. When in need, as I am now, I go to a mantra that's helped me in the past: what will others think of me at the beach or poolside?
I'm honestly okay with some extra--it's been a part of me for a long time now--but I don't like too much extra, and I prefer the tighter, thinner version of myself I've seen in recent years. I lost 41 pounds, I remind myself, and though I've gained 14 back, I'm still 27 pounds down from where I started. These last 14 pounds may be the hardest ones to shed, but I'm already two-thirds of the way there!
So as I look at the next 9 to 10 weeks before I turn 40, and I look at the 14 or more pounds I want to shed by then, I see possibility. I see potential. I see myself doing it. I just can't give up, even for a week, and I need to work harder at this. It won't be easy, but I know I can do it, and I know I'll be much happier, which is always the ultimate goal!
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Okay, so maybe I don't have much to confess, at least in terms of my 8 or 9 years as an alter server. I was always the good kid when it came to church stuff, and always very dependable too. When asked to fill in for other altar servers, I always said yes, and if I got to church on Sunday and noticed they were down a person, I'd immediately "suit up" and fill in for whomever didn't show. That often meant priests and parishioners alike thought I was the one assigned, and just horribly late, but whatever. I did what I thought was right.
The job of an altar boy was a full one, not least of all because it meant serving at mass fairly frequently, often at odd hours. The priest in charge tried not to put us all on the 6:30 AM weekday masses often, but they were certainly part of the regular rotation, as were funeral masses and weddings, both of which meant extra duties and more stress. If it were a funeral mass, I'd make certain I stayed calm and looked spiritual for the mourners. If it were a wedding, I smiled more and made sure I looked good for the cameras.
In both cases, I was guaranteed a tip, either from the funeral director or the best man, depending. A funeral mass would earn me maybe $6, and a wedding anywhere from $10 to $20, all of which were very appreciated as a kid!
Sure I had my setbacks too, the occasional trip as I walked up the stairs--those cassocks were long--and once I even got sick during mass, though thankfully not until I was "backstage" in the sacristy. Some priests were more serious with us than others, and you tried very hard to not make a mistake, lest they scold you. If you were late reaching the altar with the wine and water cruets, or with the water and cloth after Communion when the priest cleaned his hands, the priest might scowl or even meet you halfway with impatience. It was always a very serious business.
|St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, NY|
|St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, NY|
This was all at St. Agnes Cathedral, too, the center of the diocese on Long Island, so there were tons of people watching from the pews, and everything felt very important.
I was a good kid, like I said, and at home, I even said mass from time to time! I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, but some Coca-Cola in one of my mom's nice wine glasses, and a piece of Wonder Bread cut carefully in a circle worked well. Everyone always told me I'd be a priest one day, and they were mostly right. A monk doesn't say mass, but I did give sermons to my brothers in the monastery, and served Communion and the Blood of Christ as well.
So confessions? Maybe not. I guess that's a good thing, though. There are enough horror stories out there, and even just tales of rambunctious kids doing crazy things at church. The worst I ever did was light a few matches or go through some of the drawers in the sacristy. A rebel I was not. Still, I look back on those years with great fondness and appreciation. I learned about the church from "the inside" very early on, and it gave me much... what's the word? ...perspective for the road!
Friday, February 20, 2015
-5, 79,916 (+6,419)
If you're laid off from a job, you're usually offered some kind of package deal for the road, at least the phone numbers of some nearby employment agencies if not one last paycheck for the road.
But if you actually choose to leave a job, and you give your employer fair notice, you'll usually go in for what's called an exit interview. Part of the reason is to poll you on the company and your reasons for leaving, but another part, it seems, is just to take your temperature. If you seem angry at your supervisor or the company as a whole, they'll often just show you the door right away. "Thanks for the two weeks' notice, but you can leave now."
The concept is a strange one, specifically because it isn't something you see happen in any other place in your life. When you break up with a lover, you don't set up time to chat with the person over coffee and ask if they thought you were a good kisser, or whether they liked that other thing you did for them. Likewise, you'd never get a message from Facebook when you and a long-time friend part ways, asking you if there was anything they could do differently to help the two of you stay social with each other (who knows though what the future may hold).
We don't have the luxury of an exit interview in most areas of our lives. We don't have a third party available when a friendship or relationship "breaks up", nor would we want one, really. There are no exit interviews usually, only exits, swift ones at that, and sometimes the time for talking is just over, and wouldn't help either of you anyway.
Yet talking through an ending of any kind with a friend, faith leader, or family member can help us transition to a new normal, a new reality without that person or place in our lives. We may not call them exit interviews, but we can make these kinds of conversations happen anytime. There won't be a package deal when a loved one disappears from your life, but decompressing through open conversation and tears can help unload much of the built-up pressure from your soul.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
February 19, 2015
I've always loved collecting great quotes. In fact, I've actually got a small book I created in college with pages and pages of my favorite quotes typed out and even indexed based on subject matter! So today I thought I'd share a few of those quotes with you, a few of my all-time favorites. Some of them may seem simple, but they rang true for me in a beautiful way at just the right time in my life, and I hope they do something special for you today too!
"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
-James M. Barrie
"You will not become a saint through other people's sins."
"That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
"If we could read the secret history of our 'enemies', we should find in each man's and woman's life sorrow enough to disarm all hostility."
-H. W. Longfellow
"The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand."
"The unexamined life is not worth living."
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
"Whoever gossips to you will gossip of you."
"The first duty of love is to listen."
"If you don't have the bitter and the sweet, you can't tell the difference."
-Brother Joseph Tragesor, S.M.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
During Lent, we give up ice cream, junk food, pizza, cheese, mayonnaise, coffee, soda, and sometimes even Facebook. We give up all manner of foods and drinks that are bad for us as a penance or a promise to God.
But what else might we consider giving up starting today? Here are some thoughts to meditate on...
May I give up trying so hard to be liked, and focus more on being likable.
May I give up judging others so much for living their lives differently than I live mine.
May I give up unneeded fear, and give myself more relaxation.
May I give up trying to be right, and take up unconditional love.
May I give up wasting so much time in front of digital distractions like my phone, my TV, and my computer, and start reading more, or communicating more with my friends and family.
May I give up getting through the day, and begin fully living every day.
May I give up chewing on what is not, and begin drinking the waters of what is.
May I do less and be more, may I see less and know more, and may I search less and find more.
I give up, in the very best way. I give up needing. I give up trying. I just give up, and I am free.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
I've been thinking a lot about perception lately. It's one of the world's greatest problems, yet also the one law of human nature we seem to ignore most often. We're all just stuck in our own heads, looking out through the same two eyes all the time, not seeing what or how the rest of humanity does.
A skewed perception of ourselves and how we come across can be very detrimental. We may have no clue how our postings on social media come across, or how people feel when they're around us. I went through an awful year-long period of clinical depression, and though I thought people saw me as sad and lost, the way I really felt, others described me as just "crazy".
Misperceptions can sometimes be a good thing, though. Someone lacking skills or so-called traditional beauty may feel they really have one or both of these, and simply exuding a high level of confidence can help them get past any obstacles in the workplace or in society. I might perceive someone as being less than attractive, while others may see that same person as the most attractive person ever. Fact and perception can be interchangeable!
Likewise, I've known plenty of people I'd call drop-dead sexy who look in the mirror and think poorly of themselves. Their self-perception isn't swayed by the compliments of others, because something behind their own eyes in the mirror still truly believes otherwise.
We see people of other races and religions than us, and the first thing our eyes see is the difference, the characteristics of the soul across from us that vary from the characteristics we have. We miss the fact that we both love ice cream, a good romantic comedy, and living a moral life. We miss all the similarities that are usually there, because all our eyes or brains see are the differences.
Perception is a dangerous, dangerous law of nature. We all perceive completely false facts every single day, and we all let slip an unfair judgment here and there the way we would a burp. And no matter how much we wrap our minds around the concept of perception, we're all still lost, because we can't comprehend that each person staring back at us through their own eyes has a completely different perception too: a different perception about us, a different perception about humanity, and a different perception about themselves.
Anaïs Nin wrote, "We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." For years you've heard the phrase, "Until you've walked in the shoes of another..." but perhaps a better reminder is this: until you've stared out at the world through the eyes of another, you cannot know even a fraction of that which can be seen and understood. Outside of some Being John Malkovich-esque reality, we will never have this gift as human beings. We will never, ever understand exactly how another person sees and thinks. It remains a great mystery, as it always will be, that we simply cannot ever hope to fully appreciate another person's viewpoint the way they do. We have not seen through their eyes, and so we must forever respect the mystery, and respect the perceptions we will never, ever know.
Monday, February 16, 2015
It'll be fun to look back on this list one day, when all these shows are long gone, but for now, I'm VERY happy to have them all!
So here's my current lineup of favorite shows, along with a few reasons why I love them...
Once Upon A Time
Though the show has had its occasional silly CGI moments, they've thankfully been rare, and the magic and storytelling of this incredible series has impressed me over and over again. Where else can you watch Cinderella doing laundry while pregnant, Captain Hook try to woo Snow White's daughter into a steamy affair, and laugh as Little Red Riding Hood wipes the blood from her mouth? Though I only own the first season on Blu-Ray, I'm sure it'll eventually be a favorite of mine forever, one I'll want to watch Time and Time again!
Everyone told us to watch this, but we fell behind. Finally, Christmas 2013 came and Andy got us seasons one through three on DVD. We had a marathon watching of it, just in time for the fourth season last year, and we're happily hooked! The way Julian Fellowes has weaved the various storylines through each other is truly a masterpiece of storytelling. He's got so many stories going all the time, and yet he brilliantly keeps them all interesting and engaging. Awesome show!
We're about three-quarters of the way through the first season now, and season two has already been green-lighted, so if you haven't watched this show yet, you really should. Even if you're only a kinda-sorta fan, you'll be blown away at the Gotham universe they're creating and building on here. We start off with the all too familiar scene, amazingly re-shot and re-told, of Bruce Wayne walking along with his parents before they're shot dead, but instead of jumping forward years later, all the action stays right there in the present. We see how Jim Gordon rises up in the corrupt Gotham City Police Department, how the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Cat Woman all rise to power, and so many more awesome characters do too. Violent at times, but only to make it so real and true, Gotham is must-see TV at its finest!
This show teased us at the start, and no one knew if it would be a science-fiction show or a religious one, yet the show's title and its church angle told me my bet was right, and I've recently been proven correct. It builds slowly through the first few episodes, but by mid-season, it starts rewarding you with jaw-dropping revelations and fantastic, otherwise-impossible events that literally make you sit up straight in shock. Such a cool show with such a daring premise, and as I'd hate to ruin it for you, I hope you'll trust me on this one: it's absolutely epic!
Fresh Off The Boat
We love this new show! Now only four episodes in as I write this, it's a comedy about a young Chinese family in 1995 who move from city life in Washington, D.C. to a mostly all-white suburbia in Orlando, Florida. The show walks a fine line between stereotyping and being faithful, but for the most part, it's very faithful to the facts. Andy and I see many similarities between the show and his mother's side of the family already, and we're both hysterical at some of the lines. Check it out!
I love the show, I do, but the frenetic schizophrenia of the last two seasons has been irritating. They all graduated high school and went off to an amazing new life in New York while the show artfully balanced itself with new characters back at William McKinley High School. Then something in creator Ryan Murphy's brain broke, it seems, and all hell broke loose along with it. He began spreading himself too thin with American Horror Story too, so all the characters we came to love--even the new ones just introduced, fell apart. They fast forwarded the action six months, Rachel quit her Broadway show that everything in her life had always been building toward, then she went to Los Angeles to try a TV show, but within an episode or two, that fell apart too, and now they're all back in freaking Lima, Ohio doing God knows what as the clock ticks closer and closer to the end. Why do I care so much? Because I loved this show, and still do, and I hate that so much of the bones of its brilliance crumbled beneath the weight of its creators' madness. Still very much must-see TV, and they're still doing amazing stories and songs, but it's also really a mess.
How To Get Away With Murder
This show is absolutely amazing, and the ONLY reason it falls at the very bottom of my list of favorites is that I'm almost definitely dropping it after season one's conclusion. Why? Because it's just not my type of show at all. I love Viola Davis, and have heard nothing but great things about ShondaLand shows, plus the show's title and concept pulled me in, but no, I can't do it. I highly recommend the show to everyone who can, as it's one of the best shows on TV today. It deserves a bucket load of Emmy Awards and all the praise it can get on all the award shows, but it's just not for me. I love how good it is, but I hate how stressed and tense it makes me feel. I'm a wuss with those things though, so you should check it out!
I think I'd rank them the way I've listed them here, too, except I'd have the first three in a tie for first place, the second two in a tie for second place, and then Glee and How To Get Away With Murder tied for third place.
How about you? Leave me a comment about what your favorite TV shows are!
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Have you ever watched water trickle slowly over the face of a rock? Not the way a major waterfall flows in a rushing torrent, but the kind that just happens to exist? There's much less of a single act, and more a collection of individual streams.
I've seen this happen so often in life. Factors of all shapes and sizes meander through the forest of my day, and they all suddenly collide in a stream, a result pool around my feet. It could be the various ingredients of a good or bad day, or perhaps just the causal relationship of an ultimate effect, the chance meetings or circumstantial happenings which reveal a singular moment.
My writing career has worked this way, I've learned, except it's taken me many years to see it. A stream of finely honed skill turns this way and that, picking up speed until it crosses the edge of the rock. A second stream of artistic choice and preference merges in from another direction, and it too begins to cascade forward. Still another stream of consciousness and purpose rushes in with the others. All of these and more come together, slowly over time, to produce the entire pool of written results all around me.
As any artist can tell you, the finished product is always loved and mourned in equal measure. Once we decide a painting, song, book, or performance is complete, we hand it over to the world with a smile, hoping that what we've created will create something new in our audience. Our purposes for making art will vary, just as the many streams of a flowing waterfall will differ in scope and source, but they all reach that one pool at the bottom. They all cascade over into that one new source of art.
When I write, I write for good. I write to achieve an effect in someone, to inspire or excite them--sometimes if I'm lucky, at the same time. I write for good. I write for the good feeling I hope to achieve in my readers, to reach the part of their soul that smiles or cries with grateful appreciation for the way my words have affected them. Sometimes I succeed magnificently, and other times I fail miserably. My writing will not always touch that perfect place I reach for, but I reach for it all the time anyway. And in the end, when all the streams of all the possibilities of all the hopes and dreams come washing down into that one pool of new effect, my art is done for good. It's over.
Art is about harnessing all this energy, all these streams of everything we've ever known and ever hoped to create. It's about being and building, forming and filling, moving and making. And when all these streams of all these energies rush over the sides of all the creative waterfalls we work through, there arrives the point when we just let go and trust. We finish. We marvel at the results. We appreciate what manifested through our hands. We say goodbye one last time before we dive back in to all the streams above, through which we build and form and make again.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
In the past few days, I've been going back and forth in my head about what to write today. My goal on occasions such as this is to inspire, not depress, yet Valentine's Day seems to be what psychologists today would call a trigger. Well wishes and inspirational sayings don't go very far if you deliver them the wrong way, or seem too smarmy or hopeful about it. A coupled person giving a single person advice is, I've learned, extremely dangerous. Sometimes I succeed well, and sometimes I fail miserably.
So what to write?
The one thought that seems to have risen above the clouds in my brain is a good one, I think, so I hope you will appreciate the sentiment behind my words...
Andy and I are always saying how we don't understand how so many of our friends are still single, especially the ones who are actively hoping and trying to not be so. We see they have so much going for them: beauty, personality, and soul beauty too. They are in our lives because we love them, and because there truly is so much to love about them.
It may not always be helpful for us to repeat the phrase that's probably already going through their heads, that we can't comprehend how they're still single, but we genuinely just don't get it. How can someone who makes us feel this special and happy--someone who lights up our lives as a friend--how can they not be coupled up already? We just don't get it. Of course there are a million nuances to a person, let alone the stacked up nuances of two people on opposite sides of a small dinner table from each other, but again, we know our many single friends, and we know how awesome they are. We see their awesome, we see their beauty, we see their greatness in so many ways, and then we see they're single, not by choice.
To the ones who are single by choice, we applaud them for finding or choosing happiness outside of a traditional relationship. No one should be made to feel less than special in any way because they choose to be single. But for the friends we've known and know who are single, and not by choice, we're just left scratching our heads. We want all the happiness of a partner or spouse that they seem to want for themselves, and we can't imagine why their prince or princess charming hasn't freakin' shown up yet!
To all of our unhappily single friends out there this Valentine's Day, please know we're rooting for you all the time. You're in our lives because we see how incredibly awesome and awesomely incredible you are! We hope you find your someone special soon, but if not, know we really believe it's just got to be rotten luck! No one as wonderful as you are deserves to be without someone special to tell you how wonderful you are on a daily basis. And in the temporary absence of that someone special, please know how much we love you, and how wonderful you truly are!
Friday, February 13, 2015
-5, 73,497 (+3,416)
I've always been a believer...in something. My beliefs have changed and grown over the years, and my understanding of the mysteries of the universe and Life itself have too, but if there's one life practice I've understood more and more with each passing year, it's prayer.
Prayer is one of those things many atheists and agnostics scoff at, pointing out the methodology itself is flawed, either because there is no God, or that clearly, he doesn't do anything differently whether or not you ask nicely.
And therein lies the issue I as a Christian have found, one which I've learned to understand with a totally different mindset over the years. We don't see any results at all when countless children die senselessly in all manner of tragedies, nor are their any angels on the scene to rescue babies and toddlers alike from the ravages of disease and famine. Did God send angels down, and they just got lost along the way, or are we just not smart enough to see how their blessings arrived? Self-appointed defenders of this claim truly believe that when a child is born into this world with AIDS, or is stricken with cancer, that somewhere in the mysterious workings of God, a blessing is there.
With all due respect, I find this to be horribly foul, and completely inconsistent with all I know to be true. I simply refuse to believe in a God who would save one child from a plane crash but let hundreds more drown in a ferry disaster. I refuse to believe in this warped philosophy, no matter how many times I've heard it spread around over the years.
Yet as I said, I am a believer, and I am, for the most part, a Christian. So how do I understand this all? How do I reconcile my faith with our reality?
I believe Heaven has a mostly hands-off approach in this world, just as a parent does when they let them go off to school or the playground without their particular guidance. Bad things just happen. Horrible, awful, terrible things just happen. No prayer could have saved children shot dead in their classrooms, no deed set about differently by the child's parents or so-called sin got in the way of a blessing that would have otherwise arrived. Bad things just happen.
If we are to pray, and I do believe we still should, our prayers should be wishes of gratitude and pleas for strength. They should be wishes for the courage and sanity to face this world and all its tragedies with a firm faith in God, and a fierce love for all souls everywhere. Prayer has never been a support line. You can't call up God or your guardian angel with a sign of the cross and ask for a flat tire to be fixed, or good results on your Pap smear. Asking God or any other heavenly force to affect the results of this world is an admission that those same powers are turning a blind eye and a cold shoulder to the rest of the disasters we see every day. Believing God recuses some is a brainless belief that he also turns away from many more, and I refuse to believe in a God or a system like that.
Bad things just happen while we're here on Earth. We can pray for strength and we can pray for peace. We can even pray for the abilities to affect change ourselves. But we cannot put our trust in a system that just doesn't exist. It's unfair to God to expect more than what this world has ever received, and it's mean and foolish to think some people are getting all the blessings while the rest are just unblessed or ungodly. How dare we make such cruel and crass assumptions? Things just happen, good and bad, and God isn't to thank or blame for any of it.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
For the past nine and a half months, I've posted these blog entries every single day, and every single day, my readers online have seen the phrase "Finishing Forty". It makes people mistakenly think I'm already a 40-year-old, and will soon be turning 41...but no, I'm still just a kid, a child really. I'm only 39 years old, and have many more (2.5) months left in my 30s.
Finishing Forty is all about completing my 40th year of life on Earth as I turn from 39 to 40. What would your friends say to you if you said, "My car is 40 years old," or "My computer is 40 years old," or even "My dog is 40 years old"? They'd likely give you a long stare of concern.
So when you turn 40 years old, you're telling the world you're walking around in a 40-year-old model. You're admitting that for the past four decades, you've been piling up the mileage on this baby right here, and you're grateful to have gotten this far without too many dents or scratches. You present yourself to the world with a nice haircut and a new wardrobe perhaps, knowing that just underneath your clothes or skin, things aren't so new anymore. You're halfway done with the four score you hope to achieve, and middle age is not just upon you, but all around you too: the reluctant glance in the rear-view mirror will tell you how much of this middle-agedness you've already experienced. And then, very quietly, you'll begin to cry.
You'll bemoan the past now lost to you, all the possibilities of youth you've squandered or just never found or achieved, and you'll mourn that which has been. As you make the last steps up to your 40th birthday, you'll sigh, wipe away the tears, and then smile, realizing that as you reach the top of the pinnacle, this life you've proudly built is all around you, and there are many more mountains and valleys still waiting to be conquered!
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
February 11, 2015
I remember the first time I saw one of those street signs: no shoulder, shoulder work, soft shoulder, narrow shoulder, and so on. "What does that mean?" I asked my mom. It seemed like such an odd phrase to use for something that lines a road, yet I eventually came to see how appropriate it really is. Sometimes we all need a shoulder, don't we?
In times of great sadness and pain, I've enjoyed the shoulders my loved ones have let me cry on, and other times, I've needed to stand on someone's shoulders, either literally or figuratively. We try to shoulder someone else's pain, too, or be head and shoulders above the rest. All of these shoulders in life, all of these ways we take on a trouble from someone else, or unload our troubles onto others.
All of this, in one way or another, is shoulder work. We put in the time to help someone, just as we would help someone change a flat tire on the shoulder of a roadway, or we offer someone our own shoulder, letting them rest their weary souls on the soft shoulder we provide. It's an easy kind of work when the situation calls for it, but other times, going that extra mile really is a challenge.
Along the highways of this world, a sign reading soft shoulder, no shoulder, or shoulder work tells us to be careful. The shoulder may not always be there for us when we need it. Someone might be giving us the cold shoulder, just when we needed the opposite. It can hurt, just like a sore shoulder does, and a person's apathy toward us, or our own toward someone else, can be its own painful experience. A shrug of the shoulders says, "I don't care" in the meanest of ways.
The option is ours, as it always has been: what kind of shoulders do we wish to offer the world? Do we take on the pain and burden of others onto our shoulders, or do we turn a shoulder away from that which may hurt us? Do we hold a chip on our shoulders, or do we stand shoulder to shoulder with those in need? I suppose it all depends on whether we have a good head on our shoulders. Should we or shouldn't we? The choice is ours: how much effort shoulder we put in?
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
When I'm in a creative mood and at a loss for what to write, I enjoy doing what's called stream-of-consciousness exercises.
Whether it's poetry or prose or both, I just start writing whatever comes to mind, doing my best to forget about all rules of logic and sense to produce my own brand of crazy fun onto the page.
So today, if you don't mind, I'd like to try one here with you, and if you have a few minutes, I encourage you to try one of your own too.
First, I write my start time down. Then I begin writing. Then I write my end time. Editing is allowed--in my rulebook--only minimally for corrections to spelling of real words and for minor punctuation corrections. For the most part though, don't think...at all. Just write!
Start Time: 10:11 AM
Leafing through pages of frittery little yellow monstrosities of magnanimous eccentricities, I take the plunge forward into the oceans of despair and joy--their waves move within me and outside of me in congruous movements of movings.
I eat them, I drink them, and in turn, they swallow me whole, ripe like a pineapple, crusty like an overdrawn bank account, lost like a diamond in the sands of green.
Utterly terrific and terrified at once, kites flying sideways in the soft breeze of autumn hatred, coloring books filled with nightmares of burnt orange and plum, petrified by their own reality.
Secretly delivering the milk by day's break, she watches for the cat, the only friend she has in the whole wide world, the only one who knows her secret: the whole wide world is lactose intolerant but her. She smiles, and then she cries, and then rainbows burst forth from her station wagon just as they always do at half past 5 in the morning. She hates that about the thing.
Wisps of wafers spill across the ice of the July sidewalk, and gullible wanderers take note in the least curious of ways. They wonder why, and then they lose interest before they have it, lost in the moment of the May Day midnight.
End Time: 10:16 AM
Monday, February 9, 2015
Two doors down from me growing up, a young couple moved in with twin boys. Because their house connected to mine through a mutual neighbor's driveway, I eventually became their friend and babysitter. They were maybe six years my junior, I can't remember, but they had a nice house and lots of video games to play, so we all got along well.
Across the street in one direction was the mayor of our town, whose grandchildren lived two blocks away, on the same block as two other children, all of whom I babysat for on many occasions. And in yet another direction from my house, two more kids needed a babysitter whenever their grandmother wasn't able to step in. In total, I watched 8 different kids for several years during high school.
I enjoyed the experience, mostly because none of the kids were a pain for the most part, though they did have their moments. I also felt very close to their ages too, so it was more like a big brother relationship usually, the type of job you get paid to do, but don't really feel as if you've worked at all.
Once I graduated high school and entered the religious life, I pretty much lost touch with the various families, but I do miss them all very much, even after all these years. Babysitting had its share of adventures and stresses, but for the most part, it was just filled with lots of time in front of the television. And for that kind of work, I certainly appreciated every dollar very much.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Yesterday I saw two great Broadway shows I'd been wanting to see very much: Les Mis and Matilda. We saw Les Mis at night, but caught the matinee of Matilda, which worked perfectly, because there were lots of kids in the audience, providing that extra impact (you know the kind of energetic giggling I mean?). But if you don't mind, I'll go in reverse order.
Les Mis was wonderful, and it really is so much about the amazing songs and amazing voices. There's honestly nothing you can say against the show regarding its words or music. That said, I did feel the production fell flat in some ways. It wasn't the performers themselves so much as the direction. It just lacked that extra oomph they absolutely needed. The choices were just slightly off, if you know what I mean, as if they could have just placed a performer in a different place, or had him raise his weapon in a less overly dramatic fashion? If you go, you'll love it, but you might also see what I mean. Solid B+ show, just not the A it could have been.
Matilda, on the other hand, was a revelation. Though there were some parts in the beginning where the singing and music were so loud you couldn't understand a lot of the British accents being sung (for an American audience), the rest was an absolute joy! The show was far more magical than I ever would have guessed, and though there is some magic, of a kind, in the show, I instead mean the way it tells its story, the way it makes you feel. There were some points in Matilda where I just started crying because I was so happy to be witnessing something so beautiful, and by the show's final number, the emotional buildup was so great, it took all of my self-control to stop myself from bawling the happiest tears ever! Now that, my friends, is good theatre, and well worth the A+ grade I give it! You better believe I'll be seeing this show again and again...and again and again too!
Saturday, February 7, 2015
I spent the day yesterday sightseeing around Manhattan. There's so much to see, of course, so we didn't cover all that much considering, but I think we managed to do quite a lot.
We first walked over to the Empire State Building, then the Manhattan Mall, then Times Square, then Rockefeller Center and what's called the Top of the Rock experience (top of Rockefeller Center with views all around Manhattan and beyond). After that, we visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, and then did a tour of Radio City Music Hall, where we even met a Rockette. From there, we walked to Grand Central Station, followed by a subway trip all the way downtown. We made a short stop to see the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, then walked over to Ground Zero to pay our respects at the footprints of the twin towers.
It was a long day, a very full day, and though my feet and legs were both tired and frozen by the end of it all, I felt very happy to have accomplished so much!
As to the last stop, the World Trade Center site, it was an important one for me for multiple reasons, not least of which was the visit itself. On September 11, 2001, I watched smoke and flames pour out of both towers from the 29th floor of my office building on 42nd Street. It wasn't until last night though, February 6, 2015, that I finally got myself down there to visit the site. I wasn't purposely avoiding it, but I do confess I was reluctant to go. The place they've created there can be described as nothing less than sacred, as it should be. It is sacred ground, and always will be, and I was in awe at how beautifully they've honored the souls who perished on that fateful day.
Today we've got two Broadway shows ahead of us: Matilda for the matinee, and Les Mis at night. It'll be a very different day, and much less busy, but a very exciting one too. I haven't seen either of these productions yet, but did see the original Les Mis many years ago when I was still young. It was my first Broadway show ever, at New York's Imperial Theatre. In the years since, I ended up seeing a show called Billy Elliot The Musical there many, many times, and this will now bring me full circle with my Broadway experiences.
Lots of thoughts going through my head because of yesterday's visits. Memories of Les Mis many years ago, memories of the last time I toured Radio City Music Hall with my fellow monks from the monastery, memories of the last time I saw the towers standing, memories of Billy Elliot at the Imperial, and even memories of my first time at the Top of the Rock with my friend Christian. It's all giving me pause in many different ways, and beyond that, it's also giving me, once again, perspective. From high up in the air above Manhattan to a look down into the footprints of the twin towers, I had different perspectives quite literally, and as I think on all the past experiences mirrored in this weekend's activities, I pause and reflect on the perspective of this moment right here. Life is short but beautiful, and looking backward before looking ahead helps me see better all the time.
Friday, February 6, 2015
-4.8, 70,081 (+5,686)
Today's blog entry will be a short one, because I'm headed into the city today for some sightseeing!
My friend Steven's in town from Kansas City, and he's never been to The Big Apple. We're not sure exactly what we'll cover today, but the goal is to hit most of the big ones, the places and sights we all associate with New York City...
Times Square, Empire State Building (kinda hard to miss!), the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty (from the shore), Central Park, and a lot of that other fun stuff in the middle...all on our list!
Tomorrow we're seeing two Broadway shows, but more on that...tomorrow.
It's extra cold in New York today, so I've got to bundle up too, but any day in New York City, freezing or not, is always a good one!
Thursday, February 5, 2015
When I look back on my childhood, I can clearly see the many ways I was a normal kid. I was an altar boy, a clerk at the A&P, a babysitter, and even a Little Leaguer. But perhaps the most identifiable trait of a normal boyhood on Long Island? I was a paperboy.
I took over a friend's Newsday route not far from home, most of which was indoors too, making it a supremely sweet gig on the harshest of bad weather days. And I loved it, I really did, but there were some...interesting moments as well.
One day, I rang the bell of an apartment in hopes of collecting money owed, and a young man answered the door in his underwear. The bulge behind the thin white cotton was unmistakable, and I tried my best not to stare. The view from behind was quite nice too. I was only 14 or so, and had no idea how old he was: young enough to not scare me, but old enough that he wasn't ashamed or worried about inviting a child into his apartment while he grabbed his wallet. Nothing unseemly happened, and he wasn't even acting strange--more like hungover--but I'd be lying if I said the experience wasn't a pleasant one.
I was still a kid, of course, but I think it was the first time I ever felt like some kind of adult future was closer than ever. What if the right young guy or fellow kid answered the door? What then? It made my head swim with ideas and possibilities, and in a pre-internet world when being gay was still a major secret, it was the closest thing I had to even the hint of a sexual fantasy.
Other occasions presented their own awkward moments, like standing in old women's doorways while they talked my ear off about God knows what. I was a polite young man, and didn't brush anyone off, so they'd just keep me there until they were ready to dismiss me. I was impressed at how much they trusted me though. People would leave their valuables in easy grabbing distance while they left to search for their purse or other stash elsewhere in the house.
These were the years when I learned what apartment living really meant, as well as what a mezuzah was. I had no idea until then that Jewish people marked their doors in such a public way. I suppose I should be glad it wasn't lamb's blood, but I do recall asking tenants back then what it meant, and listening as they happily explained it to me.
Life as a paperboy was a lot of fun, and I often made really good money too. I even rose to the level of Master Carrier with Newsday--got a special card and everything! It didn't open any new doors, but like so much of my years as a paperboy, it was the start of many years trying to master more and more on this paper route called life.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
|GMVIDEOPRODUCTIONS for the NY POST|
My father once told me, "It's better to be 20 minutes late in this life than 20 years too early in the next."
Six lives were lost, and many more irreparably changed forever, because of an incredibly stupid decision made last night during rush hour. According to early reports, a woman drove over the train tracks after seeing the lights flash, hoping she could make it across. She even got out of her car on the tracks to look at the situation, before getting back in just as the train slammed into her car, killing her and five passengers on board the train.
The easiest decision was to never drive over train tracks at all, unless there was ample time and room on the other side for you to reach. And worst case scenario, she should have driven through the gates or just ran to save her own life. God only knows what was or wasn't going through her head, but suffice it to say, some incredibly bad decisions were made, decisions that cost six people their lives.
I pray for the souls of each and every person who lost their life yesterday, including the driver, and I pray for the healing--physically and spiritually--of all those left behind in the wake of this awful tragedy. Life's too short, and some bad things just can't be avoided. For all the dangerous situations that can be avoided though, we all need to be much smarter, and much more careful!
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Yesterday was another horror story on the roads: extremely hazardous driving conditions, unplowed roads, car doors frozen shut--even the front screen door of my house was frozen shut!
It all just makes me miserable, and as my blood pressure rises and my hatred of the weather reaches its own boiling point, I finally walk in my door and become a human again. I de-hat, de-glove, de-coat, and de-shoe myself right away, and all is once again right with the world...until I leave the house again.
At one point during last week's blizzard, I was complaining about something or other--it could have been any number of things--when a friend from the Buffalo area gently reminded me seven feet is more than one foot. I smiled, relaxed a bit, and then thanked him for the perspective.
Soon afterward, I was chatting with an online friend from the Atlanta area who was happily far away from the winter in the northeast. A North Carolina native, he knew what we were going through, but it all reminded him how nice it is to live where he does now.
Perspective from Buffalo to Long Island and reverse, and perspective from Long Island to Atlanta and reverse. We each have more or less of all kinds of woes and joys in this life. Some of them are avoidable, and many are not. It's all about looking at things through a wider lens, and appreciating the differences everywhere you look.
Monday, February 2, 2015
"I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank Piña Coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?"
There are good days, and there are not-so-good days. Yesterday was a very, very good day. As a few friends and I watched the Super Bowl play out last night, I had only one vested interest in the outcome of the game, only one care, only one concern.
Last week, far too late really, I wandered over to the area where the Super Bowl boxes were displayed on the wall at work, and I looked up with a grimace. "I guess I'm too late?" I asked. A slight pause later, and someone showed me where a smudge on one box was actually still open. It seemed someone started to write their name in the box, then switched to another one, so it was open still...and the very last box still open at that! So I gave them my 10 points (we shall not speak of monetary numbers at work), and a day or two later, I found out what my numbers were.
I had 8 and 4, which didn't seem too good to me, but as I was about 20-30 feet away, one of my colleagues called after me, "No, that's good. That could work." He reminded me that with a 28-14 score, I'd win (we didn't think of 28 to 24). Cool, I thought.
So as the game progressed last night, I kept hoping for a certain amount of plays to happen to achieve a very specific score...and it did! By night's end, I had won FIVE HUNDRED big ones! There are good days, and there are not-so-good days. Yesterday was a very, very good day. And now that I've collected my winnings, I can say with confidence: today is a pretty damn good day too!
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Seandy (capitalized at times, but not always) is pronounced two different ways. Andy and others pronounce the Sean while others and I pronounce the Andy (with a sh sound in front, like shandy).
It's a perfect combination of both our names, but when did I first start using it? I'm really not sure.
We first spoke online on June 7, 2001:
Hi Sean, My name is Andy, and I'm from W. Babylon. Saw your personal ad...
We spoke in instant messages for the first time on June 16th:
Andy [11:50 AM]: Hi Sean, this is Andy, I e-mailed you from xy
Sean [11:50 AM]: hi again, i was wonderin if you had disappeared
Andy [11:50 AM]: Yeah, been kinda busy these days, keeping the computer off.
Sean [11:51 AM]: oh okay, well so how r u?
Sean [11:51 AM]: have we talked on im yet?
Andy [11:51 AM]: Doing good, no we haven't talked yet, are you online a lot?
Sean [11:52 AM]: less lately, but yes, still always a few times a day in the evening
Sean [11:52 AM]: wekeneds all the time
Sean [11:52 AM]: depending on plansAndy [11:54 AM]: How is your summer going?
We didn't speak much that summer, and then September 11th happened. Andy was working a few blocks away that day, got covered in ash (he said it was falling like snow), but we weren't really talking much at that point, so I didn't even realize he was so close to it all. And of course the nightmare of that day haunted us all for a long time after (I literally had nightmares daily for a month afterward). Finally, some time that fall, we set a plan to meet.
It was Saturday, December 1, 2001, a record warm day, with temperatures reaching 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius). We both knew right away that first night that we were on a date with someone special, someone we really, really liked. Somewhere in my piles of papers and notebooks here, I have a notebook page in which I chronicled our first 7-10 dates or so, and I remember when I first asked him if we could use the "b" word--boyfriends.
And the rest, as they say, is history! Seandy was born, and we both feel very blessed and lucky to have found each other!