On life, presence, the speed of childhood and the perils of rushing

Last night I had some rare one-on-one time with my oldest, who will be 9 in what seems like a heartbeat. 

As I tucked him in, he asked me to sing him a song – something he hasn’t asked for in a while. I was feeling frustrated, tired, irritable, and just wanted him to go to sleep, but then I took a moment to realize the importance of what he was asking. I don’t always do that, in many aspects of my day-to-day routine. I find myself too caught up in the rush of work, parenting, and navigating life, and I don’t take time to listen. 

So I asked him what he wanted. We settled on “Hey Jude,” and after that, he asked for the song I used to sing to him every night as a baby: “Moonshadow.” So I sang that, too, and tried not to let the lump in my throat get in the way. As I did, he relaxed, sighed, snuggled up to me, put a hand on me, and closed his eyes. When it was over, he opened his eyes again and asked me, “How old are you again, Dad?” “48,” I told him. He thought about that for a moment, and a troubled look passed over his face. “I don’t want you to get older, Daddy,” he said. “And I hope your voice never changes because I really like the way your voice sounds when you sing to me, and I don’t want that to change if you get older.”  
It was a bittersweet moment for me. It was a reminder that life passes quickly, and that we all get older, and that our children grow in an instant, and it left me with tears in my eyes. It was a reminder that if I don’t slow down and take notice of each moment, instead of racing from one to the next, I’m going to miss the most important things in my children’s – and my own – life. 

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” My son’s words last night illustrated that perfectly, and were a reminder that I need to be present for the journey instead of focusing on, and rushing toward, the destination. 

be present in the moment, and focus on the journey, not the destination
My oldest son at a time that simultaneously seems like an age ago, and also the space of a heartbeat.

A few words about snowflakes

I was walking out of a restaurant recently when I overheard one of those “Make America Great Again” hat-wearing clods complaining loudly. He was ranting and raving about “liberal snowflakes” who “love gender-neutral bathrooms” and don’t realize that terrorists are, right this very minute, hiding in the midst of every group of ragtag refugees that’s seeking entry into this “once great land.”

Phew. Heady stuff, and it set off a mighty struggle between my rational and irrational sides. The rational side told me to keep walking and ignore Trump Hat. After all, I had my kids with me, and I didn’t want to expose them to what would surely turn into a useless shouting match with the human equivalent of a toilet bowl stain.

The irrational side, on the other hand, had some very different ideas. One of them involved being the initiator of that shouting match, as well as performing an action with his hat that I’m pretty sure would not only be anatomically impossible, but illegal in some Southern states.

Snowflake_Detail
Photo courtesy Charles Schmitt/Wikipedia

Rational, however, won the day and I walked on without comment, inwardly grumbling. Much later, though (isn’t that always the way?), I had one of those forehead-slapping moments where I thought of the perfect retort:

“Thank you for calling me a snowflake.”

Why? Because calling someone a “snowflake” is a compliment.

You see, snowflakes are created through adversity and diversity. Here’s how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains them:

“A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals – the six arms of the snowflake.”

In other words, the water is just floating along, minding its own business, when it slams into some dirtball. That dirtball causes a powerful reaction that completely changes the water. Weighed down by this change, the now-frozen water starts to fall. As it drops, though, it meets up with other drops of water along the way. They lend structure and support, build new parts, and eventually form six sides.

When the snowflake finally lands, you’d never even know the dirtball existed, because the adversity and diversity have transformed that drop of water into something beautiful — and as our 1st-grade teachers drilled into our heads, no two are alike.

We’ve all bumped into our share of dirtballs on our journey: They’re the people who are racist and sexist; the people who believe might makes right; the people who think being gay is a choice or a sin. They’re the folks who use religion as a tool of self-righteousness and oppression; who use money to divide instead of unite; who live with closed minds and hearts.

And each time we’ve bumped into them, it’s changed us. And when our kids hear idiots like Trump Hat, it’s a teachable moment that can change them, too.

I choose to believe that we “snowflakes” will someday greatly outnumber the dirtballs — and that’s exactly what the dirtballs are afraid of. They’re afraid that we’ll be a united nation of individuals who have become stronger because of adversity and diversity.

And guess what? That’s exactly what the founding fathers had in mind.

So go ahead, call us “snowflakes.” Please.

In a vinyl frame of mind

On turntables, music and the hi-fi life

Last year I wrote a really fun column (Can Vinyl Get My Groove Back?) about a void in my life: the absence of a turntable.

Last night I finally took the plunge and bought one.

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Yes, vinyl can get your groove back.

I didn’t opt for any of the hyper-expensive options I researched in my column, though — out of my budget and pointless, given my mid-line, older receiver/speaker setup.

Instead, I was kind to my wallet and bought a Sony PSLX300USB. That’s a fancy way to say it’s a simple stereo turntable that (if I were so inclined) can “rip” albums to a digital format. I can now play 33s and 45s, it sounds good and, bonus: I realized I kinda missed the hiss and crackle of those wax platters.

There was one thing I’d forgotten, though: How just the slightest bump will send the needle flying. There is some value to digital formats that can’t skip.

Despite that, I’m really excited about my turntable – I’ve missed the incredible, large-format album artwork, homey sound of vinyl and the warm fuzzies I get from putting the needle on the record.

Next stop: A record shop for some new-to-me hot wax.

An entitled piece on titles

I have a confession to make: NPR is driving me crazy.

Now, if you know me, that’s going to come as a surprise, because you probably also know I love NPR. Yes, I’m that guy: the one who listens to  Steve Inskeep, Rachel Martin and David Greene in the mornings on the way to work. I listen to reruns of “Car Talk” if I’m driving on weekends; I think “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me” is brilliant; and my inner geek does a little dance every time I hear “Star Talk.”(OK, OK, it’s The Sprinkler. Don’t judge.)

Barack Obama dance dancing jimmy fallon michelle obama

But over the last year, I’ve gotten a bit irked with my favorite radio programs. Is it because of their in-depth coverage of important and interesting events? Nope. The World Cafe’s excellent music? Hell to the no! The news programs’ seemingly unending election coverage? Nah. (OK, maybe just a little.)

I’m getting annoyed because of what I perceive as an entitled error  — or rather, what I see as the frequent, incorrect use of the word, “entitled.”

The problem is that I expect the folks on NPR to believe that when you’re talking about a book, album, play or anything else with a title, there’s a very simple term you should use: titled.

Did you catch that? I’ll write it again, with a little bold and underline action for emphasis: titled.

Here’s an example: “Today on NPR, we’re going to talk a little bit about a blog post titled, “An entitled piece on titles.”

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Dude, relax. They mean the same thing.” If that’s you, I’d like to politely tell you that I think you’re wrong.

You see, way back when on my first newspaper copy desk, I was bullied taught that the word “titled” is the proper way to refer to the title of something. To wit: “A book titled ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy.” “A TV show titled ‘Sherlock’ on BBC America.”

The word “entitled,” it was beaten drilled into me, means “to have a rightful claim to something.” For instance, “The king is entitled to wear the crown”; “Kanye West thinks he’s entitled to interrupt anyone so that he can spew his opinions.”

The grammar sticklers among you, however, may recognize that this is actually wrong — and I’m not just talking about Kanye’s sense of entitlement.

It turns out that the slot editor who screamed at us every time the word “entitled” was used to describe a book or movie title suffered from his own case of entitlement. The word “entitled” has actually been used for centuries to describe the names of things. Don’t believe me? Look it up here, on Grammarist, or here on Merriam-Webster.

Surprised? Yeah, it was news to me, too — especially since I intended this post to be a rant about the incorrect use of a word. But then I learned something — and that’s always a good thing.

Still, I would really prefer it if the folks on NPR would stop using the word “entitled” to refer to the names of things that are published, and instead use the word “titled.”

Why?

Because right or wrong, I guess I’m feeling entitled.

 

On life, and the passing into history of a year most(ly) dreary

Back in 1989, my friends Chris, Linda, Karen, Tamara and I were hanging out listening to music, as usual, in somebody’s dorm room at ESU.

At some point, we went to our dorm’s common room and flipped on MTV or VH1, and on came the video for The Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line.”

When the camera panned to show a guitar sitting in an empty rocking chair, it took us all a second to realize it was an homage to the late Roy Orbison. We sat silently as the symbolism sank in. For me, at least, it was a sobering moment (something I’m sure I needed more of in college, but that’s another story). I started thinking about death, the legacies we leave behind, and the struggles we all go through on our journey. 

I realized, then,  that “End of the Line’s” poppy, catchy structure belied a more profound meaning: You can waste your life wondering what other people think about you; you can waste your life sitting around hoping good things happen to you; you can waste your life dwelling on the past and worrying about the future; or you can accept the things you can’t change, live your life to the best of your ability and take your joy wherever you find it.

Sadly, 27 years later I still don’t always remember to live that message, but I try.

2016, by most accounts, has been an awful year. Divisive politics; the death of more icons than I care to list here; global atrocities; personal setbacks  … everyone seems to have a story from the year the music died.

It seems appropriate, then, to post the video and lyrics to “End of the Line” here. Think of it as a kind of tribute to those who’ve passed, a salute to those who are still on the journey with us, a send off to 2016 and a reminder that it’s all right – remember to live and let live, because the best you can do is forgive. It’s a message we can all carry with us into 2017. 

 

“End Of The Line”
Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please
Well it’s all right, doing the best you can
Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand

You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)
Maybe a diamond ring

Well it’s all right, even if they say you’re wrong
Well it’s all right, sometimes you gotta be strong
Well it’s all right, As long as you got somewhere to lay
Well it’s all right, everyday is Judgment Day

Maybe somewhere down the road aways (End of the Line)
You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days (End of the Line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (End of the Line)
Purple haze

Well it’s all right, even when push comes to shove
Well it’s all right, if you got someone to love
Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine
Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line

Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive (End of the Line)
I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive (End of the Line)
It don’t matter if you’re by my side (End of the Line)
I’m satisfied

Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and gray
Well it’s all right, you still got something to say
Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live
Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive

Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please
Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine
Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line