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Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I am now 40. Middle aged.

It’s midday and it’s already been a great day. I woke up to fresh made “Birthday Brownies” made by my brother. I went to the doctor and then–and this is the best news–I spoke with poet Terri Witek about Stetson University’s MFA in Creative Writing. We spoke for about 30 minutes about the program. I have to finalize my application and when I do that, I will start the program in January 2020.

Creative writing has always been a “side project” for me. By that I mean I have rarely thought about turning it into something beyond a serious hobby. Witek had great things to say about my poetry and said they are prepared to accept me into the program. This is great news! How often does one get to turn ones passion into something serious?

Beyond that, they seem very supportive and welcoming. That’s a breath of fresh air. Going into a program that is supportive where I can explore my creative passions is very appealing!

So, for my birthday, I got wonderful news: At 40, I can be a serious poet.

The Left/Right Dichotomy in 2019

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not voting for Trump. At the moment, I haven’t narrowed down who I’m going to vote for.

There’s problems on the part of each of the Left/Right Dichotomy, though, and that’s what I wish to discuss.

As a member of the Left, I have witnessed a certain movement: We used to look kindly upon, say, minority religions and make sure they had equal footing. As time wore on, this has turned into hating dominant groups, like Christianity, on the whole.

It’s not just religious groups, though. Any dominant group is generally hated most of the time. And call-out culture can be very toxic.

Too often, too, I’ve come across people who pay lip service to social justice and will speak vehemently against systems injustice. But these same people wouldn’t let you stay with them if you found yourself homeless.

So, much of the Left Wing rings hollow.

At the same time, however, the Right Wing has become more racist, bigoted and hateful. The majority who say they are Christian fail to embody Christian virtues of, say, charity and love. Too often, the Right Wing calls for The Ten Commandments to be placed in front of a courthouse instead of being the living embodiment of the beatitudes. Sure, they may help you. But if and only if you tow the line for their conservatism.

This leaves people like me socially homeless.

I do not lament this fact most of the time. Sure, it would be nice to have friends who are like-minded. But keeping my own integrity and self-respect is worth much more than simply being a part of a social group for the sheer purpose of being in a social group.

Whatever your background, I hope you aim to be a shining light in the world. It’s easy, really, to denigrate and destroy an opponent. It’s harder to move beyond the noise of the world and create something beautiful, unique and edifying.

Challenge yourself. Be a shining light. Lord knows we all need it.

Things Around the House: An Essay

I bought a new digital camera and the hunt began: find the right light and the right objects to photograph. Soon, it turned into a mission. Around I went, taking photos of objects around the house.

There was a theme: Very few of the objects I photographed were what anyone would call beautiful. They were dirty. They were grimy. They were used.

As I shopped for images, I began to think about the importance of this theme. They were very unlike the pictures we are flooded with on a daily basis. I took photos of the things we hide from others; the things we hate to see in others. Yet, as pieces of art, these are things I wanted people to see and embrace.

Soon, my artistic theme emerged strong. So did the philosophy behind it.

Ever since I was an undergraduate, over 10 years ago, I have thought of Martha Nussbaum as a friend. Granted, we do not know one another, but her work is so engaging—and often so intimate—that I feel as though we have a friendship.

In one of my favorite books by Nussbaum, Hiding from Humanity, she argues, among other things, that disgust does not necessarily track harmful things. Instead, it often tracks what we hate to see in others (and hide about ourselves) because it reminds us that we are vulnerable beings who get old, sick and die.

Confronting our humanity in all its grit is perhaps the most difficult thing we can do. It is also one of the bravest. While feelings of disgust and shame may seem natural and harmless on the surface, they have historically given rise to things like arguments against marriage equality. Thus, tempering our disgust and shame is not only brave—it can give rise to a more equitable world.

My photo project may not cure all the ills of the world. But I fully believe it can have an impact. Each of us can examine ourselves, the arguments we give and reactions we have. We can choose to embrace our own humanity and be comfortable with the humanity of others. Moving in this direction is radically different than what we are used to. It means we have to admit that we get grimy, dirty and not everything we own is brand new and shiny.

The wear and tear I photograph, along with the dirt and grime, allow us, if we accept them, to be courageous beings and create a more just world. That doesn’t mean not to strive toward health. It doesn’t mean to never take a shower. It means that it’s simply part of the human condition to get older, to get sick and to die.

Be brave. Embrace it.

John Frusciante’s The Empyrean is 10 Years Old!

I noticed the other day when I went over to John Frusciante’s website to see what’s new that The Empyrean is 10 years old.

Ten years ago, I was among the first to purchase this album at a little music shop in Deland, Florida. It’s a musty, dusty old music store. In other words, the best! They always have new releases like Frusciante’s.

I bought the album, drove back to Jacksonville listening to it, marked the songs I thought were great and promptly gave it away. I should not have given it away because I miss having it now and I may just re-purchase it.

Me in my Chili Pepper shirt.

Frusciante is selling a re-done vinyl record of The Empyrean now to mark the 10 year anniversary.

If you’re not familiar with his solo work, I do encourage you to give it a listen.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite covers by John Frusciante:

Toe Jam

Here’s a poem I wrote in high school. My mom reminded me of it last night. It’s called Toe Jam.

Toe Jam

Some say it’s slimy and gross
but I like to eat it on my toast.
They say it’s nasty. I tell them to scram.
I eat my toast with toe jam.

It’s the best when you first wake up
and take a sip of a fresh brewed cup.
Or eat it on a sandwich with a slice of ham.
There’s so many ways to eat toe jam.

Why eat things that cost more than they are worth
when you have something free that you’ve had since birth?
I eat things that say who I am.
I eat good ol’ toe jam.