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Triplet Homey Birthdays: Wise Guys!

[5-minute read.]
Some of my readers are family, but most of you won’t know who I’m talking about at all. You may think, Why should I read this? These people mean nothing to me. But I think they will. I suspect that you know gents kinda like these. Listen: they were good men. (One still is.)   

The end of July is reflection time – yeah hey, another one! Rumination. Ponderables. Wonderings and wandering attention, the occasional WHY and a whole posse of what-ifs. As July finishes baking, three sweet’n’sour birthdays follow one another, three days for three men that raised and sandpapered and marinated and confused and strengthened me. Do you know these guys, or men like ’em?

Today, my big brother is 6264. (Yikes! Nice math, Einstein!) We have the usual, the far-too-standard fraternal bond. We love the other guy but never mention it, unless you count the kind of merciless-but-never-toxic teasing that comes with confidence and a certain deep kind of knowing. We would do anything the other one asked, though we know he probably won’t request anything beyond a bed to sleep in or a pool table to move. We rarely call each other, and when we do there’s always a practical reason; we don’t write much, but are surprised at what a brother might say in an email and how good it feels to read it. Despite the obvious facts that we both love sport and are often more willing to explain things than some around us might prefer, I’ve always dwelt on noticing how different we are. I find myself chronically restless, incurably dissatisfied, and find Bill, my father’s namesake, eerily content. (I don’t believe in it, to be honest, but as the decades pile up, so does the evidence of his satisfaction. The guy seems to know what he likes and like what he knows! At a fundamental level, this strikes me as amazing. I can’t quite grasp it.) He’s a business man, good and smart with money, while I eagerly avoid thinking about cash and have most enjoyed work that mysteriously put monthly sums in my bank — or didn’t pay me at all. My brother signs cheques and legal documents with a painstaking, patient cursive signature where each letter is roundly formed. I practised a snazzy, jazzy penmanship designed to look good on the first page of the books I’ve never published and the autographs nobody asks for.

The longer I interact with the lying mirrors in my life, though, or actually listen to my own spoken rhythms, the more I’m forced to admit that we look and sound a lot alike. I still listen to music that he had fairly brief adolescent enthusiasms for, and well into adulthood have feverishly played (and later coached) sports that he taught me to play. I continue to dream of baseball; I presume he was my first pitcher and catch-and-throw partner, but it predates my conscious memory. (I do, however, bat from the opposite side of the plate than he did.) It was because of playing road hockey with him that I became a goaltender on ice. I had to learn not to lean to the right in shooting my first basketballs, once I’d gotten tired of being a slapshot target, because that’s the way he did it. Ask me to punt a football, and I’ll be inclined to slip off my shoe, since Bill hit his high boomers off a bare instep and I learned that way, too. Though I hit a golf ball only very rarely (and that from the goofy side of the tee), while Bill is an avid golfer, I have to admit that we’re more similar than I used to think.  I’ve spent a lot of time searching for brothers in my life. I think we all need brothers, and I’m glad, and still mighty curious, about the one that I was given. (Hello there!)

July 28, yesterday, marked the birth day of another guy who formed me.

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Pardon Me While I Kill Myself. (Please get a room of your own.)

So here’s why you and I should get stuff done.

Stories change.

The Germanwings plane disaster hit me hard because of one fact: 18 of the dead were from one high school, sixteen kids and two chaperones. I still don’t know for sure what they were doing in Spain, but it didn’t make the slightest difference to me: they were kids, teachers were with them, and that interaction has meant the world to me for much of my life, and life to me in most of my world. I’m an education guy. I’m a school freak. So I got writing. The emotional vein was rich, and I had it going. 613 words in, I knew where the piece was headed and how it would end. Powerful comparisons had been summoned, and hearty stories from my direct and tangential experience just needed a little more flesh. I was tired. Maybe a bit distracted. Probably could’ve finished, but close enough. The writing beast had been slain for another day. Well, badly wounded, anyway, so I knew it couldn’t run much farther.

Life intervened, though, and I couldn’t get back to the piece the next day, and didn’t the day after that. Not only was nobody waiting for the piece to be done – standardly lame working conditions for an aimless blogger – but my take, full of emotion though it was/is, wasn’t exactly a hot one. It was elegiac and backward-looking and somber. No rush, right?

And then the air disaster story changed for me, dramatically, with the reports of the co-pilot having done the deed purposely, by and for himself.

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Chuck Wendig (on weak & entitled men)

Chuck Wendig is funnier than I am, even when he’s pissed off. Especially then.

More Chuck/Howdy distinctions: Wendig’s funnier, more productive, less frightened of fiction, more joyfully profane and (allegedly) actually makes decent money as a writer. (I actually quite like him, though.) He writes a blog called Terrible Minds which is particularly aimed at writers, and secondarily at those who enjoy and consume fantasy and science fiction, whether electronically or by manual analog movement of stained wood-pulp tissues. (So-called “pages” within three-dimensional, sometimes weighty and sharp-cornered “books”. Weird stuff.) He has met Neil Gaiman. He has a writing shed.

But here’s how Chuck and I are brothers: he is the father of a little boy that he’s evidently fascinated by and cuckoo about; he believes in creativity and wonder; he has a thing for Margaret Atwood; he’s wacky about words (his writing is like steroid-enhanced psychedelic popcorn and, like mine, digresses wildly but with way more profanity and phrases like “shit-shellacked”, “jerky lackwits”, “a ranty, yelly, gesticulating mess of a screed” [about “arting harder”], and “a pair of toddler underoos spackled with mess”; AND, if you thought I’d never get to the point, like me he is often inclined to spew inflammable verbal dragon-venom when men are hateful towards women and their aspirations. Chuck Wendig is bloody merciless and absolutely off-his-nut indignant when men are whiny, machofeeble, femophobic and protective of illogical and illegitimate privilege. It enrages him. It enrages me, though less colourfully and NSFW-ish.

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Better Read Than Never: Albom’s TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE

Reviewed, in the usual not-even-trying-to-be-timely way:

Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom

Morrie Schwartz was good medicine, and he still is.

I was late hearing the news about the killing spree at the University of California at Santa Barbara, blessed in part by our cultural distance in China, to some degree by immersion in another project, and otherwise by finishing my re-read, on a recent Tuesday, of Mitch Albom’s 1997 publishing phenomenon. There aren’t many better prophylactics against the infections of toxic dismay, rampant disillusion and untargeted anger than this slender, absorbing memoir.

Adjusting the adjustor, guiding the guide.

Adjusting the adjustor, guiding the guide. Morrie’s study, and an especially famous hibiscus plant.

I’d been pretty quick, for a chronically tardy retro-reader, in getting to Tuesdays With Morrie the first time around. I was a high school teacher and basketball coach back then, and even best-sellerdom couldn’t discourage me from picking up a book with a subtitle like that.

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Men and Guns and Murdered Sleep

UPDATE: A shorter version of this piece, with a somewhat different focus and some extra authority, also appears at the Baha’i Teachings website.

I can’t help myself. I have to say something about Santa Barbara, but what to say that others haven’t about a young “man” – oh, how that word is mutating like attention-deficit cancer cells – who so pathetically, so enragingly, so outrageously, so pitiably, so hatefully, so sadly and so narcissistically wore all his grievances on his electronic sleeve. Then he found, what – not courage, for God’s sake – enough petulance-gone-mad, enough entitlement-gone-toxic, enough Internet-chutzpah-gone-fatally-virulent, to spew the tantrums of a deeply spoiled child with the sick can-do of an adult, and with the cold metal of “equalizers” that would never require him to face his victims as an equal. God help the innocent. God help us all to sleep, and to keep finding hope and goodness.

The numbers are hard to gather, let alone fathom. Just in the USA, some dedicated carnage-counters in the gun-addled States (the on-line magazine Slate, for one) throw out statistics that mainly seem to numb us. “35,000 gun deaths since Sandy Hook”. “A mass shooting every five days.” “90 American gun deaths per day.” And so on. More than half of these are suicides without the murder, it appears, since guns are the American way to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them… So yes, Hamlet, there’s that, but at a certain level of super-hero self-hatred, offing yourself just isn’t cinematic enough anymore.

But there’s more.

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Why Do Men Love Sports So Much?

Bill Simmons is one of the best sportswriters I’ve read. His prose pops with ideas, digressions and extrapolations. He churns out words at a high volume (especially in his book on the NBA, but also in his columns for Grantland, which can run to 10,000 words), but still manages to be graceful.

I’m a relative newbie in reading The Sports Guy. I’ve enjoyed reading pieces, by Simmons and the Grantland website’s “usual gang of idiots” (that’s a MAD Magazine reference, for you young’uns), that treat sports as something worth thinking about. (And mocking. And questioning. And loving, all the same.) From the start of this online discussion of sport and pop culture, indeed for his whole career, Simmons has been willing – eager – to rip off the mask of “objectivity” that supposedly marks the true “sports journalist”, and write as an unabashed fan. It’s no shock when a Grantland writer drop a fairly high-cult literary reference into a piece on doomed basketball franchises or tragic-comic ballplayers, but Simmons’s niche is emotion, plumbing the beer-sodden basements of “the agony of defeat”, and the dizzy champagne heights of joy and optimism, when the Good Guys win and whichever Evil Empire threatens them has been justly humiliated.

Simmons thrives on an unapologetic rooting for the laundry of all things New England and an amusing hatred for everything New York teams do and stand for. (See also: Lakers, Los Angeles.)

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Don’t Forget About the Boys

I did a little cosmetic surgery on an essay I wrote called “Boys Will Be Men”. It argues that gender equality is not only a matter of increasing opportunities for and confidence among our girls and women. Guys need help, too, especially if we are to raise generations of males who not only don’t resent women’s strivings, but actively embrace the work for equality between the sexes. It’s in “On Second Thought”, among a pile of mid-life guitar meditations, the “Old Dog Year”.

I Hate Men (Pardon My Language)

Well, today there was another one. Early reports on my local news had a guy dying, running from the flames of the home of his estranged wife, and I felt sick. I was pretty sure I knew what would follow. Yes, the woman was unaccounted for. More sickness: they’d had three kids. And soon we knew for a fact what my gut had already told me: that another weak and cowardly male had taken action. He had shaken his fist at fate. He had made his own destiny.

Well, congratulations, Super Commando. (I can’t stand to type your name. You are less than nobody.) You killed children. You murdered where you had pledged to love. Was there not enough porn-fed masturbation to get you through? Was the comparative dignity of killing yourself too big a leap? You couldn’t find the least fucking trace of imagination or guts? When your ex-wife was dead, when you’d spattered your children’s blood around the home you didn’t deserve, when you’d lit the fire that made ashes of a family, did you then try to run away? I think you did. I wonder where you thought you were going. You are the worst face of maleness – I will not call you a man – and I am disgusted to share your gender.

What can we take away from this? Anger and disgust are galvanizing, but they make a toxic stew. So I add my feeble prayer for one more woman and her children. I remember all the good men in my life, the rule that reproves this chicken-shit exception. And I guess that we all keep shuffling toward equality, but it’s been a rough day for it where I live.