Friday, February 25, 2011

Poem Excerpt

I'm sorry
I'm too busy
Trying to control
The bleeding from
The exit wounds
Of the last few things you said
To respond with words that might
Appease you

If such words exist at all

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Failing this bad is an art form; you should see some of my previous work. I’ve left wrecks they could write an article about in Time magazine, or that would make an episode of Entertainment Tonight. If people got paid for this stuff, I’d be a billionaire.

The method is simple: be hopelessly empty inside.

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. VI. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-man.

Friday, February 18, 2011


This one time, when we were little, playing by the big tree, Danny poured dirt in my sister’s ear, and she got a earache, and had to go to the doctor, and themergency room, and Danny got in trouble, and groundeded. But I didn’t get in trouble, even if I did say to do it.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. V.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Farewell Letter

23 February 2009

Dear N---,

Before you leave our family for good, I want to let you know that, for all the good and bad times between us, you were a very important part of our family while you were here.

We both know why it had to end, but we'll remember it in our own ways. Maybe you'll never feel like your home was here; maybe you'll never really know what we were trying to do, or the kind of parents we wanted to be. Maybe you'll try to forget us, and maybe later you'll say you hate us for sending you home early. I can't change any of that.

Regardless of how you might feel about Mom and me, never ever forget the kids. They will never forget you, and you will always be their brother, no matter how old you all get or how far away you may be. They were not part of the problems we had, so if you have any bad feelings at all, don't blame them. They love you. Please love them back.

So now as you head back home, you'll have lots of time to think about what happened, and why things happened the way they did. I'm all done lecturing you on rules and telling the truth--don't worry. Nothing can change what's already happened.

But now you have a future to think of.

During your six months with our family, I think I've seen many parts of who you are. I've seen your soft, boyish side who likes cartoons and comic books. I've seen the way you get along with kids, and play with the dogs. I've seen how smart you are, when you really want to understand something. And I've seen what you are willing to sacrifice to get what you want.

Not all of these pieces make the whole person you are, but they are all parts of you. Not all of these pieces fit together well, either.

Soon you will be a man. I don't know what your culture teaches about manhood, but I'll tell you what I believe. Being a man means owning all the pieces of who you are. It means even if you don't understand a part of yourself, you don't pretend it isn't there, and you take responsibility for the things it makes you do, whether they're good or bad. It also means growing--seeing when something is bad, and learning what to do about it.

Every person has to go through this, man and woman. But it's especially important for a man. So many forces will tear you apart as you become an adult--sex, friends, career, family--and you will not be allowed to fail. Pay attention to how the world sees men--those who succeed, and those who don't. Don't think you will succeed all the time, because you won't. Don't fear failure--it will come whether you like it or not. How you deal with it will make the difference. Will you let your failures beat you? Will you stop trying to be better?

You should know that ignoring a failure or problem--pretending it doesn't exist--does not make it go away.

There is also a time in every man's life when he must realize that he is alone in the world, and no one else can be held responsible for his actions. You are near this time. Yes--you will always have people around you who will love you, and help you--but the longer you rely on them to make problems go away, or fix what went wrong, the longer it will take before you are truly a man.

I believe in you, N---. I know that you can succeed in life, if you really want to. I know you have what it takes to survive when others would fall. But you must know fully who you are, and accept every part of yourself, before that can happen.

I wish you all the best in life. Though today might not be the best day, it will end and better days will come. You will be in school very soon, doing things that will start a whole new life. You will be with friends again. And best of all you will be home, home with your family who loves you more than anything.

We will miss you, N---, all of us. Make the best of the lessons life gives you, keep rolling no matter what. Because I know that once you find the right direction, you will be unstoppable.



Friday, February 11, 2011

Untitled 55

"Take it down, then," she mumbled. "I don't even care anymore."

John looked sidelong at the old photograph. It was a happy couple: a handsome man, now a stranger, and John's wife, who, while not much older than her photographed version, looked considerably more aged as she sat weeping at the table.

"Nevermind," he sighed.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. IV.

The List

I recently bought a new CD, my first in a long time: Rosanne Cash's The List.

The story behind this album is that, after graduating high school, Rosanne went on tour with her dad, the legendary Johnny Cash. In a conversation with him about music, he kept mentioning songs, to which Rosanne would reply, "I don't know that one." It happened frequently enough to disturb the Man in Black to the point of jotting a list he called "100 essential country songs." The songs on my new CD are thirteen items on that list.

In the liner notes (a main reason I still love the actual, physical media), Rosanne mentions the songs as part of her musical geneology: those songs which came before and helped shape the songs she'd discovered and loved in her own time. I have to admit: of the thirteen, only two of the songs are familiar to me, and all of them are somewhat obscure (in my limited musical experience) and not exactly my genre of choice. However, if Johnny Cash made the list, and Johnny's in *my* musical geneology, then obviously every song he thought of that day on the tour bus is also part of mine.

This led me to think of making my own list, and as I drove my daughter to her dance class last night, the need for this was confirmed. I put on the CD and had her listen to Heartache by the Numbers, a duet Rosanne sings with Elvis Costello. The song itself is catchy enough, and their version includes such a deep and rhythmic guitar solo I thought for sure the little girl in the back seat would find something to appreciate. When it was all over, she said to me, "What's so special about that?"

My dear girl, you are *so* missing out.

And so I present my list of 100 Essential Rock Songs. It isn't so much a list of songs essential to understanding or appreciating rock (I'm vastly underqualified to make such a list), but those songs which have helped define and shape the person I've become, at least up until now. They all have some special quality or meaning that I consider essential, and therefore all have at least a small connection to my Core.

Don't flame me; I know there are egregious, almost criminal omissions. About half the list popped spontaneously into my head during the remaining ten minutes of the car ride to dance class, and had to be reconstructed later. About a quarter of it came from a quick perusal of the musical library on my computer, and the rest came from sources outside my immediate reach, because, though I can certainly come up with 100 songs I think are amazing and awesome, I know there are songs that have shaped me which I own no copies of, and haven't heard in many years, so I went looking for some of those. Some of these are personal favorites, some are what I think is representative of the artist's work, and some are truly what I consider "essential" in one's musical exposure. Certainly each meets at least two of these criteria. On the obvious omissions, I've concluded that 100 are not enough, and even if it were, everyone's 100 would be different than everyone else's. I invite any of my three or so readers to make a comment and add their own full or partial lists.

I'm cheating a little; where multiple artists are listed, I imply that each artist's version of that song should be listened to, contrasted, and appreciated separately. With all due humility, here is my list:

2. Almost Cut My Hair, Crosby, Stills & Nash
3. Am I Evil, Metallica
4. And it Stoned Me, Van Morrison
5. Aqualung, Jethro Tull
6. As I Am, Dream Theater
7. Back in Black, AC/DC
9. Black Magic Woman, Santana
10. Blue on Black, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
12. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
13. California Dreamin, Mamas and Papas
14. Cemetary Gates, Pantera
15. Come on in my Kitchen, Robert Johnson/Allman Bros. Band
16. Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne, Tribute to Randy Rhoades album
17. Cult of Personality, Living Colour
18. Descending, Black Crowes
19. Do You Feel Like We Do? (Live), Peter Frampton
20. Domino, Kiss
21. Dream On, Aerosmith
22. Eight Miles High, Byrds
23. Even Flow, Pearl Jam
25. Everything is Broken, Dylan/R.L. Burnside/Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
26. Fearless, Pink Floyd
28. Fire And Rain, James Taylor
29. Flying High Again, Ozzy Osbourne/Tribute album
30. Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash
31. Guitar Shop, Jeff Beck
32. Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Credence Clearwater Revival
34. Holy Diver, Dio
35. Hotel California, Eagles
37. I Am the Highway, Audioslave
38. I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan/The Band/Nina Simone
40. Imagine, John Lennon
41. Instinct Blues, White Stripes
43. Kashmir, Led Zeppelin
44. Knocking on Heaven's Door, Bob Dylan/Guns N Roses
45. Life By the Drop, Stevie Ray Vaughn
46. Light My Fire (full length), The Doors
47. Lines in the Sand, Dream Theater [1,2]
48. Lithium, Nirvana
50. Living' on a Prayer, Bon Jovi
51. Mama Told Me (Not to Come), Three Dog Night
52. Manda Una Señal, Maná
53. Master of Puppets, Metallica
54. Maybelline, Chuck Berry
55. Mellissa, Allman Bros. Band
57. Nights in White Satin, Moody Blues
58. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, George Thorogood
59. Pack Up, Eliza Doolittle
60. Piece of My Heart, Janice Joplin
61. Purple Haze, Hendrix
63. Rock This Town, Stray Cats
64. Roundabout, Yes
65. Runaway, Del Shannon
66. Sea of Heartbreak, Gibson/J. Cash/R. Cash-Springsteen
67. Slaves and Bulldozers, Soundgarden
68. Sledge Hammer, Peter Gabriel
70. Something Beautiful, Lynn Miles
71. Sometimes, Ours
72. Somewhere Down A Lazy River, Robbie Robertson
73. Space Oddity, David Bowie
74. Star Spangled Banner, Jimi Hendrix
75. Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles
76. Sweet Baby James, James Taylor
77. Sweet Child O' Mine, Guns N Roses
78. Sweet Euphoria, Chris Cornell
80. That's Alright Mama, Elvis Presley
81. The Distance, Cake
82. The Flame, Cheap Trick
83. The Great Gig in the Sky, Pink Floyd
84. The Pretender, Jackson Brown
85. The Weight, The Band
86. Think About Your Troubles, Harry Nillson
87. Thinking Of You, A Perfect Circle
88. Trouble, Coldplay
89. Voodoo Child, Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughn
90. Walking Blues, Robert Johnson/R.L. Burnside (acoustic/electric)/Eric Clapton
91. Wander This World, Johnny Lang
92. War Pigs, Black Sabbath
93. Welcome to my Nightmare, Alice Cooper
95. Whipping Post (Live recommended, not required), Allman Bros. Band
96. White Moon, White Stripes
97. White Room, Cream
98. Yesterday, The Beatles
99. You Got It, Roy Orbison
100. You Know I'm No Good, Amy Winehouse

Much thanks to the posters on YouTube, and apologies for possibly crappy versions of otherwise amazing songs. I found what I could, knowing these links may all be dead someday anyway.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Score

It's a few days late; so sue me.
FFF-55 Vol. III.

* * * * *

They met in secret to settle a score. The rules were simple: no weapons, no friends, first to submit is the loser. Neither wanted to do it this way, but there seemed no other choice.

The date arrived and the men met. Not a punch was thrown.

They left the bar hours later, as brothers.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Manhood

Here is what I am: a man.

These simple three letters define a conflicting myriad of roles and responsibilities, of strengths and weaknesses, of truths and lies, of affirmations and contradictions. I cannot hope to elaborate on enough of these in a single entry to describe the full extent of a man's burdens, but I hope to explore enough of the surface of this vast sea to better understand and explain myself, if only a little.

By nature, all humans are conflicted. C.S. Lewis wrote (from the perspective of an experienced demon tutoring a novice in the ways of harvesting souls),
"Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal....a revolting hybrid... As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change."
Though I haven't yet finished the book, what Screwtape undoubtedly omitted from his letters is the fact that, among humans, men in particular are affected by a potent mix of social and biological pressures and expectations. I am sure that, armed with this information, and pertinent details, any of our own Wormwoods have a solid chance at tempting us away from our intended paths. I know mine has on thousands of occasions. It's something I struggle with every day. I've written a little on this before.

(I know that women are perhaps torn by a different, maybe even more potent, mix of pressures and expectations, but being male, I must leave that for others to explore.)

To be sure, men have gained a certain reputation in most (all?) of the cultures that have populated the earth characterized by their especial weaknesses, in particular their vulnerability to Lust. It's no use denying it, even though most polite adults do every day. No matter how elevated a society, or a man's role in that society, as soon as he falls victim to this vulnerability, everyone acts like it was inevitable, or praises him on his former chastity, but alas, now he's just like all the rest. Such a pity. So long as he is born with the typical cocktail of biochemical influences, no level of social upbringing or education can save a man from this, and no level of respect or status or social rank will excuse him once he falters. This is in the news every single day, and no adult that I know, of any gender, can claim to have been unaffected by this (negatively in every case) at some point (or several points) in their lives.

Another burden unique to men is their expectation to provide. Now, I am a firm believer that our bodies and brains were designed to make this easier for us than for women, at least when this involved defending a village from aggressors or killing next week's main course. To an extent, we are still at this stage. Most of the world's military forces are male, and while a person of any gender can become educated and employed sufficiently to support a family, in some cases abundantly so, men have been given a characteristic motivation to do so, and the complementary capacity to beat themselves up when they perceive that they're failing. Society is no less forgiving. It's no secret that a man who is not the breadwinner of his family must distinguish himself in extraordinary ways to be respected as much as men who are. Nor is it a secret that women who take this role in two-adult households are often be stereotyped as agressive. This is magnified when the household includes children.

Men are judged on their ability to meet the expectation to provide, in some cases harshly, by both women and other men, particularly those who are seen/see themselves as better providers than the subject of their disdain. Traditional views sometimes go so far as to bestow special distinction to those who can (or cannot) meet this expectation to a great degree, or despite uncommon challenges. Where I come from, for example, men who really screw this up even get titles such as "deadbeat" and "loser" which enhance the perception that, again, nobody was surprised at that man's failure. The worst judges against this imposed standard are the men themselves. Many men who cannot meet a certain, internally and externally defined, level of success as providers often fall victim to their vices, such as addiction and gluttony, which of course leads to other personal and social failures. No amount of effort to provide, even for himself alone, is worth anything to a man unless it meets or exceeds this minimum level. Unfortunately for many, the resources a man has to meet that level can sometimes be out of his reach; sometimes the very cause of denial of resources to a man is his inability to meet other social expectations.

Suffer in Silence
A man is expected to carry his own weight, and not only be able, but willing, to carry the weight of others. He is expected to do so without complaining, at least publicly. Hiding one's emotions, indeed, feigning indifference or agressive passion, is viewed as a strength. A man who does not meet this expectation is given many labels that are not suited for polite discussion, but everyone uses on occasion. We are given countless examples against which to measure the men around us--cowboys and athletes and magnates and soldiers (who says the modern hero is dead?)--and as men, are we constantly comparing ourselves to others. Though a mark of maturity is the tendency not to indulge in such self-defeating behavior (there is always another man nearby who trumps us in one way or another, so losing a one-on-one comparison is inevitable), we still do so quietly, privately, because we know the people around us are doing the same thing.

To meet these many challenges, to succeed in being 'manly,' a man is rewarded with society's admission into a fraternity of common nobles who are all allowed, for the moment, to make the statement: I am a Good Man. To fail to meet those challenges, even a little, relegates a man to a lower level of acceptance, depending on how grossly he falls short. It's usually acceptance of some kind, yes, but the kind that make everyone smile politely then turn away in disgust. Society wants us to make the grade, but looks at us when we fail like a coach looks at a player who's made a game-killing mistake. "No fraternity for you, but we really didn't expect anything different. Try again later...but for now get out of my face."

I am not above any of these influences myself. Indeed, most of my ability to explore and discuss them comes from suffering numerous failures, and my conclusions on how to either hide the things about me perceived as weaknesses or enhance (or feign) development of those things considered strengths. I have even discussed some of this with my own growing boys, not necessarily because I have these expectations of them (though some of them I do), but because I don't want them to be confused (or, God forbid, humiliated) when they realize the world around them does.

The deepest truth here is that all these criteria, all these definitions, of how a man is ultimately seen by society, and sees himself, come from my own personal expectations of myself. I am plagued by Lust. I pressure myself to provide materially and emotionally for my family. I ignore or deny most of the pains endured along the way. I fear judgement, especially by those I love, especially from other men, whether they are important in my life or strangers. Maybe I'm not as mature as I ought to be; I certainly have reason to fear. I fail in one aspect or another at being the Man I want to be nearly every day, and I don't want anyone to know it. I know the nature of love is acceptance, but because I am a man my programming overrides much of my willingness to show my True Self to those around me, despite their claims that it won't affect how they view me as a person, as a partner, as a father. And because I am human, I am imperfect: I make mistakes and don't want anyone to know about it.

But my humanity is no excuse, not when Society is the Judge.