Too Much

too-much-mailI remember several years ago having a talk with my supervisor at the time about mail. Specifically, we were talking about the sheer volume of mail he received every day, and he said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “We get so much stuff, I just get overwhelmed with it. I’m sure there have been good things that I’ve thrown away, but it’s just too much to keep up with.”

I’ve thought about those words often as the world keeps changing to bring us better and better access to nearly everything imaginable. There’s just simply too much stuff out there to take in. It flies at us from every direction every minute of every day. From our televisions, from our computers, from our cell phones, from our radios. We can’t even blame the professionals anymore. Suddenly, it seems everyone is capable of producing anything they put their minds to – albums, books, apps, podcasts, websites, movies, videos. You name it, we got it.

overloadIt’s just too much. Links to links to links to links to links. Independent music websites. Independent book publishers. YouTube. Hulu. Web series. Daily podcasts of programs that have already aired somewhere else. Spotify. Pandora. Online sites for newspapers and magazines you might have missed. Reviews of reviews of reviews. And the blogs. Blogs and blogs and blogs and blogs…

A lot of you reading this have been kind enough to follow this blog. I can’t thank you enough for that. Every follow notification I get is a tremendous encouragement to me, and lets me know I actually have something worthwhile to say. In all honesty, though, I’m not reading your blogs. I’ve looked at some of them, and they’re very nice, but there’s only so much information I can stuff into my tiny brain in one day.

So I’ve begun to cut some things out. For instance, if you post a video to your Facebook or Twitter feed that is “amazing,” “unbelievable,” “touching,” or “astounding,” I will more than likely not watch that video, since 99 percent of those videos I have watched are neither “amazing,” “unbelievable,” “touching,” or “astounding.” If an article is billed as “mind-blowing,” I’m skipping over it. If a video is “must-see,” it ain’t gettin’ watched by me. If an album doesn’t have at least one fast song on it, it will not be getting added to my collection. And so on and so forth…

I fully realize I could be missing some truly great stuff this way. Then again, I could be missing some truly great stuff by focusing on all these other things, too. Either way, I just can’t take it all in. And, in an odd way, having this many options has actually caused me to limit my horizons in some areas. Take music, for instance. With options like my iPod, Pandora, and Spotify, I can tailor the music I listen to into whatever categories I choose, which means I can basically not try anything new or out of the ordinary if I don’t want to.

I didn’t think this was a problem until I thought back one day to all the music I listened to in high school. Now, I’m more of a hard bobby brownrock/borderline metal kind of guy with bits of Americana mixed in, but back then I also thought Bobby Brown, LL Cool J, Young MC, and Enigma were pretty cool, too. And as poorly as some of that music has held up, it broadened my sense of rhythm and wordplay and electronic music. But I heard it all in the natural flow of life – radio, friends’ cars, sporting events. It was just there; it just happened.

It’s hard to believe I actually feel this way. I mean, a world of infinite possibilities should be awesome, right? I should be more knowledgeable than ever, able to snap off information in the blink of an eye. Instead, I read a really wonderful and insightful article the other day on the relationship between teenagers and social media, and now I can’t remember the name of the book it featured, the author of the book, or the website I saw the article on. Whatever I got from it is crammed into all the other bits of data I’m consuming nearly constantly.

So consider this my apology for missing out on all the wonderful work some of you may be doing. Maybe one day I’ll give you the attention you so richly deserve. In the meantime, I’ll just be over here sorting through the day’s mail and trying to decide what I should keep and what I should get rid of. The trash can is looking pretty full already…

 

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Falling Away

I sure do love me some March Madness. Wall-to-wall basketball for the better part of a month. If it’s not being played, it’s being talked about. Nobody mailing it in, every team playing their hearts out because they know it’s win-or-go-home. The best time of the year to be a basketball fan, hands-down.

freakout_1_-_1.0_standard_500.0I used to devote hour upon hour to watching every second of basketball I could during the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. I obsessed over my bracket every year, cursing the names of every losing team that made me look foolish for picking them to win. Much to the chagrin of nearly everyone around me, I was a Kentucky boy rooting (for no particular reason) for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Yelling at the television, throwing stuff, biting my nails… Yep, I was that guy.

I say all that in the past tense because I’m not really that guy anymore. I mean, I still watch quite a bit of the tournament, but I don’t feel very emotionally invested in it anymore. I still fill out a bracket, but I don’t really care what my overall record is once the dust is settled. Not only do I not root for the Tar Heels anymore, I don’t throw my support behind any particular team these days. I still care … but, then again, I don’t care. Know what I mean?

Maybe my slow fade from tournament junkie to semi-casual observer started several years ago when I read Alexander Wolff’s Raw Recruits during the breaks in a lengthy trial I had to cover for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Or maybe it began nearly 12 years ago, when my wife and I welcome our first child into the world and our lives and priorities got turned upside-down. Or maybe it was when I realized I was finally older than all of the players (and now I’m actually older than a lot of the coaches,too).

Whatever the case, I found myself sitting down to fill out a bracket this year and suddenly realizing I had no idea what I was doing. Even stranger, I wasn’t really bothered by that. I’m certainly not criticizing anyone still knows the starting five of every team or dresses up in their favorite team’s gear just to watch them on television. If your heart still lies there, I think that’s awesome. Somewhere down the line, mine sort of moved on … and I’m not entirely sure that’s such a bad thing.

All my life, I’ve heard that God will take things out of your life if He doesn’t think they’re fruitful. I’ve always envisioned that as Him having to pry whatever it was I was holding onto from my clutching, angry fingers as I kicked and screamed through the entire process. Whatever it was, it would be something I desperately didn’t want to give up, and He would cause me great pain and discomfort by taking it. After a while, with this mentality, it’s easy to start thinking that Christianity is less about joy and freedom and more about sucking all the joy out of life in an effort to conform.

As with most things in life, though, God needs to change the heart before he change the behavior. Had someone come to me and said, “Hey, you’re really obsessing too much over basketball. You need to stop watching so much.”, I probably would not have responded in a very compliant way. Stretched out over time, though, I saw my time going to other things – writing, kids, friends – that made me happy in my heart. And while I never lost my love for the game, I did lose that feeling that I had to be plugged into it constantly during tournament time.

There are certain things we’ll have to give up in life. For example, if you’re an alcoholic and you’re destroying your liver with booze every night, you will have to give up drinking. Something will have to move the heart away from the liquor store, however, before the body will follow. So from ending sports obsessions to chemical addictions to ingrained behaviors, the same madness is at work. The good thing is, it’s not just limited to the month of March.

Dumb Beginnings

fresh_prince_of_bel_air_will_smith_300x309Maybe one day I’ll figure out why certain random thoughts pop into my head. For instance, I’m taking a shower before work last week when, totally out of the blue, I think back to an old documentary I watched one time about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For no apparent reason, I remembered Will Smith talking about how embarrassed he was of his acting during the show’s first season and how hard he worked to improve over the course of the show’s run. I also remembered how he was basically the biggest movie star in the world at the time I watched that documentary.

Let’s face it, though: As much as I loved Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv (both of them), Carlton, Hilary, Ashley, and Geoffery, Fresh Prince wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. In fact, it was pretty dumb most of the time. As catchy as its theme song was (“I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air…”), I still cringe a little when I catch an old episode on cable and see Smith bobbing his head around while waiting for someone to answer the front door of the Banks’ mansion.  I actually kind of wonder if he does, too.

Thing is, I don’t know if we ever would have gotten Will Smith the movie star without Fresh Prince. I don’t think anyone was really thinking of Smith as an actor when the show began. Without it, though, we probably would never have seen the Will Smith of I Am Legend or The Pursuit of Happyness or even Hitch. I guess you could say, then, that a goofy beginning was actually the springboard into bigger and better things.

I’ve been working through the worthiness of doing things lately. I can’t tell you the number of things I’ve turned down in life because I thought they were silly or not worth my time. Do you know how many southern rock bands I could have joined over the years? Or how many writing contests no one has ever heard of I could have entered? Or how many jobs I never applied for because I felt they were beneath me? Or the number of books I never started because the plot lines suddenly seemed outrageously silly to me?

In all honesty, a lot of those things I just mentioned actually were pretty silly. I just couldn’t picture myself, for instance, standing on stage and playing bass through a set of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers covers. Nothing against those bands; it’s just not my thing. On the flip-side, though, right now I’m not playing bass for anyone, mainly because no one knows who I am from all those years of turning down opportunities. Not to wear out a cliché, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Thomas Merton, the American Catholic writer and mystic, once said, “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.” Somehow, I don’t think Merton was envisioning a kid from the streets of Philly moving in with his rich relatives, but many a silly idea has come forth from thinking this way. In some cases, though, the seeds of greatness have been planted in those very ideas.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to become a “yes man” and start agreeing to every crazy thing that comes along. I am going to try to be a jim_carrey_in_yes_man-HDlittle more open to new things, though. Write a few more awful songs. Start the freakin’ book I’ve been talking about on here forever. Take some freelance jobs I’m maybe not so passionate about, just to get the experience under my belt. That all may sound like some sort of weird self-torture ritual, but I’m beginning to think it’s more about progression, even if I feel like it’s all a complete waste of time.

I guess Smith may have sort of bombed out last year with After Earth, but who knows? Maybe we just witnessed the beginning of the second act of his theatrical career. Granted, it doesn’t include a rare cab with a FRESH license plate and dice in the mirror, but it might lead somewhere even swankier than Bel-Air.

To Duck It Or Not To Duck It

A week before Christmas last year, my wife, my 2-month-old daughter, and I found ourselves in a hospital room in Murray, Kentucky. My daughter had been hospitalized with pneumonia, and, needless to say, our circumstances had cast a pallor over the holiday season. Since there’s not much else to do in a hospital room, we watched quite a bit of television. With options running thin one night, we decided to see what all the fuss was about this Duck Dynasty show.

I know part of this could be attributed to feeling the need to laugh at anything just to take our minds off the situation, but my wifeZummo2 and I nearly had tears rolling down our cheeks by the end of the episode. I can’t remember all the particulars, but a major component of that night’s show had to do with family patriarch Phil Robertson buying an ice cream truck to sell his wife’s boudain out of. (By the way, I’m still not real sure what boudain is. I’ve seen it at Walmart, though, and it’s sort of scary looking.) I remember posting to Facebook that the show might be “the greatest thing ever on television.”

We don’t have cable television at home, and that particular episode is the only one I’ve ever watched all the way through. I cringe every time I walk by a rack of Duck Dynasty T-shirts or books or plush toys or beef jerky or whatever else someone slapped its name on. It still irks me that people call it a “reality show,” since it’s obviously scripted. Still, I have fond feelings for Duck Dynasty because of that one moment of relief it gave me last December, so I tend to give its secondary annoying aspects a pass.

Duck Dynasty Season 3It’s because of those feelings I feel like I should be writing about the controversy Phil Robertson suddenly found himself embroiled in this week. Just in case you’ve been living in a cave in the Himalayas somewhere, A&E – the network Duck Dynasty is broadcast on – suspended Robertson from the show “indefinitely” for comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine concerning homosexuality. (Quick question: What does it say about our society when a grimy dude like Robertson is being interviewed by GQ?)

To sum up quickly: Robertson is a Christian, and he believes homosexuality is a sin. He expressed this in the interview, even going so far as to paraphrase the apostle Paul’s well-known discourse on the subject from 1 Corinthians, and speculated on how acceptance of this sin could open the floodgates for others considered far worse by society, including bestiality. He also rather bluntly made some anatomical references to explain why men ought to prefer women sexually. The interview can be found in the January issue of GQ.

Of course, anyone who could string a sentence together and had an internet connection began blogging, posting, and tweeting all about the suspension as soon as it was announced. I think Facebook is up to about a billion “Support Phil Robertson” pages now, and it’s amazing how many people have suddenly become experts on the ins and outs of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I’m not sure who’s benefiting more from all the attention – Robertson, GQ, A&E, news outlets, Duck Dynasty, or the internet in general.

On the one hand, I don’t feel like I need to give a crap about any of this. For one thing, I’m not so sure A&E overstepped its bounds by suspending Robertson. He is basically an employee of the network, and it seems to me they should have the right to terminate employees who they feel reflect poor on the company. Robertson also said back in July he didn’t think he’d do the program much longer, and I’m sure he’s not hurting for money right now. Plus, it’s a freakin’ television show, so it’s not like it’s affecting the world all that much anyway.

Then again, there are aspects of the suspension that trouble me. My main concern has to do with my own beliefs: I think what Robertson said was dead-on. He even cited the scripture he was basing his comments on, so, in essence, A&E told Robertson that not only was he wrong, but Paul was wrong as well. GLAAD released a statement condemning Robertson’s remarks and referenced “what true Christians believe,” attempting to set themselves up as an authority on the Bible. The suspension is also a clear endorsement of the “born this way” belief, which, despite what organizations like GLAAD will try to put forth as fact, has never been clearly scientifically proven.

So while I want to stay out of the fray and write this off as some silly entertainment story, I find it difficult to ignore the implications here. A man has, essentially, been fired for a religious belief I happen to share. None of this affects me right now, but might it affect me in the future? Is the fact that I’m even writing this creating the potential for problems for me down the road? Are there going to be repercussions for me one day if I express my beliefs the way Robertson did? Call me an alarmist, but these are questions I’ve thought of this week.

Duck Dynasty is just a television show. Phil Robertson is just a man. A&E is just a cable network. I’m just some guy with a blog. Take it all for what you will. Just don’t take it too lightly. This ain’t just a man driving around an ice cream truck full of boudain anymore.

Perfect Quitters

I used to really like Jon Acuff. I stumbled across his Stuff Christians Like blog a few years ago during a season of my life when I was feeling jon-acuff-headshotpretty lost spiritually, and Acuff struck me as something of a kindred spirit. He was a Christian like me, but he was still able to step back and realize the ridiculousness in a lot of the things we do. In short, he seemed like a fairly regular dude.

Then things began to change. Acuff wrote a book with the same name as the blog, and his posts began to shrink in length. It became difficult to separate Stuff Christians Like the blog from Stuff Christians Like the book advertisement. Even worse, Acuff began to write more and more about “haters,” which I eventually realized were people who didn’t see things the way he did. All of that paled in comparison, though, to the changes that came once Acuff got a job with Dave Ramsey’s organization. He suddenly went from a relatable everyman to some kind of motivational guru, writing books about fulfilling your dreams and converting his blog to follow suit.

I pretty much stopped following Acuff altogether, so I nearly managed to miss the news that he had somewhat abruptly resigned from his dream job with Ramsey in late September. Of course, the supreme irony of the situation is that Acuff had written a book (still advertised on Ramsey’s website) titled Quitter, which is all about pursuing your dream job. No one seems to really know why Acuff did this, and the only response issued from Ramsey’s camp was one of surprise. The Stuff Christians Like blog seems to have disappeared for the moment, although Acuff continues to tweet like a madman about, well, basically nothing of much substance and has a new blog at acuff.me.

simmonscornIt’s a difficult tightrope to walk when you set out to help others by setting yourself up as an authority on something. Whatever his reasons for quitting may have been, Acuff couldn’t have been ignorant of (and I hate to repeat the word) the irony of his actions. The guy who was telling everyone else how to get their dream job just quit his. This is like catching Richard Simmons loading up plates and chowing down at the local Ryan’s Steakhouse. The reality doesn’t seem to match the ideology. It was a reality Acuff set up, though.

I’ve written a few posts on here about depression, and I received a lot of response from those. So much so that I considered just turning this into “the depression blog,” where that’s all that was discussed. I didn’t want to just go online and complain, though, so I found myself trying to drop in little encouraging tidbits here and there. People seemed to like it. Forget the blog; I was beginning to feel like “the depression guy,” someone who could become something of an inspirational voice for others.

And then my plan sort of went sideways. I had a couple of weeks where I didn’t feel particularly inspiring. Some of the bright and happy nuggets I had thrown out earlier didn’t seem to be working quite as well, to the point where I wondered if I had actually meant some of them. Maybe becoming “the depression guy” wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe being plain old, ordinary me would be a better idea.

The book of James in the Bible wisely advises, “Not many of you should become teachers … for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I don’t know what happened with Jon Acuff, but my suspicion is that maybe his dream job turned out to not be his dream job. Since he had already built his persona on achieving the dream, though, his backing out became nearly as awkward as his entry in. It has become my realization that setting yourself up as “the anything guy” bears a huge burden, because you’ve got to be that guy all the time. You’re not allowed to have doubts, bad days, or changes of heart; you have to be perfect.

So, in effect, I’m quitting on the dream of becoming the next great voice for those suffering from depression. Most days, I don’t know any more than you do. I may have a helpful bit of advice to toss out every now and then, but by and large I’m just going to be me. I am not perfect, but everyone with a mega-successful blog or talk show isn’t either. We’re all going to quit on something someday. Question is, will we have left ourselves enough room to do it?

Hero Up!

I think I’ve created a monster.super hero squad

My oldest son will be 7 years old tomorrow, and he has become a bona fide super hero nut. I now seem to spend the majority of my days answering questions about who (fill in the blank with super hero name)’s “main enemy” is. My house is now home to items such as Hulk Hands and Captain America costumes. Books brought home from the library about Bob the Builder or the Berenstain Bears have been replaced with titles like Hulk Saves the Day and Darkseid’s Revenge.

But what he loves more than anything is Marvel’s Super Hero Squad. As I type this, there is a box of Super Hero Squad party supplies at my house awaiting deployment during my son’s birthday party this Friday night. He would watch the cartoon on the Hub Network every afternoon, if we let him. I finally broke down and got him an account to play Super Hero Squad Online, which lets you control these child-friendly versions of Marvel super heroes and send them out on different missions, and now I get a full briefing every afternoon. I may as well be an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Cute as they are, it’s these enthusiastic rundowns of the day’s adventures that have been bothering me as of late. I wouldn’t say my son’s interest in all things super hero has become unhealthy, but he does talk about them an awful lot. An awful lot. As someone whose own head is full of seemingly useless facts and information, I worry he’s not spending his time and energy on truly useful things. I wish sometimes he would talk to me more about wanting to build things or what he want to be when grows up or about God or really anything besides the Super Hero Squad.

You know where gets this from, though? Right here. Me.

I still have a box full of comic books in my closet. I made my very pregnant wife wait in a long line of comic book geeks several years ago just so I could see the first Spider-Man movie on opening night. In fact, I still have my Secret Wars Spider-Man action figures (Traditional costume and black symbiote, thank you very much.). I’m playing Marvel Avengers Alliance on Facebook, and I’m at a higher agent level than I care to admit here. And I am so, so jealous of all the cool super hero stuff my son has access to these days. I would have bankrupted my parents (or tried to anyway) if it had all been around when I was growing up.

We have a family tradition now where I take each child out to celebrate their birthday – just me and them. I have a Chevy S10 pickup truck, so there’s only one other seat besides mine. This means if you ride with me you’re the center of attention. I took my son out this past weekend, and our conversation inevitably ventured into super hero territory. I was beginning to feel that familiar discomfort when I suddenly realized something I had never thought of before: My son was talking to me about something he was interested in.

I loved my dad, and he did a lot of things for me. He coached my baseball team for a couple of years, even though he didn’t really know that much about baseball. He worked hard to provide for me. I don’t ever remember talking to him about comic books, though. I’m not sure why, but we somehow never made that connection. And now, all these years later, my son is trying to make the same connection with me, and I’m worried about it?

There are thousands of stories out there about dads and sons who never learned to talk about anything. They just don’t understand each other. While it may seem juvenile and unproductive and silly, I understand comic books and what makes them so appealing. And somewhere in his 7-year-old brain my son understands that Dad actually thinks the Super Hero Squad is pretty cool, too. Sometimes you don’t get to choose the connection; sometimes it chooses you.

So instead of powering down, maybe it’s time for my hero up. It’s what any good squaddie would do.