Sunday, May 24, 2015

These years...

Half a decade has passed since I have written here, and for good reason. My last post marked the end of our time in Marietta and our return to the Athens area. So much has changed. So, so much has changed. So much has been won, damaged, ignored, celebrated, examined, and done. Yet so much is ahead. And I have learned, in some very hard ways, to make sure I receive the lessons given to me by the experiences I have had (or haven't):

• When you give yourself away, you actually have to give. It's not enough to be there (though that would be a good start).

• Style of delivery matters. When we speak harshly, the receiver's soul is pierced. When things are really important, we want to pierce the soul. When they're less important, a massage or a pat on the butt can work wonders. But man, it's tough to manage your tone when you're stressed or hurt, tired or hungover, pissed or embarrassed.

• Most of the time, our bodies don't need nearly as many chemicals as we put in them. It can be very hard to be yourself when your body doesn't feel like it should.

• I thought I had some understanding of love before we had our daughter. I was wrong.

• We all like to think that we're independent. Some of us actually are. But most of us can be made much better by believing and being believed in by someone special to us.

• The worst failures in our lives aren't those of judgement or willpower. They are failures of imagination, the failure to grow, the failure to be our best, and the failure to accurately express ourselves to the people who need to know precisely how we feel.

• We usually think of "having a filter" as being able to manage what we say. But the filter behind the ear is at least as important. Knowing what to believe, what to reinterpret, and what to discard can make a profound difference in the outcomes of our lives.

• I have cried a good bit in my life. But I have never cried like I did when I realized that I hadn't been completely open when it mattered. I am never going to let that happen again.

• We are supposed to explode, to experience ecstasy, and to revel in the harmless mess it surrounds us with. Anything that keeps you from being that, from being uninhibited needs to be addressed as a matter of dire importance. We only get to do this once, and we'd better experience being universal while we can.

• This one comes from a friend... If you have the courage to take a bullet for someone you love, then you sure as hell have the courage to tell the truth, argue, and makeup with some enthusiasm.

• Lastly for today, here's a little wisdom from late night: It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention. - Conan O'Brien

Saturday, July 10, 2010

[Insert the tired comment...

about never blogging any more here.]

Next Monday morning, Meghan and I will be ending our usually awesome two-year stint in Marietta. We'll be moving to Winder for a number of reasons, including Meghan's new job in Gwinne++. That Monday will mark the first time since the mid-1990's that I will live in a home that is not attached to another person's home.

After realizing that this move was going to happen, the human consequences of that reality set in quickly. There was a bit of sadness over the fact that it will now take us 50 minutes to do that which we have been able to do in 15 minutes or so for the last 24 months. As time has moved on, I believe I have begun to feel that mourning our new locale is pretty cynical. Our lives are woven quite permanently into the lives of many around our Cobb County home. Dont think that a few exits on a Georgia interstate are going to keep us from the people we care about. Plus, he upside of this move is very big for both of us.

As the fog of moving has set in, I have begun to think that the real discomfort of moving is less about the packing, and the boxes, and money. The real issues are in the disruption, the unfamiliarity of your new world corner, and the shock that shifting your quarters can bring about. This evening I walked from my office to the front of my dresser in my bedroom in near complete darkness. The comfort that allows that to happen only follows the lessons learned from the bruises of a new place.

I look forward to a point in the not-too-distant future where we can stay somewhere long enough for it to become and remain home.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Entry

I suppose Christmas is a special enough occasion to warrant a rare blog entry. I don't know exactly why I'm writing, I just am.

The entire Christmas season is obviously exceptional in a number of ways. The way it tends to strike me most is how it always manages to bring about in me an inventory of my own life. I don't know that I really begin drawing judgments about where I stand until New Year's Eve is next on the agenda. But I do tend to take notes about where I am and who and what are around me as Christmas approaches. I think this is the case for a couple of simple reasons.

In my family at least, the celebration of Christmas tends to be a consistent exercise from one year to the next. The tree goes up on Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter. The shopping follows, the wrapping is next. General nostalgia and warm fuzzies follow. Real life shuts down a couple of days before the holiday begins unofficially with the arrival of friends and family, and officially (in my family) with a trip to church on Christmas Eve, whether I've been in the last year or not. Somewhere on or around Christmas Day, big meals are shared with people whom I don't see often enough and gifts are exchanged. When no huge events are taking place, football games between unlikely teams take place in unlikely locales on the nearest television screen. A minor letdown bridges the gap before the New Year's holidays. A major letdown accompanies the boxing up of Christmas and the realization that the only thing left is twelve more cold, miserable weeks before spring arrives. The order or exact locations may vary from year to year, but each Christmas is basically the same.

I have mentioned this in a different context before, but that sameness over time makes the changes our lives undergo far more obvious at this time of year. When a family member is added to the mix, it is particularly notable at Christmas. When someone is gone, their absence is certainly most strongly felt at Christmas. Be those changes a new home, a new scar, a new wife or daughter, or a new void left by a former spouse, parent, friend, or familiar landmark - the changes our lives endure become most obvious to us at the times when all else in our lives is familiar. For my family and many like mine, that time of familiarity is Christmas.

And so I have thought much over the last few weeks about those changes. I smile when I think about the positive changes, crowned obviously by the addition of my wife to my life and my family. We are also lucky enough to have a sweet dog whom we love very much, nephews who grow at an unreasonable pace, and a home which provides much more (though not enough) space than either of us has enjoyed before. I am also particularly mindful at this time of year of those things that have changed for the worse. Be it recently or long ago, the people who have left us have left a void that is most memorable right now. I always think of my maternal grandfather (Big Daddy) at this time of year, because he was a part of my first 23 Christmases. He continues to be missed.

I also tend to reflect on the fact that many of the things that have not yet changed will do so in coming years. The things that I know that are likely to change are the things that make me most emotional at this time. It is clearly a waste to allow my holiday to be darkened by things that haven't yet happened, when the nearest thing to an antidote to those changes is the simple appreciation of the present. So I don't.

But for me, it is worth a modicum of emotional cost at this time of year to consider the ways in which life has changed and will surely change. The end result is always a deep appreciation for my life and world exactly the way it is. That is something worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cleaning out the picture drawer

After working on arrangements for the last week that have nearly written themselves, I am suddenly struck with the task of writing an arrangement of a tune that refuses to make itself idiomatically compatible with the marching band medium. (Extra credit: Count the unnecessary or extraneous words in the previous sentence. How about the one after that?) I have just plugged iPhone into the computer, and I noticed that there were several pictures that I haven't shared.

Here's me after surgery last November. The excess fat around my chin is from the anesthesia and not - I repeat, not - from eating Wendy's at every available opportunity over the previous eight months.

I'm not sure if this was my surgeon's attempt to provide me with affirmation by osmosis or his way of branding me with the name of his favorite prog rock band.

Izzie the Dog on the day we brought her home, before she was infected with the seed of Satan.

Fred Norton on January 3 in his car waiting in the eastbound lane of Roswell Rd. at the intersection with Johnson Ferry Road. He did not see Meghan and me waiting in the westbound lane, and luckily was not picking his nose.

My writer's room at NSAI on my first trip back to Nashville last winter.

Sunset behind River Street in late January, shot from Hutchinson Island in Savannah.

Izzie the Dog last February, napping with (and consequently not biting) her mom.

A calzone and a beer in front of me at the 'Shroom.

A photo of myself (times what, eight?) beneath the Cloud Gate sculpture, AKA "The Bean", in Chicago last spring.

An accidental encounter with Governor Mike Huckabee outside Fox News studios while walking from Radio City Music Hall back to Times Square.

From May, my nephew Landon's photograph of me some three minutes after my getting out of bed.

From about two weeks ago, this was the result of my nephew Carter's preference for meringue over banana pudding.

My dog's spelling isn't very good, but she is smart enough to be able to navigate the maze of paperwork necessary to start a small business in North Carolina. From our honeymoon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Big Day

As is frequently the case when I bother to acknowledge my poor neglected blog, I am sitting in Athens at Walker's waiting on something to happen. My surroundings look rather normal. My large Dancing Goats coffee with a shot of vanilla is on my left along with my keys, sunglasses, iPhone, and cashless wallet. My bulky computer bag, spilling over with peripherals necessary for the expedient arrangement of music, is on my right. The coffee shop or bar is half filled with other people who were too early or too late to be wherever they should be. And they are more or less oblivious to what is happening at my table.

What is happening is some combination of trembling and nervous motion. I have always wondered why people got nervous before their weddings. I always attributed it to some sort of concern about the result of doing something permanent. I have thought that it must be a similar feeling to that of signing one's name on the loan document for their first new home. The magnitude of the event, the feeling of potential doom, or a hybrid of the two seemed to make sense.

What I think I'm realizing is that the feeling is less about the event and more about the details - the worry that the caterer will arrive on time, that the musicians will be prepared, that the church will be unlocked and the air conditioning will work, that you don't accidentally bring up someones divorce or someone else's alcoholism in your toast. The nerves are all about the insignificant minutiae of a day that is all about a large thing.

I have always worried that, when and if this weekend ever arrived, I would be wracking my brain trying to find reasons to go through or not go through with the ceremony. I have worried that the inner struggle would not be about the ceremony but would rather be about if the ceremony is a good idea.

I am very happy to report that this hasn't even entered my mind. In a strange way, the most urgent yet completely insignificant issues are about everything but the woman who will be my wife in a little over twenty-six hours. Please don't interpret that to mean that she is either unimportant or has not been considered in this process. In fact, she has been so thoroughly vetted, theoretically torn apart and reassembled, and tested that I simply am not worried about the big questions.

I have known for quite some time that this is where we were headed. And as you would expect of me, I have tried to find any and every reason why we shouldn't get married and have come up empty. I don't really like to claim that any deity does anything for any reason that I can understand. It seems awfully presumptuous of me to insist that God, the Universe, or The Matrix has anything specifically in mind for me - at least it seems presumptuous to do so out loud. So I will simply insist that this is as close to perfect as it gets.

We fight - not frequently, but we do fight and we do so with sharp words, deft flanks, and lethal aim. We get irritated with each other, she with my tendency to leave my life lying about on all available flat surfaces and me with her seeming belief that life is tidier than I have learned that it is. We have conquerable issues that we do not pretend to control but that we know will have to be managed forever.

For every deficit that her flaws create, there are ten advantages to which those flaws are essential. What I identify as naivete is the trait that permits her to walk up to a stranger and ask a question. It's the trait that sees the beauty in my work when I have paralyzed myself in thought. It opened my ears to music I had not heard before, and brought me the additional love of a dog without whom I now can not imagine living. It says "why not." It gets me out of bed. It sees green when I see black and plenty when I see famine.

I don't always do a tremendous job of telling Meghan how completely changed I am because of her. While I know I need to do a better job of this, I believe I am currently proving the point that words suck at doing so. Fortunately for me, it would be awfully difficult for her to back out at this point. So I don't mind telling anyone who bothers reading this that I am more terminally in love than I ever imagined I could be. I will do my best to play it cool around you, but the truth is that it's that really gross, sappy, "awww"-inducing, quit-your-job-and-leave-town, run-out-in-front-of-a-bus, permanent, Saturday-under-the-covers kind of love. And what's even better, it's not love in spite of something. Under different circumstances, Meghan would have been the girl I would have cheated with.

And I wouldn't have felt guilty about it either, because it would have been the right thing to do. Thankfully, that won't be necessary. As of about 2:25pm tomorrow, I will have gotten it right the first time... after thirty-five years of false starts.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

My TV Dad

Meghan and I were at dinner in Athens with Mom and Dad this evening, surveying the potential menu for our rehearsal dinner and catching up. In a random moment in mid-conversation, Mom seemed suddenly to come to her senses and said, "And, Oh Brett! Dan Miller died!"

As a child, I was a bit more enamored with television than would even today be considered acceptable. My first early computing experiments were with a database of prime-time television schedules for the broadcast networks. I daydreamed, before thinking of writing songs, of writing scripts for sitcoms. And at four-years old, I could identify the weekday, weekend, and daytime news personnel for the NBC affiliate in Nashville. For most of my life that list was literally and figuratively anchored by Dan Miller.

He left the station for a few years in the 80's to pursue bigger and better things in L.A. Among them was the role of sidekick in the short lived "Pat Sajak Show" which aired opposite Carson (Sajak was one of the weathermen at the same station when I was very young). Miller later returned to Nashville, and quickly resumed his role as the broadcasting patriarch of the Music City.

For me and many my age who had the privilege of growing up in Greater Nashville, Dan Miller was a trusted face in the midst of used car salesmen on local news. He had a soothing yet authoritative voice, a calming demeanor, and an honest face. The fact that he was similar in appearance to my father reserved a special place in my mind for him. Throughout my own childhood, I thought of Dan Miller as my TV Dad.

When I returned to Nashville in 2005, I did so alone. Even when I wasn't particularly interested in the news, I would frequently turn on Channel 4 at six or ten just to see a familiar face and hear a comforting voice - one that I had known as long as those of my own parents. I later began to enjoy his wisdom and insight through his blog on the WSMV website. On many lonely nights in Nashville, I thought of writing Dan Miller to tell him how he continued to affect me, but I never did.

Dan Miller, along with two of his friends from the station, returned earlier this week to Dan's hometown of Augusta to enjoy the early part of Masters week. He took a late night walk with Rudy Kalis (the sportscaster who had been around as long as Dan had), and began to point out sites of his childhood memories. According to Kalis, he continued to point with pride to the landmarks of his youth through gradually more difficult breaths. Eventually, Dan grabbed Rudy's arm and collapsed.

We make way too much of celebrity these days. We weep far too hard at the loss of people of fame and too lightly at the loss of people of substance. So I hope I don't inappropriately deify this gentleman whom I never met when I admit that his death has shaken me a bit. It may seem shallow or contrived, but I feel a little less secure knowing that he's gone. It may be the loss of a father figure, or the loss of a trusted voice in field more devoid of them than ever.

It's more likely, however, that I'm bothered because his passing is one more piece of my youth that is never coming back.

Rest in peace, sir.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Damned Old Gubmint

There have been three stories over the last two days that, to me, are good examples of why more government is probably not better government.

The first is a story Russ sent me. The short version of the story is this. In follow up to a story about (and pretty shocking video of) an Oklahoma sheriff's deputy shooting and killing a dog when stopping to ask for directions, further probing into department activities revealed a different deputy who falsified time sheets at a golf club where he was moonlighting. Whether or not the deputy should be punished at his government gig for something that happened on private time is someone else's debate. My issue is with the sheriff, who apparently doesn't seem to understand why people like me have a hard time trusting their government:

“Law, I don’t know of any law that says you can’t falsify time sheets at a golf course, so no. And if you (Reporter Mike Friend) want to keep asking me questions on this issue you’ll just damage any good relationship I have with the paper. You can’t tell me you don’t ever speed while you’re driving down the road, or that you don’t break the law and sin… so why is this such a big deal if the deputy was not working on department time? If I start calling you and asking you questions about your crimes and sins we’ll see how much you like it.”

It seems to me that the sheriff is suggesting, at best, that people should mind their own business when it comes to wondering if their law enforcement officers' activities are on the up and up. How do you suppose the sheriff would respond if you told him to mind his own business when he pulls you over?

The second story is one you may have heard. A Dallas police officer stopped Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats for running a traffic light near a Dallas hospital. To make yet another long story short, the officer refused to make any accommodation for the fact that Moats's mother-in-law was dying at that very moment. He allegedly drew his weapon shortly after making the stop, threatened to tow Moats's vehicle, threatened to take him to jail, and finally threatened to "screw [Moats] over." While Moats has some culpability for breaking the traffic law, and later for not being able to locate proof of insurance, the story as it is told is of a cold, compassion-less, and power-addicted officer of the law.

The third story
involves the AIG bailout and the rage that was reported to be rampant when the $165 million in employee bonuses came to light. The story is remarkably unclear, as one U.S. Senator has either lied or been very confused about it, and the president is talking out of both sides of his mouth on the matter. It appears that employees who remain at AIG, largely to aid in its being dismantled and sold for scrap, were promised that they would be paid to halt their careers and stay in place until the job was finished. Naturally, many in the government and the media expressed absolute horror that a company would pay "bonuses" on the government dime.

According to this now-former AIG V.P., we didn't really get the whole story. A New York Times op-ed this week contained nothing but a resignation letter from the gentleman, whose explanation sheds new light on the nature of the so-called bonuses. Campbell Brown says, "It is hard to feel sorry for someone who is getting $742,000 and may end up with the final say on where it goes, charity or otherwise, as taxpayers spend $170 billion to save your company." She may be right. But if our government promises to pay individuals money to hang around and help pick up the pieces, it's not okay for it to renege as soon as the lights come on the wind changes direction.

All three stories, and thousands more throughout human history, point to one truth. You can't trust anyone, including agents of government. That's cynical, but it is true. You can't trust them to do the right thing. You can't trust them to hold themselves to the same standard as those whom they govern. You can't trust them to keep their word, especially when public opinion turns against the promises they made.

A mistake I believe we started making with the Patriot Act and continue to make today is that of believing that the people who work in our government are somehow more trustworthy than those who don't. They aren't. The only difference is that agents of government make decisions that are more-or-less final, often can't be challenged by competition, and can be implemented with deadly force.

I understand the compulsion to "do something" when things aren't going well. We elect leaders and expect them to solve problems. But much like managing your relationship with your in-laws, making a pot of chili, tending to your front lawn, or fishing, trying harder doesn't necessarily produce better results. When you insist that your government officials do something to fix a problem, not only might the government solution create more problems. The "solution" might be - and frequently is - motivated less by what is right than by what is popular at the moment, less by compassion than by the enjoyment and extension of power, and less by the hope for the well-being of constituents than by that of the politician.