Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Few Days In Michigan, Part Three

Today I returned home to my lovely wife Jana and my mostly lovely daughter Molly (I mean, let's be honest - when she's screaming sometimes it ain't always pleasant), but before I boarded the plane, I took one look back through the jetway and knew that I had changed, for I had learned something of incredible value: Sam is the new Greg.

Like Jasmine in Alladin, a whole new world opens up for you when you have a baby. It's like all of a sudden you find yourself really excited to share with anyone you meet that your baby finally had a dirty diaper after a couple days of anxious waiting and that everyone back home is really relieved. It's weird in a lot of ways, but not unpleasant, and I've secretly enjoyed my induction into this secret brotherhood (or fatherhood, as it were) of the baby subculture. I believe that children are our future, and seeing as Molly will soon be doing things like eating solid food and sending text messages, I thought I'd take the opportunity to hang out with Craig's two children a bit, you know, to put my finger on the pulse of the gymboree and see what's the word with the younger set.

And what I learned is that Sam is the new Greg. Greg, as you may or may not know, is a member of one of the highest grossing musical acts in the world ($37 million or so). That's right, folks, he's one of the Wiggles. Well, apparently, he has a terrible condition that has forced him into retirement from the road, but as little Nolan said gravely as he looked me very seriously in the eye, "It's okay....I think Sam can drive the Big Red Car." So don't worry out there, the Wiggles are going to be okay because Nolan said so and Nolan has faith that things like that will work out.

I miss that about childhood - the simple faith that things will just work. As previously stated, I have to forcefully convince myself moments before takeoff that the wings will in fact remain on the plane in the air rather than just trusting that the pilot knows how to fly and the mechanics know how to check the plane for problems. A few years ago, I tutored a young fourth-grade Korean lad (yep, I said "lad") named Ben for a year. Each day, I would go to his home after school, eat some weird food provided from his very non-English speaking grandmother, and I would attempt to teach math, science, and reading to a child who didn't understand a ton of what I was saying. Needless to say, some of our interactions were pretty amazing. And by "amazing", I mean "awkward". Like the time Ben's grandmother didn't know how to ask me what I wanted to drink and decided just to pour me a glass of every liquid in their refrigerator.

Often, Ben would want to openly debate proven facts, mostly because he liked to irritate me, I think. For example, at Ben's school there was a female teacher who was extraordinarily tall for a woman - like 6' 2" or something. Well, Ben would look at me and say things like, "What if she's eighteen feet tall?" to which I would always reply, "But she's not." Unfazed, he would always just lean over a little bit and smile impishly and say, "but what if she is?" And that argument would go back and forth for half an hour or so until it was time for me to take him to tae kwon do practice.

You know, it just now occurred to me that maybe he did that on purpose just to get out of doing the rest of his work. Touche, Ben, wherever you are. Touche.

My point is, with children it seems a line of questioning always works itself towards the inevitable existential statement, "It just is." Will things work out? Of course. How? They just will. Now do you want to go see if any frogs got caught in the pool filter? Kids; you've got to love them.

My time with like-minded folks in Grand Rapids has been refreshing. In our own ways, we'd all like to contribute something to the world that's bigger than ourselves. Something more than just getting all we can for ourselves before we kick the bucket. But despite the years of work some of us have already put in, we still have no better idea of whether this stuff will work or whether it will matter. Ultimately, we're still just kids sitting around telling each other "It just will." I hope so.

I believe in you, Sam. Greg's shoes are going to be hard to fill - it's unprecedented, really - but Nolan believes in you. And frankly, so do I. Plus, Nolan really wanted me to take Molly one of his Wiggles DVDs, which I graciously accepted.

A Few Days in Michigan, Part Two

It's cold here in Grand Rapids. Not too cold, just cold enough to make me wish for a little more body hair. Maybe if I stay here long enough my face will finally sprout something worth not shaving off, and I could finally reach this "manhood" I keep hearing so much about.

I have an aversion to trendiness, so the minute something is deemed "cool" by the masses, I'm instantly adamantly opposed to it. It's another one of those flaws of character that just seem to keep showing up. Maybe that's what Michigan does to you - exposes your flaws like some sort of fairtytale looking glass. In fact, I'm seriously considering supporting an initiative that would officially change Michigan's slogan from "The Great Lakes State" to "The Fairytale Looking Glass State". It just sounds nice, you know?

At any rate, beards have become what goatees where when WCW wrestling was huge, and frankly I want one. Of course, I also don't want one because they're trendy. But in the hierarchy of my own wacked nature, I still really want one, mostly because I can't have one.

Beards do a lot for songwriters. Seriously, take a few moments to think about your favorite songwriters, and think about how many of them have beards. Or even better - think about the judgment you make when you see someone a little on the grizzly side stroll to the microphone. If you're like me, you immediately concede that clearly this person knows about life. I mean, you can't be rugged and not know about life, right? When people see me hit the stage, the looks on their faces suggest they're expecting all songs about comic books for some reason. And frankly, that has to stop.

But longing for facial hair aside, my second day in Grand Rapids has been blast. Fireproof Ministries, Rebuilt Record's parent ministry, is essentially a big umbrella under which a handful of ministries operate.It's been cool to sit down at a table with four other guys who, while very much different, are very much like me. We all could be doing something else with our lives, something that makes for a more stable future, but we all have chosen instead to do something a little ridiculous not knowing if it will turn out well or not. It's a pretty rag-tag group of folks. There's me with Rebuilt, Jamie with To Write Love On Her Arms (a movement seeking to love those who do not love themselves), Clint with Difted (our in-house media firm), our lovable leader Craig of (the #1 Christian porn site... don't worry, it's really a ministry to help those with porn addictions and to demonstrate love to those who are involved in its creation), and Dave the Horn Guy who wears an orange jumpsuit with 25 horns strapped to it. (Quick side note: Dave was recently on the reality show America's Most Talented, which was hosted by Regis and featured none other than David Hasselhoff, thus making me essentially two steps from the 'Hoff himself.)

Jamie started TWLOHA to help share the story of a girl named Rene who cut her arms in an attempt to deal with the pain she felt. It's exploded online, and you can probably throw a rock and hit someone wearing one of the t-shirts. He's been speaking all over the place, and they just finished up a tour called Stop the Bleeding. Clint designed my website and used to play in a band called Subseven. El Clinto just bought a house up here in Grand Rapids and will be moving here from Oklahoma in March. What I love about Clint's story is that they bought a house without ever seeing it. Craig checked it out, and they had pictures, but they mostly just bought a house on the faith that they were supposed to do it. When Jana and I moved back to GA from CA, we did a similar thing in buying a house from a friend's dad, having been to it really only once a year or so before. Opportunities just open up, and you just try to take them.

And then there's Craig, who for a short time in 2001 got me banned from flying on America West airlines. I'll spare the story, but we'll just say that he has an outstanding bet with our friend Jake that he'll cough up $100 if he ever flies them again. Craig and the rest of the x3Church gang have made a habit out of pissing people off, though it's weird to say the folks that have gotten the most upset are Christians and not the people at porn shows who are walking by their booth and the stacks of free Bibles. Then again, Craig does drive a car with "The #1 Christian Porn Site" wrapped on the side of it, so I can understand why that might put some folks off from time to time. But I love the heart of it, and I do get a little guilty pleasure out of making people uncomfortable (yet another flaw of character), so that helps.

We've never all sat down together, our little Fireproof family, and it's been a much needed time of refreshment for my spirit. Of course, after we ate dinner tonight we all went and saw Blood Diamondsand felt like crap after we left the theater. If you're in that holiday mood and you'd like to stay that way, you might want to skip that one. That's just my opinion, though.

And while today was fun, I still can't help but notice that out of all of us, I'm the only one not capable of growing even a junior high-grade mustache. But I have become the fella's go-to guy on all comic-book related queries, and I've got to chalk that one up as progress.

A Few Days in Michigan, Part One

For whatever reason, I tend to get more excited about blogging when I'm traveling. I suppose I could point to the fact that the seeing and telling of things while moving around is inherently exciting, but that seems kind of odd given the fact that what I'm usually seeing is the world through a dirty car or airplane window and what I'm telling is a grand story about wanting a number one combo with a Coke. And I'm even talking to that guy through a tiny box in what is essentially a driveway. But I'm digressing.

The point is I'm in Michigan for a few days at what I can only describe as a Fireproof Ministries "summit", and that inspires me to write.

This seems as good a time as any to discuss my feelings towards flying, which lie somewhere below my disdain for American Idol but still slightly above O.J. Simpson. I mean, seriously, how has the ground not opened up and swallowed that sad sack of crap? But there I go digressing again. Flying is to me the riskiest thing I do on a semi-regular basis. I'm essentially strapping myself to a Campbell's soup can flown by someone I may only lay eyes on once as I exit the plane as quickly as possible, thankful to be back in contact with the ground. In what other area of life do I put my mortal well-being in the hands of a complete stranger wearing such a ridiculous looking hat?

Okay, I've just been staring at my computer screen for a few minutes trying to think up some cool analogy for that, but I can't, and I keep thinking of all the times I actually do put my very life in the hands of someone I don't even know: surgery, the voting booth, ordering the number 6 combo at Taco Stand, etc. But you've got to admit that most pilot's suits look a little outdated. If Delta won't give pilots a raise while making them fly 80 hours straight, at least they could come off the hip for some Armani threads. Still digressing.

Utlimately, the uncertainty of being lead into the great blue yonder by a completely anonymous stranger is not what bothers me about flying; it's the finality. ALL flights come to an end, and we'll all end up on the ground. I've seen in myself at times an unpleasant flaw of character in that I put things off because I don't like them to be over. Final chapters of books I really like stay unread because I don't want the story to end. Artwork waiting for a finishing touch. Songs in limbo on a hard drive somewhere that are yet to be completed. I hate when things are over because I hate the transition from present to past. I can access the present, but the past exists only in memory. And though it's a bit morbid, my family has a history of Alzheimer's, so I'm hesitant to put stuff there, too.

But maybe there's a little more to it, and if I'm being honest (and by golly, I'm giving it a shot), I hate when things are over because that's when judgments are cast. Artists always joke about a piece never really being over; you could conceivably tinker with something for eternity. And that's the problem. If we never finish, we can always use that as an excuse to without making a judgment about that same something's worth. If I post a demo of a new song (coming soon, I swear!), there's an understanding as a listener that you can't make a hard decision on whether you like it or not because it's not really in its fully realized form. And I remain safe from having to decide in my own soul whether I'm a big enough boy to take some criticism. And the criticism I fear the most comes right from my own soul.

Are you willing to take a risk? That's the question I constantly ask myself. Putting your work (and in art, yourself) out there is a risk that can leave you burned. Pinkerton forever ruined my favorite band of all time because Rivers Cuomo wrote some personal songs and it bombed commercially and critically (at least at the time). And I really liked the album. I've always said I wanted to put out honest music; the new songs reflect this, though I'm a bit pained to say that in places it's not pretty. But that's a story for later. For now, I've been willing to get over my wussiness at least for the couple of hours I spent thousands of feet about the eastern United States, and the point, it seems, is that I need to be willing to embrace the many "ends" that I will see in my life. Because after all, just like every plane flight I take, the end is inevitable.