Saturday, May 31, 2008

Things that I Love

In the wake of an outstanding Over the Rhine concert a few days ago, I think I'd like to mention some things that I love.

- Venues that serve beer and cocktails during the concert - any show is better with a Shiner Bock in tow.
- A crowd that's chronologically, socially, and economically diverse
- Guys that wear the shirt of the band that they're going to see - not that I would do that, of course
- Mary Gauthier, a whizbang combo of John Prine and Emily Saliers
- Merch Tables
- Gay Street in Knoxville
- A mom that will watch the kiddos on short notice
- Karen Berquist
- Linford Detweiler
- The stand-up bass
- A wife who likes to dance to the slow songs - even if she's the only one in the joint doing it
- Concerts with less than a couple hunnerd folks in attendance
- The Knoxville Bijou
- Music, especially the good kind

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Post No One Wants to Write

We drove up I-81 to Baltimore yesterday and I had managed to go a couple of days without even thinking about the news of Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter. I had seen it first thing Thursday morning before work and, thankfully, shoveling mulch and spraying weed killer allowed me to not have to think about that five year old girl being struck and killed by her teenage brother in his Land Cruiser.

But yesterday, somewhere around Bristol, TN, Janna was driving and I was taking a snooze. She had slipped in a mix CD that I had made a year or so ago for a trip we took to Little Rock. I woke just in time to be caught completely unaware by track 12 or so. It was a live performance at the Dove awards - Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Mac Powell, and Jeremy Camp doing a tribute to Steven Curtis Chapman. Christian music's most important worship leaders expounding on the influence SCC has had on their lives and careers. It's short, really, only about 5 minutes, when it could have been 50.

The song came on and I looked back toward the back seat and I saw Laney (who's 5) playing with her toys and looking happy. My insides dropped. It's a good thing Janna was driving because I was so affected at that moment that I probably would've driven into a guardrail.

All I could think about for those 5 minutes were Steven and his family and what had happened to them. I had visions of ambulances being called... CPR being administered... hospital waiting rooms... walking in at night to an empty bedroom... waking up to check her bed hoping it was just a bad dream. I thought about the guilt, the life-changing, horrible guilt her brother will feel forever. And then I thought about how I would feel if Laney, my sweetheart, the apple of my eye, my beloved daughter, were suddenly gone.

I didn't cry. I wanted to, but I didn't want to have to explain to them why I had suddenly lost control in the middle of the interstate, so I willed the tears back. I'm having similar trouble writing this in the Hampton Inn breakfast area.


I went back upstairs to the hotel room after I wrote that. Janna and the kids were still in bed. The shades were still drawn and the room was still dark. They stirred when I came in and Sam moved over to Janna's bed to snuggle with her for a few minutes. I laid down next to Laney. I wrapped my arms around her and didn't even try to stop the tears. They were flowing freely and I found myself crying out to God in that moment, praying "Please don't take her from me, please don't take her from me..."

Today, a few days too late, I join the thousands who have already sent their condolences and good will to the Chapman family. I share in their grief and wish that I could take some of it upon myself. Maybe knowing that they will see her again, whole and sweet and happy, will grant them some measure of peace.

God, bless the Chapmans. Let them know that they are loved by millions around the world and they have friends that they've never met.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's About Time...

Silly readers, I said that I would do something new each day until I got a job


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

MD + 3, The Great Alaskan Adventure

Be warned, spoilers abound in the waters ahead...

As I write this, I am watching American Idol. Idol, it would seem at first blush, couldn't be any further from INTO THE WILD, the mostly-true, somewhat-guessed-at, story of Christopher McCandless. McCandless was a recent college graduate who decided to give all of his savings to charity and hike into the Alaskan wilderness to live. He did not make it out alive.

American Idol is the paragon of the pursuit of the American dream. Young people, competing their hearts out to make millions of dollars and sell millions of records. Meanwhile, INTO THE WILD tells the story of a young man who forsakes all earthly possessions, save what he can carry on his back, in pursuit of the earth. Idol is about excess, McCandless craves simplicity. Idol promotes the participation of everyone in America, Alexander Supertramp (McCandless' alter ego) wants to ultimately be left alone.

But when I think about it more, I think that the two entities are more alike than they might seem.

McCandless encounters people along his journey toward Alaska who offer him their hearts. He seems to engender this spirit in those he meets, a spirit that wants to nurture and take care of him. The hippie couple who see him as a substitute for the son that they never had together. The grain barn owner who sees a little brother to play with and pal around with. The old man (played brilliantly by Hal Holbrook) who finds a grandson and an heir. But Christopher (or Alex as he's renamed himself by this point), uses each of these people, not with a spirit of malice, but almost with a sense of pity, like he's sorry that they haven't figured out what he's figured out about the world and how it works. He puts much more credence in the words of Tolstoy and Jack London, even while they are telling him that true happiness is found in the company of others. So when each of these people who love him begin to get too close, too attached, he picks up his pack and hits the road again.

Like Idol, McCandless is driven through his self-imposed exile by ego. He is convinced that he has it right and the rest of the world has it wrong. That he will find happiness in Alaska is never even a question for him, despite having little to no training in how to live in the wild. When he does realize that his books on edible plants and his notebook with tips on what to do with wild game aren't going to be enough to keep him alive, it dawns on him that living alone is not a sustainable life.

Idol is about superficiality, McCandless never bothers to use the wisdom of the people he calls friend. Idol relishes the concept of destiny, Supertramp believes to his soul that his is waiting for him in the wilderness. Idol makes "idols" out of pop stars, Mariah Carey and such. McCandless takes the words of his favorite authors as gospel, even over those who have fought and won happiness and have it to spare.

There is a scene where he is reading Tolstoy, a selection from Family Happiness, and he seems to find this passage to be validation for his experience.

"I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work, which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps. What more can the heart of a man desire?"

But at the end of it all, his realization that he ignored the last portion of that quote is not enough to save him from his ego-driven decisions. Being alone in the wild is what undoes him.

It's a brilliant film. Sean Penn's direction is gorgeous, and Emile Hirsch as McCandless should have garnered an Oscar nom. The supporting cast is flawless as well. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MD + 2, or what I have in common with Tom Cruise

I've been reading about D-Day lately, so from now on, all these posts will be titled as above (MD stands for Mother's Day).

Today's new thing: I took Lucky for the longest walk ever, through Bennett Place, a neighborhood I've never been in. The houses were gorgeous, but there wasn't a soul outside. It was like one of those plague movies where the entire populace has been wiped out. I could only hear the birds chirping and Lucky's claws on the street. Kind of surreal, really. I felt like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky.

Simple, but nice.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Day #02 - Panther Creek, or Running Downhill

So here's my new thing for today:

Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, TN
Sam played hooky from school today and he and I went on a little adventure. We packed lunches - turkey sandwiches, string cheese, sardines (for me), chips, and bottles of water - and we set off for the great unknown. Well, not that unknown, since I went to the website and picked a trail, plus I Google Mapped directions. Be prepared, right?

We took the Point Overlook Trail, described in the pamphlet thusly, "1.9 Mile Loop, Moderately Difficult. Along this trail, hikers are rewarded with a breath-taking view overlooking Lake Cherokee."

Sam taking the sign a bit too literally.

The hike up to the overlook wasn't too bad. We saw a wild turkey, yay! And Sam wanted to play Harry Potter the whole time, so he was too distracted to notice that he was getting winded. At the top, the view was great - not exactly "breath-taking," but impressive none the less.

Sam at the overlook, casting, I believe, Avada Kadavra.

On the way back down the hill, I noticed what separates me from Sam. We were going down some fairly steep grades and I was being careful. Sam, on the other hand, was running downhill like some kind of cheetah on an African savannah. He had no fear at all, no concern whatsoever that he could go butt-over-teakettle at any time. Meanwhile I was thinking about what I was going to say about it in my blog. Oh, to be eight again.

Sam took this one.

The walk back to the car took longer than we planned, and we took an unexpected detour at an intersection with no trail marker, but all in all it was a wildly successful hike. Sam was a trooper. The woods were beautiful. We defeated Voldemort. I did something new. All is well with the world.

Victory! The mountain has been conquered!

Hail the conquering heroes!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A New May's Resolution

I made two observations today, both painfully obvious. One, today is Mother's Day. Two, I am still as of yet unemployed.


Last night I asked Janna what she wanted for her Mother's Day breakfast. She thought about it for awhile, and answered, "Crepes." Well, I've never made crepes before, but I do like them. And thanks to the internet, I can get a recipe for any darn thing I want. So I did. After a late night trip to Kroger (fresh strawberries or frozen? I went with frozen), and then a good night's sleep, I steeled myself for the great crepe experiment. I'll spare you the floury details, but it'll do to say that the crepes were a success - Janna liked them a lot and so did I. Laney scraped the strawberries out of the middle and Sam didn't eat a blasted thing, but that's par for the culinary course.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned before, I am still unemployed and suffering from non-productivityitis. That is, other than making a few hundred bucks doing a yard sale this weekend, I seem to do nothing but consume.

So in the spirit of Mother's Day, a day in which we celebrate creation of new life, here's my resolution: for every day that I am unemployed, I will do something that I have never done before.

Today's new thing: crepes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grow up. Take the knife out.

So I found out something today that seriously bummed me out. I got really excited for a few minutes, and then my hopes were dashed like a line on an Indiana Jones map. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, you know what my favorite joke is? Here you go:

Q: “What’s the best time to go to the dentist?”

A: “2:30.”

Think about it for awhile. It’ll come to you.

I tell you this joke to begin to attempt to convey the sheer ridiculousness of my sense of humor. If Janna had known how utterly absurd my sense of humor is, I sincerely doubt whether she would have accepted my marriage proposal. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have.

I’ve never met a pun I didn’t like, and I like them all the more if they are juvenile and silly. Even my eight-year-old thinks my sense of humor is immature.

Here’s why.

When I was a teenager, I watched a lot of television. I had this 15-inch Sony that sat on top of the dresser in my bedroom. That TV saw me through a whole lotta great Nintendo and a lot of fantastic television. And the greatest channel on TV in the early ‘90s was, no doubt, Comedy Central. Comedy Central was fantastic. That’s where I discovered Jake Johannsen and Mitch Hedberg. It’s where I first saw Whose Line is it Anyway (the British one, with Clive Anderson). It’s where I was exposed to the Holy Grail of my kind of comedy (which deserves its own post eventually), Mystery Science Theater 3000, maybe my all-time favorite TV program. And, it’s where I first saw The Kids in the Hall.

This leads me to my big disappointment today. I found out that KiTH are touring! For the first time in many years, all five of them are together and touring the country. Great news! Except… they played Nashville two weeks ago. Two freaking weeks ago. Total dismay.

Anyway, back to high school. Back then, KiTH was appointment viewing for me and my buddy Adam Armstead. It was the water cooler conversation at school the next day (the metaphorical water cooler, of course, Lake Howell High School had no such amenities. Perhaps the water fountain…). The polar opposite of SNL, KiTH was a show that I could identify with. While SNL (which I loved too, but in a different way) was a collection of the cool kids doing all the things that became cultural vernacular, KiTH was the fringe of comedy – five buddies who did completely inappropriate and hilarious things that nobody else thought were funny. And, although I could go on and on about my favorite sketches (Chicken Lady, Cabbage Head, “I’m Crushing Your Head!”, etc), I’ll just show you my all-time favorite. This sketch is manna for the soul for people like me – people that get frustrated by stupidity. And, it’s about Citizen Kane. This is absolute comedy perfection. If you don’t laugh, you can have your money back, I promise.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What I Did Yesterday...

“The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.” - William Faulkner

Drive just outside of Knoxville, through Oak Ridge (The Atomic City), and hang a left on 95. Go past the big church on the right, pass the nuclear research labs, and look really hard for the sign on the left side of the road. The one that reads "African Burial Ground." Drive up the hill and pull over at the turn around.

That's where you'll find the Wheat Community African Burial Ground. It's really no more than a empty field, a square of land surrounded by a fence in the middle of nowhere. But if you could dig up the top layer of soil, you'd start to find the bodies. This plot of land is where the slaves from Laurel Banks, an early 19th century plantation, are laid to rest. There are no markers, no headstones, no idea how many men, women, and children are buried there.