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Category Archives: self-reflection

At the very least I’ve always attempted to demonstrate a grain of critical thought. Not that my blog subjects are always worthy of it. But I try to be capable of doing so.

Blog or not, we could say that critical thought is pretty big deal, right? Without it we do exactly what we’re told. We blindly follow the first cult leader we meet. We heed the advice of Dr. Phil to the T. We go to McDonalds every day. By the end we’ve become fat losers, sitting on the commune couch, doing our Dr. Phil affirmations, eating Big Macs as we’re about to drink some funny-smelling Kool-Aid that we’re told tastes like transcendence. I’ve always been a worst-case-scenario kind of guy.

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It’s not fair.

We could even say that critical thought is, in part, that which separates us humans from the golden retriever in the back yard chasing the nearest squirrel then the nearest squirrel then the nearest squirrel…

What am I without it? I’m starting to learn.

I began writing this in an effort to figure out why I have not done a blog in a while. Pretty sure I know the answer and that critical thought, or lack thereof, has a lot to do with it. But before I reveal the culprit, I have to point out that I’m writing a blog about why I haven’t written a blog, which in and of itself is a testament to how far off track I’ve veered. This act is only half a step removed from the clichéd writer who writes a story about a writer writing. I’ve fallen so far, and I didn’t even start that high. My standards are gone.

Q: Why no blogging lately? A: I got no critical thoughts for latching onto. It’s blank up there. Emotion and instinct echo through otherwise empty space. And there is, in fact, a singular source of my brand new simplicity of mind. She’s an unrelenting, crazy-haired force, drool strings emanating from her mouth, and occasionally the origin of a funky odor.

It’s my daughter’s fault.

I can’t help it. I can’t overcome the fact that she is six months old, and she is undeniably, insufferably cute. Amazing. Everything, EVERYTHING, she does is lovely. And this cuteness cannot exist side by side with any degree of scrutiny because everything I see, every thought I have, every analytical inkling that crawls across my brain disperses and circles back… to… cute.

I am the proverbial putty. I am the blathering mess.

She peed on me as I held her the other day and smiled while she did it, and I found it perfectly adorable in every way. After enduring a moment like that, how can I expect myself to ponder some labyrinthine literary theory, as I am often wont to do on a Saturday night, maintain the criteria I set for myself, or just write a simple blog about why WWE wrestling is more entertaining than musical theater?

I’m in trouble.

Cuteness is a close cousin to emotion, and as far as I can tell, emotion is incompatible with critical thought. Imagine a chess master furrowing his brow, about to sacrifice his knight in order to capture his opponent’s queen. If he let’s cuteness wander in, he suddenly changes course because he feels bad for killing the horsey. Who knows, the royals may turn it into dog food.

The cuteness wouldn’t be a matter for discussion if it took a rest. But it’s relentless. It envelopes everything, it surrounds me – a big pink bubble gum force field that itself simultaneously generates more cuteness and holds it in. Recharging, perpetual cuteness. Cuteness on top of cuteness. I can’t disregard it. I can’t question why it’s there. This is what it feels like to be mauled by kitties.

The strangest part is when I remember I used to have standards, standards that were based on my moderate reasoning talents. Standards for my writing and my interests, standards for myself, my ways, my blah blah… I don’t know. All I know is that I ate a mushy apple the other day even though anyone who knows me knows that if there’s one food I can’t stand, it’s a mealy, mushy apple. I’ve always been good at thinking about my apples, good at chucking them across a parking lot in disgust, cursing them out of my life, being irritated at them. I’ve been good at getting wrapped up in the criticism that reinforces those standards – criticism of apples or otherwise. But now these protracted moments pop up, moments in which the world is quite round.

Sigh.

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Here we go. I can feel it creeping in as I watch her attempt to chew on her own foot. It’s like the captivation of daydreams, being led helplessly through curves. What was I saying? She’s babbling, imploring her toes forward, squealing at them for being so remarkable. Those toes. She’s explaining in jabbers that she feels bad for the slobber bath that’s about to befall them, but they’ve brought it on themselves. It’s what happens when one loves ones toes so much – the way of the world. She gives me no choice. I’m a goner. Adios. And in a moment that’s coming up more frequently, I think how we ought to get a dog someday, a poorly behaved dog that does silly things. We’ll play with him in the back yard, running crazily through the trees, and we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.

-MC JLight and Loretta

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In sixth grade, I was Tom Cruise. Five days a week, weather permitting, I was Tom Cruise. Between 8 am and 8:15 am, or as long as it took me to walk to school, I was Tom Cruise.

I wasn’t trying to be a fighter pilot; this wasn’t about a boyhood aspiration. My Tom Cruise moments weren’t even about pretending to engage a flurry of befuddled MIGs, and I didn’t imagine myself in the kind of dogfight where the ground and sky zap into a single blur. No. It was simply about being and feeling cool, Tom Cruise Cool. My experience on those walks to school was a sixth-grade, approximated version of the feeling that followed the heinous dogfight, came after the aircraft carrier landing, after the cockpit high five. It was a taste of the coolness that was a fortunate symptom of being a fighter pilot. As far as I was concerned, this version of me radiated an aura identical to the one Maverick projected as he rode his crotch rocket into the fiery Jerry Bruckheimer sunset, knowing all the while that he was a complete badass.

Careful, Charlie. You might get burned by the cool. (He even looks like me.)

I didn’t even walk to school; I floated an inch above the ground accompanied by my own bass-heavy theme music.

This was my sixth grade cool.

Mom and Dad bought me the jacket for Christmas. It was a classic bomber jacket from Burlington Coat Factory made with fake leather, adorned with fake military patches, and finished off with a fake fur collar. But it was the sweetest thing I’d ever worn. It still might be. I mean, I slid my arms into those sleeves and my biceps grew, my mind a flutter with memories of hard battles, carbon-stained teeth, and the women who helped me clean them. I’m pretty sure that jacket accelerated puberty. It was wearable testosterone.

There were also the accoutrements of my Tom Cruise Cool. Hair gel—I used enough to choke an Iceman. Combed it down into a nice clean part, the comb leaving evenly spaced rows in my hair like striations on the barrel of a gun. You’ve got to wear jeans with a bomber jacket, which I did, or a sweet pair of camo green cargo shorts, just in case a tactical situation arose. Never knew when I might need a bunch of pockets. Finally, since naval aviators didn’t eat breakfast, neither did I. I was much cooler with an empty stomach.

L.A. Looks: The gold standard in aviator hair products.

You’d think that glasses would have been a necessary piece, a nice mirrored pair of aviators. But I was smarter than that. After all, how would my flock of female admirers see into my hardened, yet benevolent soul if they looked into my face and only saw their own reflection? Thanks, but I’ll leave the glasses at home. In doing this, I even out-badassed Maverick.

During a walk that spanned a single Strasburg block, I was the guy.

Authentic cool.

Sixth grade was when coolness started to take shape, when I knew the feeling and could name it and understood what it meant for me—confidence, rightness with the world. In many ways, cool is and has always been comfort. I was a twitchy goober in sixth grade, but those walks to school allowed me the comfort of being less goobery for about fifteen minutes.

The feeling of cool is an important one, so are its cousins: phat, groovy, funky, happening, fly, chic. And we all have our own bomber jacket, our own artifacts that catalyze the emergence of cool or uncover the personal phatness residing always somewhere inside. Those artifacts, if only for a little while, help us to brush aside airport lines, bills, empty gas tanks, debt crises, poor cell reception, and chirpy Starbucks baristas, with a feeling of… cool. For some, maybe it’s the sound of a basketball that triggers the memory of the time in high school they scored at the buzzer the feeling of which generates a moment of crowd-cheering cool. Someone else might feel their cool creep in as a hip-hop drumbeat reaches their ear. Even the still-goobery thirty-something me feels a tickle of cool at the memory of that jacket.

What awakens your cool?

-MC J Light

P.S. The quirk of my cool is this: it’s often tied to movie character types that I imagine as very cool. I have never been these characters, but I have felt their particular brand of cool.

The Guy Who Knows the Band – This is the guy who has the pull to get backstage. He may not have the musical aptitude to be in the band, but he’s the guy all the band members with they were. He is, in a sense, the wind beneath the band’s wings. His traits include; street smarts, shrewd business sense, and music industry pull.

The Cowpoke – This guy shares drinking water with his horse. Happy on the open plains with nothing more than a harmonica and the soreness from riding all day. His traits include: really good at chewing toothpicks, believes the saloon girls deserve more respect than they get, tough but only when provoked, happily eats beans and cornbread.

The Kung Fu Master – Similar temperament to that of The Cowpoke, quiet, compelled toward the way of peace, speaks in nature-centric metaphors. Traits: Good posture, baggy clothes, wiry, makes would-be aggressors look stupid without laying a hand on them.

The Guy Who Girls Find Undeniably Cute but Won’t Approach Because They Think He’s Out of Their League Even Though He’s Actually Pretty Down to Earth – No explanation necessary.

Others: The Sports Star, The Werewolf Sports Star, The Comedian, The Rap Star, The High-Powered Lawyer, and The Mountain Man.

For starters, I’m irritated because I had a lot of things planned. I was finally going to learn the Chicken Dance. I was going to make my signature brownie & peanut ice cream this summer. I was going to teach myself the sweetest slap bass solo ever right after I learned how to play the bass. More importantly, I had a party all planned for the night of December 20th, 2012 (The Eat-Like-A-Fat-Pig-Before-The-World-Ends Party), which was supposed to be Judgement Day Eve, followed two days later by the Why-Did-I-Eat-A-Cheesburger-Baked-Inside-Of-A-Cheesecake 5K Fun Run. It was going to be awesome. I was going to invite Lance Armstrong.

I’m even more irritated about the beginning of the world’s end on May 21st, as this group claims on their website, because that’s the exact day of Dave the Cat’s birthday. Let’s face it, he’s not a kitten anymore; he’ll be six in human years. That’s about 40 in cat years. Middle age, David. On this birthday he should be taking out a second mortgage to lease a Porche and cruising for co-eds, not dancing around crevasses and avoiding lava flows. It’s a real bummer when a meteor crashes onto your butter cream-frosted birthday cake. And, yes, he will have a birthday cake, but not carrot cake because David hates carrots.

This isn't Dave, but you get the idea. He would look much cooler and have a least three gold chains around his neck.

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So I saw this story on CNN.com a while back. I also read the bible passages they cite and did some of their calculations. These folks have conviction in their conclusions and that’s fine. I cannot say that this group should be faulted for believing in their beliefs. Their right to do so is not in doubt. Their actions, though…

Check this out:

Study this picture for as long as you want, but this is still a custom-painted, doomsday Winnebago. This RV and others like it are currently touring the country. Its drivers wear t-shirts and hats that are no less garish. They hand out pamphlets and talk to those who will and won’t listen. Apparently we’ve come a long way since the old “The End is Near” sandwich board. But with such a loud delivery you’d assume there’s a constructive take-away message, something worthwhile and beneficial.  There must be a call to action. Repent. Find God. Go to church. Be a better person. Something. Right?

Not exactly. Actually, their message goes something like this: a) the world is ending on May 21st, b) your status (chosen or forsaken) has already been decided by God and was actually determined before you were even born, c) there’s nothing you can do to improve your odds, d) but, hey, we just wanted to let you know cause that’s the kind of people we are, e) so, uh, have a great next four weeks.

Okey dokey.

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If someone wielding a hammer asked you to put your hand on a table then said, Hey, in five minutes I’m going to smack your finger with this hammer and you can’t do anything about it, what would you be thinking about for those five minutes? You’d be thinking about how much it’s going to hurt.

So… is that it? That’s what they want us to take away? We’re all out of luck. Don’t start stocking up on batteries and potable water because it won’t matter. Oh, and it’s going to hurt.

I suppose my apocalypse anxiety is my own fault. It’s not like I have to listen. After all, the world is saturated with people willing to share their opinions. And it’s easier than every to disperse those opinions with youtube, podcasts, recreational vehicles, and ridiculous, long-winded blogs. I could always choose to ignore this as I do every other piece of wannabe propaganda and opinion—be it offensive or insightful; stupid or smart. But I’ll admit, I’m antsy about this sort of thing. I have trouble brushing it off. A big part of me finds this threatening, pre-destined, resistance-is-futile prediction a little disturbing. Call me weak or gullible if you will because I’m probably a little of each.

So I guess what I’m really asking is: why can’t these people be more considerate of me? (Perhaps selfish, but I think it’s okay to ask for baseline respect from the world around us.)

Possible answers: Could be plain old egotism at work or fear mongering under the guise of virtue. The RVs are part of a quest to be the smartest people in the room, the ones who said, I told you so. They want to be the ones laughing when the hammer finally falls.

Maybe there’s a fame factor here too. I can see the temptation behind religious-oriented fame. If you’re a fame connoisseur it’s probably the awesomest kind of fame because it lasts for a long time. Way longer that Paris-Hilton-famous-because-you’re-famous fame or Kerri-Strug-sticks-the-landing fame or William-Wallace-they-cannot-take-our-freedom fame. Then again, if the world ends on May 21st, no one’s going to care about who predicted it. There will be no sitting on Oprah’s couch, no 60 minutes interviews, no action figures. No reality shows.

Jesus: more famous

Kerri Strug: less famous

And maybe I’m missing the point completely; I’m not enlightened enough. Perhaps this is supposed to be a good thing, whether you’re one of the chosen or not. They do call it The Rapture. But that’s a tough pill to swallow.

I just want there to be some good in this message for people like myself. My hope is that this group just wants us all to live better while we can, to reorganize things. Not a bad message at all. But why not just say it. Keep the hammer out of it and paint the sugar-coated version on the side of your RV for me, would you:

Start living better. Skip work and go to a baseball game. Drink a chocolate shake. Pray. Eat nachos your recliner. Love. Kiss your family and your pets. Sit on the porch. Be nice. Help someone. Laugh at bad jokes. Watch your favorite movie twice in a row. Tolerate. Meditate. Learn something new. Be spiritual. Go to your place of worship. Read. Don’t watch Jersey Shore. Take pictures of things that don’t make sense. Take a minute to not talk. Run really fast. Keep pretending you’re cool.

If we do only have a few weeks left, I better get going on more blogs.

-MC JLight

I’ve been away. And to all three of you who read this blog, I will try to be more consistent with my entries.

In the last few weeks I have: A) Had my wisdom teeth removed, which was a lot more fun that I expected. It’s not often that I get to wake up with a mouthful of gauze, discuss my apparent desire to visit a Taiwanese strip club with my wife, make goat noises, get reprimanded by a nurse, then go home and watch crappy movies while I suck down lemon Jello. B) Started a non-profit corporation. In doing so I am deep into IRS forms that I have no business looking in the eye. C) Gotten another tattoo. Apologies to my mother. D) Finished a couple of screenplays. Anyone got a few hundred thousand dollars, an iron stomach, and a morbid longing to be an executive producer?

There’s one more thing. I wouldn’t say I “did” it; it just happened—I’m pretty sure my biological clock started ticking. This is without a doubt the girliest thing I’ve ever thought, said or written.

Wait. I ought to start with an apology. Several weeks ago I spoke with my cousin, Katie, over the phone. Now, Katie is one of my favorite people. She’s fun and hilarious and considerate. Just an all-around good person. She’s married to a really cool dude named Mike. She’s also younger than me, quite a bit younger. Young enough to be called “my little cousin Katie.” Young enough that I remember burping her when she was a baby.

Katie: Hi.

Me: Hi.

Katie: So I have some news.

Me: Great.

Katie: I’m pregnant.

(Weird pause because I’m thinking, Oh boy, my little cousin Katie is pregnant which means I’m way behind and she’s much younger and way more put together and what’s wrong with me? and this is certainly a selfish thing to be thinking right now and wow, Katie is pregnant and I better get my act together and say something right now.)

Me: Bleh.

Actually I’m not sure what my response was and, while I’m not an interesting person, I hope I responded interestingly. You know, I hope I said something supportive. Not something pseudo-cool and laid-back like “Great work.” That sounds like a red-inked comment on the top of a 1st grade spelling assignment. And it’s weird. Work? Something pun-laced: “This is mom-entous news,” or “What pregnant occasion.” Maybe I just went with sheer excitement. “Holey moley!” Regardless, what I should have said was this: Katie, I’m hugely excited for you and Mike. You are going to be a wonderful set of parents. Congratulations and sorry for the lame reaction.

I was preoccupied when Katie broke the news because at that exact moment I had a birth of my own. Right then I welcomed into the world my newest schizophrenic personality. 316 lbs. 7 oz. 5’4”. Balding on the crown of his head. His messy three-piece suit doesn’t help his sweating problem. He even came with a tattered brief case. He is Keith, The Age-Calculating Mathematician. Keith is a jerk.

Keith's weapon of choice.

(Keith and I sit at a rickety, folding card table in a cement room. Keith is out of breath as a result of walking into the room. Keith pulls a loud adding machine from his brief case. He smiles at me like an IRS auditor would.)

Keith: Okay… How old are you again?

Me: Thirty-three

(Keith elongates his bottom lip and breathes in the corners of his mouth.)

Keith: Ouch.

(Keith punches numbers into his adding machine.)

Keith: Read WebMD much?

Me: No.

Keith: Interesting.

Me: What?

Keith: Nothing.

Me: What?

Keith: It has information… Lots of good information about having kids after your reproductive prime.

Me: Reproductive prime?

Keith: I can give you the website.

Me: I know the website.

(Keith looks at me awkwardly then punches more numbers into his adding machine.)

Keith: It’s w-w-w-dot…

Me: Shut up, Keith. Just run the numbers.

Keith: Right

(Typing.)

Keith: Okay… (Looks up) When are you going to die?

Me: Excuse me?

Keith: Ballpark.

(I stare at Keith for a while.)

Keith: Let’s go at this a different way. Let’s say you have a kid by thirty-five, just to be safe. (Punching numbers.) That means you’re fifty-five when he or she… Boy or girl?

Me: I don’t care.

Keith: We’ll just say a girl because girls are more likely to embrace an older-than-average father.

(I sigh.)

Keith: So she’s twenty and you’re fifty-five. (Typing on machine, the printer paper is getting longer.) How many kids?

Me: Let’s say three.

Keith: All girls then… Say you have them all by the time you’re forty… That means you’re sixty when the youngest is twenty and you’ve also got a twenty-five-year old and a, say, twenty-three-year old. And you keep in pretty good shape so you should be able to keep up when they’re kids: play basketball with them, clown around in the yard, et cetera.

Me: (Smiling) Right.

Keith: And sixty’s not that old.

Me: Exactly.

Keith: It’s the new thirty.

Me: That’s what they say.

(Keith starts frantically typing numbers in the adding machine. His brow furrows. He sweats. The tape gets longer. Keith suddenly stops; he puts on a fake smile. Keith is a bad liar.)

Me: Spill the beans, Keith.

Keith: How important is the whole grandfather thing?

Me: Pretty important.

Keith: On a scale of one to ten.

Me: Ten.

Keith: Cause let’s just say, hypothetically, that your oldest doesn’t have a kid until she’s thirty-five, cause the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This puts you at seventy when you become a grandfather. When did you say you’re going to die?

(I burn a hole in Keith’s face with my eyes.)

Keith: Anyway, by then life expectancy should be up around seventy-six for an American male. So a solid six years with the little ankle-biter… Did I mention WebMD?

Me: Shut your trap, Keith.

Keith: Cause they have an excellent Life Expectancy Calculator. It’s free.

(I slouch into my chair. Keith pulls a package of Tic-tacs from his briefcase. He offers me one. I shake my head.)

Keith: And look on the bright side. All these figures are dependent on whether or not you even have the ability to conceive.

These do not make me feel better, Keith.

Talking with Keith drives me up the wall. I want to slap his face, but that would mean slapping my… Perhaps I should try it anyway.

Seriously, what the hell have I been doing with myself? It’s not like I’ve had huge career success that would force me to delay having a family. I’m 99.5% unsuccessful! I don’t even have a career! True, I wanted to be married before having kids and I didn’t get married until I was thirty. Problem is I dilly-dallied with the wedding thing too. That is, Alex and I were together for many years before I finally bought the ring. We wanted to wait because of school.

Wait a minute. Couldn’t have kids earlier cause I wasn’t married. Didn’t get married earlier cause I was an older-than-average graduate student. Didn’t go to grad school earlier because…. Oh, dear God. There’s only one logical explanation: I’ve got a debilitating condition that retards my maturity level by five to ten years. This is also known as being a screw-off.  What if this is nature’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t be having kids? What if I ignore the signs, have kids anyway, and in doing so I create a tribe of screw-offs? Forget zombies or a catastrophic asteroid event or alien lasers. I might trigger the apocalypse just by having kids. WebMD has a fantastic article about this, I’m sure.

It’s weird, too, because I can’t exactly give a reason why I feel the need to multiply. So maybe I’ve waited to have kids in the hope that I’d come up with an answer. There’s the standard reply: I want to have kids so I’ll have someone to forcefully push toward excellence at the things I was never good at in the hope that I can live vicariously through them and somehow redeem myself for my own failures. Other than that, why do I want to have kids? I have no idea. I know that all you forward thinkers out there will say that I’m just falling in line with the status quo and maybe you’re right. Biology majors will say that such a need is ingrained in my DNA in order to propagate the species. Also true. Frankly, I’m not afraid of either of these reasons, but they’re so general. I’d still like to find something else, a solid personal reason why I should have kids. So far this is the best I’ve come up with: I think having kids would be neat.

Whatever my reason for not yet being a father, the bottom line is that I feel behind. Behind and old. Behind and old and panicky. And, yes, I’m aware that thirty-three isn’t that old. It’s just older than I thought I’d be when this type of thing came up and that makes me itchy. Compounded with Keith and all his numbers and sweating and statistics and WebMD and the fear that maybe I missed my window—this is a bad combination. So what’s a screw-off, wannabe rapper, wannabe father to do?

Shut up, Keith. It’s a rhetorical question.

-MC JLight