Friday, August 21, 2009
The Phoenix New Times actually scooped my blog on the subject, but they were super nice to me, so I won't complain too loud.
I'm saving the "grand opening" for September 15th, but if you need some help now, we'll make it happen. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The pop star made it a half-century before his collapse, full of uppers, downers and every drug in between. In the days following his demise, I avoided the news, not because I disliked him – I felt only indifference to his music, his life, his passing – but because every word praising the icon with the sequined glove felt like a word I would never hear delivered in praise of someone else.
Put another way, our world contains a finite amount of newsprint and ink, airtime and attention. Every moment spent exalting one human being – and that’s all any icon ever is, just one man – is a moment society will never be able to spend on anyone else.
A week into the Michael Jackson death watch, when I felt bereft of news, I developed a new routine, one I hope to keep alive long after the special editions of People magazine have vanished from the newsstands.
I began to read the obituaries. Not the ones about the rich, the famous and the powerful, the so-called best and brightest among us. Instead, I read about the people who demanded no headlines except what their families paid the newspaper to run, folks I never met and never will meet. I read about the dead whose stories never got told, the ones who never set records for album sales, who never earned records of platinum and who never amassed police records of alleged molestations.
“The mass of men,” Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Thoreau couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course, he also sat in solitude beside a pond for two years, so maybe his error in assessment should come as no surprise.
The irony from where I sit? Only that the icon, Jackson, was so much more desperate than so many I have read about in his wake. People like Dr. Ralph Fargotstein, who passed away in Scottsdale on July 22nd at the age of 93.
All I know of the doctor is what I’ve read, a few hundred words that make me wish I had met him while he still drew breath. Fargotstein had a wife, Dottie, a woman he called missus for longer than Michael Jackson lived. He had five kids and multiple grandkids. He was a Navy man in World War II and in Korea, and he served as a pathologist in hospitals across America, including St. Luke’s, where he made the laboratory a model of science.
Fargotstein retired in 1988, but he hardly slowed down. The good doctor pursued passions like photography and playing the organ and even attended flight school. Those who knew him cited his morals, his ability to inspire and his amazing recipe for barbecue sauce.
Every word I read made me wonder about the lives he saved, made better, returned to health. And by every word I mean all 444 of them, or about what CNN expended on Michael Jackson every minute all July long.
Fargotstein’s obit was an epic compared to the paragraph devoted to the passing of Paige Ann (Porky) Bandy, who died at 64. Bandy battled two forms of cancer all year long, before passing not long before the Gloved One. Porky called Arizona home for 59 years, graduating from Benson High School and eventually making her way to the Valley. Among her callings: Cop dispatcher, waitress, tour director, mother of a daughter, and assistant teacher of Japanese flower arranging. Her true niche, though, was in numerology. It took her across the world, gave her the chance to do reading after reading for friends and clients, to spin out possible futures the way the 21st century media spins out pasts.
To read about Porky, about her husband Carl and about her trip across Asia with her teacher, Lama Madi, was to want to congratulate her on a life well-lived. We could have talked numbers, or psychic gifts, or she could have told me about her two beloved grandchildren. The conversation, I am sure, would have been every bit as riveting as any tour of Neverland.
I could have listened to her for hours, in the same way as I could have listened to the violin playing of Ioana Dumitriu, 59, who died at 10 minutes before 4 in the morning on the 17th of July. The grandmother’s death ended a violin career that began at age 7, in Communist Romania, and propelled the prodigy across the world to the Phoenix Symphony, where she played for nearly 30 years.
To imagine Ioana, this musician I’ve done nothing more than conjure from a few words, is to think of Beethoven’s last symphony, his Ninth, a piece Ioana loved, with its “Ode to Joy” and its thunderous, heart-propelling finale. It’s also to imagine the small details, the little facts that define a life: The taste of her baklava, beloved at symphony potlucks; the pitchy squawk of Noah, her African Grey parrot; and the pride she must have imbued in her three children and her husband, Dan, himself a symphony violist.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Ad Week reports today about a hot new demographic among women ages 25 to 32 -- the "nesties." How do they define this group?
NEW YORK The Knot Inc. has identified a demographic subset of women who are going through a series of intense, mega-life-changes in a compressed period of time -- and as a result are spending as much on consumer goods as they’ve ever spent in their lives.
The digital media company, best known for its core wedding-centric site TheKnot.com, recently conducted a study in conjunction with global research firm OTX. The result was the classification of this marketing-friendly group dubbed "Nesties" -- 25-to-32-year-old women who are getting engaged, planning weddings, shopping for houses and preparing to have kids -- essentially planning for the next 20 years of their lives during a tight three- to four-year window.
According to the elaborate report, which surveyed over 6,000 women this past February, the Nesties wield a whopping $283 billion in spending power. Yet, because of the heavy expenses incurred during many of their life-changing events, finances are top of mind. as Less than a quarter claim to "only think about finances when they absolutely have to," according to the report. Half of Nesties say they are overwhelmed by financial burdens, and close to 70 percent say they are cautious about spending on non-essentials.
Despite the recession, they are still spending on major purchases like houses, wedding dresses and cribs. “They are in the market at the same time for more things than maybe any other point in their lives,” said Knot CEO David Liu.
In other news, I've identified a demographic of men ages 25 to 45 that I call the Hasties. Their defining feature? They run away with great haste whenever theymeet Nesties. Not sure about their cumulative buying power yet, but I'm certain they drink a lot of beer and often can be see wearing t-shirts by Ed Hardy and Affliction.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
- 13:01 How do people sit down and write a novel with no more planning than "this feeling I had?" An outline feels mandatory - and damn hard to do. #
- 13:03 Best part of Twitter? Random questions! RT Jenn_ex anyone know if you can get the old wonder woman tv series on dvd? #
- 14:50 How is this song 29 years old? That's insane. I miss Squeeze. ♫ blip.fm/~7c8pj #
- 14:53 "What a beautiful face I have found in this place." One of the best band names ever ... Neutral Milk Hotel. ♫ blip.fm/~7c8wr #
- 14:58 Thinking about the late Jay Bennett. Rest in peace. ♫ blip.fm/~7c97d #
- 15:04 Not a big Dylan fan, but this song finds its way right to my soul. ♫ blip.fm/~7c9il #
- 15:18 Beautiful Springsteen song and a central part of Jerry Maguire. ♫ blip.fm/~7cabs #
- 15:28 Tonight? Heading to Press, the coffeehouse at CityNorth to see my boys from @randomkarma and @champagnetap play. #
- 20:38 Just went to casino and played an hour of 23. It's like blackjack but way more expensive. #
- 22:13 Been all over the Valley tonight. As usual, ADOT sucks. Construction on 101 and 202 makes east west travel a nightmare. #
- 23:10 Time to study the inside of my eyelids. With help from Tylenol PM. #
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Advice columns are a dime a dozen, you'll doubtless agree. And they're deadly boring, mostly because Dear So and So never gives the useful advice you'd offer if only someone paid you scads of cash to advise those in unrelenting agony over the unfairness of life.
For example, here's how Dear Abby would read if I'd been given the assignment.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 56-year-old man with a lifelong dilemma – I was born on Christmas Day. Yep, December 25th. For my whole life, year after year, my birthday has always been second banana, and, worse yet, I get cheated on gifts because my friends and family double up. Recently, I've decided to move my annual celebration to June 25th, which is my half birthday. My wife and nine kids say I'm being petty. What do you think? Sign me … TIRED OF SHARING A BIRTHDAY WITH JESUSAdmittedly, my column wouldn’t be renowned for its compassion and fellow feeling, but it would be entertaining as all get out. And it would solve one of the big problems with advice columns: They're boring as hell. The trouble is, my approach wouldn't solve the other problem I have with advice columns: The fact that their perspective is so narrow. Personally, I don’t want my problems solved by one middle-aged lady from Illinois. Nor do I want to go on TV and have my issues dealt with by an old white guy with a porn mustache and a voice that sounds like Huckleberry Hound.
DEAR TIRED: Shut up. No one likes a whiner.
Me, I believe there's wisdom in the multitudes, in having the minds of many solving the problems of one. You know, like those meetings you get sucked into at work, where 11 people sit around the big table crunching on Baked Lays and swilling Diet Cokes for an hour, "brainstorming" as a group until "the team" comes up with a workable solution?
Okay, you're right. Bad example. Those meetings inevitably suck. But I believe the principle of many helping one is sound and capable of giving birth to a new kind of advice column, a screed where (drum roll, please) …
You solve my problems!
Lucky for you people my whole life can be whittled down to precisely one problem, one pesky dilemma that has stood between me and happiness for a solid four decades now. And because I believe this problem is shared the world over, I'm willing to put it out there in all its glory, to see if you readers can solve it where the likes of Abby and Ann and Dr. Phil would surely fail.
Get your thinking caps on, because here goes.
DEAR READERS: I'm a 44-year-old man who's caught between two warring entities. On one side, there's my mind, my personal mental hard drive, storage system for facts and lessons and logic. It's home to everything I know. Standing opposed? That would be my heart, domicile of my emotions, home to joy and fear, love and guilt, and everything else I feel from one minute to the next.
They never seem to agree, these two. Doesn’t matter if I'm talking about staying on a diet, asking a woman out on a date, balancing the need to save money with the desire to shop, or getting out of bed to go to work on a Monday morning. My life very much resembles a perpetual standoff between mental Israel vs. emotional Palestine. My brain has a plan, a path to the right thing to do, meanwhile my heart has a set of feelings and wants that don't seem to subscribe to the mind's logic.
The question: How do you bring the two into balance? How do you get them to agree? Sign me, ONE CONFLICTED SOUL AMONG MANY.
Like I said, I know I'm not alone in this feeling, since I witness the same battle in others on an almost hourly basis. The examples are endless: The dieter who knows carrot cake is wrong, but cannot ward off the craving for a mouthful of frosting. The husband who knows that a stolen kiss – or worse – is cheating, but who gives in to the adrenalin of a momentary thrill. The drunk, the gambler, the addict, who knows down to the marrow that they're destroying their life, that they need help, that one more time is one more time too many, and yet fails to beat back their emotional demons, those feelings that say "yes" even when they know that "no" is the only acceptable answer.
Why do I see this conflict as essential, as the one battle that every thinking human being fights day after day?
Mostly because of how I define achieving maturity in a grown adult: It's owning the ability to consistently do what's necessary and what's right, even when that course of action is the last thing on Earth one feels like doing.
Not sure where you stand on having that ability, but me, I'd give myself a hard-earned B-minus. Hence, the need to put the question the masses. Besides believing in continually trying to grow up, I also believe in the wisdom of the many, the power of well-meaning folks around you to provide some insight you'd never glean on your own.
So have at it. Send me an answer at email@example.com. Doesn't matter what it is, only that you truly believe in it. I promise to print the best answers ASAP – and to do my best to take the best advice. Peace.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Anyway, a bunch of folks have asked me which column won. Here it is, from the December 2008 Scottsdale Times:
Every so often, you witness one of life's transcendent moments, a sublime sliver of eternity. False pretenses fall away and the true essence of Man reveals itself for all to see. For yours truly, this happened a few days ago at my local Bank of America ATM.
The scene? Early on a Saturday, inside Fry's grocery. A long line of sad-faced bank customers stand by to transact their meager financial business. A man in saggy sweatpants steps to the automated teller. He inserts his card, fingers the touchscreen. And then, madness erupts:
"#^&@*%+#$@!" screams Mr. Sweats. And again: "Un-%$^%#^@-ing believable. $%^#@#!&^. ##%$^*^#. I can’t believe the (anatomical reference deleted) on these people."
I'll spare you the finer points of this diatribe, Dear Reader, except to say that there apparently had been a hold placed on a deposited check and some disappointment regarding our hero's available checking balance. That's really not important, though, because here our story takes a surprising turn.
"Watch your mouth," urged a 20-something Good Samaritan standing in line. "There are women around."
To say that Mr. Sweats took umbrage at this warning would be putting it too mildly – by about half. "Yeah?" he said. "Well, $#$@@$% 'em. And %#&^# you too. ^$^%&#$ all of you."
The gents' debate continued like this for some time, and it was riveting stuff, with threats of mayhem that would have made the Al Qaeda network proud. But the highlight of it all, the reason for this column, came courtesy of a white-haired lady spectator, a "call Central Casting and have em' send down a grandma" sort of woman, 75 years old at least, with a purse the size of the Blarney Stone slung over her arm.
Says Granny: "Why don't you both shut the $%%#^ up?"
There was laughter and even a smattering of light applause. Me, I would have high-fived the lady, but (a) I was worried I'd break her arm, and (b) I was caught in the throes of an epiphany.
Profanity really gets a bum rap in this country. That was my startling realization. For all the talk of swearing degrading the English language, of curse words being the last refuge of the unimaginative, sometimes a well-timed @#^%$#@ is exactly what's necessary.
Minus the foul language, Granny's line simply wouldn't have been funny. Nor can I imagine checking the Dow these days without having a full of arsenal of swear words at my disposal. I'll defer to no less an authority than Mark Twain here:
"Under certain circumstances," Twain is credited with saying, "profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."
Hey, who am I to disagree with the author of Huck Finn? Plus, as anyone who's ever watched Shaquille O'Neal shoot foul shots or the Arizona Cardinals blow a fourth quarter lead will attest, sometimes Shakespearean prose simply doesn't do a tragedy justice.
Speaking of sports, I can't believe – in a world where cable TV and satellite radio are rapidly becoming king – that no network has unveiled an R-rated play-by-play broadcast hardcore fans could pay extra to enjoy. Think about it: The Suns are playing the Spurs in the playoffs and Tim Duncan drains an improbable three-pointer to kill our hopes of a championship.
On one network, you have Al McCoy holding forth: "Heartbreak hotel, Suns fans. That's a tough loss for your Phoenix Suns."
On the other channel, you have a guy saying what Al is surely thinking anyway: "Are you, ##$%^^@ing kidding me? What kind of #$#%$^ is that? Sweet sassy molassey, that's the most $^@!$%& ridiculous shot I've seen in my #@$%^& life. God, I $%$^&* hate the Spurs."
That's what it sounds like at my house, I promise you.
Besides language more accurately reflecting the real world, swearing has another potential upside – uniting us at work. I kid you not. A 2007 British study published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal claims as much. According to Professor Yehuda Baruch, profanity not only cuts down on job-related anxiety, it also knits together colleagues.
"For some people, the use of profanity is a way to create collegiality," Baruch told ABC News. "For others, it's a way to relieve stress. …This is a message to managers. When people feel better, the group feels better. It's a win-win situation."
What else is there for me to say except to utter a hearty "@#!&*^ yeah?"
Besides, swearing can also be very profitable. Witness the case of Dawn Herb, a mother of four who hails from Scranton, Pa. Last October, Herb, 33, began cursing a blue streak at an overflowing toilet in her home. Little did Herb know that her neighbor, an off-duty Scranton cop by the name of Patrick Gilman, could hear her through the open bathroom window. A verbal cursefest ensued – not unlike my ATM debacle – except this one ended up with Herb arrested for disorderly conduct.
For a while, she was facing 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. Then the ACLU got involved, a judge found Herb not guilty and threats of a lawsuit for false arrest began to fly. The net result? Last month, the city of Scranton settled and paid Herb $19,000 for her trouble.
Is that crazy? Absolutely. ##%^ crazy. But in the final analysis I have to agree with one of Herb's attorneys, an ACLU staff lawyer named Valerie Burch.
"What may be profanity to some is poetry to others," she said via press release. "Both are constitutionally protected expression and the police can't charge people for either."
Charge people? Heck, nowadays they actually pay people to curse.
The judge's take on the above? “Leibowitz does what only great humorists do: takes one small incident and builds an entire story around it, complete with a laugh-out-loud line involving a granny who fights fire with fire. Excellent!”
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
- 06:26 Is it sad that I wake up and immediately grab my iPhone for an email/social media inventory ... while on vacation? #
- 06:41 Look at it this way: There's only one Monday morning each week. And it'll be over soon. #
- 07:32 If an awesome meal generates "food porn," then this beachside cafe breakfast is a "food snuff film." Ocean's gorgeous though. #
- 07:45 The Atlantic Ocean says it loves Monday morning. yfrog.com/08qrcj #
- 08:18 The need for perfection can be perfect hell. #
- 11:16 Haircut on vacation. Good idea. Meeting lonely Haitian barber named Edwidge. Swell. Looking like I'm in the midst of chemo. Priceless. #
- 13:35 After nearly 48 hours in Florida, I give up. Catching pm flight home tomorrow. Saw parents, pals. That's enough for me. #
- 19:00 Love the crowd shots in Boston. Lots of fat, grimacing Celts fans. #
- 21:31 Craig Sager. Master of the Reportorial Obvious and the Sartorial Hideous. #
Thursday, April 30, 2009
- 06:54 Sometimes it feels like we've measured creativity into impossibility. #
- 07:41 I really need to work on this "having a life" thing I keep hearing about. Woke at 5 with storyboard ideas in my head. Now at my desk. #
- 08:49 Wearing glasses to work for the first time in years. Contacts make eyes ache. Benefits? I can see co-workers! And they seem good looking. #
- 10:09 Maybe Twitter is just hype? Nielsen study shows 60 percent of users don't come back after 1 month. bit.ly/3pcfXT #
- 12:14 Love that Phoenix was named one of America's Top 20 "fun cities." Why do I feel like we're 19th, right behind Toledo? #
- 12:22 Funny about the "most fun" list. San Jose, CA is #6. And Oakland -- Oakland -- is #11. Santa Ana, CA? #17. Talk about fun! #
- 18:26 Sleepy at 625 pm? Either I'm super lame or swine flu-ish. #
- 19:04 I hate when my fortune cookie isn't a fortune but an order. Tell my future, dammit. #
- 20:02 I used to excel at creating space from people who made me uncomfortable. Now I try too hard to be nice. A little conflict goes a long way. #
- 20:13 If AMC stands for "Amerian Movie Classics," why is "Road House" on?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
- 07:08 Monday. Yep Monday. That about sums it up from this corner of the twitterverse. #
- 08:20 E*Trade is super convenient ... until you're on the phone to Mumbai to speak to the Slumdog Thousandaire in customer non-service. #
- 11:12 Swine flu, a massive earthquake. All Mexico needs now is a plague of locusts and the apocalypse trifecta may be complete. #
- 11:13 T-minus 10 minutes until lunch at Cibo. Monday is shaping up nicely. #
- 11:20 I'm worried about a massive swine sickout, where they all call in sick feeling headachy and nauseous. That'd kill my chef's salad dinner. #
- 17:43 How cool would it be if Hugh Jackman became the Valley's first case of swine flu? The media explosion heard 'round Arizona! #
- 19:41 The Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" ads are quickly getting way less interesting. #
- 19:49 What the hell is on Marv Albert's head? I haven't seen a rug that lousy since my college apartment. #
- 19:56 If there's one cool name in all sports, it's Pacquiao. I just like saying it. #
- 19:59 Love HBO's "24/7" boxing docs. And while I like Ricky Hatton, I'd love for Pacquiao to pummel Hatton's moron trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr. #
Monday, April 27, 2009
- 08:26 "If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable." Seneca nails it, almost 2000 years ago. #
- 08:27 Ready, fire, aim. Still working for me after 40-odd years. #
- 08:28 And now comes Day One of my new "All Pancakes Diet." Talk about a bestseller! #
- 08:58 Great NY Times read on looks and how and why we stereotype. www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/
- 12:12 Cannot shake the funk. What's your remedy for a truly black mood? #
- 17:42 The funk seems to be lifting. Some sunshine, some conversation and a heaping dose of worrying about someone besides me. That did the trick. #
- 21:34 Love the news. Swine flu, salmonella-afflicted alfalfa sprouts and a multiple shooting on a college campus. I'll check back next month. #
Sunday, April 26, 2009
- 05:24 Once upon a time, I used to be awake at 5:20 on a Saturday morning and I'd think, "Need to go home soon." Now I'm just watching dawn come. #
- 09:12 The iTunes Genius feature is ... sheer genius. #
- 10:01 Love the song "Red Rabbits" by The Shins. Still, 500 listens later, I have zero clue what it's about. #
- 10:48 Like I was saying, "Red Rabbits" is awesome ... but what's it about? Lunch on me for the first good explication. ♫ blip.fm/~4yifx #
- 10:52 My hope is, Boy George shows up today to front @randomkarma. Random Karma Khameleon would rock the McDowell Mtn Music Fest! #mmmf #
- 12:26 Cannot shake the malaise today. Blah blah blah. #
- 12:43 Sometimes I wonder: Am I walking toward the future or backing away from the past? #
- 13:01 So this seal walks into a club ... Yep, I'm appearing here all week, folks. #
- 13:21 And then there's not Maude. Bea Arthur passes away at 86. www.etonline.com/news/2009/04/
- 13:25 With the 31st pick in the NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals take - Susan Boyle. "She's cheap and she can sing the anthem," says Bill Bidwill. #
- 13:33 This swine flu thing is really impacting me. All morning, I've wanted a ham sandwich and maybe a hot dog. #
- 14:12 It's a good day for me. Just broke my personal record for consecutive days alive! #
- 14:47 I'm a believer in doing the right thing. Now if I could just figure out what the right thing is. #
- 17:28 Back to back, I've heard Winger and Warrant. Ears officially in rebellion. #
- 20:22 I really enjoy watching Kobe play. Gives me a chance to wonder about the fragility of the human ACL. #
- 02:10 I'm totally ready to hit the town. My nap from 930 till 2am really did the trick. #
- 02:12 This is how $100-a-hand 3am blackjack starts, people. Quick ... Where's the Tylenol PM? #
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Sure, that sounds like an anticlimax. But with the economy being so lousy, book shopping seemed like the best way to battle massive anxiety yet stay within my budget.
The occasion? Only my 44th birthday, an over-hyped, underwhelming personal landmark full of smirky "wow, you're olds," wiseass Facebook comments, and a burning desire to avoid a colonscopy, the gift my family doctor has been trying to give me for a couple years now.
Fighting back middle age was how I ended up in the Women's Health aisle, leafing though Suzanne Somers' latest epic, "Breakthrough: 8 Steps to Wellness: Life-Altering Secrets from Today’s Cutting-Edge Doctors." Shockingly, I actually made it four pages, right up to here – "We are under the greatest environmental assault in the history of mankind; we live in a world of unbelievable stress and pollution. Our bodies are no longer able to tolerate this assault and as a result people are sick." That's when I realized three things:
One, I didn't need to spend $25.95 to depress the hell out of myself. I was already there. Two, I liked Suzanne Somers a lot better as Chrissy, the dingy blonde on Three's Company, or even on those Thighmaster infomercials. And three, I really need to write a self-help book.
Seems like everyone's an advice whiz these days. The comedian Steve Harvey has a self-help book. So does talk show host Montel Williams, and Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy. Oprah has her mug on a bunch, and LL Cool J has a workout book and on and on.
Me, all I have a title so far. I'm going to call mine, What Are You A Freakin' Moron: Simple Stuff That Will Screw Up Your Life If You Forget It!
Catchy, huh? The best part is, the title has a colon. That's something I learned from Suzanne Somers – all self-help bestsellers have a colon in the middle of the title. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems to be a rule.
As for content, here's a confession for you: I pretty much have nothing so far. But that didn't seem to stop Spencer Johnson, the guy who wrote Who Moved My Cheese? I read that thing in like a half hour 10 years ago, while waiting for a dentist's appointment, and all I remember about Hem and Haw and Sniff and Scurry is that I've never felt so good about a root canal, either before or since.
I think a big part of my problem – besides still being confused by the world around me pretty much 24/7, even after 44 years alive – is my inability to take a simple thought and explain it at great length. That appears to be another self-help staple, but my 15 years of journalism seems to have beaten the long-windedness out of me. For example, my first chapter was going to be about how to lose weight, a subject I know all too well, having lost at least 2,000 pounds in my lifetime (while unfortunately also gaining back approximately 2,250).
What have I written so far?
"Eat less. Exercise more."
You see my problem, I'm sure. I mean, I could fill out the chapter with some recipes, but let's be honest: No one really follows those anyway after, what, like the first three days on the diet? So what's the point?
Then there's the chapter about success at work. In a lot of books, that's like a whole book by itself, which makes sense given how tricky the workplace is in the 21st century. Me, I haven't been able to come up with a second paragraph. I'm stuck after just three sentences:
"Do a good job and be nice to people. Because if you do a bad job but you're nice to people, it won’t matter that you're nice, because people will get sick of you. And because if you do a good job but you're a jackass, it won't matter that you did a good job, because people will get sick of you."
Kind of a cause and effect thing. Anyway, I'm sure the publishers will tell me that I need some way to make it more complicated, or it'll never sell. Sort of like relationships.
That's my other chapter that I'm working on right now – my take on women and how we men can get along with them better. Here's what I have at press time.
That's the set-up sentence. Then there's the explainer sentence which follows: "Look at the word 'Nothing' in the sentence above. Stare hard at the letter 'o,' at the space within its circle. That tiny area contains all the vast knowledge I have accumulated about women after more than 16,000 days on this planet. It also holds all the knowledge about women that has been passed down to me by generations of Leibowitz men and by all humans who have ever owned a Y-chromosome. Never forget this. Never think you know anything. Never think you will know anything. If you keep this lack of knowledge squarely in mind, you will still fail miserably with women, but at least you won't be overconfident."
I know. The chapter needs work; all the chapters need work. But, 44 years in, at least I feel like I'm finally making some progress.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
For days now, I've tortured metaphors like some keyboard Dahmer, struggling to find the perfect comparison to explain how thoroughly the year 2008 sucked. None of my usual "complete suckage" standbys – various ex-girlfriends, Shaq's free-throw shooting, the Arizona Cardinals – seemed to do 2008 justice.
In the end, I came to a prudent decision: I'm going to forget the entire year ever happened. So if you flipped to this page expecting to read one of those annual newspaper column staples – the funny haha year-in-review piece – you're going to be halfway disappointed.
While I refuse to say one more word about the Hellish Year That Was, I fully intend to review a year in the pursuit of some yuks. The annum in question? 2009, for which I have nothing but high hopes. Here's how I see it breaking down:
Jan. 4th: After a drought of some 60 years, the Arizona Cardinals show up on a sunny Sunday afternoon to host their first home playoff game in most every Arizonan's lifetime. Sadly, the NFL neglects to tell the team that the game was actually scheduled for Saturday, the 3rd. The bad news? Without the Cards' present on Saturday, they lose to the Atlanta Falcons 47-0. The good news? The drubbing might have been worse had the team actually been in attendance.
Jan. 20th: In separate swearing-in ceremonies some 2,000 miles apart, Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States while Jan Brewer takes office as the 22nd governor of Arizona. Obama's speech is marked by references to his campaign slogan, "Yes, we can." Brewer, meanwhile, coins what becomes the signature line of her time in office – "Really, I am?"
Feb. 17th: The East Valley Tribune, in yet another cost-cutting move, lays off all its reporters and editors and announces that it will publish a daily newspaper composed solely of "user-generated content." Publisher Julie Moreno explains, "You can come on down and write stuff or submit a picture and we'll find some space for it somewhere. It doesn't even have to be a story. Just make a list or something." Shortly after the press conference, Moreno lays herself off.
March 11th: Almost three months after the Valley's light rail system begins accepting passengers, 72-year-old Marvin Lipschitz of Mesa becomes Metro's first-ever rider. Lipschitz, a retired construction worker from Waukesha, Wisc., explains to the assembled media that he actually boarded the light rail car by mistake. "Whaddya mean, it's a train?" he asks. "I thought it was one of those 5 & Diner deals. I just want some onion rings."
May 3rd: After more than a year of disappointing Suns' fans, Shaquille O'Neal finally wins over the crowd when he dives for a loose ball and inadvertently crushes team owner Robert Sarver. Sarver suffers two dislocated shoulders and a sprained face in the collision, leaving him unable to cross his arms and stare smugly up at the Jumbotron – his preferred pose at every Suns' home game.
June 30th: As the fiscal year comes to a close, the City of Phoenix makes a last-ditch attempt to ward off bankruptcy – by attaching speed cameras to those poor hand-held sign guys who dance in place at intersections all around the city. "They're standing there anyway," explains Mayor Phil Gordon. "Besides, if we don't do this, we'll only have to hire them to hold 'Liquidation Sale' signs in a few weeks. It's that bleak."
July 4th: Undeterred by his second losing campaign for the White House, Arizona Republican John McCain announces plans to run for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. McCain, just a few weeks shy of his 73rd birthday, livens up his own press conference by telling reporters, "Hey, get the hell off my &^%$# lawn, you *^$@^&!" He then drives 32 mph in the left lane all the way to Hometown Buffet for a 4:30 pm dinner fundraiser with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Sept. 14th: Angered by yet another editorial calling for his resignation, Sheriff Joe Arpaio raids the Van Buren Street offices of the Arizona Republic, proclaiming his intention to "arrest the Republic." Told that in America it's customary only to arrest people, not corporate entities, Arpaio explodes, shouting at the top of his lungs, "I'm the sheriff, elected by the people, and I'll do what the people elected me to do, because that's why they elected me. To do that. What they elected me to do! Be sheriff." Arpaio calls the raid a success after his men take 11 Republic boxes and Ed Montini's computer into custody.
Nov. 4th: With the 2010 election a year away, two Republicans announces their surprise candidacies for governor. Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley is the first to throw his hat in the ring, despite facing 118 criminal counts over questionable land deals. Within minutes, Congressman Rick Renzi – himself facing 35 criminal counts over a questionable land swap – also places his name into contention. The two hold a joint news conference where Renzi explains, "Usually Arizona governors get indicted while in office. We're already there, so why not us?"
Dec. 31st: With the Dow Jones hovering near 21,000, the Arizona Diamondbacks still basking in the glow of a world championship and the undefeated Suns and Cardinals also contending for titles, Times columnist David Leibowitz announces his retirement. "There's nothing left to complain about," says Leibowitz, a chronic whiner. "I mean, what am I supposed to do, be positive for a change?"
Right. Not likely to happen. Not this year. Not this lifetime.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
I get the folks who are registered and likely to vote for neither candidate. That 3 percent of the population just likes someone else -- Nader, Ron Paul, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Neutron, whoever. Can't blame them at all because neither guy in this race has much going for him in terms of inspiration. But the two presidential candidates are one thing if nothing else: Different from one another in tangible ways. McCain and Obama are different on the war in Iraq, different on Roe v. Wade, different on the role of government in our lives, different, different, different.
My question for the 5 percent of America who remains of "no opinion" (and I believe this would make for fun dinner chatter): If you haven't made up your mind yet, what exactly are you waiting for to reach the tipping point? Maybe tomorrow night during the second debate McCain will snap and karate chop Obama in the throat? Or perhaps Obama mutters something about "hating whitey" and flashes some gang signs?
That's a dinner I'd be up for attending. I just don't want to be there at the Cheesecake Factory while our undecided guests try to make up their minds.
Server: "So, are you folks ready to order? Why don't we start with you, ma'am?"Love those people. We'll come back to them on first Tuesday in November, I guess. Comforting thought ...
Sarah from Peoria: "Yeah. Uh, hmm. No. Yeah. I don't know. I'm stuck trying to choose between the chicken caesar salad or maybe the Oreo cheesecake. Which is better, do you think? Or maybe a Reuben sandwich. Jeez. Wow. Okay ... huh, maybe you can just come back to me?"
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Finally, the 4th of November looms and this endless season of sanctimony draws close to its conclusion. The polling and the crowning of a victor come not one hour too soon. For all the talk of history being made in this election cycle, first black this, first female that, the landmark that stands tallest to me is a new pinnacle of false piety from both sides.Well, at least no one will be left wondering how I really feel, huh?
Let me be abundantly clear here: For months I have examined both candidates, the combustible chameleon from Arizona and the cardboard cutout from Illinois, and for all that analysis I have come to feel that little more than a coin flip separates the two senators in terms of qualification to lead this country. Whoever wins, if there comes a 4 a.m. soon when the White House phone rings, I'm rooting for it to go straight through to voice mail.
You want a prediction? I feel confident I can pick a loser between Obama and McCain.
America. We are the poorer for having lived through Election 2008.
The funny thing is, the candidates haven't been the worst part of this billion-dollar beauty pageant. The two senators remind me of the renegade zoo lion who mauls his trainer suddenly one morning: They're just predators being predators. It's the gawkers at this zoo who I've found all the more insufferable. Republicans, Democrats, Obama lovers, passengers and conductors on the McCain Straight Talk Express, the media elite, the talk show blatherers – it's hard to imagine any of these folk know how shrill they sound, how much like bleating sheep, baa-baa-baaing their self-professed intellectual and moral superiority.
Anymore in 21st century America, people no longer seem able to simply disagree on politics. Now to hold an ideological opinion is akin to holding down a perch on Mount Olympus. You love the view where you are. Everyone else is beneath you, the masses not fit to breathe the same air.
A holier-than-thou tone has been everywhere this campaign season, most especially when the subject turns to race. I write this screed with a new poll from the Associated Press ringing in my ears, and with these opening paragraphs fresh in my head:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks.
The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about 2.5 percentage points.
The net impact of prejudice in this race, according to the poll?
Statistical models derived from the poll suggest that Obama's support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice.
Excuse me while I go take a shower to wash off the self-righteousness that underlies that assumption.
What do I find so objectionable about this study, besides its potential divisiveness, flimsy math and lack of anything resembling courage? Only this: Its inherent racism.
Nowhere did the pollsters seek to measure the impact of skin color on this campaign in a 360-degree way. Nowhere did they ask the sorts of questions truly color-blind scientists would have asked: Like what percentage of blacks are voting for Obama based on race alone? Or what percentage of blacks have sworn off McCain as too melanin-deprived for their taste? And, even more interestingly, what percentage of whites find themselves leaning toward Obama not for his stands on Iraq or on abortion rights, but because they want to feel good about their open-mindedness, positive about their race-neutral ways, by virtue of their having cast a vote for a man whose skin tone bears so little resemblance to their own?
Of course race has played a role in this election. I'd be a fool to deny it, just as you would be a fool to assume that race can do nothing more than harm Obama. But foolishness is what you get when those who can at best only assume confuse their capacity to take a flying guess with the ability to peer deep into the electorate's soul.
Not to beat the metaphor of color into the ground here, but if there's one hue that defines the election of 2008 it isn't skin color or red states versus blue states, it's all the various shades of gray. Just as it's impossible to fully predict what's in a candidate's heart, it's similarly impossible to predict why any one voter makes any one choice once the curtain closes and it's time to punch chads.
Is it possible that the bigotry of a handful of American whites will keep Obama from the presidency? Without a doubt, just as it's possible that his race is – for a different handful of voters on the first Tuesday in November – the very best reason to vote for the man.
To me, the question was never black and white, never black nor white, never really about skin tone at all. For whom to vote is simply one more query with no good answer in a country where everyone seems to hold their own version of the truth as the word of God.
Somewhere down the line, maybe we'll all stop asking which side we're on and instead wonder aloud about why we were so sure in the first place.
Friday, September 19, 2008
10 Books Not To Read Before You Die
The producer of at least three television shows that you may quite like shares with us his definitive list of books that just aren't worth the botherRichard Wilson
1. Anything at all by Joyce Carol Oates. In the time it took me to write this blog entry, she wrote another 700 pages of dreck.
2. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. Makes a great doorstop.
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon. Great writer. Not a great work, no matter what the critics say.
4. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison. Call me a racist if you must, but it just doesn't illuminate much of anything for me.
5. This blog. If you're here now, you should really reconsider your taste in e-literature.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Him: "I guess I've always been more about playing defense than playing offense. That's something I'd like to work on more. I should play more offense."His explanation was a good one, though I didn't realize how good it was until last night when I was walking through downtown Portland back to my hotel. It was a perfect night, cool and breezy, the streets teeming with people determined to savor every last hour of this gifted stretch, and it gave voice to what I've been thinking the past few days:
Me: "I'm not sure what you mean?"
Him: "Defense is more reacting to things. Offense is more about making things happens. Defensive people, I guess, they just capitalize on whatever happens to find it's way to them. Offensive people search out opportunities. They find things."
God, I could so live here. Really, I should just up and move.
That was when I fully understood what Brian meant by offense versus defense. An offensive-
minded person would have commenced finding ways to make such a move happen. Instead I began to find reasons why I could never do it:
What it would do to your career? How could you earn a living? You don't know but a handful of folks – could you make all new friends? What about the friends you'd leave behind? You could never sell your house in this market. That would suck. Could you really build a whole new life here, ground up, at 43 years old?
The more I went over it in my head, the more I felt the split between offense and defense. There was a time, all through my 20s and into my 30s, where I was far more on offense, when I'd gamble with my life in a moment to make some half-assed dream happen. That wasn't a bad thing: It led me to writing as a life, to journalism, to move out West, to enough self-discoveries to make happiness a possibility. Somewhere along the way, though, my tolerance for risk began to diminish and I became more about protecting what I have as opposed to trying to amass more. I'm not saying this version of me is bad or good – it simply is. I still take risks, and I'm glad I do. Playing offense has led me to advertising and to friends like Louie and Kat and Jos, who have taught me so much about the kind of man I long to be. Now, though, there's less I'm willing to risk, less I'm willing to throw down as a bet. I'm on defense more, looking to ward off disaster, looking less to create opportunities and more to avoid the sorts of bad choices that you might label "the opposite of opportunity."
Maybe I'm content this way and maybe that means I'll never live in Portland. Or maybe, like Brian, I should encourage myself to play more offense, to risk more in an effort to get more. We shall see …
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
It never ceases to amaze me, in this Age of Apathy, how some folks have managed to retain their passion for politics. Me, I think of election cycles as a game, a farce cast full of clowns on both sides. I know that sounds cynical, but I've spent too much time around politicians and I've heard too much bullshit rhetoric and pandering to be swept away by anyone's sound bites. The folks who have stayed full of fire, the ones who still get excited by the speeches and the possibility of hope ... I really admire them.
Like my pal Juliana.
Just this morning, we were sitting around her table in Portland when talk turned to the presidential election. She's an avid Dem (me, I'm avidly contemptuous of both parties) and she couldn't be more appalled by John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as VP. I think her quote went something like, "To have that woman a heartbeart away from the presidency, I can't even imagine it. And McCain, he's 72 years old."
That's when I made my near-fatal mistake. I compared Obama to Palin.
Me: "What qualifies him to be president? What's on his resume?"You can imagine how badly the talk went after that -- especially when I admitted that I'd likely vote for McCain based on how well I've come to know him over the years (and the fact that he called me an "asshole" a few years ago, which is kind of cool). The moral to the story? That America was a simpler place back when we didn't talk politics in polite company. And that, for every guy like me, who thinks of the political process as a lame joke, there are still some true believers out there.
Juliana: "Grrrrr. Grumble. Grrrrr."
Me: "Seriously. The guy was a community organizer, then in the Illinois State Senate, then a U.S. Senator. Now he's ready to run the country."
Juliana (with blood in her eyes): "At least he's inspirational."
Me: "So now we're electing a president based on ability to inspire? How is that a qualification?"
By the way, here's the coda to the tale. Juliana had a quote that deserves being memorialized for the next few years, at least:
"Mark my words, if McCain is elected president, we'll go to war with Iran within two years. Right after that, they'll appoint as many conservatives as they can to the United States Supreme Court, so I as a woman will no longer have any reproductive rights."There you have it, folks. A vote for McCain could be a vote against uteruses everywhere.
-- Juliana Lukasik
September 9, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Dem: Obama rebuffed Daddy Yankee
There's a bit more backstory, though. A Democratic Party source tells me a representative for Daddy Yankee approached Obama's Latino outreach staffers earlier this year about possibly endorsing Obama.
But he didn't pass the vetting, and Obama's aides said they weren't interested in his support. So, apparently, he moved over to McCain.
A spokeswoman for the performer didn't return a call seeking comment on the claim.
UPDATE: Still no word from Daddy Yankee, but McCain spokesman Michael Golfarb emails: "That’s a 'Ludacris' suggestion, and given the number of shady characters and organizations that have endorsed Barack Obama, we find it hard to believe the Obama campaign has turned down any endorsements at all. After all, you can’t vet the vetters.
Another non-campaign source, however, tells me there are a few other prominent entertainers Obama's turned down for somewhat similar reasons.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Because there's only one weekly radio show about greyhound racing total.
It's called Post Time and it's on XTRA 910AM here in the Valley. You can listen to perhaps the most motley crew in broadcasting (me, track handicapper Ansel Styles Jr., track announcer Rick Gomez and trainer/barbershop quartet genius Clifton Gray) every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Arizona time. All you have to do is click here.
Come on -- you know you want to.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
My column for next month's Times involves "true confession time" at Chez Leibowitz. The subject: Guilty pleasures. More specifically, my sudden affinity for a certain group of falsetto-singing Australian brothers.
Yep. The Bee Gees.
I know. How horrible is that to admit?
If you feel like this bizarre love requires an explanation, let me just go ahead and let you read the column:
We begin this month with a confession. Trusted friends have advised me to keep this information to myself, to guard it with the sort of vigilance usually reserved for grand jury testimony, the final episode of "The Sopranos," and the Arizona Cardinals' five-year rebuilding plan. I just can't do that."New York Mining Disaster 1941" really is a pretty good song, I swear. Listen for yourself here.
Why not, you ask? Mainly it's the shame, is what it is. I've been carrying an enormous burden around for weeks, and lately the weight has been stone-heavy, a gravity so thick it's immobilizing. Confession seems like the only the option. Just tell all and pray that Pascal, the 17th century French mathematical genius, was correct.
"The only shame," he wrote, "is to have none."
Of course, Pascal died in 1662 at age 39 and spent most of his life studying geometry and physics, so he might not be the best guide on the subject of guilt.
Deep breaths, deep breaths. Okay, here goes.
I love the Bee Gees.
Wow, that's gonna leave a mark. Seriously, did I just type that out loud? Ah … you know what I mean.
Having now emasculated myself both in terms of gender and intellect, let me clarify. One, I didn't know I loved the Bee Gees until a few weeks ago. And, two, I only love really, really old Bee Gees, before the whole unfortunate "Saturday Night Fever" thing happened.
Trust me, I'm as shocked as you are by this revelation. It started when I caught a snippet of a song on the radio, a tune full of high harmonies and Australian accents that immediately took me back 40 years to growing up in Queens, to my parents' old Kenwood turntable and to the click of an LP dropping into the play position. The lyrics bored their way through me:
In the event of something happening to me,
there is something I would like you all to see.
It's just a photograph of someone that I knew.
That song from 1967 – "New York Mining Disaster 1941," by the way – stayed in my head for a week, until I tracked it down using a combination of Google and iTunes. Thirty-odd bucks later, me and the Brothers Gibb have reunited. "Massachusetts," "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart," "Lonely Days" – suddenly my iPod looks like the soundtrack to a bad acid trip circa 1972.
If it makes you feel any better about me, I swear I also love Radiohead, the White Stripes, improvisational jazz, and Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata. Think of the Bee Gees as a guilty pleasure. That's what I've started to do and it's made me realize something (besides the fact that I don't have a heckuva lot of taste):
Guilty pleasures just might be the best pleasures of all.
I mean, how else do you explain the fact that a truly crappy TV show like "America's Got Talent" hauls in 13 million viewers on an average night, or about nine times what the average PBS prime-time show draws? Or check out the hourly sales rankings on Amazon.com. Four of the first nine spots belong to the vampire novels of Arizona's own Stephenie Meyer. That whirring sound you hear? That's Bram Stoker, the guy who wrote "Dracula," spinning in his grave. Meanwhile, how are sales going for 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Doris Lessing?
She's in spot 5,725 for her most recent work, "Alfred & Emily."
If it's in good taste or it's good for you, it seems we in America pretty much want no part of it. This explains why there's a "Hotel Erotica Cabo 34: Skin Deep" on Cinemax tonight, but no Francis Ford Coppola-directed sequel called "Apocalypse Now 2: Apocalypse After." A great chef like Chris Bianco, he's got two restaurants. Olive Garden has 643 locations and nearly $3 billion in sales around the world.
Who would have imagined mankind had that much love for an $8.95 "Never Ending Pasta Bowl™," huh?
As for me, Big Chief Little Taste here is working hard to get more comfortable and purge all that guilt I've been toting around. Clearly I'm not the only one who's ever invested $16.99 in "The Essential Neil Diamond." And I'm going to stop apologizing right now for the night a few weeks ago when I clicked past "Citizen Kane" on AMC to watch "Sunset Tan" on E!
For a long time, I've lived in mortal fear that some provost from back East would show up and rescind my Master's degree in English upon discovering that I religiously read the detective novels of Michael Connelly. No more fear; no more apologizing; no more living in the cultural closet.
Laugh if you want, but I like US Weekly more than U.S. News and World Report. I fall asleep whenever I read anything that involves the words "thou" or "methinks" – sorry Shakespeare – and given the choice, I'd choose a Quarter Pounder with cheese over some French epicurean's blanquette de veau.
And yes, lately I've become more than a little obsessed with the falsetto-voiced soundtrack from my childhood. I'm not beating myself up any more for this stuff. Laugh if you want; give me hell if we meet on the street. There will be no weeping here. Instead, I choose to believe in the genius and wisdom of the Brothers Gibb, who famously wrote in their 1968 Top 10 smash, "I Started A Joke."
I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing, Oh, if I'd only seen that the joke was on me.
Truer words, people. Truer words have never, ever been written.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Figuring out which guy to vote for for President has been bugging me for the past few weeks. The more I pay attention to the race, the more confused I get. Fortunately, now that Daddy Yankee has weighed in, I feel like my mind is made up:
Daddy Yankee endorses McCain at Central High
Aug. 25, 2008 10:14 AM
PHOENIX - Reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee endorsed Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Monday, citing the senator's support of Hispanics and his immigration efforts.
The endorsement was announced at a 10-minute event at an ethnically diverse high school in Phoenix where McCain's wife, Cindy, graduated in 1972.
Some of the 120 students in the room gasped loudly and yelled when McCain introduced the Puerto Rican singer, who became a world celebrity with his song "La Gasolina."
Daddy Yankee, who hugged girls and shook hands with boys, says he believes McCain is the best person to lead the nation.
The singer is considered an innovator in reggaeton, the catchy form of music from the Caribbean that combines different genres including hip-hop.
I'm really hoping to see Daddy Yankee recut the "Gangsta Zone" video, with Senator McCain rapping the Snoop Dogg part. The lyrics:
1 for the money, and
2 for the gangstas,
3 hot shots that pop for the wankstas,
Top Dogg, S and douple O, P
The gangsta mac, a G
From the L.B.C
I'm on the go,
I get the doe,
I let em know I bust a hoe,
I'm shakin' up a shivero,
That every where a n*gga go,
This will be,
The day we will always "G"
Turn around get em' up,
Put em down (I Fall back)
Take my hand,
We could have a little fun in the van,
I'm the man with gun in his hand,
I don't plan,
On stayin' around,
I'm just playin' around,
I'm all about layin' you down,
Now g-get up, (get up)
Before i'm a have you hit up, (hit up)
And if you say the wrong set i'm get you you f**ked up, (f**ked up)
You know the drill,
Kick rocks muthaf**ka,
And tell ya b*tch to come here, foreal.
They must be very worried over at Obama headquarters this morning. Forreal, dawg.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
What do I mean? Only that I believe in a sort of musical karma. Songs find us at the moment we need them, like this Wilco song did for me this morning while I was riding my bicycle:
"Please Be Patient With Me"
I should warn you
When I'm not well
I can't tell
Oh, there's nothing I can do
To make this easier for you
You're gonna need to be patient with me
I'm this apple, this happening stone
When I'm alone
Oh, but my blessings get so blurred
At the sound of your words
I'm gonna need you to be patient with me
How can I warn you when my tongue turns to dust
Like we've discussed
It doesn't mean that I don't care
It means I'm partially there
You're gonna need to be patient with me
Well said, Jeff Tweedy. Well said. And in case you're wondering what the song sounds like, here's an acoustic version that looks like it was shot at Tweedy's house. Haunting. And so very true.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
You'd think that wouldn't be one of life's true toughies to answer, not when you're 43 years old and a reasonably sentient human being. The thing is, it's one of those questions you can answer from about 62 different directions, from the most basic level to the seriously, geez-you-overthought-that, super-complex.
I could answer the question in marketing terms, for example, situating myself just past the middle of the 25-54 male demographic. Toss in a few other data points (Arizona resident, white-collar worker, post-graduate degrees, registered Independent, divorced, no children, dog owner, subscriber to Sports Illustrated, the New Yorker, Wired, owner of an iPhone) and you might have enough top-line information to begin roughing out my identity. Of course, if there's one thing making ads for a living has taught me, it's that all the demographic data in the world won't tell you much about any one person – with the exception of the person interpreting the data.
There's plenty of other answers I could throw out there. My name is David Leibowitz. That's an answer. I also could give you my Social Security number and my birthday. Then you could run my credit, delve into my financial past and get a sense of what I'm about. That would no doubt appeal to private detectives, journalists, ad agency strategists and political operatives, anyone whose guiding principle is the idea that we are the things we seek to keep hidden.
Another possible answer might come in the form of a narrative. That's a favorite of mine, because I love stories, love telling them and teasing them apart. Stories take a while to unfurl, though, especially something as ambitious as an autobiography. Beyond the investment of time, my story could end up boring the hell out of you, particularly because I'm by nature a private person likely to leave out the really juicy parts (since they're none of your business, dammit).
So what's the answer du jour then, the official August 21, 2008 version of who I am?
In his essay "The Evolution of the Shadow," Jungian analyst Edward C. Whitmont writes:
Ask someone to give a description of the personality type which he finds most despicable, most unbearable and hateful, and most impossible to get along with, and he will produce a description of his own repressed characteristics – a self-description which is utterly unconscious and which therefore always and everywhere tortures him as he receives its effect from the other person. These very qualities are so unacceptable to him precisely because they represent his own repressed side; only that which we cannot accept within ourselves do we find impossible to live with in others.
Lately I've been gripped by the implications of that statement, what it says about our dislikes and aversions and how our projections of those negative attitudes function as a window into one's identity. Who am I, you ask? Whitmont answers, "At least in part, at least unconsciously, you are what you most dislike in others."
If that sounds like a pretty nutty hypothesis, I guess I could hold up as proof some very public examples from the worlds of politics and religion, moral crusaders like Elliot Spitzer, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Whitmont (if he hadn't been dead for 10 years) might tell us that each of these men fought so hard to be perceived as "good" and to point out the "evil" in others precisely because they couldn't face their own shadow self. The harder they struggled, the more aggressively they projected onto their fellow man, the more they pressurized these internal dark forces, until their shells could no longer contain their inner roilings. Then, crash.
So what does that mean for me, or for any of us?
Only that one profitable starting way to answer the question "Who am I?" involves asking the question, "What is it that I can't stand in others?"
I hate liars. Whether it's my insecurities, my deep skepticism or my inquisitive nature, I tend to tear into the statements made by those around me, looking for falsehoods, spin and signs of manipulation. When I ferret out bullshit statements, I'm generally quick to anger, quick to attack, quick to write the liar out of the story of my life.
I hate laziness. The sight of others' wasted potential pains me. Someone who makes a mistake out of lack of knowledge or out of well-meaning intent I'm usually quick to forgive; someone who fails out of negligence or for lack of motivation I'm usually fast to damn. Often, I find myself trying to judge the nature of someone's wrongs, attempting to decide whether they "deserve" forgiveness. The lazy rarely fare well.
I hate unjustifiable pride. What do I mean, what sort of pride goads me into a triple-digit pulse rate? Not the folks who feel good about hard work, a job done well or even an unsuccessful but valiant effort. More, I mean those whose sense of accomplishment reeks of being out of proportion to the task accomplished. You know who I mean: The guy who gets a client to approve something that was obviously good, yet brags like he's brought together the Arabs and the Jews, or the YMCA hoops player who hits a 12-foot jump shot but talks trash like he's Lebron knocking down a deep corner three with :02 left in overtime. Maybe that's just using tortured metaphors (the kind I like best!) to say that I dislike arrogance. Probably so, but in the same way that I often find myself looking to shine the light to a lie, I can typically be counted on to try to "take the piss" out of the overly prideful.
Wow. You see where this is going, don't you? Not a pretty picture.
If "the projection principle" is correct and we are what we most dislike, then I'm a lazy, arrogant liar.
As much as my inclination is to say, "Nah, not me, nuh uh," I'm going to instead opt for broader disclosure.
Guilty as charged.
I'll take the easiest one to admit first: Arrogance. I've been told that enough times to know that so many different people can't all be wrong. What is it they're sensing? I imagine it's my tendency to try too hard – to appear smart, to keep my defenses up, to hide my emotions. That overbearing effort creates a distance others can find cold and unpleasant.
Lying is harder to cop to aloud. Still, it's true (and yes, I realize the irony of asking you to believe an admitted liar who is admitting to lying). Why do I lie? Sometimes it's to avoid conflict or to stay defended (see Leibowitz, David arrogance above). Other times I lie out of shame, or because I fear the truth will render me a pathetic, weak, hateful figure. Everyone, myself included (myself most of all, perhaps) has a shadow self, that mass of dark, churning urges and baseness. Lies are the cloak the shadow hides behind.
Am I lazy? I believe yes, I am. Not "couch potato" lazy – I tend to always be in motion – but a different sort of lazy, the kind that is satisfied with only living up to a fraction of its potential, the kind that fails to translate insight into action. I'm not saying I believe I should be perfect, or that there aren't other reasons for my failures beyond laziness, but it's there, sitting on my inner couch, eating cool ranch Doritos and watching the Olympics. Whitmont has a nice turn of phrase – "a lack of moral stamina" – that I believe applies here.
So yes, I'm a lazy, arrogant liar. It's not an admission I toss out there lightly. Putting it out there makes me supremely uncomfortable, so much so that it's taken me three days to write the above three paragraphs. But yes, those words do answer the question "Who am I?" and they're an answer as valid as my name or Social Security number.
Fortunately, that answer is not complete. While I am that person, that person isn't all I am. There's an asterisk beside my name (beside all our names), an "also" followed by other characteristics – generosity, protectiveness, playfulness – which I hope offsets the lesser self I've described.
"Who am I?" I guess you could say I am many things, some admirable, some not, some I'm happy to be and some that I would rather not face, things light and things dark. I'm like you and I am not.
And today I am long-winded. Take care.