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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wait And See

Opinions are great. Thats why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to express my opinions and be heard; be heard by myself and be checked by the opinions and voices of other people. That said, I have had a startling discovery this week: opinions are sometimes better left unsaid. I also learned that when you are really opinionated, sometimes its incredibly difficult to be quiet. The combination of these two things were like evil twin power rangers: surrounded by over-the-top theatrics and incredibly bad jokes.

It started at random social functions and conversations. Due to my opinionated nature, I was always the first to speak up, keep the conversation going; despising the silence where a anecdote from me could shatter it. I really liked this role and had some success: I made some people laugh, helped the conversation along and was great at parties, sometimes.

Then the other shoe fell. I stopped enjoying the sound of my own voice, and I think other people did too.

I realized that instead of paying attention to the other people in my life and responding to what they had to say, I was just waiting for my turn to speak. In addition, I must have stopped thinking before I spoke; my words became ghosts of what they could have been. It was if I became so entranced with the effect that my words could have, that I lost sight of what they were effecting.

So here is my grain of salt: I decided it was time to listen a little bit more. Every time I felt that I had a groundbreaking thing to say, I am going to try not to say it. I've found that someone usually brings it up if I just wait a minute anyway.

I recently was talking to a friend who probably loves movies as much as I do. He was saying that one of his pet peeves was when he was watching a movie with a friend and that friend would ask him what was happening. He would tell them to wait and see. Invariably, within the next few minutes, the plot would explain itself and all uncertainty would have been for naught. Sometimes, however, the friend would continue to talk and ask questions through the explanation, which was especially annoying to my friend, who knew that the answer was right in front of them if they would just be quiet and listen for it.

I feel a little like the annoying friend that is always asking what it going on. This made me come up with a possible theory.

A possible theory: by constantly talking, instead of listening, I was really just always asking and trying to understand. However, the answers that I was looking for were waiting in my own silence, and in the words of others. I think I forget sometimes that I am still learning and that I can learn a lot from the people right around me. The plot in life sometimes gets tricky and confusing, but I have a feeling if I just stop and listen, it might just become a little clearer.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Redwoods and Sadness

Tonight is the end of a short camping trip to the beautiful Sequoia National Forest in Northern California, and I'm sad.

The trees that greeted my nature-starved eyes on the windy mountain road to the top took my breath away. I felt like a little kid seeing trees for the first time. The huge redwoods towered above everything and shook the priorities around in my head, demanding attention. We spent a lot of time admiring those trees. So cool.

The campsite was perfect! There were about 10 of us who pitched tents and chairs around a fire pit, anxious to explore and eat and breathe the fresh air.

We hiked to the top of a waterfall and through the ancient forest that constantly amazed us and inspired our steps. When we reached the top, we put down our heavy backpacks, slipped off our shoes and dove into ice cold water that refreshed every tired bone. We lounged and slept on warm rocks in the sun and scrambled over fallen trees and boulders, taking pictures and splashing each other.

We cooked simple meals that tasted like the finest chefs had made them and drank good scotch and beer. We cleaned dishes and built fires. We basked in the silence; the peace, and slept.

Leaving all of these things is not what makes me sad. Tonight as I sit in my room, standing on the brink of another Monday morning, I am missing the people that sat around that campfire. As we hiked and talked and laughed and cooked and lounged, I realized that the distractions of every day life that always seemed necessary and indispensable were abandoned in the light of our conversations and relationships.   I'd forgotten that I am sometimes so caught up in the hustle and business of everyday life, that I forget that there are so many fellow travelers around me that I don't take the time to be in community with. I couldn't see the forest for the trees.

I think what makes me sad is that I recognized a glimpse of what we, as humans, are truly made for: multi-dimensional, intentional, genuine relationships with other people; tuning everything else out and being free to connect with someone else, speak and be spoken to.

I think the true tragedy might be that this trip where our true humanity was allowed to flourish was just a diversion from "real life." It is easy for me to get lulled away from the people in my life by technology or selfishness or a million other things and sometimes I mistake those things for Life as it was intended. I think this trip was a good reminder that if life is anything like camping, its time to take a little time and get to know the people around the campfire.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Going to the Movies by Yourself

Have you ever gone to the movies by yourself? I haven't. This week I have been bombarded by that single fact.

You know when you become aware of something and then you can't stop seeing it? It was like that. It seemed like a conspiracy. We got into a conversation about it at work. Everybody there had gone to the movies by themselves. I suddenly became the only one that hadn't. I started asking why everyone felt compelled to do this. They were things like: 'no one else wanted to see the movie,' 'I have a weird schedule and no one else could go,' and some people just needed some alone time.

This got me thinking.

There was this weird aversion that I had for doing certain things alone. I love being surrounded by people, and I like to talk and share experiences. That seems healthy. Don't get me wrong, I need a good walk in the woods and sometimes I crave the mysterious pleasure of a summer night under the stars, solo style.

After talking about this for a while at work, someone else walked in and joined the conversation. I asked him if he'd been to the movies by himself. He said he'd been once. I asked him what his reason was. He told me that he had been out of town for work and had had some time to kill. He thought about what to do and just decided to go. "I realized, I'm my own man, dammit."

Just like those summer nights and walks in the woods, going to the movies by yourself is a statement, that speaks of your relationship with yourself. Everyone has ways of taking care of themselves and sometimes that looks like a dark theater with a ticket for one. There is no rule against doing things that are just for you, that might build self-confidence and might be just what the doctor ordered. I know I need other people in my life and I think I'll always be someone who loves a crowd and laughing with someone at a cheesy line in the new Fast and Furious movie. However, it might also improve those relationships if I take some time for myself every so often.

 Another thing I realized is that its a bold thing to do something new and uncomfortable and sometimes it helps me see things in a different way; a potentially better way. I think that it might be time to take myself to the movies or find that summer sky to sit under for a while. On the other hand, it might be time to bring someone along to something I've been keeping all to myself.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lets Be Men About This

I was looking over my movie collection tonight. Its a modest collection; the few DVDs that I took to college with me, bought for $5 at Target, or got on Amazon. I even have doubles of some of them! (I needed it on Blu-ray too).

This is going somewhere I promise.

I have been thinking/reading about what it means to be a man in this day and age. Some authors think (and rightly so, in my opinion) that the very soul of man has been lost. In Wild at Heart, John Eldredge argues that most males (across America primarily, sorry guys) while nice, are not the men of courage and strength that we read about it the history books.

Fortunately, filmmakers (God bless 'em) have turned these history books into films.

So, back to perusing my DVDs.

I decided over the weekend, to watch one 'man movie' every night. Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart...the classics. One night after watching another celluloid hero save the day and the damsel in distress, I started looking at the copyright dates. Most of the films that I look to as what I call 'The Canon of Manhood' were surprisingly made in the late '90s or very early 2000's. I racked my brain trying to think of any movies in the same vein that were more recent; the 'new Braveheart'. I couldn't think of anything. The only movies I could think of were 'safer' movies with 'safe heroes', guys that just kill everyone in sight (sometimes for no reason), or films about drinking way to much and making the decisions that inevitably follow.

It got me thinking: The movies, tv shows, music and pop culture of 'now' are all promoting a certain kind of man (and woman). In the last few years I have seen a change in this image and the movies seem to back it up. Maybe the films of the 'Canon' were just the dying breath of the resistance. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

In watching these movies from a few years ago that promote the courage and honor I was fortunate enough to be exposed to growing up, I see the danger that Eldredge claims to see so clearly. I think I might see it too. Manhood is under attack, there is no doubt about it.

My solution; my small way of fighting back was to take a trip back in time and watch these films that promote the best and most neglected traits of manhood. In a culture that never ceases to look forward, I think its time to look back. This weekend I visited soldiers and brothers and and some guys who need to blow up some guns in Greece, just to see what they have to say about the state of things. It wasn't great feedback.

I can't do most of the things they did, but it can't hurt to try and be a little more like them. Watching all those movies definitely made me see some room for improvement in my life.

I would love it if someone started making a new generation of 'man movies' to add to the 'Canon.' However, maybe we don't need more movies. Maybe its time to start acting more like the men we want to be in our workplaces, homes, and favorite bars. Maybe we've watched our heroes fight it out long enough.

I think we could be heroes too. Maybe they'll make a movie about it.