briefly, pen on paper

A pen on paper cannot write.

It will not pen words that will help a child to read. That pen will not inspire thousands to action. It will not move millions to tears. It will not inspire on screen re-imagining, nor will it string together words to which crowds will sing along in joyous unison.

A pen on paper will not earn awards or accolades. It will not write Paradise Lost. It won’t even write Fifty Shades of Grey. It will not incite horror or laughter, joy or sorrow, pain, pleasure, political statement, psalm.

A pen on paper will not break your heart. It will not seek forgiveness. It will not incite war. It will not wage peace. It will not plead for justice or declare independence. It will not help explain the universe, challenge convention or articulate new ideas. It will not spur innovation, unveil corruption or defend the marginalized.

A pen on paper will not persuade you to vote for one candidate or another. Or neither.

That pen on paper will not help a young family buy a house, an athlete sign a contract, an executive hire or fire an employee, an employee accept a promotion. It will not sign the check that will make the last payment on debt. It will not twist words to deceive. It will not speak truth to power.

It will not encourage a student to study harder and live up to potential. It will not call another student to task for cheating. It will not do any of that for teachers, either. It is neither good nor evil; it is both reflection and extension of whoever wields it. Wielded like a weapon, for attack or defense, use or abuse.

A pen on paper cannot do anything.

The same may be said for a gun.

briefly, on getting used to very long commutes

For the past ten months, my day job has gotten me up at roughly 5 AM, on the road somewhere between 6.15 and 6.30 (or, umm, not, see also: morning, this) and in the office’s door before an 8 AM start.

At first, this was great! I love driving (when gas prices aren’t as prohibitive as they have been for the past ten years) and traveling and figured this would slay the avian wanderlust and provide opportunity to clear my head going in and coming back.

It was a lie–noble, but a lie nonetheless. And it worked for a while; it was great to be back amongst the gainfully-employed and I did indeed come to work focused and the drive home was cathartic.

When summer gave way to fall, and fall to winter, that eager approach gave way to prolonged yawns, frustrated stumbles out of bed, and that 70-mile drive from point A to point B became familiar, boring and countered any sense that it could be a good thing.

I hate the drive to work now. I like what I do–moreover, I very much like the team I work with, and I very much like getting paid–but I’m up too early, here too long, go home too late and get to bed later than I should.

Then there are the beans. Those wild, weed-esque beans. I’ve missed so much in missing three hours a day to the road. They grow faster, miss me more, get that much more hyper when I get home and just want to breathe for a moment (and wife-mama needs to .)

Well, our circumstances are changing. We just had an offer accepted on our first home and in a few weeks, I’ll be roughly two-thirding my commute.

I spent a long lunch today signing roughly 1038945790183470985 pages of paperwork with our lender and celebrated the fact my hand didn’t fall off with one of those deliciously generic cheesesteak sandwiches at the nearby mall. Behind me, in between sizable bites of chicken teriyaki sandwich and malt vinegar-laden fresh fries, was a toddler and her mama. I overheard one of those sentences virginal to all save the parents of littles, something along the lines of, ‘Don’t eat that off the floor! That’s icky!’

I could hear wife-mama saying it. I could hear myself saying it. And I smiled, in the way only bittersweet parents who sacrifice far too much of their time for their families know how. I’ve missed so much of this, the insanity of child-rearing, the naive madness of children. Days of the month lost to the road.

I turned, and saw mother and child, seated at a tiny table, turned back to the doors and made my way back to my car, to the road, to work.

The sacrifice is worth it. For many reasons–for three, for one, for all of the above.

Even so, I miss my kids.

briefly, hall of fail and ken griffey, jr.

Yesterday, I published a critical reevaluation of Ken Griffey, Jr’s career at Outside Pitch. You can read that here.

When pressed to provide the case for Griffey, after they’ve finished scoffing and guffawing, nearly everyone I’ve seen online says the same thing in no particular order: 1) 630 home runs, 2) sweet swing, 3) defense, 4) sartorial choice in headwear during a home run exhibition, 5) baseball cards, particularly his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card and the 1992 horizontal stop-motion of said swing.

We’re not talking about Mays or Aaron. (Seriously, go look up how many hits Mays, and especially the Hammer, had!) This was a very good player who only peaked–and what a peak!–for maybe five of 22 years and then spent the back nine of his career injury-prone and a shadow of past greatness.

For most of his career, peak notwithstanding, he was above-average and excellent in CF. So was Jim Edmonds. So was Kenny Lofton. So was Bernie Williams. So was Tim Raines. So was Jeffrey Hammonds. He also played in three very friendly hitters parks, which would also play well to his defensive prowess. Still, outs are outs, assists are assists. Those defensive numbers amaze me. He was likely a better OF than Mays was, save for the arm.

And now that those who haven’t actively covered the game are being culled from the herd, we’re discovering that the electorate is star-struck by highlight reels and fancy-pants baseball cards to the point that the guy who just set a new election record was essentially Larry Doby, the extended edition. Doby’s in the Hall, but he’s never in the conversation for GOAT, nor should he be.

Perhaps those old battle axes knew a thing or two after all. I have even less faith in the HOF process than I did before. Even in something as trivial as baseball, style now matters more than substance.

role reversal

how the church isn’t what it shouldn’t be, how the world is what it shouldn’t


Of course, this is painting with a broad brush: it’s not like life away from ecclesiastical trappings or vocation has been all daisies and tulips, and it’s not like church was a complete and total wasteland. However, the trends are at the very least disturbing for the sustainability and even basic recognition of the Christian movement and mission.

The church isn’t merely content with shooting the wounded; Evangelicals are now openly practicing a form of religious eugenics, drawing out those who fail to adapt to the hegemony, isolating them, eliminating them. In the process of creating a movement of themselves, by themselves and for themselves, Christians have only further alienated themselves from the very world they were tasked to serve and redeem. Those who do not comply are not excommunicated–that would be too direct, and conflict is a sign of dissension and weakness. Rather, the idea is even more injurious: marginalize, isolate, ignore. Abuse not of commission, but omission.

Move the herd one way, move the black sheep toward an already-open gate. When they leave, they leave freely. And Uriah was killed in valiant service to his king.

This complex exists in both ‘progressive’ (progressing toward what, exactly?) and ‘conservative’ (conserving what, exactly?) Evangelical circles, both of whom at their core share fundamentalist moorings derived from a political vantage rather than any sort of theological conviction.

Guess what, heathens? It’s not a good time to be looking at American Christianity. Not exactly a buyer’s market, and nobody wants what they’re selling.

I wanted to be a part of that world; to serve in ministry and build bridges of redemption into a community. Yet, though I was raised as one of them, though I shared a common commitment to the cause and did everything they asked me to do, at considerable cost and personal sacrifice, I was rooted out. Those who supported me turned their backs, or betrayed me in favor of the denomination, or to cover their own backsides.

When you’ve been blackballed by Christians, it’s not just you they’re after: they go after you and anyone you’ve ever known. Think Terry Benedict, but with even less class or tact.

That was over ten years of my life: amounting to not much of much, driven out of ministry, forced to improvise, forced to deal. Thankfully, I have dealt. And I say what I have said above not out of spite, but out of cold, detached truth. That was my experience, it was very hurtful, and it came at that hands of those who are supposed to sow Christ-likeness into others. Some can never cope with a fraction of those experiences, some have baggage from a lot worse. Many I know who were placed in that crucible emerged as anti-theists, or ran as far from Christianity as they could. This is the legacy they’re leaving. And they couldn’t care less.

Again, the world hasn’t exactly been a paradise: I found myself in two very toxic work environments where I was eminently overqualified and undermined by superiors. But it’s a new day.

What is ‘the world’, anyway?

Since there’s no official definition in this case, we can rely on experience and context. For the typical Evangelical, it’s little more than a bogeyman; an othering term to classify that which is acceptable and that which is not. The world is supposed to be a hostile place, a place deprived of Christian virtue or otherwise profaned by the absence of redemption.

All of that is lunacy.

If anything, life disembarked from the good old gospel ship has shown me what the church is supposed to be, and decidedly isn’t. I found more support out here than I ever did in pursuit of ministry. I wasn’t a gadfly to be suffered until I flew out the cracked car window; I’m a person with significant skills and abilities to be invested in, harnessed and utilized. I’ve encountered amazing people, some of whom were outcast themselves or otherwise thoroughly disillusioned with religion. Even some of those I’ve met who couldn’t give a crap about religion have been profoundly decent people: generous, thoughtful, gracious and kind.

What my experience in the last six months has underscored to me is that the church is so far detached from reality, and so self-insulated, that its inhabitants fundamentally lack the ability to connect with anyone who isn’t one of them on even a remotely-human level. Their efforts to connect with the community are alien to the community they with which they try to connect. The only way they know how to share their concern is through ham-handed cliches and tired gambits. If my time in the world has taught me anything, it’s that I’d frankly rather be with them than with a church with one foot in the sky and the other in a grave, not knowing and not caring which will be taken first.

This is precisely opposite of the incarnation. This is the great apostasy: not that American Christians have backslid from faith, but worse, from reality. More frightening yet, they may not be alone in the effort.


now that i’m older: sufjan stevens rewarding years of repeated listens

Sufjan Stevens 'The Age of Adz' 2010

The Age of Adz, 2010, Asthmatic Kitty

What’s the point of reviewing a five-year-old record?

I’m convinced that record reviews really shouldn’t take place for days, weeks, even months after a record is released. Let’s be honest, though, the only reason a record is *ahem* afforded pre-release copies to critics is so that record companies can get free promotion for their products. Music journalism isn’t so much journalism as it is thinly-veiled marketing. Payola, even. (Freeola, perhaps, would be more fitting.) I suppose we could dispense with the modifiers altogether, but that’s another conversation for another day.

Some outfits don’t handle success particularly well; The Flaming Lips put out The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in 1999 and 2002, respectively, and have released uneven, even listless, records ever since. (My argument is that the FLips never figured out who they were after Ronald Jones left the band due to mental illness, but again, another conversation for another day.) It’s the best example that comes to mind of a band that toils for years, hits paydirt and immediately proceeds to spiral out of their minds.

After becoming king of the hipster hill with Illinois, or, more cheekily, Come on, feel the Illinoise!, Sufjan Stevens put out a multi-volume Christmas record, a collection of B-sides that might have been better than Illinois actually was, a soundtrack for a stretch of road (The BQE) and then, seemingly out of nowhere, dropped an EP and LP on everyone in 2010: All Delighted People and Adz.

Stevens, a multi-instrumentalist with a hushed tenor and unafraid of unleashing a falsetto that not only conveys earnestness but emotional gravity–to be sure, a rarity in our day–dispensed with the folky trappings and long song titles of previous records and put out an eleven song, heavily-electronic, even-more-heavily-lyricized monster of a record.

 I ordered it when it was released, put it on and, like so many other listeners, was suckered in by the at the time heretofore familiar-sounding ‘Futile Devices’.

Then, Stevens’ rope-a-dope happened. And, indeed, it was ‘Too Much’. Being an idiot, I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t Sufjan Stevens! What the crap?’ Because, clearly, a listening audience knows what the artist is supposed to be doing. I might as well have wrested the axe from Pete Seeger and sought to cut Dylan’s cables myself.

Well, those asinine assumptions severely polluted the accessibility of the album for me. I’d give it a try every so often, and be utterly unable to connect with it. I had people tell me they loved the record, and I’d just shrug and say, ‘I don’t get it.’ And, that’s perfectly OK, provided that one does not get it for reasonable reasons. There are records I sincerely don’t get.

And what doubts were raised by ‘Too Much’ were heightened by the titular track, with its opening synthetic bombast and choral orchestration. And, later, to hear the profane refrain  of ‘I Want to Be Well’ ad nauseam, from a professed Christian, well, that was tough to reconcile.

Yet, there were songs that were truly triumphs in their own right. ‘I Walked’ and ‘Now That I’m Older’ still rank amongst the best back-to-back tracks of any record I’ve heard.

And, now that I’m older, on the other side of any number of major life events and serious personal valleys, it crept into my listening rotation about a month ago, and it’s played through regularly for the past week.

I finally get it: The Age of Adz is, for me, the ultimate ‘rewards repeated listens’ record.

Stevens is, for an emotionally-unstable listener, uncomfortably frank, particularly after only teasing at his personal narrative in prior records, deferring largely to the stories of places and others. I don’t know that Adz is an autobiographical record–then again, everything an artist produces, is in a sense autobiographical–but there is some undeniable dark night of the soul-type introspection going on. Yet, the record never broods or betrays a wallowing sense of self-pity. Then there’s the arrangements: Stevens has crafted his share of layered productions: much of the instrumentation is his own, not unlike Brian Wilson’s work with Pet Sounds. The synth work, melded with acoustic instruments and layers of gorgeous vocals sounds stunning in headphones or a decent rig at home. (It having been the soundtrack to my work week, suffered under the burden of digital streaming and further diminished quality in a substandard headset.

The stereo production is used judiciously–what is it with Michigan artists and their insistence on stereophonics?–but I can’t help but wonder what the record might have sounded like in mono. It’s like wondering what the ’27 Yankees might have done with better starting pitching: futile speculation.

The record takes on an operatic dimension as it progresses, weaving the existential working out of one’s salvation–however that presents itself–against Stevens, the protagonist, and a chorale that seems to act as both conscience and spiritual guide, often unafraid to affirm and urge caution within the same track. As the record progresses, it’s clear that the artist has done something extraordinary: elevating the hipster record to artistic and intellectual transcendence. The inner conflict is palpable, the dueling natures of humankind flow and spasm as, well, we are wont to do. Where one might be understandably startled and even offended at the dual, layered repeated lines of ‘I want to be well’ with ‘I’m not fucking around’, who can say they have never felt the rage that comes with being afflicted along with the earnest desire to be made whole? It may be crude, but it’s honest in a way that does not trivialize sitz im leben. Profanity often cheapens emotion, or puts ignorance on display, particularly in music. That’s a risk the artist takes and, for Stevens, it paid off. Not everyone can do that, and not everyone should try.

The record concludes with a 25-minute operetta of its own, ‘Impossible Soul’. Others have said that one could reasonably listen to the first four or five minutes and be satisfied. I agree, but as a movement of music, it’s a remarkable work worth devoting the full length of the track. Understanding the record as a pseudo-opera makes it much more understandable than as a part of a pop or rock record. Something quite different is happening here.

If the listener is in any way emotionally compromised, The Age of Adz will exploit that compromise and force one to do some searching in the darker corners of the soul. Art will do that, and it will do what it will to bring about catharsis.

In this case, it took five years for it to do that for me. It also happens to be one of the finest records I’ve ever heard.

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Hi. It’s nice to be back in this corner of the interwebs for the weekend. The plan is to crank out a few posts and generally remind you, dear reader, why I’m still in your follow list. Hopefully.

Where’d you go?

Several places, actually. In the real world, I’m working for a web solutions firm doing development support, which is odd because, prior to working there, my only experience with any kind of development was some crude HTML I picked up in high school and, um, this. It’s not saying much.

Well, they took me in and it turned out to be a surprisingly good fit. I wouldn’t have thought I could do half of what I do on a day-to-day basis, but it’s no different than being placed in a country where no one speaks the language: over time, you learn and eventually adapt to the context.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not some coding savant. Far from it. But I’m capable of far more than I thought: it only took two hiring managers and a recruiter to see what was in my blindspot. And now I know enough HTML, Bootstrap, CSS and PHP to get myself into trouble, and not nearly enough to get out of it.

Did I mention that the office is over an hour away? Yeah, that commute’s getting old.

On the interwebs, I started writing for in June and, by August, became their first managing editor. I’ve been busy reviewing resumes, writing samples and generally directing a staff of writers around the country and investing in their development as writers and journalists and writing occasionally. It’s more of a labor of love at this point, but OP is moving in the right direction and it’s an exciting time to help get them there.

Between las beañas, who are every bit of two, and a third, Don August, arriving before Christmas–advent entendre!–who has time to write, much less do anything?

In all seriousness, years on WordPress laid the groundwork for both these opportunities. I may not be writing so much, which is what I had hoped; if anything, I’ve learned that blogging shouldn’t merely be a means to an end exclusively in writing. There are plenty of great opportunities that can present themselves if you’re open to them. For me, it took seven years. YMMV.

And, if you love writing and creating content, don’t stop, and never be content. The time you invest in getting serious about what you love will reap dividends.

Any other questions you’d like answered? I’m listening.