What to do with Outrage

Outrage

I keep a little list of things I want to blog about tucked into my folder. There are titles for stories, representing key development moments from my past or amusing little anecdotes with my children, there are inspiring topics about human progress, and there are things that inspire me about the world. I’ve stopped blogging about whatever book I’m reading, or whatever little historical nugget I’m learning about, and instead focus on what is in my soul as I sit down to write. This is why I need to make time to blog, I need time with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and an open computer screen, so my fingers can channel the things that my spirit wants to convey. When I sit down, I then can choose a topic off the list, pick which story I want to tell. Sometimes, though, I don’t end up taking one of these topics, and instead I write from wherever my head is at, from whatever is most relevant in my brain and heart at that moment. (The discipline of writing, for me, is equal parts dedication, healing, and heart. It fulfills me in a way nothing else can).

And that brings us to today.

My older blogs contained a lot of my intellectual thoughts, and a lot about my thoughts on politics. During the Trump/Clinton election, I can see several blogs in a row that convey my outrage and pain at the very idea of Trump being the candidate we were considering, given all he represented to me. Then after he was elected, I climbed within a hole within myself, because talking about it hadn’t seemed to do any good. I processed my pain quietly, instead of publicly, and grew determined instead to focus on change with me, my friends, my kids, my clients, the places that I can have a positive impact.

I keep hoping that we, as Americans, hell as a human species, will come around. We will stop repeating our greatest atrocities and instead learn to love our world and ourselves. I keep picturing the weaving plot lines in Game of Thrones, where all the egotistic murderous rulers battle through politics and warfare for moments of power while the threat to them all looms just over the borders. We are squabbling over Democrat versus Republic, all while war is raging, people are starving, racism and sexism run the world, animal habitats are being wiped out, and the ice keeps melting as the temperature raises.  And even now, it seems my country is the one withdrawing from the ones trying to make positive change in the world, and instead is forming bonds with the tyrants and warmongers, and I don’t know how to process that. I’m having a crisis of faith.

I am exhausted from remaining silent. I am so weary of this temporary outrage culture I’m living in, where whatever is most currently in the news becomes the thing that the entire world rages over, but only until the next headline, when the outrage moves on to something else and the last thing is forgotten, filed away on an unmanageable list.

But the stakes feel so high! The transgender military ban, the Muslim ban, black men being kicked out of Starbucks, the Parkland shooting, the Las Vegas country concert massacre, the Pulse shooting, the gay wedding cake debate, police brutality against black civilians, overstocked for-profit prisons, the latest celebrity accused of sexual assault, the United States pulling out of the Paris Accords, the arrests of Trump’s allies, collusion and obstruction, private Email servers used in public positions, government employees spending fortunes on furniture, the G-7 summit, the North Korea leader meetings, Obamacare, the porn star pay-offs, the floods, the wars, the corruption.

And now, we rage over these children being removed from parents at the border, and the debate turns to border security, family trauma, war crime victims, asylum, criminal prosecution, human decency. And it hurts me, deeply.

But then I realize I will only be outraged about this for as long as these headlines are there, and then it will be on to something else. Lately, I’m almost constantly outraged. Ignoring it doesn’t help, avoiding it doesn’t either, but neither does publicly screaming about it.

Even now, I could scroll through my Facebook feed. Most of my social media contacts are liberally minded, so I will see the same god-damn scream of outrage, cry for validation, over and over again. It’s a constant barrage.

“I am so angry/furious/outraged/horrified/baffled by the forced separation of kids from their families/the Pulse nightclub shooting/the callous murder of Trayvon Martin/the Bill Cosby rape scandal/the Michael Cohen porn star payoff! We need better gun control laws/more women in government/environmental policies/voter security systems! And if you disagree with me/voted for Trump/blame women for their own rapes/don’t support equality, then unfriend me and get out of my life right now! I’m serious! I mean it! I’m moving to Canada!”

Here’s the thing, though. I feel all of this outrage. It physically hurts me. I hate it. And yet, participation in it doesn’t help. Screaming into the air doesn’t make me feel any more validated. Arguing with people I love with endless paragraphs in the form of a comment on social media posts doesn’t help. It doesn’t take my pain away. And I fully realize, when I remove myself from the box and look at the system from the outside, that I’m being manipulated by media machines, by campaigns and ads. I become aware of human trauma, crying children, and insane atrocities, and…

my life doesn’t change. At all.

I still get up every morning, brew my coffee, see my clients, exercise, take care of my children, try to improve the world around me. And that is the privilege talking, because other people don’t get that same luxury. And that fuels my outrage even more.

So I’m a solution finder. I don’t like to just complain about problems. I want to find clear paths forward, and that is what I help my clients do as well. And my solution, for me? I need to do something with this outrage. I want to stay informed, not by drowning in manipulative media, but by being aware of the world around me, and then I want to do what I can to make a difference.

I can support businesses that share my standards, and especially those that are run by or employ women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT people, and who give more opportunities to women. I can go out of my way to better the world around me with handshakes, hugs, love, and support. I can drive less and recycle more. I can avoid eating meat, and purchase food and goods that come from ethical businesses. I can vote for officials who support an ethical and fair world. I can instill ethics and values in my children that teach them to be themselves, to love everyone, and to live healthy lives. I can donate money to worthy causes and charity. I can write.

And just typing that last paragraph shifted my energy from one of pain and anxiety (what I feel when I focus on the problems) to a space of calm, healing, and hope (what I feel when I focus on the solutions). I choose to use my outrage to create a better world around me. Losing sleep, pulling out my hair, giving myself ulcers, and screaming into the social media void about the terribleness of the world will not help. Teaching my sons about equality and justice, seeing my clients through their pain, and being good to the Earth will.

So come on, outrage. Come join me, and let’s go make a difference in this world.

just another mass shooting…

texas-shooting

Yesterday, I got word about another mass shooting. This one, in a Christian church. In a small unincorporated township in rural Texas. Eight members of the same family died. The pastor and his wife were on vacation, and their 14 year old daughter was killed. A one year old child is among the victims. A pregnant mother and three of her children are among the victims. The grandmother of the killer’s wife is among the victims. The shooter was an angry white man with a history of domestic violence and mental illness, with military training and mysterious motives.

It wasn’t the first shooting this month. It wasn’t the first shooting with victims in the dozens in the past few months. It wasn’t the first shooting in a church. It wasn’t the first murder of children. It was just… another shooting. And somehow, this time, that’s all that I’m able to process.

Weeks ago, when that man opened fire on the country concert in Las Vegas, I spent three days obsessively searching for information about the victims, wanting to honor them. I felt duty bound to remember them, and to not click on a single headline about the killer. I posted over 50 photos with synopses about their lives, and I took detailed notes. I even wrote a blog about holding vigil about them.

But this time, I’m numb. Again. (Still?) Vegas hit me more personally. It’s closer to home. It’s a place I have spent lots of time in, on the streets of. Virginia Tech, years ago, and Columbine before that, they hurt be deeply. Though they were places I’d never been, they are academic environments, a college and a high school, and I know the culture there. Sandy Hook hurt me more. As a father, the idea of waiting helplessly there to see if my child is among the living, the images of artwork and bulletin boards and school lunch menus and tiny desks, the idea of that becoming a place that is no longer safe, it hurt me on a primal level.

And the Pulse shootings. They haunted me for weeks. I’ve been in so many clubs in so many cities, there for a relaxing drink, some music, and some conversation and dancing, or entertainment. The idea of someone with that much hate.

I just, I’m numb. Today, I’m out of outrage. I’m out of fear. I’m out of pain. I’m out of hurt. I’m out of anger. I eek clicking back on the news website to see an update, and then not clicking on it. I don’t want to feel it again.

I don’t want to jump on social media and see the Conservative/Liberal debate over gun control laws (we need them!) and how the media is biased toward whites by calling them misunderstood and mentally ill while railing against people of color by calling for immigration bans. I don’t want to read posts about the corruption of America. I don’t want to see the statistics of how gun violence is increasing. I don’t want to see the charts with pink and blue and red lines that grow up and up and up. I don’t want to talk to relatives about how humans have always been bloody and vile, with their atomic bombs and concentration camps and war machines, and how assault rifles and rented trucks and car bombs are just the latest worries of our generation, not the most corrupt just the most current. I don’t want to realize that social media and news outlets will be outraged and titillated by this for about 72 hours, until the next horrible news drops.

I don’t want to explain to my children why there are people in the world who might hurt them, who might be so full of anger that they went to inflict as much pain on them and the world as possible before they remove themselves from it. I don’t know how to tell them to be afraid enough, nor do I want them to be afraid. I don’t want them to walk around in perpetual fear that someone could speed at them with a car or enter their school with a gun.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to hear a choir sing. In Latin. About death and remembrance. I sat on a hard wooden bench. There were easily 75 people in the room. As a male baritone sang words that I didn’t understand, his beautiful voice hit my heart, and I wondered what would happen if that man entered this room. Would there be warning? Who would be hit first? Where were the exits? Would I scream, fall to the floor, play dead, shield my loved ones, rush toward the exit, try to disarm him? Would my loved ones be among the dead? After the service, I crossed a crosswalk and I realized how swift it would be if a car careened toward me, trying to take out civilians.

I don’t know how to feel these feelings. I do grief for a living, yet I can’t process my own. I’m desensitized. I’m exhausted. I’m wounded and it can’t stop bleeding. Words like ‘massacre’ and ‘bloodbath’ and ‘terrorist’ and ‘mass casualties’ leave my fingertips and my lips far too frequently now.

And so, I’ll do what all humans do, what I would tell others to do, what I am growing accustomed to doing myself. I survive. I wake up and I make my coffee. I read my book. I see my clients. I process through how I’m feeling. I walk and feel the cool air and the warm sun. I exercise. I buy a T-shirt. I open my computer and I blog about being numb. And soon, another day has passed, and I’m still here, and I keep finding ways to fight for a world that I refuse to lose hope in.

That’s what the families of the victims have to do. And the law enforcement officers who responded. And even the loved ones of the killers themselves. And if they can get up, so can I. I’ll fight for a better world for me, and for my sons.

 

Holding Vigil

The word Vigil is defined as “a period of keeping awake… to keep watch or pray.”

Monday morning, I rolled over at 5 am and picked up my phone to check the time. A small box on my phone lit up with a news story about a mass shooting in Las Vegas the night before, and I instantly became aware. This wasn’t a shooting in some far away place that I’d never been, this was Las Vegas, a place that had once been afar away home for me.

After my parent’s divorce, my dad had moved to Vegas, and I had a sister who still lived there now with her children. I’d spent many summers there as a teenager, seeing shows on the strip and swimming in pools. As an adult, I’ve visited Vegas dozens of times. My first relationship with a man had been long distance with a guy in Vegas. I could easily picture the crowded casinos, filled with exhausted tourists from every corner of the country all there to celebrate some birthday or new job or anniversary, all hoping for debauchery through alcohol, gambling, shows, food, and sex, all escaping life and hoping to leave it all behind when they left.

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the slogan says.

And not, a mass shooting, something no one could ever escape from again. This wasn’t something that could be left there.

As I scanned through the details of the story, I began seeing social media posts about this being the “worst mass shooting in modern American history” and numbers were beginning to show that dozens were killed and hundreds injured. And then the opinions started showing up on Facebook and Twitter.

“If they had been keeping the Sabbath Day holy, those people wouldn’t have died.”

“This is what happens when we elect a misogynistic bigot like Trump and expect him to lead us!”

“Another left-wing conspiracy, another fake shooting, more Fake News for people to use in their agendas, just like Sandy Hook!”

“I blame Hillary Clinton for this! If she hadn’t divided this country like she did, things like this wouldn’t happen!”

“I can’t wait for the news to start blaming gun control laws and racism for this. Political correctness is what is wrong with our country!”

It took me a few hours to give voice to my feelings. As I went about my day, news stories kept flashing on my phone, nearly all of them about the killer. Who he was, where he came from, what was known about him, how many guns he had, what his relationships were like, who his father was, what his motives were, what his habits were. One article talked about his love of country music and gambling. And I knew the public was just eating it up, feeling titillated by the details of the life of this man who had just become one of the greatest mass murderers in American history.

But my mind went to the reality of the event itself. I’ve been to Mandalay Bay for shows and to the Aquarium, and I’ve walked the area outside of it. A bright flashy country music festival, in its third day of production. A large stage and a crowd of thirty thousand fans, all there to celebrate life and escape. They were drinking and dancing, sleeping, texting, taking photos and posting them on line, sending texts to their loved ones. And then, suddenly, gunfire. At first everyone held still and the music continued, people thinking it was electric sounds or perhaps fireworks. But as hundreds of rounds of ammunition rained down on the crowd, bullets hit targets. They flew through cowboy hats and lodged in heads and necks and chests and arms and backs and legs. And then the screaming and the running started.

For (approximately) 15 minutes, the gunfire continued. Loved ones made critical decisions to leave wounded spouses and friends behind, they scrambled to call for help and to search for missing loved ones, they launched themselves over barriers and fences to safety, they lay on the ground trying not to attract notice. They screamed, their adrenaline surged, and they texted frantic messages to people back home, not knowing if they would live or die.

As a therapist who does crisis work, I pictured talking to any one of these thousands of people later on. They would share their confusion, locked in time with the sights and sounds and images of what they witnessed, in shock and unable to get it out of their brains. Those images will stay with them for the rest of their lives, altering them forever. Tens of thousands of people, who will never again escape the feeling of what it is like to sit there helplessly as those around them are being slaughtered, a sensation generally on military veterans learn to live with.

And many were altered even more. Husbands lost wives. Wives lost husbands. A man shielded his wife from gunfire and she held his hand as she died. A cop protected someone else and yelled at his wife to run to safety, only to later learn she’d been killed. Back home, parents and kids and siblings, neighbors and co-workers and friends, began getting the news that someone they loved, who they had just seen, had been violently murdered, and for all of them, they would never be the same.

These victims, the ones who were wounded and the ones who were killed, they are real people. Teachers, veterans, police officers, students, hairdressers. They have loves and lives, homes, jobs, hopes and dreams. And in a blast of gunfire and blood, they were taken.

And somehow, unless you knew one of the victims directly, the public only wanted to know about the assassin, and to rage about their politics, and that part, that made me hurt and angry beyond belief.

So I decided to hold vigil. Instead of turning off the news because it was too painful, instead of getting lost in the psychology of a madman and mass murderer, instead of ranting about the poor morals of elected officials, instead of expressing outrage over what some celebrity did or didn’t say, I chose to remember the victims.

For two full days, I searched for names and identities. I found photos and locations. I began posting photos with brief descriptions of each person who was killed. These are the ones who deserve to be remembered, just like the victims from the Pulse shooting and from Sandy Hook and Fort Hood and Virginia Tech and Columbine. These are the lives that must remembered.

And once I set aside my outrage and replaced it with grieving, once I addressed my pain and fear and gave it voice, I realized I could start to heal, and I could start to decide what to do with this.

In today’s news cycles, we are assaulted with a barrage of things to be afraid of and outraged over, and even the biggest stories tend to cycle through every couple of days. We are no longer talking about the hurricane in Puerto Rico, yet the people there are still struggling to recovery. And by tomorrow, we will no longer be talking about Vegas, instead just shrugging it off as another shooting in a country that can’t seem to stop having mass shootings. And then we will be caught up in our outrage over the next story.

And while we constantly move forward to the next news story, there are events from the past that we still can’t escape from. This country hasn’t healed from the assassinations of JFK, or Martin Luther King, or Harvey Milk, or Abraham Lincoln. We haven’t moved past 9/11, or Watergate, or McCarthyism, or Wounded Knee, or Pearl Harbor, or slavery. Will this be remembered as a time of change, or another forgotten news story?

Because for these families and victims, who will never recover, this isn’t something that can be forgotten. And what happens next time when it is my family, or yours, who is impacted?

How do we take these lessons, and how do we make change?

Those are questions that I need to answer for myself tomorrow. But today, today I grieve.

Vegas

 

 

 

 

Good-Looking Murderers

A few days ago, it was reported that Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in jail. Hernandez, a famous sports star, rocketed into super-stardom when he was convicted of a brutal murder, and it came to light that he had been suspected in other murders. The reports on his death were grisly and left many questions.

When I checked my Facebook feed, a friend had posted an article about the death of Hernandez. I read the comments that followed the posted article. One, written by a gay man that I know, read, “He was hot! I wish he’d murder me!”

Hernandez

As I processed through that statement and all that it implied about humanity, human consciousness, and social media, I scrolled farther down, where another friend had posted a meme about Hernandez committing suicide, a meme that also included Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, and others, with a horribly unfunny joke about suicide. The friend had just written one thing about it. “What, too soon?”

I closed my computer and stepped away for a moment. As a professional, I have worked with the loved ones of those who have committed suicide many times over, and I have seen the emptiness, the pain, the shock, and the horror on their faces after the news comes in and in the days and weeks that have followed. I have also, to a lesser extent, worked with the families and loved ones of both those who have committed murder and those who have lost someone to murder. Going through something like that changes a person forever, irrevocably haunting them for the rest of their lives.

My mind flashed back to a few years ago, when I was running an LGBT history channel on YouTube, doing daily posts on events related to LGBT people and history. One day, I had done a post on Jeffrey Dahmer, a gay man who had committed dozens of horrific murders that defy explanation or understanding. Dahmer, now a legendary and, dare I say, celebrated serial killer was later violently killed while incarcerated by another inmate. The research I had done into his life and crimes had haunted me for days. I posted the video on social media, and someone in seconds had committed, “Mmm, look at him. Getting killed by him would have been worth it.”

dahmer

These thoughts stuck with me for a few days, disturbing, hanging out in the back of my brain. These people I knew were sexualizing murderers. Passive comments, for sure, and given without much thought. But an errant joke about suicide isn’t that funny if you’ve lost someone to suicide, and an errant joke about murder–well, frankly, neither one of them are funny at all. The killers and the victims were fathers, brothers, sons. They were humans who had lives and potentials. And when they were taken, gone, their pasts were all that were left. All of their potential, all of the paths they would have walked, all of the children they may have brought into the world, all gone with them.

My brain dredged up to similar comments I had heard over the years. When Dylan Roof killed 8 black worshippers in a church, I read a comment about ‘at least he killed old people’ on social media. In high school, when stories about Mary Kay Letourneau hit the media telling of how she had had sex with a much younger student, I remember some of the guys in my high school saying how lucky the student was, how much they wish they had had a teacher like that.

I wondered to myself the kind of world that we live in, where we as a culture are more focused on how hot or how young someone is, how desensitized to the news we are that we search for the horrific and titillating details, details which ultimately have little impact on us. This is a world where a woman makes a post on social media in support of Planned Parenthood, and a stranger comments on her feed that she deserves to be raped.

As I prepared my thoughts on this particular blog entry, I took a break and clicked on the news button on my iPhone. Four featured stories popped up, as they usually did. Something horrible about Donald Trump as usual, and then a detailed report about hundreds being killed in Syria in a brutal attack. Beneath that were two more stories, one about a celebrity divorce and a fourth about a celebrity’s plastic surgery mishaps.

A cold calm came over me as I realized the programming here, the way we view the news itself, the way we are indoctrinated into seeing the world. Hundreds of Syrian deaths mean nothing to those who aren’t Syrian, but the celebrity divorce gets clicked on because we have seen these people in a few movies. And the advertisers pay more for the stories that are clicked on. How quickly we cultivate an inability to feel horrible when we read something horrible. How swiftly we devolve into unsympathetic creatures when we scan the photos of murderers and victims and we focus solely on how attractive they were. We consider the mass deaths of strangers as shrug-worthy, and the tragic deaths of the young and beautiful a true tragedy.

And we are surrounded by men and women who feel no grief at the loss of life, yet they find value in the looks of the killers.

millennials making millions

millennials_1

It’s a different world than the one that I grew up in.

This will being as one of those “back in my day” stories about how the times are changing before the older generation can adapt to the new one. (Subsequently, the older I get, the more I realize that every generation becomes the ‘older’ generation relatively swiftly).

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s. I recorded television shows on a video cassette tape and watched them on the VCR. I put music cassettes into tape recorders. I used rewind and fast forward on both. I played the original Nintendo video game and marveled at the advances in technology, because before that playing computer games required entering code on the T.I. Basic or playing a pixel-laden Atari.

Then in high school, technology advanced. I got my first Email address and could browse the Internet through AOL dial-up, where you paid per minute that you were online and being on your computer meant your phone-line was busy. I could jump into chat rooms and talk to people anywhere in the world and it was incredible! Communication and media were forever replaced with Email instead of snail mail. Now news and television shows and movies could be viewed online, pornography could be downloaded instead of purchased in a store, and shopping could be arranged through websites and products sent through the mail. Everything was different. And companies launched along with it that soon became media enterprises: Yahoo, Google, GMail, America Online, and many more.

Then in 2001, as a young college student, I bought my first cell phone. It was only $200 per month, and I could make calls in a local area, up to 200 minutes per month! There was no data, no camera, no internet, no long distance, and no texting (those would all come in the next few years), but I could carry a phone in my pocket and use it whenever I wanted! And the cell phone companies expanded to epic proportions. Verizon and Cricket and Sprint and

Obviously, technology has skyrocketed since then, the inventions of the last few decades dominating nearly every market. And now, as the Millennial generation grows with it, everything has changed. Social media has now become the primary form of media, television looking more to us now like radio did to me as a kid. And the company giants that dominate the international landscapes are all associated with the internet: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube, ITunes, Paypal, Tinder, Amazon, Craigslist, MySpace, Ebay, WhatsApp, Airbnb, Uber, and on and on.

A few years ago, an app craze spread across the country, and downloadable games and programs made millions for quick-thinking, technologically-savvy entrepreneurs. Angry Birds and MyFitnessPal and apps of every genre and type came out by the hundreds of thousands. Apps to help you turn poetry into music, to allow you to save your photos with new filters, to turn your car into a taxi cab, to find live music near you, to count your burned Calories as you walk, to find local singles for sex.

And suddenly, there are millions of home-based businesses out there, people making thousands of dollars per month by uploading _____ (fill in the blank) and running advertising on their content, which generates a small amount of income per click. There are people sharing recipes and parenting tips on blogs, there are jokes or photos or tips of the day on websites, there are news commentaries with millions of followers.

On YouTube itself, there are thousands of individual channels that make their owners tens of thousands of dollars (and in some cases millions of dollars) per years. A woman who does make-up tutorials, a man who records himself playing video games, a man who plays pranks, a man who dances in his underwear to pop songs, a doctor with medical advice, a massage therapist who gives self-massage tips, a girl who runs lyrics to songs through translation technology and then sings the songs in broken English, a scientist who melts things, an adult woman who plays with kids’ toys, a man who records people from other countries eating American foods for the first time. With just the right amount of sound and video quality, an energetic personality, and some basic editing skills, there are thousands of Millennials running successful companies out of their living rooms.

And this, in many ways, is the new America. Which leads me to wonder, what kinds of ideas have yet to be discovered? And where is technology going from here–what is it about today’s advanced social media culture that is going to seem archaic in ten years time? What companies will still be launching, what new forms will advertising and television take, what millions have yet to be made?

And what mark will I end up leaving along the way?

Airbnb hosting

A little over a year ago, I decided to try my hand at hosting Airbnb guests in my apartment. A nice easy way to make a bit of extra cash, I thought, and I like meeting people.

I was part of the online Couchsurfing community years back, when I tried my hand at visiting some cities to promote my new comic book ideas, long before I was published, and I hadn’t had any bad experiences.

So I set up a room in my basement, a nice cool space with a queen size bed and another twin, memory foam mattresses with plenty of blankets, a private bathroom, free wifi, and full use of the kitchen and dining room areas. Little things make a big difference in pricing on Airbnb. Having a private entrance that locks, for example, and having variable check-in and check-out times.

I live in an older space, so the recommended pricing on my apartment is generally between 25 and 45 per night, sleeping up to three people. A pretty decent deal, when nearby hotel rooms with similar amenities but no kitchen run double or triple the price. But hosting isn’t always so easy. I work a lot, so accommodating people’s arrival and departure times isn’t easy. Some guests check out at 4 am, some at 11 am (the latest check out time), and others want late check outs. Some guests arrive hours early, some at 5 pm, and some in the middle of the night. And I have guests nearly every day, so I have to find time to be home between guests to clean the basement up: changing bedding, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, changing the garbage, and vacuuming, plus making sure the rest of the house is presentable. And it’s preferred to be there when the guests arrive and depart, but I often just have to leave a key out for them, or have them leave the key and lock the door behind them.

Despite all of this, I have had mostly good experiences in hosting. I have had guests from all over the world: Colorado, New England, Florida, New Brunswick, Mexico City, Tehran, Dublin, Paris, Rome, New York City, Addis Ababa, Moscow, Osaka, Shanghai, Bombay. By and large, people are pleasant, kind, good communicators, respectful, and clean.

But every 7th guest or so, I’ll have a slightly negative experience, something that makes it feel not worth it at all.

The guest who sends passive aggressive text messages at midnight about some random complaint.

The guest who is pleasant in person, but then leaves a passive-aggressive comment about something online, rather like an errant Yelp review, about how the place was filthy when it wasn’t, or how I stomped on the floor above them all night when I didn’t.

The guest who uses my groceries without asking.

The guest who hangs out in the living room all day, seemingly traveling halfway around the world to plop himself on my couch and never leave.

The guest who expects excessive amenities with his 25 dollar room rate, like free laundry detergent, surround sound, and a foot massage.

The guest who comes to get away and drink or drug out in my basement, making little effort to clean up after himself afterwards. Also, the guest who makes way too much noise late at night.

The guest who cooks the stinkiest fish I have ever smelled at 1 am, leaving the aroma to assault me in my sleep one floor up.

And the guest who leaves the surprising messes behind, unflushed human waste or a pile of sand spread over the carpet.

Overall, I suppose it is rather like the hotel industry, you never quite know who is arriving to stay in your room and you have to try to be accommodating. The difference being, of course, that this is my home. When I stay in other people’s homes as an Airbnb guest, I work hard to be respectful, quiet, clean, forthright, and understanding, yet not everyone has the same value systems as me.

I’ve met a lot of very cool people through Airbnb. The man from Tibet who brought me an orchid as a thank you for letting him stay, the young musicians newly married traveling around to launch their careers, the elderly parents from Japan here to see their only daughter married to an American, the young Frenchman who stayed for three months and turned out to be a great friend, the two Saudi brothers who made me laughing uproariously at their jokes on Muslim culture.

I sit back and marvel at the new innovations in industry happening in the world. People are launching their own home businesses by selling items they pick up at garage sales on Ebay, by doing magic tricks on YouTube stations, by using their car as a taxi and their home as a hotel. The world has never been more connected as we draw in to each other around the world over the Internet, yet never disconnected as we stare at our big and little screens.

Overall, I do Airbnb for one simple reason: it helps pay the bills. Having an extra (on average) 30 dollars per day is a small amount that builds up, because 30 days of that in a row makes up 900 dollars.

And that’s the face of American life more than any other: we do what it takes to pay the bills.

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Let me take a selfie

I blog. Obviously.

There have been times over the last few years of my blogging that men will flirt with me or chat with me a bit. I’ll invite them out for coffee, and they’ll respond with a ‘no thank you. I saw your blog, and I don’t want to be someone that you write about later.’

This is absolutely hilarious to me. I share of lot of myself on my blog, but anyone who thinks they know me well by reading things that I’ve written, well, they will be surprised when they actually get to know me and realize I’m much more complex than some words on a screen. I write about things, and about myself, but I am much more than the things I write about.

When I write about others, I do one of two things: I change their names and a few key components of their identity, and only share things that are sanguine to a topic or that I know they would be okay with me sharing; OR I get their permission to tell stories about them. I’m not a passive-aggressive individual who vents about strangers on my blog, naming them by name and publishing for all readers to see. That would be downright cruel.

I also share openly on Facebook, and on my YouTube channel. I share things I am comfortable sharing. I try to keep my Facebook page one of positive energy, wit, and inspiring thoughts and ideas. It can at times be a delicate balance. Oversharing is uncomfortable, as is public whining.

Recently, in a conversation with a 15 year old male, I was told that Facebook was for the “older generation”. “Kids are using Snapchat now. Facebook just kind of. It’s not really for us, it’s more for your age.” I was startled by this. But as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, looking at my friends and those who posted often, it did indeed seem to be primarily those in their mid 20s to late 40s. Funny videos, random statuses, and selfies.

Now I take selfies from time to time. I might send to a friend or two or I might post one on my Facebook wall in an attempt to, again, be either inspiring, witty, or funny. I’ll make a thoughtful face, snap the shot, post, and write some sort of line underneath.

In thinking about selfies, I realize there is a certain amount of ego involved in taking and posting them. There is an assumption that if I take a selfie, I not only like my face, I assume that other people will want to see it also, and that they are interested in what I have to say and show. I suppose there is some desire for validation and reciprocity.

Honestly, that’s a lot of the reason I blog. I have something to say and I assume people will want to read my words and share in my experiences.

Today, I made myself black coffee and, as I drink it shirtless, I snapped a selfie, contemplating how such a delicious drink is zero calories. Yesterday, I had a flat tire. While I waited for the tow truck, I snapped a selfie of my frowning by the tire. A few days ago, I snapped a selfie of me cuddling with my four year old. The day before that, I asked a woman to take one of me with my children in the swimming pool.

There is no hidden agenda when I post a photo of myself. Just like anyone on Facebook, I enjoy getting ‘likes’ and comments on my photos. It’s fun to have the ego stroked a bit. But the fact of the matter is, I have no idea if other people want to see my face, if they don’t want to see my face, if they are ambivalent to my face, if they are tired of my face, or if they wish my face was on their Facebook feed more often.

Again, I like the validation. But I post the selfies, well, for me. Which is another turn of ego I suppose.

I’ve written on Ego before, but I see it as a pretty healthy thing. I spent a bulk of my life kind of hiding in plain sight. So to be at a point in my life when I like who I am, when I like how I look, when I like how I present myself… well, I’m pretty damn okay with that.

So it turns out, at nearly 40, I might just be a “millenial”, one of that dreaded generation who texts too much, has too many apps, and is glued to their phones, posting statuses and Emojis and images of themselves on social media. I hashtag things. I share, comment, like, view, Tweet, Imessage, Snapchat, and download apps. It isn’t so complicated, it’s just this new generation, and I’m fully a part of that.

So as I engage in social media expression, at age 37, as a dad and a social worker and a writer, I’ll keep sharing what I choose to share when I choose to share it, and I’ll be just fine with having a bit of ego about it.

But first, let me take a selfie.

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Making Lemonade in Hollywood

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Let’s say you love making lemonade. I mean, you love it. The whole process. You love blending the ingredients to perfection, and you especially love the huge refreshing and surprised smile people get on their faces when they taste it, cold and delicious. You have tried out several combinations and mixtures, from huckleberry to honey lime to chocolate peanut butter, and the variety is exciting, but it is that homemade original recipe that you love so much.

People ask you how you came up with such a perfect recipe, they wonder why it tastes so good, and you come up with a story about how you got it from your grandmother, but the truth is you made it all by yourself, and you don’t want to share the recipe with anyone else, it’s special and it is just yours.

Soon friends start asking you to make your lemonade for special events, weddings and receptions, company barbecues and family picnics. At first you do it for free, then you charge them just a bit, just enough to cover the ingredients, but then you get busier and you start charging for your time as well. But you charge barely anything. Making lemonade on top of your day job keeps you very busy indeed. But you love it still.

And one day a friend sits you down and says, you know, you could do something with this lemonade thing. You are the best. Just quit your job and open a little store front, or sell it online. Create a YouTube channel about your lemonade, make an Instagram account, create a Facebook fan page, put up a Twitter account, come up with a campaign, people of all ages loving your lemonade. And you are surprised, because even though you make the best lemonade, you have no idea how to run a business, how to market it. You live in a small town. You can’t just make lemonade, can you? But the idea sticks in your mind for a while, and you think, why not give it a shot. But you don’t quit your job, you try to do it smart.

And so you start telling people about your lemonade. You put some money into creating a marketing campaign. You do daily posts on social media. You take pictures and publish them. You offer samples. You tell local companies about it, and put some ads up on the internet. And you stick with it for a few months, but orders don’t increase, and all that time and initiative you are putting into your lemonade promotion is yielding very small results. The people who loved it before still love it, but no one else is really trying it.

You talk to your friend again, and he tells you to keep at it, says the lemonade is the best. And you tell him that you agree, it’s damn good lemonade, but no one else is trying it out. Think bigger, he says. The talent is there, you just have to find it.

And so you save up a bit, and you take yourself to Hollywood, just to see. It’s beautiful there. The streets are lined with amazing buildings full of history and money and success, but also failure and pain and flops. Lemonade is everywhere in Hollywood, in every shape and color and on every corner. There are 50,000 people there making lemonade, and only a few thousand of them are doing well at it, and only a few hundred doing really well at it.

And you spend a few days drinking other people’s lemonade. It’s good, but not as good as yours. But this lemonade, it’s selling like crazy. People are raving about it. It is in shiny cups lined with sugar, in store fronts with air-conditioning and plush seats and soft lighting.

And after a few days of drinking other people’s lemonade, you wonder about your options you really want to keep making lemonade (and you really do), how can you be a success at it? You want to be one of the few thousand (not one of the few hundred), but there are a lot of lemonade stands out there. Do you need pretty packaging? A busy store front on a Hollywood intersection? A new label? Do you need to team with someone who is already making lemonade in order to make yours bigger?

Or do you just keep making lemonade and working the day job, hoping it will take off some day?

Or do you just keep making lemonade for the people in your small town who already like it, and be content with that?

Or do you stop making lemonade all together?

And so a few days later, you are back in your little kitchen and you are swishing your old familiar mixing spoon around and around your old familiar pitcher. Ice is clinking against the sides of the glass as the liquid beneath it swirls round and round. You see the sugar dissolving into the water, and the wedges of lemon bobbing up and down. It turns a careful beautiful bright yellow. And you know it will be delicious, not only because you have made it 1000 times before, but because you love to make it, you love this process, these careful calculations, the mix and stir and clink and swish and pour. You love the process even more than you love the taste of it on your tongue. And people come in and they drink and they say it is delicious.

And you hold a glass of cold lemonade in your hand, and you look out the window at the setting sun, already thinking about the batch of lemonade you will make tomorrow, and you wonder again about ambition, and potential, and doing what you love.