What’s It Worth?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cost of things. And not just financial cost, though that is definitely a driver. No, I mean the real cost of things. The opportunity cost.

Quiet as it is kept, I didn’t originally go to college to get a Sociology degree. The first time I went to college, (yes there was more than one—don’t judge me, that’s how we grow!) I was going to be an engineer. There was a huge push for engineers of color in the late-80s/early 90s, my brother had pursued that route, and I was going to design airplanes and the next-generation space shuttle. That was the plan. Until I got to Atlanta. The ratio of women to men in the Atlanta University Center, where Morehouse College is located, is 14-to-1. 14 women for every man. Do you understand what I just said? That meant Chris was going to be otherwise pre-occupied. I said “Fuck the plan!” and Morehouse said, “Well, thanks for playing, Chris! We have some lovely parting gifts for you.” So, after I got kicked out of Morehouse, I went back to school in Minnesota. I took a couple economics classes to satisfy some Humanities credits and found out I actually liked Econ.

Then I took calculus. Three times. I got 2 F’s and a W. I am awesome at calculus.

I wouldn’t trust me to be an engineer—I can’t compute my way out of a paper bag—and the sum total of my economic capabilities is limited to balancing my checkbook and making Amazon purchases. In both instances, engineering in Atlanta and economics in Minnesota, math helped me refine my academic endeavors.

That’s how we get to Sociology. There’s so little math and science in my degree, I actually took a class called Physics for Poets. That’s a real thing.

Anyway, in those early macro- and micro-economics courses, I learned about the concept of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost isn’t about the dollars and cents of the choices we make; it’s more about what we give up or cannot do because of the choices we make. The textbook example is guns and butter. It’s a very simple way of looking at the choices a nation must make: guns represent the defense spending and butter is the domestic. Any nation has a finite amount of money and can spend it all on guns (defense) or butter (domestic stuff) or some combination of both. The rub is what you lose when you make those choices. More guns equal less roads and schools; more infrastructure and healthcare means a smaller army or open borders.

The thing you lose or give up—the guns or the butter—is the opportunity cost. The real cost of things.

In our private lives, that opportunity cost often translates into where we put our time. Do we spend it with our kids or do we go to the movies? Do we work out or sleep in? Date night or boys’/girls’ night? We see it in our household budgets—do I get that new TV or do I pay my student loans—and it was a real guiding principle behind the healthcare debate: with rising costs, do families prioritize food over medicine? You get it.

Beyond simply the cost of the choices we make is the value of that cost, in the short term or the long term. We decide what each of those choices is worth. If you have to lose 50 pounds or go on diabetes medicine, the working out vs sleeping in choice has a different value than if you’re at your goal weight, right? If you haven’t hung out with your spouse in a minute, date night might be the better option.

I’ve talked about Skipper a couple times: she’s our niece who came to live with us in December 2013 JUST SO SHE COULD GET OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL. That was the entire deal. Originally. And like Darth Vader, she altered the deal. We got her into college right after high school, that she never went to. She moved with us to Florida to go to college down there, that she never went to. She moved back to Seattle with us. Her 6 month experiment turned into 3 years and, FINALLY (like the Rock), in January 2016, we got her monkey ass into Art School. Yay, right?

Wrong.

3 months later DMFRH brought her ass back to my house. Grades were shit. Alcohol was her friend. She was in a shit relationship that wasn’t good for either party. Oh, and a week after she came back, found out she was pregnant.

Godammit.

At this point, I tapped out of the Skipper game but she had a choice to make: be pro-choice, do what she had to do, and go back to school, utilize that scholarship and get her degree OR become single mom at 21. With a minimum-wage part-time job. Without health insurance. Or a car. Or her own place. She chose door number two.

She took all her lumps, packed her stuff while we were on vacation, moved back with her father, and is now the mother of a beautiful, healthy baby boy. I thought it was a shit choice and told her so. But what I thought about it didn’t matter. My opinion wasn’t relevant then and isn’t relevant now. Because the opportunity cost of that choice isn’t mine to bear. The diapers, the sleepless nights, the worry, the responsibility, the loss of her 20s, the sacrifice of her college experience—these were all costs Skipper was willing to bear because the alternative mattered more. Because the baby was worth it. I have nothing but respect for that.

I made a similar choice 12 years ago with The Wife, The Boy and the Honey Badger. I chose this unorthodox family when everyone around me thought it was a shit choice and had no qualms about telling me so. Had no qualms about penalizing me for it.

So I’m thinking these days—a lot—about the choices we make, the choice we have to make, and the cost of those choices. And it’s everything: from where and how I spend my time to how much I’m selling that time for vs the professional advancement I hope to get. It’s whether that time is better spent watching the political tumult or participating in it. Whether we protest or proselytize? Whether Agents of SHIELD is ever really gonna deliver or is Gotham a better bet? In the end, the only question that matters is, Is the thing we choose worth the price we have to pay?

 

 

 

 

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Suck It Up, Buttercup

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a minute—I’ve been all up in my feelings for the last 2 weeks or so. My president is leaving and the whole idea got me like:

nettie-and-celie-clap-o

My wife has been trying to get me to watch these retrospectives of the last 8 years, the overviews of the Obama presidency and I can’t bring myself to do it. I cain’t. Fuck that, Brian Williams, I ain’t watching your show. Nope, History Channel, miss me with that replay of the 2008 inauguration. Sorry BET, just…no.

I’m at the house, scrolling pass anything that shows Obama walking anywhere—to Air Force One, the Oval Office, the bathroom—like Monique in Precious.

monique

I’m having a hard time with Obama leaving.

One thing I always see when I troll any site or article that talks negatively about the bullshit Trump is doing—like denying Russian involvement in the election or tweeting incoherent nonsense about Saturday Night Live or nominating a woman thinks guns are necessary in schools cause grizzly bears—is Suck It Up, Buttercup.

Suck it up, buttercup.

It’s cute, it’s snarky, it’s condescending. It’s all the things I should enjoy, right? The right mix of tough attitude and sarcasm, a quick little hit to make anybody voicing any kind of dissension shut up and just take it.

But here’s the thing: they’re right.

20 years ago, I chaperoned a group of 4th, 5th and 6th graders on a Civil Rights tours from the Twin Cities to the deep South. I might have talked about this before. We went to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas and met one of the Little Rock Nine. We went to Biloxi and Atlanta and Birmingham and Memphis.

Next to Birmingham, Selma was the place that struck me the most. In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr led a march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery. What started as a peaceful march over the Edmund Pettus bridge turned into a violent confrontation between state troopers, horses and dogs. Tear gas and billy clubs. This was Bloody Sunday, a clash of armed police against 600 unarmed, peaceful protestors who simply wanted to exercise their right to vote. 58 people were injured, dozens more arrested. I met two sisters while we were in Selma, both of them were in Bloody Sunday event—you can even see them getting beat by troopers in the Eyes on the Prize videos. One of them still had the knot on her head from the billy club; the other was still missing the teeth the police had knocked out 30 years earlier. She called their loss her “badge of honor.”

Oh, you know who else was there, at Bloody Sunday? John Lewis. Take a look:

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That’s John Lewis right there, the foreground, getting a skull fracture from the police for peacefully marching for his constitutional rights. That’s Congressman John Lewis. Congressman John Lewis who President-Elect Trump said was “All talk talk talk…no action.” That John Lewis.

You know what John Lewis did after this image was taken? He got back up. He got hit again. And got up again. And two weeks later, participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery again. 6 months after, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

He sucked it up.

The point here is, this sucks. Tomorrow is gonna suck. Watching Cheeto Jesus take the oath of office to be the next President of the United States, to continue to nominate woefully unqualified people to cabinet positions, to continue to push the boundaries of diplomacy with China, to make disgusting and ridiculous statements is gonna fucking suck. My house is divided over watching the inauguration. My kids are trying to figure if they should stay in class tomorrow. But the fact remains, Donald Trump is going to be President. That shit is happening tomorrow, love it or hate it. He’s going to hit us with that damn billy club.

You and me, all of us, we have a choice: we can lay down and just take it, or we can get our skull fractured, suck it up and get the fuck back up again.

I’ve said it before: democracy is not a spectator sport. Like those protestors on the Edmund Pettus bridge or the protestors on the Washington Mall on January 21, citizenship requires action to move our populace forward. There is an active assault on healthcare for all Americans and specifically, reproductive rights and health alternatives for women. That shit is happening. You and I have an obligation to listen to the words that are spoken, support our free press (subscribe to local and national newspapers), hold our leaders accountable (blow up their phones, chase them down at town hall meetings), VOTE—show up and show out.

So suck it up, buttercup, and get out there and do your part.

 

 

My New Career Counselor

 

I am legit taking professional advice from my dog. Real talk.

lady

Excuse me sir, we are well past approved park hours!

So the Damn Dog—I mean, I love her but anything that wakes you up at 3am because it’s not sure if it has to pee and then gets a shy bladder because someone in Nebraska forgot to close the garage door deserves a funky ass nickname—oh, where was I? Oh yeah! So the Damn Dog is a 100 pound golden retriever (don’t you judge her! She likes cake…and cookies…and pizza…fine, I’m signing her up for Jenny Craig) and she has a singular desire: she wants to go to the park.

The Dog LOVES the park, she lives for the park. The park is her life. Every time I put on pants, her ears perk up. If I grab a shoe, she’s on her way down the stairs, tail wagging, tongue flapping. My dog knows a handful of words: Sit, Stop, Walk. Where’s your ball? Get out of here, I’m peeing! Basic stuff, right? If I say the word “park” directly to her or in a sentence (with or without context), your girl is looking for her leash. She loves the park. The park is her jam.

And at the park, the Damn Dog is going to do 3 things: shit, chase her ball, and lay in the mud. In that order. Every. Single. Time.

So what does this have to do with career counseling? Check it out:

Shitting

Sounds gross but we all do it, right? No biggie. At the park, this is the Dog’s first order of business: get rid of the bad.

You ever see a dog hold a grudge? Wake up funky? Carry park politics back to the park? Be pissed off because the lost their favorite toy or because their favorite kibble didn’t come in on time? They don’t do that shit. My dog doesn’t do that shit. My dog is a golden retriever—she literally smiles during the day. When she gets to work—the park—she’s dropping everything that’s gonna weigh her down, everything’s that’s gonna stop her from doing the good stuff: chasing the ball and laying in the mud.

Chasing the Ball

Which brings me to the good stuff. This is the bulk of DD’s time at the park. It’s really simple: she looks at me expectantly, I throw the ball far as I can, she runs to get it and, being a retriever, brings it back. Unless she drops it on the ground and rolls all over it. Or growls at any other dog who might want it. Or takes the ball and runs away from me because she’s a fat dog who got tired of me throwing it. I digress.

The best part of watching my dog running after a tennis ball (which she is VERY possessive about) is when she has to search for it. Retrievers are hunting dogs by nature and, no matter if she’s searching for a duck or a ball, she’s doing what she was made to do. Tail’s flailing, nose to the ground, the DD is the happiest she can be.

Until…

Laying in the Mud

Your girl is gonna pamper herself. The highlight of this excursion comes when she’s good and tired of running. This animal finds the wettest, sloppiest mud puddle she can, one where I’m not close by to stop her, and plops her chunky ass in it. And she is ecstatic. She stretches and yawns, might roll to her side, might root around with her nose and then, and when she’s good and fucking filthy, she looks at me like, “What? Of course I was gonna do this!”

And that’s her deal. Until the next day. Here’s the thing: my dog wants to do this Every. Single. Day. Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or flaming hot or 20 goddamn degrees. There doesn’t even have to be any mud. She really just needs the ball and room to run.

So what does this have to do with you…or me?

Imagine living in your element, in the heart of your joy. And getting paid for it. What is your tennis ball? What are you willing to chase each and every day, what gets your tail wagging, your nose to the ground? What is the thing that that you cannot wait to do, that will get your heart pumping at the sound of it?

So I’m taking my dog to the park a lot these days, hoping she’ll show me a little more. Hoping I’ll see what she sees, that I’ll find my park and my ball and that thing I need to chase. Funny thing is it’s 11:43pm and my searching, my thinking, is leading me back…here.

Huh…

lil-lady

She was cute in the beginning, huh?

Oh yeah, I guess we did have a New Year, huh?

I know I’m late with my 2016 retrospective: truth is, I don’t feel like 2017 will start until January 20. I’ma be crying behind Obama leaving, singing old Guy songs: “Baby, Don’t Go.”

Beyond that, I think I’m like everyone else: my feelings on 2016 are:

beyonce

I am happy to see this one go…but I’m not sure why. I’m learning a lot about perspective—the way we think things are versus the way they actually are. I’m learning that your mood—or my mood—can change how I see the world and what actions I take.

My dad told me “your perception is your reality.” What we think is is, at least to us. For some this year sucked: we had a shitty election that served to divide the country further than it already was. We watched scores of black people killed by police and the cacophony of protest about it. We also saw those same protestors, whether they were marching or rioting or taking a knee, get vilified for their protest. We saw believe things that weren’t real, or weren’t real to the rest of us. We watched our news organizations eschew truth for ratings and the confusion in our populace grow.

We heard a lot about how the economy is heading the wrong direction and isn’t getting better. Every single metric we would use to measure that says otherwise: unemployment, the DOW, household income (though wages have remained stagnant). The one metric I use is the amount of racism that made it back into the mainstream: you can tell the economy is doing better when white people can afford to be racist. Remember 2008? That Yes We Can, Hope and Change shit sure was appealing when we were stuck in 2 wars, unemployment was at 10% and rising, healthcare was bankrupting people and some 45,000 people were dying every year from a lack of insurance, wasn’t it? When baby boomers couldn’t retire because 401Ks weren’t worth shit and millennials were living at home because there weren’t any jobs AND student loans were kicking that ass, getting behind the black dude was cool. Those were the days…

Now we actually debate on what a fact is. Do you hear that shit? We question what a fact actually is. How are facts debatable? The one that pisses me off the most is the whole climate change denial. The same science that gives you iPhones and internets and high speed rail and drones and GPS and Twitter and fucking Siri gives you the “hey, you’re fucking up the ENTIRE planet” warning and people don’t believe it? How do you use science to not believe science?

Anyway, that was 2016, the year that facts and faith in one another died. We lost trust in our public institutions (like the FBI) and belief in the media—seriously, how did Facebook become a news source? We saw journalism die along with my childhood: in the last 366 days, we lost David Bowie and Prince, Muhammad Ali and Alan Rickman, Nancy Reagan and Fidel Castro, John Glenn and Gene Wilder. Grizzly Adams, Mrs. Brady and Princess Leia. Fuck.

That last one got me. I think we attach ourselves to those celebrities, those actors and writers and musicians who remind us of the best about ourselves. Who touch that part of us that let us know we’re not alone in the world. I grew up in Minnesota, I’ve seen Prince in concert (literally the BEST concert I’ve ever seen!) and a random club. My feelings were hurt when he passed because he had such a universal voice—all of us sit in the car, waiting for the Whoo Whoos to end in Purple Rain before we get out. That Super Bowl halftime show was the stuff of legends. When he died, the news hit me like I’d dropped my tacos and I was STARVING! For my brother, though, it was like he lost an arm: he was in mourning for months.

But Carrie Fisher got me. That one hurt—hurts now. Not just because I’m a Star Wars freak (I am) or because I thought Princess Leia was a boss (she was: Leia stood up to Darth Vader, watched her planet get blown up without a tear, took control of her own rescue and ended up leading the rebellion, while still having time for a scoundrel and his big ass dog). I loved Carrie Fisher because she was always unapologetically herself. For better or worse. She told you how it was when it was shitty or addicted or mentally ill. She was honest when she didn’t have to be. I loved that.

What I learned from those losses is really the responsibility of living life to the fullest. Of being present and taking advantage of every moment. After 18 months of independent consulting, I learned I wasn’t a fan of searching for work (though business development is necessary), hated the uncertainty of knowing where my next check was coming from, and wanted to be able to plan for when the Boy and the Honey Badger graduate. Early in the year, I joined a Big 4 consultancy because I wanted to add some stability to my otherwise unstable professional life. You know, on the inside, I got my London Tipton on like:

london

I did get into grad school though (chalk up another London Tipton moment). Like for real for real. MBA program at Temple. If I wanna go, I gotta figure out how to pay for it but HOLY SHIT, right? Grad school!

I started playing the long game—at least I thought I was.

But a few things happened over 2016 that made me question the wisdom of all of that:

First, I realized I wasn’t writing much—not here, not my novels. It was a feat of strength and exhaustion to get Come Hell or High Water out (but hey, it’s out there! You can find it here.) I’d abandoned this blog long enough that I’m confident I lost my readers, including me. I couldn’t figure out what to write next…so I didn’t. And I lost something about myself, something in myself, along the way. That had to change.

Then I made a mistake, professionally. A costly one. Actually, I made two. In planning for the long haul, I underestimated the actual cost of the short term. That leads to, in math terms, a negative. In public policy, we call it a deficit. In accounting, it’s in the red. Pick an industry, it isn’t pretty. Then, I made a better mistake, one some might call a career-limiting move. I’m still dealing with that one so…we’ll see how that goes.

And lastly, I was kinda fucking miserable. I wasn’t delivering my true self to my family, to you, to me. I was, and am, a great consultant. I’m good at what I do. But I’m also a fairly decent (ok ok I’m pretty freaking awesome!) writer with plenty to say, a father who actually likes his kids (even when they are DMFRHs), a husband who digs his wife. I’m a whole person and feeding one aspect of myself leaves the balance in entropy. Stagnant. Dying.

So in 2017, I’m looking for balance. Balance between my professional and literary endeavors. Balance between my home and work life. Between patriotism and protest. Between the gym and being a fat kid. Carrie Fisher taught me that life can be art, that writing can be a profession, that we can laugh at our pain and still be strong. That abject honesty makes us better.

That honesty thing is why I’m here now. That, and I missed you, and you KNOW you missed me.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

The Return – Day 2

I went back and read a bunch of my old posts last night: I was pretty good! They were funny and insightful and full of colorful language—not too shabby if I do say so myself. I watched my own persona come alive: it was like reading the words of a person I didn’t know, listening to their wicked sense of humor and falling into their views on villains, kids, the world.

Then I realized that was me. Those were my words. I wrote that shit.

Like any activity, writing takes effort and practice and consistency (which I’ve noticed is the second time I’ve used that word in the last 2 days). Without using it, the skill atrophies, the muscle weakens. For writers, the power of perception dims, a witty turn of phrase fails to elicit a laugh, the observations ring hollow—we start to suck.

I’m a good writer—sometimes I can even be great. But I haven’t done it with any consistency or urgency or regularity and now I suck. I don’t even like to read my own shit and it’s my shit. The good part, if there is a good part, is I know this is only temporary.

You know I’m a comic book fan, right? And if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know I’m a fan of Spider-Man. Spidey’s my dude. What I like about Spider-Man—and what I love about him in Civil War—is that he doesn’t get it right often. The whole premise of Spider-Man is this kid named Peter gets these powers and the first thing he wants to do is use them to get a car to impress a girl (because that is the point of powers). Pete wrestles for money but the promoter stiffs him for his cash, saying “Not my problem.” When that same promoter is robbed, Spidey lets the criminal go, telling the promoter that stopping the criminal isn’t his problem. But it is: that same criminal kills Pete’s uncle—a guy Peter could have stopped but didn’t. That’s where the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” idea comes from.

Spider-Man doesn’t get it right, he doesn’t use his powers for good, and it ends badly for him. Horrible way to learn a lesson, right? But it affects him and every reader the same way: we come to love this kid, to root for him because he endeavors to do the right thing even when things go wrong. When he gets his ass kicked. When he accidentally kills his girlfriend. When he fights more heroes than villains. We grow with him, cry with him, hurt for him.

I try to be like Spidey. I try to show up, put on the suit, swing through these words and phrases, doing my damnedest to make this world a better place. I’ll stumble, I’ll fall off, I’ll write some horrible stuff, I’ll write some majestic stuff. I’m not sure how I’ll become the hero you deserve, but, hey, I’ll figure it out along the way.

BTW – that was a Batman reference.

The Return – Day 1

I haven’t been in this place in a while. I forget—forgot—what it felt like. What it smelled and tasted and looked like. It’s like coming back to your hometown after being away for years: so much is different, recognizable, but so much stays the same.

What’s the same is us, the two of us, back here in the place, trolling the same halls we used to roam, running fingers over old doorknobs and window frames. We’re both looking for something. You might be seeking that trademark villainy or another episode of DMFRH or even an update on the Swoaps (I don’t have one: sleeping dogs really do have to lie sometimes). I’m looking for a voice. For the words.

Along the way, we tend to forget why we came here at all. You know when you leave your chair and walk into another room to get the thing and then you cross the threshold because “What the fuck did I come in here for?” That’s where I am. I got up 3 years ago and went into another room to get…something…and I cool forgot why I was there at all. I forgot what I was trying to do. And while I was trying to remember what I came in here for, I wasn’t in my chair doing the shit that sent me down the hall in the first place.

Does this make sense?

There was a time, in 2013, when I was writing all kinds of stuff: I was working on Come Hell or High Water and I had this blog and I was doing shit on the regular and outside of this, I had the Day Job Dragon that I was riding or trying to slay or simply trying to avoid being burnt by. There was some sense of balance in my life then: my words were being heard, I was living as a writer and a consultant, the two halves of my whole self were in pretty good tension. I was living a complete life.

Then I left because I needed something from the other room.

I dove headlong into my professional life, trying to build something or broaden it—giving more to it than I did anything else. I had my reasons: I went all in so I could eventually own my life enough to do what I really wanted to do. Write. But I forgot to write along the way. I struggled to put pen to paper, to put words on the screen. I agonized over finally getting Come Hell or High Water to a place that people could or would read it. In short, I fell out of balance and you paid the price.

I’m here to ask for some forgiveness.

I’m not going to plead my case. I’m not going to write a collection of promises and earnest intentions. You’ve seen that already. In January of 2014 and again in 2015. I’ve said I was back in a series of half-hearted and incomplete overtures that don’t show any type of consistency or commitment. I’m not going to add another one to the list. One thing I tell my kids is “No one cares about what you say; everyone cares about what you do.” So I’ll just…do. Today. Tomorrow. The day after. I’ll show up and knock out my 500 words and we’ll just repeating that process.

Until I find my rhythm and remember why I came in this room.

A Promise is a Promise

You ready for that hot fire?

On Sunday, I told you I’d be releasing Come Hell or High Water through this blog. Well, I keep my promises – and this time I’m being timely about it.

So here’s how it goes: I’ve dropped the first 3 chapters of Come Hell or High Water (that’s #CHOH for you cool kids) on WattPad, an online social writing/reading service. Every week, on Tuesdays, I’ll leave you another snippet and we’ll get through this thing together.

Together.

That’s the important part. Don’t just read the story and hang out until the next week. Leave a comment. Jump on the Heaven Falls Facebook and ask a question. Tweet about it. Let me know what you think, what you like and hate, and what you hope to see.

And thanks for checking it out at all.

That said, here’s your first installment of Come Hell or High Water: The Book of Raphael.

Oh, and here’s the back cover text to whet your whistle:

I swore to protect you. And I will until my dying breath. I will because I love you. Because He loves you.

Because I said I would.

Because it is my fault. Lucifer is among you. Michael is coming. The war will follow.

My name is Raphael and I loosed the Devil upon the world.

Enjoy!