Pick Your Battles

There are some things you don’t want to come home and catch your wife doing. Not things like the mailman (get out of the gutter, middle-schoolers!) but things like listening to Karen White’s Superwoman, going through your Facebook, or watching a Snapped marathon. Those things cannot end well.

For me, it’s walking in the house and seeing my wife on Walt Disney’s travel website.

Goddammit.

Every year around this time, after 4 months of gray skies and endless rain, my wife gets restless. I start finding little notes around the house that say “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.” I damn near break my neck in the middle of the night from the nightstand that’s suddenly on my side of the bed because “the feng shui was off.” I don’t know feng or shui—I wanna know why I can’t see my tv without becoming a damn Cirque du Soleil contortionist. In a few subtle ways, my wife lets me know she needs to get out of the house.

And where better to go than Disneyland?

Look, I don’t have personal feelings one way or another about Disney-anything. Their movies ain’t bad—some of them are actually funny. I loved The Incredibles. The horse in Tangled had me DYIN! Jessica Rabbit had a niiiiiice set of—say what? That wasn’t Disney? Really? With the cartoons and everything—no? Well…nevermind…

Like I said, I’m ambivalent. My wife is an addict. She is a Mousejunkie. She loves all things Disney—Disney movies, Disneyland, keeps trying to make me dress up like the Beast so she can be Belle. Addict. And after being trapped in Snowmageddon for 7 days with the kids while I was tragically “stuck” in Los Angeles, I had no argument when she held out her hand for a credit card to book a TEN-DAY TRIP TO DISNEYWORLD. What could I say?

A long time ago I got into an argument with a man about a raccoon. I used to be a claims adjuster for an Insurance Company That Shall Not Be Named. Suffice it to say I was pretty damn neighborly. Anyway, I had a client who had a raccoon break into his house, piss all over the place, drive his dogs crazy enough to scratch through the walls, and have babies in his attic. It was FAN-tastic! I got him all square except for these expensive-ass artic-rated sleeping bags. Couldn’t replace those—it was against the policy. Few days after I closed the file, the guy calls me to say he figured out how I could pay for the sleeping bags. It’s my job: I’m all ears. The call went something like this:

ME: So watcha got?

HIM: I think I figured it out: Vandalism.

I read the definition for vandalism: willful and malicious intent to cause property damage.

ME: Ummm, I don’t think this is gonna work, man. It says “willful and malicious intent.” It was a raccoon.

HIM: But it willfully and maliciously broke into my house and peed on my stuff.

ME: Come on, man. I don’t think it was malicious—the raccoon didn’t break into your house to pee on your stuff because it was yours. It did it because that’s what raccoons do.

HIM: But it did! It did it on purpose.

We went round and round on this for a while until I had an audience. All my co-workers are crowding around to see how I’m gonna handle the raccoon argument. I make the point that a child under the age of six can’t legally form intent; is he suggesting that the raccoon has greater mental capacity than a 6-year-old human being? Finally I say:

“Well, look, did you have it arrested?”

HIM: What?

ME: Did you have it arrested? You say it broke into your house and vandalized your stuff. If you show me a police report arresting the raccoon for vandalism, I will pay for your sleeping bags. Did you have it arrested?

HIM: No.

ME: Why not?

HIM: Because it’s a raccoon!

ME: Exactly!

And I hung up the phone.

I spent too much time on that call for something that wasn’t going to happen. Waayyy too much time. And I ruined his day and my own when I should have ended it right before it began. Funny or not, it was a battle I shouldn’t have fought.

In the end, you can’t win them all. I can’t fight the Disney machine (I did hand over the credit card); that man couldn’t get his sleeping bags paid for; Jessica Rabbit isn’t bad, she’s just drawn that way. And some battles aren’t worth fighting. They aren’t worth your time, your energy, your attention. So before you snap over that shitty review, engage in that negative Facebook conversation or speak up in that PTA meeting, STOP. Take a breath. Decide if this is a battle that’s really worth fighting. Everything else is just raccoon piss on sleeping bags: Not Covered.

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Call A Spade A Spade or Own Your Shit

My brother calls a spade a spade when he sees it.

He has the uncanny ability to say what he needs to say, when he needs to say it, and consequences be damned. There’s not enough of that going on these days, this brutal honesty. Many of us hide behind political correctness or an aversion to conflict and use noncommittal jargon to smooth things over even when unhappy news needs to be shared. We shy away from saying what should be said, when it needs to be said. When it would be best.

He said something to me I didn’t appreciate. He told me I needed to “own my shit.”

He was right.

Dammit.

I’ve learned that the things people say to us, about us, the stuff that really sticks in our craws (I just wanted to use the word craw), the stuff that burns us up and has us blowing our tops in rage—that stuff tends to stick with us because it’s true. Because it’s true. Because someone had the audacity to highlight the thing about ourselves we like the least. This was one of those times.

I could call it a miscommunication or brush it off as a misunderstanding. What I was trying to do and what actually happened were two different things. I was screwing things up when trying to make them better and the even though my intentions where good…well…I wrote a whole book about what happens with good intentions (you can even buy it here).

Anyway, he told me I needed to own my shit. That I needed to take responsibility for my actions. I took particular exception to that. But after stomping around my house for 3 days, I started to see where he was coming from. Fine. I get it. Take responsibility. Fine. Own your shit. Yeah yeah yeah.

When I was a kid, my mother used to characterize our personalities in terms of ass-kicking (don’t ask me why—if you know my mom, it makes sense). She would say, “Your brother will tell you he’s gonna kick your ass and then do it. Right then. Your sister will tell she’s gonna kick your ass but not tell you when. But you, Chris, you won’t say shit. You’ll just walk up and kick somebody’s ass and they’ll never know why.” I used to think that was compliment. Thought it was some kind of Clint Eastwood-Marshall Dillon-law of the west-cowboy-ride off into the sunset kind of stuff. It’s not. It’s action without reason—there’s no ownership in it. Now I get it.

What’s my point, you ask? At the beginning of this year, I set some goals and made them pretty plain for everyone to see. Write this blog every other day. 2 book reviews per month. Do freaking P90X on a daily basis. Be about my shit. I missed my targets, at least for January. I’ve written 10 blogs but it should be 15, will complete 1 book review, and really don’t want to discuss my love-hate relationship with P90X. Hate is winning right now.

I didn’t own my goals like I should have.

Owning up to something and owning it are two different things. One of them requires an admission of responsibility; the other turns that responsibility into action. It’s both recognizing the error of your ways AND making changes to ensure it never happens again.

I made amends with my brother (well, I’m working on it). And I’m carving out time to be more diligent about my blog postings, my book reviews, and my exercise. And yesterday, after a dog bit my kid, I told the owner that if the Boy and the dog were in the same place at the same time again, I’d kill it myself. Owning my goals, my intentions, and my words.

Owning my shit.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I like to think of myself as a serious writer. Not like I’m serious about writing but that I write serious stuff. My subject mater is profound. I think deep thoughts like Jack Handy, have political opinions like Bill Maher, ponder the depths of the human condition like Jonathon Kozol. And when I consider my writing career, I always imagined tomes of philosophical weight streaming from my keyboard. I thought I would be crating literary expeditions into my nightmares or rollercoaster rides of suspense, not comedic hijinks or I’d-have-gotten-away-with-it-if-it-wasn’t-for-you-meddling-kids nonsense.

But that’s not who I am. Not entirely.

Truth is, as serious a writer as I like to think I am, I’m also the guy who knows he’s going to hell for laughing at a handicapped hockey game. Go back, read it again. I’ll wait. Yes, I said handicapped floor hockey. Wheelchairs and people with that one heel a little thicker than the other. Funniest shit I’ve ever seen. Seeing people fall will leave me convulsing in laughter but watching a movie where the dog dies makes me cry. I’ve found outrage at the antics of the Cincinnati Police department, pride at my president shutting up his critics, grief when two of my friends lost their own close friends.

I’ve never intentionally written a funny thing in my life but you guys—you magnificent people who participate and share in this little journey of mine—you all are quick to let me know what works and what doesn’t. You loved DMFRH because you could relate (or you have one down the hall or on your job). Or Hello Kitty because that shit happens to all of us. Or Shit or Get Off the Pot because sometimes we all need a swift kick in the ass to get moving. You let me know what touches you.

The larger literary community likes to put us in buckets, in little bubbles of stories and authors. The entire apparatus segments us as authors and readers, separating us in the name of efficiency, marketing and profits. Horror has a section in every bookstore and library. African-American literature earns half a shelf off to the side, or a table in the front during February. You have to wade through the Self-Help section and listening to all those titles tell you how much you suck before getting to the kids section. We are taught to think in categories and silos, in metatags and keywords.

You all have taught me that the human condition is all-encompassing, not broken apart. It is a cohesive, consummate process, one that envelopes fear and joy and pride and failure. We are not silos and categories and metadata. We are individuals who find horrible things humorous, who get embarrassed by medical terms to describe our body parts, who sometimes don’t fit inside our own skins.

For me, it’s about being the writer I am, being the man I am. Being the person I am. Embracing the components of my psyche and personality—including accepting that the wholly inappropriate is funny to me—and folding that into my words. You all have forced me to redefine who I thought I was as a writer.

Thank you for that.

The Return of DMFRH: The Results Show!

WARNING: Still cussing…come back tomorrow if your ears (or eyes) are too delicate.

Last week, I introduced a witty new segment on the blog called Dis MuthaFucker Right Here—DMFRH. In that post, I gave you my first contenders for the DMFRH award: The Boy with his sorry ass response to his academic Katrina and the cardio crusaders, Shaun T and Tony Horton. Punk ass muthafuckers.

The response to that post was overwhelming: you guys loved it! Who knew the trifling-ness of my son (yes, I made up my own word) or the debacle of trying to get fit with the Insane Clown Posse would inspire such a wonderful response?! You guys gave me a plethora of your DMFRHs—here are some of my favorites:

• The highschool math class that cannot calculate simple fractions (like thirds and halves) without calculators. These are highschoolers, people! These cats took 60-80 minutes to complete a 20 minute quiz. How do you come BACK from your first period to 6th because you can’t study your math? God forbid you study at home! What if you study IN SCHOOL?

• This is a personal favorite of mine: the 70-year-old man who argued with his ex-Marine son-in-law in “a t-shirt and Depends” about whose ass he was gonna kick. Sit your ass down! I wish I could have seen it.

• I particularly like the rental car company whose slogan was “if it breaks down, we’ll just bring you another one.” And the car actually broke down! On the freeway!

As enjoyable as these submissions were, I have to elect a new DMFRH for this week: the muthafucker who wrote this shit.

Let me set the stage for you: on January 13, they told us we were in for a fuckedupass weekend (and yes, I made up another word): we had 3 storms coming. Seattle does not do well with snow, admittedly. The city runs in a series of steep ass hills from the Cascade Mountains into the ocean; its populated with some of the scariest, apocalyptic-style drivers this side of the Rapture—drivers who will bail out of their cars at the first sign of a flake; and we have one snow plow and an old truck with a rusted plow blade on it that we rent from Canada. Granted we are not prepared.

That said, those 3 storms dropped like 2 ½ feet of snow at my house! My artic ass dog, the fucking husky, wrote us a note that said, “Let me know when you shovel this shit. I’m going back to bed.” Hundreds of thousands of people lost power (and still don’t have it), there were about 800 accidents and the governor declared a state of emergency.

And then DMFRH from the LA Times called Seattlites “Snow Wimps.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? Wimps? The author said: “As it happened, though, Snowmageddon the storm was not. Seattle was seeing between 1 and 8 inches of snow by midday — a long way from the 21.5 inches that fell in a single day in 1916.” Let’s trace your experience with snow, goddammit! The last incidence of now in LA County was in 1962 and it was a TRACE, punk! We weren’t even on the moon yet! Black people couldn’t vote yet! Kennedy was still alive. The Beatles were still together. I have more people without power in my city than you have readers in yours.

But I get it. I do. To not be a wimp, you have to live through earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides that destroy your shit and then rebuild in the EXACT SAME SPOT! We’re wimps because we got feet of snow but 58 degrees is cold. Whatever, dude. From all of us to all of you: shut the fuck up.

Character’s Content

I should write something for Martin Luther King Day. Something introspective and profound. Something that measures up to the man.

But I’ve done that before. In both word and deed. I don’t know what to do now.

MLK was THE most pivotal figure in my life, the truest hero I had (next to Chuck D and Spike Lee). I made one decision about college: I pursued one school, I applied to be school, I was accepted to one school. I chose to go to Morehouse College because that’s where King went. Where his calling was formed. And I wanted that. I even stayed in the same dorm he lived in.

When I sat in orientation at Morehouse–a hundred or so us freshmen sitting together–an upperclassman said: “How many of you love Dr. King?” We all raised our hands. Then he said, “How many of you have read his books?” Crickets. He said, “How can you say you love someone but you won’t read his words? He’s more than ‘I Have A Dream.'”

Good point.

I’d dedicated myself to emulating this man and had read only one speech and one letter (Letter From Birmingham Jail). I really didn’t know him; i knew his accomplishments. I coveted his impact. I wanted to move the crowd but hadn’t done the work. I hadn’t earned it.

So I read. Voraciously.

Until the words became part of I was. Who I am. Until I knew the man I was trying to become.

Seattle got hit with a pretty good snowstorm this weekend (bear with me: I’m going somewhere with this). 8 inches of snow so far with MUCH more to come. I watched it come down, watched the news, and watched the first MLK sales commercial I’ve ever seen before the 367th Republican debate on which candidate could defeat America’s first Black president. And I tried to figure out what to write to commemorate the day. I couldn’t. So I went outside to have a snowball fight with my family–my white wife, my interracial children.

I think that is point.

Stop Talking. Just Do It

My daughter talks a lot. A lot.

We tend to tiptoe past her room in the mornings because from the moment she wakes up until she is finally, with great effort, in the bed, the child is talking. I read a study that men and women speak essentially the same amount of words—this chick must be training for a gold medal in the Gum-Flapping Olympics. She can TALK.

And anybody who has that much to say generally is a decent storyteller (hey, look at me!) The Honey Badger had a recent spate of stories she had to write for school. They were doing this story mountain exercise and she had go through the major components of a story (Beginning, Build-Up, Climax, Resolution, Ending). One of those was a story about being a turkey on Thanksgiving and how you would escape. Because I am the writer in the family (unless you look at my wife’s blog), I get to tackle this assignment. YAY!

The Honey Badger has a million ideas: shoot the turkey out a cannon, ice skate away, get a bunch of other turkeys and do a Michael Jackson Thriller-style dance escape. But she can’t pick. She won’t decide. This becomes the argument, “I don’t know what to write!”

Unfortunately, I know exactly where she’s coming from.

I have a degree in Sociology (I know, I don’t look like the type). One of the main questions sociology tries to answer is nature vs. nurture. I didn’t physically make either one of my kids—we are a Hamburger Helper, just-add-water type of family. But I did mold them and the Honey Badger’s been my little project since she was 2. She’s 9.

I think I gave her my own habits as it relates to writing and procrastinating. I know exactly how she feels and apparently so do many of my writing friends. I read a post by Deanna Knippling (10 Signs You’re Not Getting Published) and the number 1 reason sign was “You can comfortably say, ‘So I have an idea for this book…’ or ‘I have lots of ideas for books.’”

Damn. I fell into that category. I have a thousand ideas for books but only one of them is complete. Damn. And for you non-writers out there, it’s not just about writing. It’s easy to think about the things we want to do to really own our lives: work out, read more, take a trip, take our kids to school, bungee jump, whatever. We choose a date on the calendar or at the start of the week or in an hour when we’re actually going to start. But there is a point where thinking about what you should do doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just procrastubration—it just makes you feel better about doing something later that you haven’t actually committed to doing at all.

Truth is, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Or, if that’s too abrasive, fish or cut bait (I don’t even know what that means). Even Nike’s in on it: Just Do It. Do something. Right now. Right NOW. Stop talking and thinking and planning about that thing you know you should do or that person you know you should be and start doing it. NOW. So what if you fall? So what if you fail? So what? “It is better to fail at doing something than achieve in doing nothing.” Do something RIGHT NOW.

The Honey Badger wrote her story when we had a similar conversation. I told her she couldn’t pick wrong; it’s her story. She can’t be wrong. But she had to pick. She did. And after 4 days of hemming and hawing, of bullshitting and procrasturbating and losing TVs and play time, she finally wrote her story. And it was good.

As for me, I’m going to sh…well, that’s probably TMI, huh? You know the deal.If you want it, the Honey Badger’s story is below:

The Great Escape of Kayla the Turkey

Once upon a time there was a turkey named Kayla. She was really sad because no one would buy her. Then one day something strange happened. Kayla got picked up and put in a shopping cart. Was it true? Was Kayla actually getting bought? Then Kayla got put on a conveyor belt so she could go to the person’s house. Kayla finally arrive at the person’s house. She was so excited but then Kayla saw a stove that was opened so Kayla thought that they were going to cook her! So Kayla had to escape! Kayla ran and jumped off the table. Kayla was really scared like a bunny when it is being chased. Then Kayla ran to the living room. Kayla got really scared because the dog barked at her. She climbed up on the couch! The dog jumped on the couch and tried to eat Kayla. Kayla jumped off the couch and ran upstairs to the parents’ room and the dog followed her. Then Kayla jumped out the window! The dog did too! Luckily it was a two story house. The owners dashed like lightning out the door. After that Kayla ran to the grocery store. Next she jumped into the Turkey bin and blended in with the other Turkeys. Very last the owners came to find the turkey. Then the dog comes in and barks. The cashiers came and so did the cops! The cashiers took the dog away! After they took the dog away the cops took the owners and kicked them out of the store. The turkey Kayla squeezed to the bottom of the turkey bin and no one bought her. Kayla lived happily ever after.

the end

DMFRH – What’s That Spell?

CAUTION: This post contains significant amounts of cursing, without those sorry little @$#%! marks to hide what I really want to say. If this is an issue, come back on Friday: I should be in a decidedly better mood. You’ve been warned.

I’m going to add a new award series to my blog: DMFRH. Dis MuthaFucker Right Here.

We all know these people—these jackasses who conspire to make life a bit more difficult just because they fucking can. The ones who don’t actually have shit to say but just speak simply because they know the language. A stupid boss. A simple child. An annoying client. The PTA President. That mean-ass usher in church.

Or this guy:

Anybody can be DMFRH. You have. I certainly have. In most cases, it’s a temporary condition broken by plenty of rest and Advil, a stiff drink or a swift kick in the ass. In others, it’s more permanent. Chris Humphries. Ari Gold. George W. Bush. Permanent asses.

So I know what you’re thinking: Chris, who might you be nominating for your first DMFRH?

Good question.

First, The Boy. This cat has been showing a flagrant disregard for his schoolwork. FLAGRANT. Every day somebody says, “Hey, you got any homework?” Simple question, right? Ought to have a simple answer. This joker says no. Every day. “Nope, no homework.” But he has Xbox time, right? Homeboy is making substantial inroads in Modern Warfare but can’t multiply. Well, school calls us—we gotta have a meeting with all his teachers and the counselor. It’s like an academic intervention. They provide a litany of missing assignments and then a variety of scenarios when DMFRH can’t figure out how to look at the board and figure out what’s going on. We wanna kill him because he’s showing his ass, the school is involved, but the boy resolves to do something different. He says, “I’m gonna go home, skip the snack, open my planner and get to work!” Great! What does DMFRH do? Come home, eats TWICE, shits and goes THE FUCK to sleep. Seriously?

That’s one. I have more.

So you know I decided I wanted to lose a few pounds (approximately 60). To that end, two things showed up at my house: Insanity and P90X. I told you I have this Superman complex, right? I think I can do anything, right? I said to myself “How hard can it be?” I put that damn Insanity disc to do the Fit Test. I almost fainted during the warm up. THE WARM UP! The whole test was 30 minutes—it took me 45 and my body hurt for two days. I did the Fit Test. I finished it. I am not fit.

So then I switched to P90X. Tony Horton: DMFRH is FUCKING NUTS! Oh, it’ll make you fit and strong. No question about it. Provided you survive it. I did something called Plyometrics yesterday. What that means is I tried to kill myself. On purpose. That man said “Wear a heart monitor so you can make sure you’re in the Zone.” The Zone? Goddammit, you’ve had me leaping like a fucking gazelle for the last 40 minutes and DMFRH asked me am I in the Zone? Fuck your Zone, Tony. My heart monitor said STOP.

So the second DMFRH award is split between two public figures: Shaun “HipHopAbs Dancing Ass” T and Tony “Fuck Him” Horton.

Who’s the DMFRH is your life right now? Drop me a comment and I’ll promote the winner next week!

I’m going to take a bath in IcyHot…