Can You Hear Me Now?

LAST SUNDAY NIGHT, upon receiving his Grammy award, Kendrick Lamar, in his acceptance speech said, “Most importantly it showed me a true definition of what being an artist was; you know. From the jump I thought it was about the accolades and cars and clothes, but it is really about expressing yourself and putting that paint on the canvas for the world to evolve, for the next listener, the next generation after that. You know what I’m saying?”

There is so much in those few sentences and between the lines (if could be so bold, Kendrick). There is self-awareness, emotional intelligence even, and humility. There is the recognition of the power of art and the creative process. But to my ears, the most wonderful part is his affirmation of the beauty of the generative process.

That last sentence, when he says, “You know what I’m saying?”— that may be a rhetorical question, but it truly caused me to stop; to think, really think about what he is saying, to rewind and listen again. 

Language, through turns of phrase, has its way of calling for full attention and certain communitcation doesn’t it? 

  • A father might say, “Do you understand me?”
  • A mother might say, “Are you listening to me?”
  • A teacher might say, “Are you paying attention?”
  • The preacher might say, “Can I get an Amen?!”
  • Pops might say, “If you’ll listen to me you can have an ice cream sandwich and then stay up until the wee hours watching Peppa Pig!”
  • The Grand-Girls, say, “Hey Pops. Hey, Hey, Pops Pops Pops!”
  • Malachi just looks at me with his glorius, slobbery smile and bright blue inquisitive eyes.
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An actor playing an Italian mob boss might say, “Capisce?”

[Capisce, 1940s Italian slang (pronounced as cah-peesh) derived from the Italian word capire "to understand" and from Latin capere "to grasp or to seize". It is now used in american slang to say "got it" or "understand.”]

Throughout the red words of the Bible (you know, the words that Jesus spoke) there is a phrase that is, to my ears, Jesus’ way of saying, “You know what I’m saying?”

Jesus would tell a story, a parable, and then he would say, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

My dear friend and mentor, Doug Manning, is in my opinion sort of a listening savant. A few days ago I asked him, “What does it mean to really listen?” While that last word was still on my lips he said, “To understand.” He went on to explain “understanding” with beautiful, colorful illustrations. I am hoping to have him write a few words about it all so that I can post them here at About Pops. For now, check out his blog called THE HAPPY HERETIC.

Does it seem like we listen less these days? Maybe there are too many distractions, too much noise. Plus, listening to more fully understand seems so hard. It takes a selflessness that is rare in our culture of arrogance and narcissism. And yet, we need listeners more than ever. For example:

From Huffington Post: Twenty years ago, Larissa Boyce confessed to a gymnastics coach at Michigan State University that the school’s lauded sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar, had touched her inappropriately. She was 16 at the time.

Boyce was seeing Nassar for lower back pain. But during many of her appointments, he inserted his fingers into her vagina, she says. She was only a teen, but her gut told her the treatment didn’t make sense. So she told Kathie Klages, one of her instructors, about what was happening.

But Klages downplayed her concerns, Boyce said in a recent phone interview with The Huffington Post. She told Boyce she must have misunderstood the procedure. Boyce, paralyzed with shame, concluded it must all be in her head.

For two decades, that’s what she continued to believe. Then, in September 2016, news broke that two former gymnasts, including an Olympic medalist, were saying they’d been sexually abused by Nassar.

In the months since, more than 100 women have come forward with horrifying allegations of being molested by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. The abuse is alleged to have occurred over the course of two decades, with some of the earliest reports dated in 1997, and the most recent in 2016.

Finally, someone listened. Twenty years and 100 some young girls later—someone listened; to understand.

Remember what Dr. Frasier Crane would say when he took calls on his radio show? “I’m listening.” Healing words right? If we really mean it.

I’m going to do better, starting here: I promise that if we are talking with each other, I won’t check my iPhone, my iPad, or my Apple Watch. One caveat, if while we are visiting my watch makes a sound and I stand up and move around, don’t take that as a lack of listening and engagement on my part. My watch tells me every so often to get up and move. I don’t know how to turn off those alerts and I don’t have the moral courage to ignore the admonition. Other than that, I will try to be all ears, because I want to understand and be understood. 

You know what I’m saying?

Summer Rules

A FEW DAYS AGO I walked into “the second room on the left”, ushered by a young woman who told me to remove my shirt. Then she left.

Thirty-six minutes later another young woman came in, accompanied by the first. She ran her hands over my face, shoulders, arms and pointed out the obvious, “You grew up in the days before sunscreen.” More of a statement than a question.
“But I wear it now!” quickly springing to my own defense.
“What SPF?”
“Thirty, I think.”
“Throw it in the trash and buy some Eighty-Five minimum and reapply every hour.”
“Every hour! That stuff’s expensive.”
“So is skin cancer.”
“I HAVE SKIN CANCER?!”
“Not yet.”
Then she blasted liquid nitrogen on several spots atop my bald head, gave me a coupon for $2 Off a tube of approved sunscreen, and ushered me to the money lady.

In the headlines, again, “Don’t Eat Raw Cookie Dough.”

When school was in session the rules were clear and ever present. (at least back in the good-ol’ days.) No talking, no gum-chewing, stay in line, color inside the lines, no wise-cracking, don’t walk up the down staircase, etc.

Summer’s rules were different (back then). No swimming until the temperature is at least 80. Only one on the diving board at a time. Wait 30 minutes before going in the pool. Don’t pee in the pool. No horseplay. Don’t run. Quit popping your brother with the towel.

The summer’s of my youth were pretty much spent at the pool. (I have scars from nitrogen burns to prove it.) My Aunt Betty belonged to a church that not only permitted “mixed bathing”, they apparently encouraged it. There was a pool at their church, so she would take us swimming there most every day. I loved it.

For a few days each summer we would go to visit our maternal grandmother’s house. The rules were few there, but the ones she had were strictly enforced. She would whip the backsides of your bare legs raw with a switch she made you cut yourself from the old elm tree in her front yard. 

We were allowed to roam freely in her hometown of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. She would give us enough money to see a matinee or buy some candy at the Kress Five and Dime.

Adventures there were sweet. I remember asking her if it was true that if you put a penny on the railroad tracks the train would smash it flat. She confirmed it would. On our next trip to downtown she gave us a penny with instructions to “stay away from those tracks.” A train will indeed smash a penny flat.

You never, ever got sick at Nan’s house. The first time you mentioned to her that you weren’t feeling well she would ask, “Do you think you need to have your throat swabbed with iodine or do you need a good enema.” “I’m feeling fine now, thank you.”

Many of her rules made practical sense (as opposed to some of the rules at school like: Boys must keep their shirttails tucked in.) (Nevermind that that rule ended in a preposition—a rule breaking a rule.) Not far from her house was an overgrown lot, that we imagined to be a forest for adventures. “Don’t go in those woods,” she would warn, “You’ll get a chigger on your wigger.” No one wants that.

Here we are at the season for Independence Day which of course means Fireworks. The Summer Rule Book has a chapter dedicated to this topic. Most every rule comes with a horror story to reinforce it. For example, we apparently had a distant uncle that chose to hold a roman candle in his hand while it shot firey balls into the summer sky. Well, it back-fired (or maybe he was holding it backward), anyway, the ball of fire hit him in the belly and he apparently had the scar to prove it. So we were taught to hold no fireworks in our hands, and as it turns out we were also to no longer put them inside frogs. 

So, have fun this holiday, but be safe with the fireworks, wear sunscreen, and mosquito repellent. Don’t eat raw cookie dough or warm potato salad, and don’t go in those woods.

Fooling Around

“In a culture where con men, hucksters and others desperately seeking power and influence have decided that they can profit by making truth seem relative, we’re in danger of every day becoming the first of April.” — Seth Godin

First of all: 

It’s April Fool’s Day. Seth Godin wrote a brillant little essay that includes the profound, apropos thought I opened this post with. I wanted to somehow archive this, so I’m embedding the link here.

Next:

“The Fool On The Hill”
The Beatles. Magical Mystery Tour.

Day after day, alone on the hill
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he’s just a fool
And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning around

Well on the way, head in a cloud
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him
Or the sound he appears to make
And he never seems to notice

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning around

And nobody seems to like him
They can tell what he wants to do
And he never shows his feelings

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning around

He never listens to them
He knows that they’re the fools
They don’t like him

The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning around


Next:

Our first born son wrote a piece recently. It was written as “A letter from myself in my 30s to myself in my 20s”. Here it is:

1. You’re going to have children—three girls. I’d tell you to prepare now, but there’s really nothing you can do. Good luck.
2. Your band won’t get signed. I’m just sayin’. You can keep playing music, but it will be nothing more than that.
3. You’ve gained some weight. You’ll gain more. And not just in your belly, your whole face will get sort of fat.
4. Your hair will get thinner while your eye brows get thicker. There’s technically no hair loss; it just relocates.
5. Religion. It’s a messy business, if it comes to that. You’ll get sort of disillusioned at certain points, but you’ll turn out okay.
6. Even though—right now—there’s all this uncertainty, you’ll eventually have a job that could be your job until you retire, and you’ll have a house that could be your house until you die, but sometimes you’ll kind of miss the uncertainty.
7. Finish your MFA. Do it now.
8. Don’t listen to NPR too much. It’s good to be informed, but not in heavy doses. It’s sort of depressing.
9. There’s a legitimate chance that Donald Trump will become president; work on thwarting that.
10. And I guess the last thing would be… You married a good woman. Don’t mess it up. You lose every fight you win.


There’s nothing foolish about that exercise. Is it a fool’s quest though to think we might be smarter and wiser going forward by pondering the folly of our youth? Maybe.

Next:

I’m taking the challenge, thinking about a letter that my 60-something self would write to my 20-something self. 

1. Floss regularly and use sunscreen. (Did they even have sunscreen when I was 20?)
2. Except for the undeserved grief and stress it causes your parents, you will survive a journey to the land of waywards and it will have been, in some ways, worth it. On the other side you will have a deeper understanding of grace, and hopefully it will make you more empathic.
3. You will regret being so self-absorbed. Stop it.
4. Treasure those people and experiences that taught you to love the arts. Music, art, and writing will be food for your soul when you’re old.
5. The Methodists were right; the Baptists were wrong: you won’t go to hell for dancing (as far as I know).
6. You seemed to have been right to register to vote as a Democrat, although you were idealistic. The Republicans seem to adopt a strategy which hijacks, distorts and cheapens the idea of christianity for political gain.
7. You will be given an opportunity, a gift really, to work with teenagers, and you’ll get paid to do it, not much, but enough. It will be your calling.
8. There will be this thing called “Facebook”. It will allow you to sort of reconnect with people you haven’t seen or heard from since high school, and maybe you’ll wish you would have stayed in touch over the years.
9. You should have gone to Woodstock. They’re still talking about it today. Oh, and the VW Bus you’re driving, keep it. It will be worth a fortune.
10. Sure, you’re only 21 and she’s only 18, and you’re half in love and half in lust, but definitely marry her. 40-some years later, she will still be your best friend, mom of your sons, grandmother of your Grand-Girls, your Amazing-Missus. Life without her will be beyond imagination.


Lastly:

A little April Fool's day humor from Gary Larson.

The Family Chain (More on Multi-Generational)

(sort of continued from the last post)

THINK OF IT THIS WAY:

Take a look at this picture and try to imagine it if any one of the links in those chains were missing. The experience would be impossible—the dreamlike wonder of that little girl, the suspension, the moment, the photo…

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By the way, the little girl in that picture; that’s Karlee. Her dad took that picture. Her dad is my son.

We are all links in a familial, multi-generational chain. I realize that makes it all sound so social-sciencey, but FAMILY is sort of the mother of all multi-generational relationships.

Let’s start with the individual links, singly, on their own. Each of us has something to offer. Each has a genesis, a beginning. Each has a story and is a part of a story. Each has the capacity to be generative (or degenerative, unfortunately).

And while some have gifts and talents that may be more apparent than others, we all have something we can offer. We are all links and therefore essential. My gifts may be different from yours, but that doesn’t make mine or yours any better or more needed.

For several years I had the privilege of serving on the board of directors of the International Arts Movement in New York City. The founder, Mako Fujimura taught me so much about the concept of being “generative”. I think of Mako and those ideas frequently. That experience altered me—for the better. If you want to know what I’m talking about you can read a part of his essay on the subject here: On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care.

What happens when a link in the multi-generational chain breaks, or goes missing. Whether through a death, alienation, separation or disappearance, it happens to every family. Maybe it’s like when we played Red Rover on the playground in grade school. Some force from the other side would come running toward our frail little human chain and slam against what they presumed was our weakest link. If they broke through, they would claim one of our members. We would simply close the gap, hold hands, reestablish the link, hopefully with a stronger tie this time. Who was this “Red Rover” anyway. And why did we keep imploring her/him to send someone over. Why not just keep our little chain intact? Maybe life just doesn’t work that way.

This summer my Mom and Dad will celebrate 70 years of marriage. Maybe I’ve taken that link for granted. In all of my 65 years I have never once wondered if their bond was weak, or in danger of breaking. Of course you don’t get to the ages of 91 and 88 without some outside threats to the links in the chain.

Last night I talked to a dear friend in Atlanta. His mom is struggling with health issues. I could hear in his voice the pain of realizing that at some point the chain breaks. Maybe as a friend, but still an outsider, we can still hold hands while the chain heals. Maybe sometimes the family chain extends beyond the strict biology. After all a link is a link even if we’re a weaker link.