Category Archives: keeping it real

Sunset over Beacon Hill Park.

Rain-Streaked Daydreams of a Would-Be Nomad

It’s one of those Wet Coast days I think might wash away all my sins if I stand in it long enough. The kind of rainy day that makes my head thick and my eyes heavy.

I sit by a window, umbrella-head after umbrella-head passing me by. Between pulled-taut hoods and umbrellas, I’m not sure anyone with a face remains. It’s like some surrealist daydream. The bobbing umbrella-heads.

This rain, these days… in some ways it’s all I’ve ever known.

photo 3

I drift off between the wet tires splashing and my clacking keys, wishing it was the clickety-clack of a train rumbling under me instead of the Wet Coast Writer soundtrack that it is.

I have a tentative date of November 1st, 2015, for when I set out on a bold adventure I hope will last me five years. Trains, planes, and automobiles: Steff Style. If I don’t leave earlier, that is.

I have ideas of where my path will lead but I’ve learned life’s more fun if you misplace the roadmap. Maybe I’ll plan it out, maybe I won’t.

For now, I have a rough idea of my first year abroad with pretty simple rules — stay nowhere less than two weeks or more than three months. I’ll tell you more about that one day.

I have many places on my list. Many weird little things I want to do, like ride as many funiculars as I can everywhere I can. Forage for food in every region I stay longer than 4 weeks in. Write ebook upon ebook, but in the classic travelogue or literary journal style, not the “I got your deets” type travel-writing one sees everywhere on the web.

I want to write about places and times, peoples and experiences. My culture-shock and awe. I want to dream of adventures to come then embark on a completely different journey than planned, and to be changed in every way by the world I get to explore.

I’ll sell half of what I own before I go, strategically “loan” my antiques to friends and family. I’ll start over with a simpler life when I return. I wonder sometimes how living around the world for five years and opting out of this rooted life, tapping into a roaming nomad life will change me. What new values will be sculpted? What parts of the old me will crystallize? How much metamorphoses do I have in me?

It’s a big goal. I don’t have anything emotional invested in making it to the end of that five years. Instead the end of the journey will be something organic. Like love or a really good sale — I’ll know it when I see it.

I want to live in locations as far flung as Tangier, Zagreb, Prague, off the beaten path in Spain, Cape Town, the vineyards of Mendoza. I want to sit in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, photograph Madagascar’s baobab trees, dip a toe in the Congo river while I read The Heart of Darkness. I want to walk the beaches of Fiji, visit family in Australia, live in the mountains of Ecuador. I want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, drink tea in Osaka, and ride a scooter in Vietnam.

The list keeps getting longer, because that’s what good lists do.

photo 2 (3)

So today I stare wistfully through my rain-soaked window, knowing that all this familiarity and routine is not long for my world. I relish in being bored and stuck in routine lately. I cherish bad hair and pajama days. I know it soon won’t be an option soon. Not for the better part of five years.

In the end, this life of mine where I’ve felt trapped in this costly part of the world is proving to be a gift — the gift of losing connection, of sensing opportunity, and of daring to take a chance.

I’ve deliberately made my departure date further away, because I think I want another summer here in Victoria. Like I say, I’m not married to my plans. I’m going to listen to the wind and go where it leads. Those winds may gust sooner than November, like say on my 42nd birthday in September. I’ll listen for the breeze and heed its way.

Paul Theroux once wrote that tourists don’t know where they’ve just been, and travellers don’t know where they’re going.

And so I daydream of all the many places I would love to see while committing to none of them. Wherever I start, it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. With every day that passes, I grow a little more ready for it.

For now, I’ll return my gaze to the screen, fall back into the routine of the dayjob, and sigh wistfully about a future I’m not sure I can wait 11 months to begin.

As that day draws near, I’ll begin issuing ebooks of all kinds on my travels — the days leading up to it, the dreams I have for it, the plans and logistics of it, and more. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for when I begin issuing those books, that’s here.

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Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30–60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

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One Month Down, Eleven to Go: The State of the Steff

Why, hi there, you.

I’m just checking in. It’s a nice morning. My coffee cup is full. I thought, “Why don’t I go say hello to my minions?”

Yoo-hoo, minions! Hallo-o-o-o-o, minions.

Your friendly neighbourhood blogger is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.

My year of Being Better is underway. I promised myself I wouldn’t make New Year’s Resolutions, and I didn’t. Instead, I would become a better version of myself by the year’s end. In, well, hopefully every way.

A better writer, a better exerciser, a better eater, a better sleeper, a better relaxer, a better coper, a better friend, a better daughter. You know. A better me.

We get so hell-bent on timers in this digitally-powered world we live in. We have reminders to set reminders. From iCal date-planning to the extreme, to actually CHOOSING to get Facebook and Twitter notifications, as if life wasn’t full enough of micro-management.

You know, if y’all like that shit so damned much, you can keep it. I set reminders for when missing something would cost me money. Otherwise, I roll with it. And I’ve never, ever had any smartphone notifications turned on besides texting. Because life is meant to be lived, not full of alarms.

On this quest of betterment, I’m not micro-managing myself. I’m not setting a timeline and measuring my progress constantly. Instead, I find myself now and then remembering where I was a year ago today (packing and panicking ahead of my move to Victoria), maybe 4 years ago today (just beginning to make progress after my first back injury), even 8 years ago today (recovering from a head injury).

What was life like at those times? What were my goals? How would I stack up now?

Uh… everything is better now. I’m better now. I have far to go, sure, but don’t we all?

I’m in a lucky place because I know exactly how far I’ve come on the inside. I need to be in a place now where that shows on the outside.

I need to eat better and exercise better because it’s not an option. Either I feel good and enjoy life again, or I continue hiding out in the Cave of Mordor (what I call my apartment).

I’m much further along both those paths than I expected to be just one month into the year. How very exciting, minions. Do you see my excitement? I see my excitement. Yes, I do.

Soon to be my shiny new bike.

2012 ended with an incredible gift: The complete, final realization that my bike is continuing to be the main reason my back issues exist.

There’s a point in chronic injury where pain or discomfort (whether a livable level or something debilitating) is so omnipresent that you just lose your ability to discern what improves it or hurts it. It’s when you’re so unable to tell what the spikes are from that you just don’t know what to change to move beyond that.

I rode an upright hybrid bike recently, and better yet, one fitted to my measurements taken by a great bike shop. This was like a Dutch-style bike with a step-thru frame, suspended front forks & seat, nice big tires with semi-slick tread, and elevated close-to-body almost-wrap-around handlebars, and it was almost a religious experience. All this pressure inside my back kind of fell away, the strain on my shoulder and neck reduced.*

To imagine cycling, that thing I love, being comfortable? Even painfree? Or… dare I even think it, beneficial?

This weekend, it looks like I can buy this bike. Let’s see.

Today, I’m showing my old bike, Mighty Murphy. (Named, of course, for Dervla Murphy, the old Irish travel writer who cycled Africa’s Ukimwi Road in her 60s.) Hoping it sells. It feels like I’m breaking up with my past. Like I’m stomping my foot and pulling a Gloria Gaynor moment. You’re not welcome ’round here no more!

And it’s kind of like that. The painful breakup of a relationship. That bike is two worlds for me. It’s the thing that makes me one of the rare people who can say I know what it’s like to lose 80 pounds through nothing but hard damned work and powered by ME, but it’s also the thing that makes me one of those rare people who can say they know what it’s like to live with chronic pain for more than four years.

Love/hate” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Had I not gotten sick at Christmas and laid low with a massive marathon of three seasons of The Wire plus an endless tirade of overrated TV on the PVR, my back wouldn’t have gotten the rest it needed so I could get on my bike in the new year and actually discern what was really going on inside me.

Then I had pain again, and I saw how I couldn’t stand straight when walking, and finally everything made sense.

Some might think the solution would be getting off the bike. But that’d be like telling me to live life without writing or photography or cooking. It’ll never, ever happen. I need that to be myself.

So. The new-ish me, the bettering me, the under-progress me is pretty pleased to be starting a new phase as “the urban cyclist” this weekend.

A shiny bike, a clean slate, and roads I’ve never seen before in a town that’s been my home for less than a year.

Being better, becoming better shouldn’t be an ordeal. You shouldn’t be punishing yourself for failing to meet expectations or demanding greater than what you’ve done. All progress is progress. Our lives are long. We can always keep becoming better. Growth has no end-point. Stop thinking you need to be the person you dream of being tomorrow, and be present in the moment while you’re getting yourself there. Maybe you’ll never be this person, this version of you again. Remember the moment.

Relax, grasshopper. Enjoy the ride. Like I am. Or soon will be.

______________________

* Buying a bike isn’t a “Ooh, shiny. Look, it’s green!” thing. You need to get FITTED for it. The right bike for ME could be entirely wrong for YOU. I not only have been fitted by a fantastic bike shop, but I was referred there by my Ironman-competing masseur and I got my bike style approved by my physiotherapist. The last time I bought I bike, I bought what I thought was pretty. It’s cost me thousands of dollars in lost income, pain, and more. Do your research. Don’t listen to anyone except professionals. Period.

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And Then it Was 2013

I’m one of those “13’s my lucky number” people. Friday the 13th? I find my lucky socks and rock that shit out.

So you know I’m keen on the year. Bring it. Good fortune, good times. I’m readying myself for it all.

Right now, I’ve got Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs CD blasting as I take a breather from remedying all that is chaotic about my world. One cupboard after another, one weekend after another, I’m resolving to go through everything I own and ditch all the shit I shouldn’t have around me. Clutter, bitter memories, broken shit, redundant stuff. All of it, gone.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

It’s not a new year’s resolution–

(Happy new year to you all!)

…But it’s well timed to coincide with a nice fresh start.

This is my year of new priorities. Last year, it was kind of all about just getting to a new place and hanging the fuck on until I was settled. I was unprepared for my year to unfold as it did. I didn’t need to ride into a parking sign or have any of the other events unfold that fucked up my back. This year, I’m starting with my back in a better place than I have since 2009, and ready to buy a new bike shortly that I believe will end my back pain.

I mean, man, I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long, long time. I’m ready.

So the natural next step for me is that of tidying and organizing my world around me. Nothing says “I’m in control of life” like a freshly-purged home.

Getting rid of stuff will make my next home that much easier to bring to life. I’ll move again this year but not until I can swing hiring movers, since it’s not worth it with my back. I’m at that point in life when I believe Close isn’t Close Enough. I want what I want, and I’m fucking taking it, so that means a new home in this ‘hood I love.

Howdy-do, 2013.

***

Writing? I’m doing that, but for work and such. I haven’t been wanting to write for myself, not for a long time. And there are those who somehow shun this, like I’m making a colossal life mistake.

Really, it’s a break. Everyone needs one. I’ve written more since 2004 than probably most people write in 20 years. I just haven’t put it in proper formats, I guess, for making dough, but I’m real damned proud of my productivity.

I’ll probably have only a handful of years in my life, from now until my death, in which I choose to walk away from writing. And, frankly, my back injury was exacerbated by sitting, so it’s been a good year to take off, and instead go walking and do photography, which is also something that speaks to my soul, especially when I’m in places I love, like on the ocean or on bike trails.

Deep down inside, I’m confident I’ll hit one of those “writing everyday” patches in down the road in 2013, but it’s not something I care about achieving for your benefit, or anyone else’s. I’ll write when I’m ready. I’ve had a lot to deal with in the last year, and I’m really glad I’ve given it the focus it deserved.

I like my headspace, I like what I’ve overcome, I like the issues and troubles I’ve resolved in my life. Whatever you think about my “not writing,” the end result has been a pretty good thing in my world.

In my soul, I don’t have any regrets about my choices over the last year.

***

Gull checks out the sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

Resolutions? Fuck resolutions.

My new year’s goal is to end the year Better and Happier than I began it. That didn’t work out in 2010, but I did it in both 2011 and 2012. The 2012 year-end State of Steff was a far better thing than the one who began 2011. That’s all we can do, right? Just improve with age? I’m digging it.

This year, I’m all about keeping my place less cluttered, less dusty. I’m about finding a better home but not a new neighbourhood. I want to fall in love with writing again, and life, and love itself. I want to be health-focused but not sweat it. I want my walking-cycling lifestyle to become more cycling-walking, and to continue with avoiding buses. I want to eat more vegetables and buy better quality meat.

I’m pretty practical. My life’s been on a steady upward trajectory for 2 years, but I started in a really fucking dark place, so getting to the point where I see the light has only really began in the last few months. Every time I hit a new roadbump, too, I’ve solved it better than I have in the past, so I’m optimistic that even with inevitable ups and downs, I’ll be more “up” than I’ve been.

All in all, I don’t need resolutions. I’m on the right road. I’m gonna keep on keepin’ on. I love the life balance I’ve begun to have, know I can improve upon it, and I’m confident I’ll get to that place where I really start owning my island lifestyle this year.

But why put pressure on myself? That’s exactly what I moved here to get away from.

Eat a little better? Exercise smarter? Learn from my mistakes? Slow down even more? Fall in love with creativity, space, time, myself, and love itself? Have more fun? Find ways to smile more? Have more naps?

I can do those things.

I will do those things.

I will enjoy those things.

And that’s kinda where my 2013’s going.

But first I gotta get my stomp on and listen to more thumpin’ Tom Waits while I reorganize my workstation and my life. Think of it as laying foundation for building an awesome year. Stompa-stompa-stomp.

Have a fucking great 2013, people.

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The Will to Write: My Story

On Twitter, I just described the sound float-planes make as “They sound like a riding lawnmower mated with a drunk bee.”

It’s not the greatest thing ever, but for the first time in a while, I wanted to describe something, and it came out the way I was thinking it. You think that SOUNDS like a logical turn of events, but when you’re a persnickety writer like me, it happens far more seldom than we’d hope.

I’ve had a pretty intense bout with writer’s block this year, and only lately am I starting to want to write again.

I’ve been creatively recharging this summer via doing this kind of photography.

I’m not sure if it was really writer’s block and not just mental fatigue. Last fall I had the most complicated time-management ever, too much commuting, etc, then I was planning the move here, executing it, et cetera. Writing was work in a life that already had too much work. I was drained, uninspired, and had fuck all to tell you.

And, frankly, gets to a point where sitting down and NOT thinking is about the only thing you want to do. Just… not think. Nothing. Boom. Chill. Disconnect. Enjoy. Rinse and repeat.

For writing is a burdensome thing.

And I don’t mean your food reviews, your educational or business writing. That shit almost writes itself because you know the bones of it, so you sort of just have to flesh it out. It requires craft, but it’s not so intimidating creatively.

When you’re writing on personal or creative themes, writing is a place you go to all alone. You can’t get handheld in writing. It’s you and the screen, man. Mano-a-screeno.

It’s genesis of something from nothing. What do you feel like writing today? It’s taking ideas out of dark mental corners and poking a stick at ‘em.

Me, I’ll admit it, I’m a fucking scaredy-cat sometimes.

It’s easier to do non-fiction personal-based stuff for me, I think, because the places I go to in creative work have been pretty heavy. I write death well, I find. I do really much darker stuff when it’s creatively rooted. I’m a little too aware of it, and I’m not a big fan of the delving I do for those writing things. Or, I haven’t been.

I can’t imagine it’s all sunshine and roses being in Stephen King’s head, and that’s almost the genre I like to write in, but more Denis Johnson-ish.

I’ve had moments of writing fiction and such over the last years, but it was really about 16 years ago that I was last focused on doing creative writing. I dismiss myself from it because I don’t take myself seriously.

But I should. And now I am. Or, well, soon I am.

I moved here to pursue writing. I moved here to put the brakes on and turn my life 180 degrees away from where it was.

Have you ever seen the movie The Wonder Boys? I think the ending’s a bit of a sell-out, but let’s face it, sometimes life actually works out, so maybe it’s buyable if you’re a less skeptical soul like myself.

Anyhow, there’s this whole bit where Michael Douglas’ a loser has-been author-cum-professor whose book-in-progress is read by his student Katie Holmes, and she tells him how he’s always teaching them in class that writing is about making choices. She points to his manuscript and says she feels like he made no choices.

Life’s like writing. It’s about making choices.

When life was sapping my will to write ergo be myself, my choice was to get the hell out of the city that was distracting me so constantly and move to a quiet seaside small city on an island so I could find myself and be the writer I ought to have been by now.

I read not too long ago some famous creative talking about some writer they love, saying the guy took time off writing to “have an interesting life.”

I promised myself I’d do that in my new city. Take a break, enjoy it, and in the winter get my focus on.

After all, life isn’t interesting when you’re a writer. You turn off the TV and turn on the mind’s eye. You sit, you tap your fingers, cross your legs, uncross them, lean on your elbow, scratch your head, and occasionally come up with a few words before you decide your back’s stiff and you need a cup of tea.

That’s writing, I’m afraid, in all its unsexy glory. It’s a triumphant assault on everything that’s fun in life.

I mean, I live HERE. Would YOU rather be writing, or exploring for your first six months?

And it’s probably why I love it and wish I could latch onto it without so much “shoulda coulda woulda” bullshit that happens when one’s failing to adopt the new “habit” of writing.

But I’m a Canadian. In three months, I’ve gone from having 18 hours of daylight a day down to 12 hours. I’m desperately trying to enjoy the rest of this amazing “Indian summer” as the air freshens, breezes intensify, and leaves go Technicolor.

Soon, we’ll be down to 10, then 8 hours of daylight. Winds will howl across the Pacific and beat the hell out of my little coastal community. Night will consume a full two-thirds of every day.

Writing is something that lends itself to the winter season. Every author has wanted to start a story with “It was a dark and stormy night” with good reason. Because they’ve got a glass of wine, warm slippers, and a November storm is crashing upon their windows. It was indeed a dark and stormy night, and the writin’ was good.

No, it is not often indeed that a writer says exactly what they mean to say when they meant to say it. It’s why, for every 10–15 things we write, maybe one is memorable.

Once in a rare blue moon it happens, and what do you do then? You write more and more and more, day in and day out. You devour words of every kind, you explore where they take you, and you hang on for your life.

Real writing is an unseeable journey. It’s like most things in life, you think you know where you’re going, but very often you’ll arrive having taken a path you could never have predicted.

But that’s the fun in it.

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All We Need Is Love. No, Really.

(This is not a posting about politics, or the Democratic Convention, even if it starts out talking about that for a second, so bear with me.)

After last night’s Democratic National Convention speech, Michelle Obama’s gotten a big spotlight around the world for bringing a topic up that we don’t often treat with the respect it deserves — love.

Her speech last night played on the heartstrings about the idea of love. Love for a parent, for a family member, for those who sacrifice, for heroes, for idols. Love. Love for each other.

It’s an emotion we all feel, or it can be replaced by its antitheses — hate, anger, sorrow.

For a few minutes, though, Michelle Obama talked about this love idea. This thing that, once upon a time, we’d maybe feel for those around us. We’d fight for it. We’d protect it.

Love. This many-hallowed thing of ages long forgotten. The one emotion that probably transcends every culture, and even every species.

I watched an episode of PBS’ Nature last week in which a mama grizzly was frantically running all over an Alaskan wilderness reserve searching for her cub. After a few minutes’ footage of this heartbreaking search by a mother for a child, she found it, and the joy was indescribable.

Love is a product of biology, not humanity.

So we like to think we’re all about love as a society. We’re pumping out music about it, movies that claim to be about love, and we exalt things like marriage and parenthood because they’re based, in theory, upon love too.

But we’re kidding ourselves.

We’re not about love.

If it bleeds, it leads. Be scared. Be very, very scared. Long for yesterday. Blame someone. It wasn’t me. Don’t trust anyone. Lock your doors. Don’t talk to strangers. Keep outsiders out. Money talks.

In the media today is this evil, awful loop of distrust, fear, hate, and judgment that keeps spinning and spinning and spinning.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say “in the media”? I meant spinning, period.

I’m on the internet. I see the rhetoric playing out in reality. I see the lies slung, the hate bounced, the judgment passing. By people, not media.

If you think all our problems are born in the media, you got another think coming. They’re just the mirror in front of us.

I wish it were easier to see the beginning of it all. People say Hard Copy was the beginning of the journalistic decline, but Ayn Rand wrote a whole book around the concept of bad journalism and what it says about us. See that “evil” book The Fountainhead for her look at Ellsworth Tooey and pandering to the masses. That’s seven decades ago.

Did debased journalism begin, then society crowd around it like a mass of hungry onlookers at an accident scene? Or have we always been that shitty?

We obsess over celebrities. Oh, they’re famous and pretty and rich, so therefore they’re wonderful. Quick, cut them down with gossip and mockery!

Like children building with blocks, when it comes to societal successes, we look for the quickest way to disassemble that which we just built up.

Yet we’re better than that.

This same awful race who lives and breathes the TMZ religion and who conceived the inequities which plague class divisions the world over is the same race that has done everything from putting a man on the moon to discovering penicillin.

When we’re not confronted with imminent threat, we forget that we’re all in this together. We lunge at each other and bring words and weapons to spar with.

I recall Bush saying “You’re either with us, or you’re against us” and suddenly it seems we’re all living life in much that way.

In the hours after 9–11 occurred, for one brief, eerily shining moment, nearly the whole world was united in a feeling of love and empathy. I don’t think Americans realize that. The whole world felt the pain of that horrible, horrible day, and I think anywhere you were, this wave of despondency hit because we realized we’d just seen the worst that humanity had to offer.

And from that place, in the dust of the hours in the days that followed, this overwhelming feeling of love and community came out of it, because everyone needed to feel together for a while. We needed to feel like we were more than just hatred.

That’s what I remember of those days. This inexplicable juxtaposition of feeling the most hate I’d ever felt, the most anger I’d ever known, and at the very same time feeling this outpouring of love and empathy I only wish I could carry with me every day.

While we are both these things, we are more often the worst of ourselves.

Last night, Michelle Obama reminded us of some of the things that are the best of who we are, who we could be. She reminded us of those who are great who walk through the door of opportunity then hold it open so that others may also experience greatness.

But this isn’t who we are now. Not often. Not anymore.

Instead of achieving greatness by surrounding ourselves with greatness, we’re often looking for ways to tear down others. We look for failings. We protect ourselves and attack everyone who isn’t like us.

We’re the Youtube generation. Everybody point and laugh.

We have been better than this before. We can be better than this now.

I’ve found myself so often watching this year’s election process down south and feeling rather brokenhearted. I am so saddened by who we have become. I’m tired of divisiveness. I hate the blame game. But this disease keeps spreading. We glom onto hate and fear like leaches sucking a bloated carcass.

Maybe it’s because everyone’s so financially stretched and the future seems bleak. Maybe everyone’s so tired of the struggle to keep our heads afloat that we see others as a threat to our security. Maybe we’re tired of being so aware of our personal failings that we need to spotlight others’.

I don’t know.

That’s who we are, six days a week, on a public level. Maybe at home with our families and our closest friends, we’re better people. In fact, I know most of us are.

But when it comes to being inclusive in society, when it comes to thinking big-picture about our nations and our places in the world, that’s where our humanity evaporates and many of us slide into a place we shouldn’t respect ourselves for in the morning.

And for a brief little while last night, a great speaker reminded us that we’ve been more. In times like the Great Depression, we were motivated by love for others, a belief of being in it together, and an aspiration of communal greatness.

We have had our moments of being something amazing.

Unfortunately, electing a guy into an office and telling him to fix everything, and then going on with life as usual for four years isn’t how amazing happens. Amazing happens when we all remember we’re a part of something bigger. It’s when we all give back with volunteering, generosity of spirit, by helping our fellow man, and looking for the best in every situation.

That’s how greatness happens.

And for a time, I’ll be hoping people are reminded of that for the remaining weeks in this American election.

We need to remember we can be great.

And then we need to become it.

Love is a very good place to start that quest.

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