Thursday, June 28, 2007

I believe in baseball

Almost two years ago, I read Gene Wilder’s autobiography. As the book went on, his life became more interesting and I got more engulfed in his story. Looking back, I’ve been going through a lot of the problems he went through, dealing with depression, a sudden surge of spirituality, relationships coming and going…also the positives of forging relationships that will – whether sooner or later – will completely change my life and make me into a better me.

Anyway – Wilder had a period of time in his life where he would randomly start praying for no apparent reason. This sudden religious experience was because he needed something bigger in the world to believe in. Towards the end of the book, he talks about how he managed to get over his compulsion that actually paralyzed him. There is one quotation in the book that sticks out at me and is something I actually do live by in some ways.

“What is God, but something inside of me?” said Wilder.

And this is an interesting way of looking at things. I mean, I believe completely in a force in the world greater than I. I believe the universe has its own energy, that a place can control the people inside it, and that there are things completely out of my control. (Do I believe in god? I’m not so sure. I go back and forth, and I’ve been stuck on ‘no’ for quite a few years, although I believe that the universe does have a sense of humor and likes to play jokes on me…)

Wilder’s whole life – or rather his whole outlook on life – is based on fate, so yes, some being greater than him. Almost every chapter ends with a “had I not…then I would not have met…and I would not be here today” statement (or statements). He believes in fate, but he realizes that in the end, it is all something that he has to create, or the way I read into it, allow himself to create and be exposed to.

So there is divine intervention and there are divine forces at work, but in the end, the divine comes from within.

Even typing this out, it seems like such a contradiction to me, but it makes so much sense and I cannot articulate it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that god comes not through actions done upon you, but through your outlook.

Maybe what I identify with in Gene’s statement (yes, I’m on a first-name basis with him, it seems…) is that we always think of ‘god’ as being a good thing, and the good things in life we need to create for ourselves.

God is such a loaded word, though. Religion is such a heated debated that has caused almost every war in the history of civilization. (And the non-religion ones are caused by money, which is a religion of sorts.) So why do we keep looking for outside validation on our religion? Why do we need to agree with someone else about god?

Because people don’t like being alone, of course. But that question was rhetorical.

My religion? I believe in love and I believe in baseball. These are both things that cause a lot of pain, but also cause a lot of people to join together. These are things people can disagree on and still allow themselves to interact. These are things that are – in my universe – universal. And these are things that have hurt me the most in my life and also given me the greatest joys.

I’ve been going to a lot of Cape League baseball games over the last three years. (I always go to a few games a season, but the last two years, I’ve gone to at least a game a week…last year, much more.) This year is the first year where I am older than every player in the league. Kind of makes me look and say, ‘what have I done with my life?’ I was talking with a fellow spectator last week and talking about how I get older and the baseball players stay the same age. He looked at me and said, ‘A lot of things change constantly. But I know that every day, the sun is going to come up, every spring, the grass is going to turn green, and every summer, it’s baseball season.’

It’s kind of comforting to know that this will always be there. Religion may not be. God, both the kind outside me and within, falters and takes a vacation here and there. Love – the only other thing I believe in – is always there, but sometimes only in the sense of a longing for it and the residual pain from it. But baseball – baseball is still there and still the same. Four balls to a walk, three outs to an inning, the team with the most runs wins, and Cape League Baseball will, from now on, always consist of players younger than me.

I’m a hopeless romantic, and baseball is my chick-flick.

There’s only one thing left to say:

Play ball!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Old Beginnings

This week marks the start of my 16th summer at camp. I started as a 6-year-old pipsqueak who could barely tie his own shoes. Now, I’m starting my third year running the archery program and being the assistant head of the 11-year-olds.

It’s amazing how much has changed over the course of that time, both within me and with my surroundings, but things always feel the same when I enter the camp grounds. I re-discover the excitement of my six-year-old self every time I watch a first-time camper go through what I went through.

In fact, it’s probably what makes me happiest: to watch the kids learn and get excited over something new. This camp never gets old to me, because as long as there’s someone new there, I can get excited by their excitement.

Excitement is contagious. I tell that to my Junior Counselors while teaching them how to teach. I tell them that the most enthusiastic camper is only as enthusiastic as their least enthusiastic counselor. But as much as I hope the kids get something out of the JCs’ excitement, I hope to get something out of it, too. I’ve been teaching archery since I was a junior counselor, coming up on eight years now, and teaching how to teach for three now, so it’s hard for me to get excited over the same things over and over again. But the joys of a camper hitting the target for the first time, it gets me going. And watching the excitement of a 14-year-old male – a demographic that normally is the hardest to get excited – when he realizes that the six-year-old hit the target because of him, it makes me happy to know that I made that possible.

As excited as all this makes me, though, I look at the rest of my life and I wonder how much more of this I have left in me. How much more can I put my “real” life on pause every summer and go play with toys? (How much longer can I pretend I don’t have a real life? Or how much longer can I go before I decide what my real life actually is?)

But for now, I’m happy coming back every summer to this same place, starting over, with an old beginning. This place is home for me. It’s where I am me. It’s where I can put myself out and really make a difference to the most people. I remember my counselors from 10 years ago, and I wonder: who will remember me in 10 years?

Now –how can I make this my real life? (And if my real life ends up in New York City, can I really afford 2 months of rent without living there?)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Father

Yesterday was my father’s birthday, and I’ve decided to take this time to step back and examine the relationship I have with my father. Since he doesn’t read this blog, it’s more of an examination and statement of respect and admiration for me than for him.

My dad and I used to have a strained relationship. I remember very clearly the first time my high school girlfriend was in my car with me. (We are probably the only two teens in Massachusetts who followed the ‘must have your license for 6-months before you can have non-household-members under 21 for passengers’ rule…and we started dating four months before we got our licenses, so it was a long time between when we started dating and had the privilege of a car-ride alone.) We actually sat in the car in a school parking lot talking, and I said that I regretted the relationship I had with my father.

I’m not going to pretend I had it rough – I didn’t . My father worked his ass off so I – well, my siblings first – could have any opportunity we want. But he worked so much, that I feel like I never saw him and we never really had the father-son relationship. I actually have recently told him how much this upset me. He used to have things he’d do with my brother versus me. He used to play tennis with Brett, but wiffleball with me. He’d bike with Brett, sometimes with me, but not as much. He’d play catch with me, though!

Recently, I was playing tennis with him and my brother-in-law and my dad said, “wow – you’d be dangerous if you played more!” So I looked at him and said, “imagine if I’d had a father who plays with me as opposed to, ‘Brett’s the tennis son. I play wiffleball with you!’” My dad didn’t appreciate it, but he knew I was right.

My mother always used to say that my father and I didn’t get along because we were too alike. We’re both stubborn, she used to say. But it’s more than that. I inherited my work ethic from him. I inherited my persistence and perseverance from him. And yes, I inherited his stubbornness at times. I don’ think either one of us has ever said ‘I’m Sorry,’ but we always manage to overcome it.

When I told him I wanted to go to music school, he said, “How are you going to pay for it, exactly?” (Y’see, my father has paid for undergrad of all of his kids, and me, he essentially threatened to cut out of the family.) Usually when we fought, my mother would come to the rescue. This time, not so much, because she wanted me to go to music school as little as he did. I managed to convince them eventually, but it was partially a compromise with me getting a BA and a BFA in a 5-year program. It took almost a year for them to not grimace when people asked me what I did and said, “I study jazz.”

But things have gotten much better with my father. Since I’ve left home, my dad seems to not father me as much and it’s more of a relationship of mutual respect. I’ve still never really told my dad how much respect I have for him that he worked his way up from having literally nothing when his parents cut him off and showed up at his door just to take the car away to being the successful professional he is now. But I’d like to think he knows it.

Now when we talk, we talk about baseball, we talk about school, we talk about banks and math (yeah – we’re two of the biggest geeks I know), we talk about girls…we talk as contemporaries, not as father-son. I mean, we are not equals, but we speak as equals with a mutual respect. I know I could not do what he does, and he knows he could not do what I do. And I know that I got it from him.

If only I weren’t scared of the fight that I expect when we have to talk money about rent from now until graduation, when I’m on my own and thrown into the world. I’ve already said many times that I intend to be the first kid in my family not to live at home beyond summer after graduation – if that. This angers my mother and father, and I hope to not be so broke that I need to go back on my word.

But for now, I’ll live in the moment of mutual respect and admiration and worry about that day when it comes. I mean, I like to plan, but sometimes, it’s good to just live in the moment. And unlike other relationships I’ve had in life, I know that this is one of unconditional love and that he isn’t going anywhere, no matter how bad a fight may be. And I’m not going anywhere, either…as long as he knows that when he’s old and senile, Brett’s taking him in. (My sisters and I agreed already.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Eye Contact

I had an experience in New York City this weekend that, well, it’s what I live for. It’s these things that makes me love New York. Because New York, while it’s one of the fullest and (over)populated cities in the world, it’s also, partially because of its masses of people, one of the most lonely cities. It’s one of the hardest places to people-watch without feeling lonely seeing how many people there are.

These people, they’re all strangers. They are all people that I don’t know, and as a result, I can be surrounded by thousands of people and still be, well, alone. But every once in a while, something happens to change the way I look at the world and break through that feeling of loneliness. It all starts with eye-contact.

I was in the subway, the downtown 6-train, from 96th street going to Union Square. A cute girl wearing a brown dress with a flowered pattern, a pink headband, and brown flip-flops got on the train at 86th street and was crammed in the same area as me. For a few stops, we were (among the many) sharing the pole in the middle of the train. I kept moving around to different parts of the train, but I never stopped watching her for some reason. Somehow, I ended up by the doors on the left side of the train, leaning against the doors instead of holding on to a hand-rail. (Don’t tell the MTA…the signs all say to not lean against the doors, but everyone does it anyway.)

I was at the door when it opened at Grand Central when the girl started to get off. She looked up at me. We made eye-contact. Her eyes were large and a light brown, similar to the shading of her dress and her footwear. Her eyes were beautiful and filled with emotion. As she and I locked eyes, we froze. She looked like she was going to cry. Her eyes were wide, looking up at me, as her mouth was puckered and whimpering as if to be holding off tears. She was grasping in her left hand her necklace, a silver heart. I’m sure if I knew jewelry, I could say for sure, but it looked like something I’ve seen in a Tiffany’s advertisement.

The moment our eyes locked felt longer than it really was, I’m sure. It was probably no more than 7 seconds, but it felt like eternity. The world slowed in that moment. It’s as if this girl was letting me into her life. Her heart was broken, I could see. I don’t know if it was broken by the past, or the impending future, but in this moment, there is nothing I wanted more than to reach out and hug this girl. (I of course didn’t, because as my friend said, ‘yeah…hugging complete strangers on the train isn’t usually a good idea.’ And she’s right; it isn’t a good idea. But the moment we shared was probably as good as a hug.)

I was hurting, not for this girl, but with this girl. This is what eye-contact does. It turns complete strangers into, well, humans. This girl and I are still complete strangers. We don’t know the other’s name, and we never will. We will probably never see each other again, but for that brief moment, we shared a moment of truth. It was truth that cannot be shared with those closest. It was this moment of her letting her guard down, all made possible by eye-contact.

This is not a unique incident, at least in my life. Eye-contact reveals such naked honesty and emotion all the time, whether pain and sadness, like this or the eye-contact I’m sure I shot people in my darkest hour when I was too dark to even try to hide it, or at brighter times when eye-contact creates a contagious joy.

People hear some of the stories I have of my New York City, and people ask me how exactly I manage to get into these situations. The answer is quite simple: Because I let myself. I let myself be approached. I let myself make eye-contact. I let myself engage in a conversation with someone who is normally ignored my society.

Maybe it’s because I see so many people pretending to be something else and I’m constantly looking for honesty in this world of facades and fake niceties and politics (in the non-governmental sense) just to get ahead. Maybe it’s because the hopeless romantic in me wants to lock eyes with someone and actually open my mouth and fall in love. Maybe it’s because I’m constantly hoping to find someone who can change my life or that I can be that person to change someone else’s life just by being honest.

Maybe I took the pre-school lesson to heart and I do treat everyone as I wish to be treated.

Either way, I’d say it’s working out for me overall. I may not have hugged her, but I’d like to think that in 7-seconds of eye-contact, the girl in the brown dress got out of my eyes that I understood what her eyes were saying and that she isn’t alone in this world, and that she was probably going to cry soon and that it’s okay.

She was probably too wrapped up in her sadness and pain to get all of that out of me. But at least I could share her pain, if only briefly, and I hope that it helped her subconscious if not her conscious. And if not, it was not in vain; it was a moment I enjoyed. And in the end, that’s all I can really control.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Under the Stars

I’ve been looking at the stars a lot lately. I go out of my house at 12:30 and just walk around the street for a few minutes, and I look up.

I’m not going to go into the clich├ęs of “we’re all looking at the same stars” or “Napoleon looked at those stars” and all of that. I’m not going to get into the “Joe Dirt” philosophy of how comforting it is to know that the one you care about or are thinking about may be looking at the moon at the same time.

But stars comfort me. There’s something about the Cape Cod sky at night – with the rest of the atmosphere – that gets into me and takes me to a surreal place, a place that I can barely scrape against duplication with a successful meditation session – of which I have had very few in the last 13 months.

I walk outside and I look up, and the sky is completely dark. One deep breath, and the salt air gets in my nose and in my lungs and I feel free. That smell – it’s the best thing about coming to the Cape. It almost makes it worth leaving, because that first breath of salt air when getting out of the car after the drive over the bridge is like receiving CPR with the breath of the gods. And when a light breeze is coming off the water, it’s like you’re the king of the world.

And with every breath, the sky brightens. With every blink comes more stars. They seem to appear – like magic – with every passing second of looking up. In less than five minutes, the sky goes from all black to mostly white of all shades. It’s hard to look away. And for me, it’s hard to go to sleep knowing this amazing show is happening right above me.

That’s why 4 in the morning is my favorite time of day. The only thing better is a snow storm, where the snow dances in and out of the lights, disappearing and reappearing.

I’m relaxed just writing about it. So rather than going into what I was going to go into, about how the Cape Cod sky is like human beings – you think you see one thing, and the more you look, the more that shows up. That every time you meet someone, blink a few times. That people know this, and unlike the stars, when people realize that they’re being seen, they try to hide themselves, so you need to know when to look away…but I’m not going to go into that stuff…

Well – any more than that…

I’ll cut it off before I get into something away from what I wanted to – which is just how much I love to be under the stars, breathing in the salt air. That there is some greater force in the universe, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the universe itself. Breathe deeply and look up, and you’ll have little choice but to agree.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Buying a scratch ticket

Some people have the kind of luck where they should just never play the lottery. I have the kind of luck where I’ll decide to buy a scratch ticket, talk myself out of it, and then watch the person behind me buy a $10-million winning ticket only because he heard me talk about getting one and he liked the idea for himself. That was my ticket!

Okay – I’m over it. I didn’t buy the ticket, I couldn’t win the money.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve never been good at taking chances. Well, certain kinds of chances. I’m a musician, so my whole life is one big chance in that way, but it’s the smaller chances I don’t take – the day-to-day chances that I’ll kick myself over.

The great Sy Johnson, Charles Mingus’s right-hand man for years and my teacher over the last year, yelled at me because of this. I was writing a big band chart for him, and he looked at my page and said, “You had the right idea, and then you backed off. What happened?”

“I got scared, I guess.” I was afraid to take the chance. I decided to write too little knowing it would sound good, even though it was only using three horns when I had thirteen available. Sy told me stories about his life and some of the chances he’d wished he’d taken. Most of them were either about his music or about women.

“Funny,” I thought when he spent 45 minutes of an hour lesson (that lasted 2 hours) telling me about the risks he regrets not taking in his early-life. “Women and music are my downfall, too.”

So what’s stopping me? Why is it that the relationships (romantically speaking) I’ve been in have all been initiated by the girl. From a girl feigning interest in a Massachusetts General Law passage about saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school daily to a girl asking “Why haven’t you kissed me yet?” my romantic life has been completely out of my hands.

Admittedly, the chances I have taken – which have been few and far between – have all ended quite poorly for me. But the point remains the same. I’ve missed my opportunities. After-the-fact, a lovely girl who has moved and will possibly never be in the same city as me again said that she would have said yes had I actually asked her out when I wanted to. A girl in high school had a thing for me once, and I didn’t notice it or start to feel anything towards her until weeks after she got a boyfriend. (I know what you’re thinking – I only wanted her because I knew I couldn’t have her. I actually didn’t find out she had a boyfriend until I got up the courage to say something to her, at which point I was stopped by her friend before I opened my mouth saying, ‘she started seeing someone two weeks ago.’)

So what am I so afraid of? What drives me to not do the things I should? I’m not afraid of failure. I believe in myself enough to know that if rejected romantically, I can move on and not hold it against the other party and continue being friends with her. (Hell – I have anecdotal evidence of that.)

I blame the fact that I’m a hopeless romantic who was spoiled by past relationships. I want to feel a click. I want to be swept off my feet.

I’m reminded of a poem by a poet I’ve seen in a number of poetry slams in New York City over the last few years, Andrew Tyree. His poem is “Let me be your ‘ee’.” (I’ll see if I can find a copy of it to post or at least link to at a later date…perhaps next entry?) He basically says that he wants to change the roles in a relationship. That he wants to go from being the seducer to the seduce-ee. He wants to not be the lover, but the love-ee. He wants to be loved in the way the princess in fairy tales always wants.

I want that.

I guess what I’m really afraid of is what’s happened to me too much in the past – I get caught up in the romance of situations – not just romantically speaking – and start to love more than I am loved and things get one-sided and inevitably fall apart. Maybe that’s why I’m always sitting around waiting for someone else to make the first move, because then I have the confidence that she will love me as much as I’m probably going to love her.

I learned a lot from Sy. One of the things I learned is that no mistake is unfixable. I always say that I never regret the actions I make, only the ones I don’t make, and Sy basically told me that that’s exactly how he looks at his life. He said he got over it and learned to actually take action.

Right now, I regret too much in my life. I need to start acting so I don’t have any more inactions to regret.

But maybe I need to realize that the chances of “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” happening to me are slim to none, and even in those lovely chick-flicks, which I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy, things don’t just happen, they happen because someone put themselves out there and acted.

Maybe it’s time for me to buckle down and buy a few scratch tickets. Both proverbially and literally. I could sure use that $10-million…

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Misdirections

Today, I’d like to share with you a piece of short fiction I like. It’s no secret that I tend to not read fiction – I much prefer non-fiction. In fact, the only fiction I read is usually short stories and I read them because I’ve heard a story read on the radio and then order the book after loving the one story that much.

I heard this story read by the author on WGBH’s Morning Stories (http://www.wgbh.org/morningstories), which is my favorite podcast and I highly recommend, over a year ago. Hearing the author read it brought a few tears to my eye and I immediately ordered the book and love (almost) all the stories in it. (Most of the stories actually brought a tear or two to my eyes…)

The book is Between Camelots, by David Harris Ebenbach. Check out his website (http://www.davidebenbach.com) and if you like the story, buy the book. It's worth it, trust me.

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Misdirections (posted with permission from David Ebenbach)

My Wife is using the mice as an excuse to let our marriage fall apart. All night they crawl around in our walls and we can hear them gnawing. They're gnawing at the foundation of our marriage, she says. She complains I won't do anything about them, or about anything else, and that's the problem. Neither of us mentions the man whose sweat she smells like these days.

But I put out humane traps, little plastic opaque boxes for them to get cornered in. Our son loads the peanut butter into the back ends. That same evening, we've got our first mouse. The box rattles on the kitchen table.

My son and I are going to release it by the lake, and he asks his mother to come. He knows and doesn't know. She wipes her hands dry and reluctantly agrees.

I can feel the mouse moving in the box as we walk down Jenifer Street. Because it's a strange feeling, I let my son carry it a while. He squeals with the thrill of it, but my wife is silent.

I think of something. I ask my son, "What if it finds its way back?" His eyes grow wide.

"It's three blocks," my wife says. "The mouse isn't that smart."

"Well, maybe," I say loudly, and wink at my son. "I just hope it doesn't remember to head for Spaight Street and turn left and go to the fifth house." That's not how you get to our house. I'm giving the mouse misdirections. My son laughs, excited. Despite herself, so does my wife.

Soon we're all giving loud misdirections, just like a family.

By the lake, we all stoop down and I prepare to let the mouse go. Our son has his eyes wide and mouth open, surprised and awed in advance. I look up at my wife and she is looking at me, expectant, hopeful. This mouse, I think, is giving me my family back. Lowering the box to the ground, I put my finger on the little door, ready. I am almost asking her, with myeyes, whether we might keep the mouse. Can We? When she sees that question, though, her face answers by sinking out of its smile. She sighs and looks away from me.

I open the door. Before I've even caught sight of the mouse, it's completely gone.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Examining the core

I’ve been reading through old emails lately. It could be the fact that I don’t have a night-job and camp doesn’t start for another three weeks and I have nothing else to do at 1 in the morning and I still haven’t figured out how to sleep on a “normal” schedule, or it could just be the fact that I like looking back and seeing how I’ve grown over the course of a year or two.

I’d say that had you asked me a week ago, I’d taken a step back or two, but now, I’ve come a far way and have continued to grow into myself and the me I want to be.

Ironically, one year ago tonight, I wrote an email to a friend with a fortune from my Chinese food that night. “Look back, and you’ll soon be going that way.” That’s kind of a weird coincidence…

One year ago last night, I was up for sunrise…again.

Looking back, I’m not sure I wouldn’t mind heading that direction, to be honest. I mean, I understand that it’s important to always be moving forward, but sometimes moving back is important, too. It’s important to remember where you’ve come from and what got you where you are.

My first girlfriend and I used to always have these great philosophical discussions. (I loved talking to her. She was a fantastic conversationalist. Incidentally, she used to say that I was the only person she knew who was 6, 16, and 86 all at once.) One was about a person and a person being who they are and always being that person. We basically came to the conclusion that life experience adds on to who you are, but a person’s core never changes. That’s why we felt like we loved each other so much and could survive a long-distance relationship, because we knew that our cores were attracted to each other and the stuff on the outside couldn’t change that.

We were right in a lot of ways. Of course, we couldn’t survive the distance for as long as we’d hoped. A year and our lives had drifted too far apart. I know that our cores would still be attracted if we were ever given the opportunity. (That’s why she doesn’t talk to me now…or so I tell myself…because of the very real possibility that we may fall in love again and it would jeopardize the amazing life she’s created for herself.)

That core is what we all come out of. It’s that core that makes us do what we do and makes us treat people a certain way. Sometimes we treat people a certain way because we’re so afraid of our own core that we push people away so they cannot see it. And sometimes, we let someone in and once we realize what we’ve done, we push even harder. And sometimes – sometimes we’re lucky enough not to hide and just to let our core control us.

So I look back at these old emails, and yes, I am heading the direction I’m looking. But I’m okay with that. Not because moving backwards is okay, but because the direction I’m looking isn’t backwards. My core exists outside of the realm of time. I’m looking back at my core when it was younger and less cluttered by experience. I’m looking at myself, and it’s the me I still am, and it’s the me I’ll always be. I’m not looking backwards; I’m looking inwards.

I like what I’m seeing. And if history is any indication, I like what I’m seeing when I turn my head around and look forward, too.