Welcome to My 'Blog

Welcome to My 'Blog

Friday, September 23, 2011


I have a tendency to bite my fingernails when I'm anxious.

I have a tendency to let my laundry pile up until I don't have any clean clothes left.

I have a tendency to want to learn ad infinitum before taking action.

I have a tendency to check my Facebook page too often.

I have a tendency to get really excited about starting something new and then quit shortly after I get going.

I have a lot of tendencies.  You probably do, too.

The trick, though, is to realize that they're just tendencies --things that are historically true about me and my behavior-- and not absolute definitions of who I am and what I'm destined to always do.  This is an important fact to realize for two reasons.

First, I need to understand that I have the freedom to break away from my tendencies and act differently.  At any given moment, I can do something new and unpredictable and the Tendency Police aren't going to show up at my door and drag me away.  I absolutely can do my laundry before it gets out of control or stop chewing my nails 'til they bleed because there's nothing set in stone that says I have to or that I always will.

Second, I need to understand that just because I have a tendency toward something doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing.  True, the time-lapse between having an idea and getting started on a project is longer for me than most people, but I'm typically far better prepared and get better results quicker than most people, too.  And, yes, there are countless examples of new hobbies I dumped money into and then let fall to the wayside, and I can't even tell you how many promises I've made that I later went back on, but I'd rather start and not finish something than never get off the bench at all.

So, with that in mind, I'm announcing a new 'blog I've started over on Tumblr.  Ultimately, the idea was to have a collaborative-something-or-other with The Illustrious BRT, but the first step seems to be us joining a community together and starting out (initially, at least) with our own respective pages.

I can't help but feel like I'm giving up on another fruitless effort in my life or solidifying some truth about myself; like I always give up or I never finish what I start.  The long-form answer has something to do with particle physics and the use of superlatives being an automatic indicator of a lie.  The simple answer is that I've learned a lot from this over the last year or so and all I'm really doing is picking up stakes and moving on to the next thing.  It's okay to do that.  People often do.

I love you all.  See you on Tumblr!

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's Not About Them

In a twelve-step process, there's a part where you have to make amends for things you've done wrong.  In some cases, it means offering an apology to someone you hurt, in others it means paying debts that you owe... amends can look very different depending on the nature of the offense in question.

One thing amends can never be, though, is book-ended with the question "How can I make it up to you?" primarily because it undercuts the whole process of recovery.  The idea is to take responsibility for one's own problems and behaviors and, by ending it with that question, the ball has been bounced back into the offended party's court.

Even beyond that, though, there's the bigger problem of what to do if the person being offered amends refuses to accept it or can't forgive the person trying to make them and won't answer the question.  It's called a twelve-step program because there are, quite literally, twelve individual steps to be made within it and "Making Amends" is only step nine.  If I have to be forgiven or make restitution to every single person on my list before I can go any further, then there's a possibility that I may never make it on to the remaining steps.

Of course, the simple truth is that making amends with someone isn't about the other person.  It never is.  Whether you're in a twelve step program or not; whether you're offering forgiveness or asking for it, making amends is about YOU letting go of the baggage in a relationship and, if not being able to move forward, then at least being able to move on.

I know it's not easy, however true it may be, but it's very straightforward.  I think this is why the Bible makes it a command to go and act on and not a blessing to sit around and pray about and wait for.  I know that in my own life I tend to complicate the issue by thinking that "making amends" is the same thing as "making peace" is the same thing as "making sure that everybody is happy and we all got what we wanted and nobody will ever have problems with anybody else again because we'll all be friends and everything is great."  It's not like that.  Admit you were wrong.  Say that you're sorry.  Ask them to forgive you.  And then, whether they do or they don't, be done with it.

The only alternative is to stay where you are and let the wounds fester.  True, maybe if you wait long enough, the relationship will die and there will be nothing left worth making amends for.  Maybe time will heal it and you'll end up with a nice, big scar where your heart used to be.

"Maybe if I drink enough of this poison, they'll start to die."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Art v. Science

The greatest enemy to creativity and productivity is neither mediocrity nor failure, but perfectionism.  In my own life, I've had my own struggles against perfectionism and will probably face a million more before it's over.  I try not to see this as discouraging, merely a statement of fact.

I think that most of my struggles in this area stem from my desire to make everything an exact science; to have a predetermined, guaranteed-to-succeed way of going about whatever it is that we happen to be discussing at the moment (relationships, money, careers, et. al.).

But that's not really how anything works.  Nothing is an exact science.  Most things worth doing in life are more like art: you start with a framework and build from there, knocking away the extraneous parts and reworking what needs it.  Value is created through a process of investment, not some inherent quality of the object itself.  I've seen artwork made from dixie cups that was more thought-provoking and better put together than some multi-million dollar buildings.

The desire for success being what it is, though, brings most of us to a place where we stop caring about the things that make a person creative or interesting and ask only how to make money.  While I don't happen to buy into the whole "pure art = destitute artist" idea, I definitely think there's something to be said for letting go of the belief that the metrics of success are dollars and cents.

This is where the Art v. Science idea kicks in.  If I change my view of success to be more (or, at least, different) than money, I'm giving up the tangible and measurable for something amorphous, conceptual, and less secure-feeling.  I have to have enough faith in my ideas to continue working at them in spite of not being certain of where I'll end up if I do (it's true: "they" might hate it and, by extension, you).  I have to have more dedication than discipline.  I need to do more than just know.

I can't say it's better to be an artist than a scientist, but I definitely know which one I prefer.  Do you?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Expect God's Greater Reward

Of the topics I've written on over the last few weeks, I was glad that this one came last because this is the main one of these four principles that I am absolutely worst at living out.

If we made an agreement, you and I, in which you promised to give me a briefcase full of $100 bills if I ate a burrito filled with cat hair and dog turds, here is the exact process by which I would determine whether or not I would do it:
  1. Does the briefcase filled with $100 bills actually exist?
  2. Can it be verified that the $100 bills are not counterfeit?
  3. Would this bump me into a different tax bracket?
  4. What would I be left with after the government took their cut?
  5. What's the catch?
  6. How do I know that the briefcase people will follow through with their end of the bargain?
  7. Ultimately, is the potential for getting a briefcase full of money worth the possibility and/or likelihood that I'll end up eating a poop-burrito for nothing?
Two things immediately jump out.

One is that I tend to automatically assume a skeptical position, that is, I start and end with the expectation that I'm being set-up or played.  If I expect anything at all, it's to fail and/or be defeated.

Two is that nowhere in any of this does my relationship with the other party ever really come into play.  Sure, I ask the thing about follow-through, but that's just looking for a guarantee; that's different from engaging a relationship.

Trust is rooted in banking on the knowledge you have of another person or entity.  I trust my girlfriend not to sleep around on me because I know that she loves me and is committed to building a good relationship with me.  I trust my bank to hold my money in security and not steal from me because that's illegal and they wouldn't be allowed to exist anymore if they did that.  I trust my friend Bryan to take me climbing and not let me die because he's an expert climber with quality gear.   I trust a lot of people for a lot of things, really.

But when it comes to expectation, I back off.  I trust Bryan to not kill me if I go climbing with him, but I don't expect that he would have or make time to help me get in shape.  I trust my girlfriend to not cheat on me, but I don't expect her to react well if I feel like I should say something to her when she's being too negative or critical of herself or other people.

Sure, I cloak it underneath a sense of pragmatism or humility (whichever fits better at the time) and try to sound like I'm just being fair or realistic.  The truth, though, is that I don't want to be disappointed and hurt when I don't get what I wanted or when things don't work out like I'd hoped.

The interesting/challenging/stupid thing is that God isn't like that.  As he presents himself in the Bible, God bats a thousand in the arena of coming through for people.  True, he may be more concerned with what I need than what I want, but God is not in the business of letting people down or changing the terms at the last minute.

But what I consent to be theoretically true doesn't necessarily play itself out in the decisions I make.

So, who's fault is that?

Monday, August 29, 2011


Steve Jobs announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple and Seth Godin wrote a 'blog about it.  Being neither a tech-guy nor a sports guy, the Joe DiMaggio analogy was somewhat lost on me from both ends.

But then I did some reading about it.
And then I did some thinking about it.
And then I went to a going-away party for my friend Johnny Shortstuff and his goodwife Sara.
And I have all new thoughts and questions now.
What does it mean for someone to have profoundly impacted your life and then "move on?" 
Are there words strong enough to capture the magnitude of that person's significance to you? 
What should your response to their decision be? 
How do you let them know that the simple matter of their existence in your world has top-to-bottom-revolutionized the way you do business? 
Is it possible to over-state the difference that they've made?

How do you resign yourself to accept that this is necessary and good for them and a natural step in the right direction for their life?
To tell the truth, I don't have a clue.

But I think that, whatever you do, it should be honest and meaningful and overflowing with gratitude.

And I hope I did that tonight.

I love you guys.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lead Courageously

I've been tossing around some ideas for this week's 'blog and I have absolutely no desire to write any of them down.

It's not so much that I don't want to write at all, it's that I'd rather write about a million other things besides this because, frankly, I don't feel qualified to speak on the subject.

I am, as of this writing, a broke art major behind on his bills with a dead-end job and $30,000 in student loan debt.

What the heck do I know about leadership?

If we define leadership as running a successful company or commanding an army or guiding people to the top of Mount Everest, then I guess I don't know the first thing about it.

But I don't think that's what leadership really boils down to.

Leadership is not about telling people what to do or wearing a special uniform or being "the top guy."

Leading is about doing what you are uniquely positioned to do.

And more than starting companies or winning battles or telling other people what to do and how to do it, there is one thing that I am infinitely qualified above and beyond any other person on the planet to do: 
Make decisions about how my life will operate.
Whether I keep my apartment within a reasonable margin of cleanliness and organization or let it smell like farts and dirty laundry doesn't depend on my girlfriend's actions or what decisions she makes today.

Whether I stay up playing League of Legends or go to bed at a reasonable hour so that I can wake up in the morning with time enough to eat breakfast and take a shower can't be blamed on League of Legends.

Whether I budget my money so that I can get what I want at the grocery store and fix meals at home or spend money I don't have on fast food that isn't nearly as good as it is convenient is totally my call to make.

Why?  Because it's my apartment, and my time, and my money.

There's a temptation to believe that if my decisions don't impact millions of people across the globe, then I'm not really a leader or my decisions don't really matter.

But that's a lie.

John Maxwell says leadership is a spectrum.  On the one side, it's your title that makes you a leader.  On the other, it's your reputation.

If you're using a title to validate your authority ("...because I'm the boss and I said so!"), the only reputation you'll ever have is for being a jerk and a bully.

On the other end, if you build a reputation for being responsible and doing the right thing, what label you operate under doesn't really matter.

So the question isn't "Am I a leader or not?"

It's "Which type of leader am I?"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Accept Responsibility

As I mentioned last week, there's a study at my church beginning in September called "Biblical Manhood" and I'm picking apart the four major points of it between now and the time it starts.

This week's principle is that a real man accepts responsibility.  I thought of some examples for what this might mean.

If I were to get a dog, you might say that he would be my responsibility (also, that he is adorable).  We could also, then, say that it would then be my responsibility to tell my apartment complex that I got a dog and to pay the appropriate pet deposits and fees.   It would also be my responsibility to feed him and to take him to the vet and pick up his messes whenever I took him for walks outside.  All three are different kinds of responsibility: object, obligation, action.

But I don't think that these are the kind of responsibility that Biblical Manhood is referring to.

I think that being "responsible" is a lot like being sober.  For one thing, there's no gray-area for sobriety.  It's pretty much a switch with two positions, and you're either on or you're off.  You don't just kinda use and you're never almost sober.  You either are or you are not.

But I've also come to realize that no matter how long you stay sober, there's never really any point where you stop being an addict.  You may stop acting out of your addictive patterns, but there's always a propensity for you to go back to using and even the most devoted 12-steppers will tell you that you're never really "cured" of it.  You may be sober now, you may be sober 25 years from now, but can't ever take for granted that you'll always be sober.  Sobriety is a choice that you have to make, every single day, for the rest of your life.

In a very similar way, responsibility is not an over-arching condition of your whole person, it's a present state of being.  I can't tally up the total days I've been productive and done the right thing and deem myself "responsible" if the good outweighs the bad.  I'm "responsible" in this moment to do the best I can at whatever's in front of me with whatever resources I have at my disposal.

To put it in practical terms, I first have to accept that I can never get back all the days I've lost to drinking, drugs and pornography and then be willing to do whatever I'm able to move ahead from wherever I happen to be as a result of it all.  

Shame and self-loathing tell me I'm a worthless waste of space and I can never rise above my circumstances.  

The gospel grace of Jesus Christ says that I don't have to live there and I can do different with my life.

Responsibility is learning how to ignore my feelings, accept the truth and leverage that freedom to take action in another direction.

So I guess I should stop asking myself whether or not I am a responsible person and start asking myself whether or not I'm ready to be responsible, where I'm at, right now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reject Passivity

I signed up last week for a class at my church called "Biblical Manhood."  It's a study that the senior pastor adapted from a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight, a book I have mostly avoided in the past due to its cheesy-looking cover. 

(Of everything cheesy about it, I think it's George Costanza's shirt sleeve that bothers me most.  Why is George Costanza on a Christian book cover?  What does he have to do with raising a modern day knight?  Is he giving that sword to a child or taking it from a child?  Why would George Costanza have/need a sword?)

The basic premise of the book and/or study is that many of both our societal and personal ills are rooted in faulty definitions of what it means to be a man.  The study defines a man as someone who:

1. Rejects Passivity
2. Accepts Responsibility
3. Leads Courageously
4. Expects God's Greater Reward

Since there are four major points to the study (and I have four posts to fill between now and the time it starts) I wanted to look at each one individually and come to a clearer understanding of where I'm at in each of them before the study gets going, beginning with the first.

First, I looked up some synonyms for "passivity," a few of which are as follows:
Acquiescent, Apathetic, Asleep, Compliant, Docile, Idle, Indifferent, Inert, Latent, Motionless, Nonresistant, Phlegmatic, Quiet, Resigned, Sleepy, Static, Stolid, Submissive, Tractable, Unassertive, Uninvolved, Unresisting, Yielding.
Second, I looked up definitions for "passivity."
  1. Not reacting visibly to something that might be expected to produce manifestations of an emotion or feeling.
  2. Not participating readily or actively; inactive.
  3. Not involving visible reaction or active participation.
  4. Inert or quiescent.
  5. Influenced, acted upon, or affected by some external force, cause, or agency; being the object of action rather than causing action.
I particularly like that last one.  "Being the object of action rather than causing action."

I struggle a lot with this, as evidenced by even a casual glimpse at some of my old 'blog posts.  They seem to emphasize what Newton's First Law clearly states, namely, that objects in motion tend to stay in motion while objects at rest tend to stay at rest.

As a recovering addict and someone with a tendency toward depression and despair, it's easy to get caught up in that idea and resign myself to hopelessness, feeling (and, thus, believing) that I'll always be a worthless lump and I'm never going to change.

But that ignores the second part of the Newton's Law, which is that objects tend to stay in motion or at rest unless acted upon by an opposite outside force. 

To be perfectly honest, I'd rather not go through with this study.  It's at 6 o'clock on Wednesday mornings (which, I mean, that right there...) and registration is $25 that, frankly, I'd rather spend selfishly.

To do so, however, would be to cut myself off from a significant "outside force."

Rejecting passivity means deciding to do something, even if it's wrong or there's a possibility (or certainty) of failure.  It doesn't necessarily mean recklessly over-committing oneself, but I have the $25 and I can make it to the church at 6 AM on Wednesdays.  I may not want to, but sometimes being a man (and an adult in general) means doing things I don't particularly want to do.

How about you?  What are your outside forces?  Where do you find them?

Friday, August 05, 2011

On Art

I've been trying to broaden my horizons lately by following 'blogs like Seth Godin's and Michael Hyatt's, that take an instructional-yet-encouraging approach toward working, writing, 'blogging and social media.

It helps, too, that they're successful people I've heard of before and admire a great deal.

Thus far, they've helped me gain a better understanding of what a 'blog is and challenged me to shorten my posts, and keep them centered around fewer, stronger, more concrete ideas.  Even in a small amount of time, I feel like it's starting to make a difference.

But those are mechanical things, and mechanics are easy to fix.

The struggle for me is in the soul: 

Why do I have a 'blog?  What is my 'blog about?

Looking over the ground it's already covered and thinking about where I want it to go, I'd say my 'blog is about the relationships between addiction, art, and spiritual growth.  Of the three, I think the middle one is probably the most absent from what's already been done.

It's ironic, really, given the piece of paper I've strategically hung so that it's the first thing one sees when one walks through my front door.  Apparently the University of Texas deems me to be competent in the study of Art.  Why doesn't my 'blog reflect that?  Better yet, why doesn't my life?

Telling people "I'm an artist" invites certain, inevitable questions.  What do I do?  Where have I shown?  What's my main focus?  Who have I worked with?

I studied Art.  I can talk about Art.  I even know how to make some of it.  Whether any of that is actually worth something or not, I have the information.  Isn't that all it takes?

C.S. Lewis wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

And I guess that's what art is for me: it's not just a thing that exists in the universe, it's a way of looking at the world and understanding it better.  It make the intangible a thing to be seen and explored.  It enables the frog to be dissected without having to kill it.

I am a Christian and an American and an artist and a man.  I don't have to be a pastor or the president or show you a painting of my penis for any of those things to be true.  It's hardwired into the fabric of who I am and it's okay for me to say it out-loud.

So then, why is it so difficult to convince myself of something that's already the truth?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Amy Winehouse Thing

I wouldn't exactly call this a "current events" 'blog, but there are odd occasions where something in the news affects me in a bizarre way and I don't really know what else to do with it. 

It's distasteful to me, to say the least, when regular-folk weigh in on the comings and goings of famous people, as though they have some sort of intimate knowledge or special access to this complete stranger that the rest of us don't. 

In light of that, I want to be clear that I wasn't any sort of Amy Winehouse fan, but her death has made me think a lot about my own struggles with addiction and I wanted to jot down a few ideas about it for what we might call a "Very Special Post."

1. Addiction Really Is a Disease - It's hard for people who don't struggle with addiction to see it this way, but it's true.  It's not just a lack-of-moral-fiber issue and it's not a disease like lupus or cancer, either.  It's more like (or maybe exactly like) having a mental disorder, such as manic-depression or schizophrenia: you have good and bad days, there are certain things that are prone to trigger an episode, people who make it better or worse, and it's completely impossible to navigate without getting help, usually from a professional.

2. Addiction is Risky - Given that the problem, at its core, is a loss of control, being an addict always carries with it a sense in which you never really know where you're going to end up when you use. You could be just fine, you could have a lot of fun, you could have some crazy adventures that all your friends want to hear about the next day, but you could also just as easily end up in trouble with your family or the law or, sadly, dead.  Whatever your poison(s) is or are, there's always this feeling that you're betting your whole life on a slot machine every time you use.

3. Addiction Ruins What's Great About You - At one time or another, Amy Winehouse was an attractive young woman with a lot of talent, but the publicity around her career was almost a real-time documentary of her descent into madness.  She frequently cancelled shows, the ones she didn't were often dismal performances, and the internet was rife with hard-to-look-at pictures and videos of her being a strung-out mess.  It's hard to see all that and remember that somewhere beneath it is a real person who's being systematically destroyed by a truly sad and devastating problem.  And so it is with many other addicts, too.

4. Addiction Robs You of Healthy Relationships - Do you remember when she was married to some dude (I can't even remember the guy's name) and they were always popping up in the tabloids looking all strung-out and bloodied like they'd just done a bunch of drugs together and then gotten in a fist fight?  Instability breeds further instability and the only thing more chaotic than being in a relationship as or with an addict is for two addicts to end up in a relationship with each other.  Also, how often do you hear about someone dying of an overdose in a room full of people?  I realize there are exceptions, but most people die from overdoses in isolation, part of which makes sense because, obviously, if there was someone else around, they'd have called 911 or tried to help somehow.  But it's worth noting the inverse nature of increased substance use/abuse versus decreased contact with other people and/or the outside world at all.

5. Addiction Runs On Momentum - A very significant part of my recovery was realizing that, contrary to how I felt, I did have the ability to ask for help and to choose to be sober.  Even more significant than that, to me, was the realization that every time I chose to continue in my addiction, it made me more likely to continue to do so in the future.  Every time I took another drink or smoked another bowl, it entrenched me that much further into the problem, which made the control it had over my life (and, too, the damage it did) that much greater.  Inversely, I also realized that the more I continued to get help and to say "no" to my addictions, the easier it was to continue to ask for help and say "no" again later.  There's a point, though, that some people reach where the train is moving too fast to jump off of anymore.  I guess, if I can point to any one thought that made me really want to get sober, it's that I wanted to be able to get help and deal with it while I still could.

I remember hearing Dave Attell on the radio after Mitch Hedberg died, saying something to the effect of "Mitch's problem was, essentially, Mitch."  And I think that's really sad because I really liked Mitch Hedberg and I wish that he had loved himself as much as it was obvious that the people around him did. 

But I also think that something about that idea of "my problem is, essentially, me," rings true to the addict inside of me.  I used booze and drugs (and food and sex and video games and anything else that worked) because I liked who I was when I did those things more than who I was when I didn't.

The stupid thing, though, is that I didn't really even like who I was when I was using, either.  I don't honestly believe that any addict does. 

But, at the time, I didn't believe that anything better was possible.  In fact, I didn't even have the capacity to believe that.  After a while, the brain simply adjusts to accept its circumstances as base-level reality, like a scale that has recalibrated itself to include the weight that's already on it.

I guess the point I'm making is that the tragedy, to me, is less who this happened to and more that it happened at all.  Please don't misunderstand me, I don't mean to trivialize Amy Winehouse as a person or her career in any way at all, but it feels to me like a terrorist group just blew up a building, or that a serial killer has struck again and is still on the loose.  The fact that she was famous and talented just makes it that much more of a win for the other side.

For a struggle so tied to despair and hopelessness in the first place, it sends a chilling message to those of us prone to fail: "If she, with all her fame and fortune could not overcome it, what possible hope have you?"