So Dies November

Put away the pumpkin spice and break out the peppermint.

3 weeks of Thanksgiving means 5 weeks of Christmas. Next year it’s back to 4 and 4.

I kind of missed Thanksgiving, strep laid me out and I lost the whole weekend.

But I finished MISTER FRIDAY! Buy it.

Anyway, Christmas is underway and it’s finally time to go full-bore on music and cartoons.

I’m editing a few pieces and gearing up to send out a few others. And of course, reading.

Hope you had a good November. This is not a very interesting blog post, but then again, nobody reads these, so who cares?

6 Historical Details about Thanksgiving (and you won’t BELIEVE #7)

This year both our kids are into reading, so we picked up some library books about this holiday, and learned/remembered some cool facts about how Thanksgiving came to be:

1) The modern holiday is an amalgamation of traditions dating back almost 400 years, from early colonial America. The main feast we celebrate took place in 1621.

2) The English Pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower had a hard first winter on this continent, suffering a 50 percent casualty rate from starvation and exposure. During the next harvest, they ended up with so much food, they knew they would do more than survive. They could even get fat.

3) This was unusual back then! We take our food for granted in America nowadays because it is so easy to come by, compared to how hard people had to work for it in 1621. It was about 85% of what you did.

4) The Pilgrims called their place “Plimoth Plantation.” The local Native American tribesfolk were the Wampanoag people. One of them spoke English, the famous Squanto (or Tisquantum), but he himself was not Wampanoag.

Squanto had had a hard life; he was taken into slavery, sold to the Spanish, escaped, came back to America, and found that his tribe, the Patuxet, had died of disease. He was the last one. He joined the Wampanoag people, and was with them when they met the Pilgrims.

5) As the Pilgrims were celebrating their massive harvest, the chief/king of the Wampanoag, called Massasoit, decided to join them, and brought 90 of his men with them. The English and the Natives celebrated by eating food and playing games for days. (Probably to avoid leftovers.) It was a joyous event for all present.

6) Thanksgiving Day was officially established in 1789 by George Washington. Later, Thomas Jefferson said “nah,” and made it less of a big deal. Americans celebrated it on and off until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln said “Boom, we’re doing this thing.”

7) Maybe John Wilkes Booth really just agreed with Thomas Jefferson. (Boom, also.)

So there you have it. Have a sit, have a think, and realize what a miraculous age we live in. There are still hungry people, yes. We haven’t solved all our problems yet.

But food is so readily available to us, in such a wide variety, all year long without interruption, border to border, coast to coast.

It’s a big deal to wrestle sustenance out of the ground. Let’s never take it for granted. Similarly, let’s be thankful for those who make it happen, and for those who celebrate with us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I nuked my Twitter account

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I meant to get this done a few weeks ago, but it was hard to find an app that could handle my entire archive of almost 28,000 tweets. Which, when you think about it, is a lot of bullcrap to be talking about in short bursts. That’s got a lot to do with why I wanted to scrap the whole thing.

My apologies to anyone who RT’d or Fave’d my stuff in the last couple of days. I’m really trying to minimize my digital footprint with regards to insubstantial things. I am friends with groups of people in wide circles (some writers, some fellow Christians, some general old friends, etc) and will use Twitter to engage in discussions with them as I see fit, but for the most part I wanted to really scale back my presence on there because it’s dumb, it’s a mob hive, and its rules are ever-changing with the intent punishing people @Jack doesn’t like.

So yeah, all my tweets, boom, gone. Nine years’ worth of them. I have an archive, so that’s fine. But they’re not hanging out there in cyberspace, reminding me that I have put a lot of junk onto the Web in the last decade.

Happy Monday, peeps.

The Synchronicity of HallowThankMas

You guys, I love this time of year. I love having a huge holiday to look forward to each month. Decorating, making treats, smelling the seasonal smells and seeing the seasonal sights…yeah, I’m one of those guys. The rest of the year is one huge giant slog, with an intermission in July for some crucial birthdays. Other than that, we’re all counting down to the Big Three:

Halloween!

Wherein we embrace death, the universal destination of life. The price that all men must pay. That innate fear within humanity. Some approach it with varying degrees of severity; I prefer the whimsical touch, with an understanding of the reality of death, of the necessity of fear, and our ability to live joyfully in spite of these two things we can’t control.

Thanksgiving!

That mighty feast of the harvest, wherein we take a look at how full our lives really are, how we have reliable channels to sustenance, an abundance of rich and delicious things to fill our bellies. A day of friendship and family and football and food comas…in my adult years so far, I have come to understand the innate value of all of this, especially in such a tumultuous world. Did my parents worry about my future the way I worry about my children’s? Perhaps. ‘Tis only human. But on this day, and in this season, I set aside the worry for what is to come, and revel in gratitude for what has already arrived.

Christmas!

O, thou art the grandest of kahunas. (Kahuni?) That capstone of the year, bursting with color and magic and fulfillment of wishes…of TV specials and blinking lights and mystery gifts in the living room…where reindeer fly and fat men pull one all-nighter and the bank account gets mugged like a cripple in a bad part of town. And the music! Oh, we could gush for days about the music. But we’d rather just listen to it.

Much like Thanksgiving, the lens of adulthood shifts the meaning of Christmas for me. I had a few rough ones in my twenties, on my own, short on funds, trying to make sense of certain trials in my life. While I still chase that childhood feeling, and see my boys lap it up like I did, the deeper meaning is clearer to me. Keeping Christ at the center of it is crucial, because ultimately it’s a holiday about God keeping a promise He made to us.

There is a synchronicity among these holidays, perhaps unintentional, but one that I find all the same: we live in a world where forces can exert their will on us, and we can’t always fight back, and at times we may despair because we know death is at the end of the road.

Yet we also live in a world of plenty, and with our cup running over, we can reflect on the bounties of life, and their real value.

Because ultimately this life is fleeting, and though death comes, its sting is gone, swallowed up in the fulfillment of a divine promise.

I love that we get to remember those things every year. That we dress it up in a parade that smothers all senses, with colors and tastes and smells and heart-shattering joy.

I can endure nine months of the hard, cruel grind of life if I know there’s a respite at the end of the road. Three gory, gracious, gift-laden months of respite.

I love you guys. I love this time of year. I love this life–especially when it’s going great, and even when it sucks.

I hope you love it too.

We’ll Always Have Summer.

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And so the Bradley clan says goodbye to another summer, that perennial nest of adventure and wonderment and limitless bliss.

To the 11,000 miles of work truck grind, whittled away by audiobooks and podcasts and daydreams under the wide open desert sky;

The movies and the pool days and the barbecues, long nights with the office window open, freshly mowed grass, tank tops and gym shorts;

The birthdays, the 4th, the camping and the memories of summers past;

Reflecting on the few bad years, and the many good ones, liberated from the classroom, wandering the town at midnight, crashing a friend’s house, a short-lived romance killed by September, and the promise that the next year would be even better;

Recalling that final August alone, before securing Schaara in my life, and our journey since, passing on the zeal to our children, who yet will have many summers packed to the gills with that bursting-of-the-heart that comes with hot afternoons and boisterous nights;

Yes, fare thee well summer, we loved you plenty, and though the coming Autumn has venced you once more, we will see you again.

Thank you for always being there.

Be Where You Are, Enjoy What You’re Doing

One of the first pieces of advice I got when I became a father was to enjoy every phase of it as it was happening. If you got anxious for the next phase, you’d miss what was right in front of you.

I missed a lot of “firsts” with my oldest son because I was out on the road so much, so it was easy to focus on him when I was home. Seems like in no time he went from being this little eight-pound cuddlebug to a 12-pound pooping machine that could roll almost anywhere in the house.

Next week, he starts kindergarten.

A little while ago I was at the UPS store and there was a grandmother there with what I assumed was her two-month-old grandbaby. Grandma was juggling a huge purse and a parcel while holding the grandbaby, and I felt obligated to ask if she needed a hand.

“Yes! Thanks.” Boom. Grandma instantly pushes the baby into my arms. Which I guess makes sense, I mean, what was she going to do, let me open her purse?

And suddenly I remembered how little and light and snuggly my boys were when they were infants. This grandbaby was just chilling with me, no teeth, eyes looking around a little, along for the ride. It gave me some feels, you guys.

I’ve got a five year-old and a three year-old. How did this happen? How have I already been in my first home for a year? I’m thirty-four? What the junk!

And yet.

Time is funny. It goes fast, it goes slow. I have so much of my life ahead of me, and yet so much behind me that urges me to make haste. I simultaneously want to hurry up and pump the brakes. As I was walking home from the mailbox tonight, taking in our quiet neighborhood, the beautiful mountains, the lush yards, and feeling the final kisses of summer at my back…it just made me grateful for a life that has brought me happiness.

I’m grateful for the magic of summers past, and the promises of summers yet to come. I’m enjoying the space in between, while my kids are still slightly limited in the stuff we can do together. My wife mentioned a few months ago that it’s important to her that our kids know awesome summers in their youth. That’s huge to me too. I’m a child of the summertime, and hands-down my greatest young memories happened between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

This is the first year I can think of that I’m excited for autumn to come and ready for summer to be over. With a few weeks left to go, I have to remind myself to enjoy where I’m at. To be where I am.

To not get where I’m going and look back at that time that I burned off of the clock and have any regrets about how I spent my hours.

Autumn will come, and bring its seasonal delights, its own flavor of magic. For now, August is still on, and there is yet an adventure to be had.

Onward into Friday, my friends.

State of the Dread: July 2018

I usually have projects going on a few fronts, and am trying not to spread myself too thin. When I was setting annual goals in January, I wanted to have a book out by now, but some other demands have landed on my lap and taken priority. Nevertheless, here’s what I’m up to:

ART: I have a commission on deck that I haven’t been working on because of my day job and other stuff. Once this other stuff (see “career” below) is taken care off, that’s the next big thing. Keep an eye on my instagram, @GrahamBeRad.

WRITING: So hey, good news! When the “Ready Set Write” folks on YouTube read one of my pages, I was unknowingly entered into a monthly contest to get a five-page critique, and I won! So I have them looking at the first five pages of a different project.

I’m attending Lisa Mangum’s writing retreat at Capitol Reef next month too, which gets me another five page critique, so I’m having her look at different pages of the same project, due out in November. This book will also have an audio part, narrated by yours truly. #FridayFighters

FITNESS: Not as explosive as it was in 2012 when I trained for a mud run back then, but I’m determined to keep it up even after my Spartan Race this month. Once again, outside life has been derailed by my…

CAREER: I’m still studying to make a position change at work. I’ve failed the test twice and I really want to pass it on the next attempt. But even if I were to pass it like, TOMORROW, I am sure I would still have to be a trucker for a little while because of some jobs the company has going. Nevertheless, passing the test will free up my time and energy for drawing, writing, and gettin’ dem gainz.

 

 

Ten Years On

It’s been a great two days at Fyrecon so far. I’ve done one presentation and five panels so far, with two more panels and another class tomorrow. Things are humming right along.

Tonight I’m decompressing in my living room, thinking back to where I was in 2008. I was on my own for the first time in earnest. Renting a bedroom in a rundown house in Provo, with intermittent utilities, friends out of town, a dating life that was deader than Nixon, and too many bills to pay for how much money I was making.

My happiness came from three things: reading, writing, and lifting weights with the only two guys I knew who didn’t go out to sell Comcast that summer.

Stuff broke. My car. My A/C. My hopes and dreams for grades and girlfriends. By summer’s end I would abandon my college track and embrace the working life whole-hog. I occasionally snuck out of the house to go for a run by myself, but mostly I juggled jobs while trying to make ends meet.

I worked for APX Alarm. Life was that rough.

In the spirit of counting one’s blessings, today I am really damn well off. And I need to keep that in mind when I start focusing too much on where I’m failing.

I haven’t yet passed that test at work. I spend most of the time driving the worst of the big trucks we have. I hate my dispatcher. Cash always seems to be short.

But.

I have Schaara. We have a house. We have two boys who are crazy, but we love them. I make a decent living and soon I will make an even better one. I’m presenting at writing conferences. I have readers! I have books out! I finally bench pressed 250 this year!

So here I sit, on my couch in my living room, listening to my generally quiet neighborhood, but for the passing cars every now and then, and the chirping crickets who are desperate to get it on.

My life is blessed, my prayers have been answered, and though my ambitions live on, I am content.

Story time: I’m not as bold as I used to be.

One time, I called up a girl that I knew had a crush on me, and told her she shouldn’t marry a guy she had just gotten engaged to. It was the right thing to do and yet I would never do it again.

Last week, a friend gave me a motorcycle. Just up and gave it to me. Awesome. It took a little convincing for my wife to welcome it into our home, but she’s warming up to the idea.

Frankly I don’t blame her for being hesitant. She wasn’t in my life when I had my accident in 2009, but she’s heard the stories, seen the pictures, seen my scars get lighter over the years. She was with me when I went through PT in 2012 because I hadn’t gotten proper treatment three years prior. It lingers.

(And my accident wasn’t even that bad–hell, you could call it lucky, considering I was wearing board shorts, a T-shirt, and no helmet. But I digress.)

As I sat on my new Chinese steel horse in my garage, I thought back to the last time I owned a motorcycle, in 2007. I had bought it off of my older brother. It was the bike I learned to ride on, a ’92 Honda Nighthawk 250.

Great size for a novice rider. Plenty of power, but not so much that it would overwhelm you if you didn’t know what you were doing.

When I got that bike in 2007, my life was very different. I was 23, single, working full-time, in college part-time, still living at home and helping my mom with a few bills here and there. My parents’ divorce had just finalized and she was still on meds/chemo/radiation from her cancer treatments. I had a lot going on in my life and pretty much all of it was great, truth be told.

I had a lot of really great friends, too. And if I may be so bold, I was even kind of popular with the ladies in the circles where I ran. I went on a lot of dates but didn’t bother getting serious with anyone, since I planned to go to school out of state later on.

This particular story centers on a girl, we’ll call her Michelle, who I’d known for a year or so, friend-of-a-friend situation. Our mutual friend had dropped a hint or two that Michelle was into me, which I thought was pretty cool, even though I didn’t see us getting together. Major confidence builder, knowing that a girl likes you.

A few things about Michelle: she worked hard and supported herself, even at the young age of 21. She had to. She had a daughter. The daughter’s father was in the picture, but not with Michelle. It happens. No judgment from me, I’d dated girls with kids before.

Still, I knew I wasn’t going to get involved with Michelle, and I had to be careful when groups of us hung out, because I didn’t want to give her the impression I would go after her. Our lives weren’t on the same path.

Then she started showing up to group hangouts with another guy, and there was talk of an engagement on the horizon. I thought that was cool, good for her. She wanted to be married and have a family, all that stuff, and it looked like it was finally happening!

This is where the boldness comes in.

After a few hangouts with the group, and some observations I made, I got the feeling this wouldn’t end well for Michelle. The guy wasn’t necessarily bad news, he was just…well, there’s “settling for what you want,” and then there’s something three floors beneath that, and that’s what Michelle was going to anchor herself to for the rest of her life.

As I went about my life, working, studying, going to school, it kept swimming around in my head. Michelle is going to marry a deadbeat guy. Her life is hard enough without attaching herself to this, and maybe she thinks it will fix her problems, but it won’t.

I prayed about it, I thought over it, and got it into my head that I needed to tell her she shouldn’t do it.

I tried to talk myself out of it, to analyze the consequences and stuff, of what it might do to her if I said that to her. In the end I weighed the cost and the outcome, and decided it was better if I said something to her, if it would have a positive effect on her.

So one day, after I left work and rode my old motorcycle to school (heeeeeey it finally came into the story), I stopped in the parking lot, shut it off, and started to head inside. Then I stopped. I took my helmet off, locked it to the bike, and called up our Mutual Friend to get Michelle’s number.

Mutual Friend knew what I was up to, and had my back. So I called Michelle. I still don’t remember everything I said, only that I prefaced it with a lot of things, and it boiled down to “You might think you want this, but you can do a lot better for yourself, and it would be better for you to find that.”

It didn’t scare me to say that, it just made me really nervous, and I was worried even then that I had done the wrong thing.

Fortunately, to my relief, Michelle was grateful that I had called, and even better, she told me she had already broken off the engagement. She knew she was walking into the wrong situation, even though she really wanted to be married. Big sigh.

We still hung out in groups, and things were great after that. We even went to see Stardust that summer, and had a good time of it. It made me glad to see that she had taken control of her life and her daughter’s life, and to this day she is still an excellent mother, providing for her family mostly on her own.

The point of this story, as I think back to it now, is that I doubt I would be that bold today. And I mean even if I wasn’t a married man with my own kids. I just wouldn’t jump into a peer’s business like that, knowing they might get the wrong idea about my intentions.

I wonder why it is. Maybe cynicism? Maybe I have enough of my own problems? Is it self-interest? Do I lack sufficient altruism? It could be a degree of apathy. As I’ve gotten older, I know that I care less and less for my fellow man in the abstract.

I’ll help a stranger, I’ll help a friend, and yet I find myself remaining distant from a lot of, I don’t know, emotional complications. I find myself thinking that people should reap their own consequences, and they should, but shouldn’t I also care a little more? Reach out more? Give good advice, even if someone won’t like it?

You think that you get smarter as you get older. Me, well, I’ve gotten more information, but I think the last ten years have added to my confusion, not my wisdom. Hell if I know.

Maybe if a friend was going to make a damaging decision like that, I would still say something. I hope I would. Guess we’ll know when it happens.

I just know that there was a time when I would have done it without question. Even if I had to talk myself into it.

I’m getting older, there’s no stopping that. But I can decide if I get better or worse as a friend. Food for thought.

Thoughts on Mind-Reading

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It was oddly difficult to title this post, because I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to sum it all up in a one-liner. Here goes:

I have a theory about the impact of social media on our interactions with each other: Twitter and Facebook are the closest thing we have to actual telepathy, where we get raw, brutal insights into the minds of those around us, oftentimes whether we want to or not.

To illustrate the net result of this, I give you an anime parable from the Japanese cartoon Kino’s JourneyKino is a young girl who rides around on a talking motorcycle called Hermes, going from fictional country to fictional country, never spending more than three days in the same spot.

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Each episode of the cartoon (available on Amazon) had a fairy tale quality to it, and Kino learned lessons from the various places she traveled. I found it quite touching and insightful, as any good fairy tale would be.

The pilot episode has hung with me for a few years. Kino arrives in a country where everybody is in hiding and nobody leaves their homes to talk to each other. She visits a man in his home and learns that everyone in town drank a potion that would give them telepathy. The idea was that if everyone understood each other’s thoughts, it would create harmony.

Instead, it drove everyone apart, and nobody could stand each other. Even the man and his wife split up, despite loving each other deeply before the potion. He was a musician and she was a florist, but neither of them could stand each other’s trade by the time the telepathy had taken full effect.

Now everyone lived so far apart that they wouldn’t have to hear each other’s thoughts. As tragic as that was, Kino noticed when she left the man’s house that he had maintained the flowers out front, the flowers planted by his wife.

Down the road, Kino passed another house occupied by the wife, and she heard classical music coming from inside.

The takeaway for me was this:

  • There’s a reason our innermost thoughts are known only to us and God. Part of the human experience is to decide what to say, what to think, and what to keep to ourselves, especially in consideration of others. This burden is heavier than we think, and we ignore it at our own peril.
  • People leave their mark on us in one way or another, especially the ones we love the most. Those closest to us can push our buttons in ways that others can’t, but we take people as the sum of their parts.
  • Love (specifically) and society (broadly) is about living together in spite of the things we might not like about each other, because we value the things we do like about each other.

I’m writing about this tonight after an experience I had yesterday, where somebody shared an opinion on Twitter that grated hard against my values. (Shocking, right.) This person was also an artist, working in a different medium than I do, but I am a fan of their work.

I’m sure they felt very passionately about what they said. They might have even been coming from a genuinely good place. My instinct was to assume otherwise, to the point of feeling like they were directly attacking my belief system, and by extension, me.

When I sat down to update my journal for the evening, I chastised myself for thinking that way, and recalled Kino’s journey to the country of nationalized telepaths.

This wasn’t the first time I had had such an interaction with a fellow artist. I myself am on the “conservatarian” side of the spectrum, while a lot of other artists fall on the left side of the grid.

What good would I be doing them if I got so angry at their Tweets or blog posts that I cut them out of my life? Not just stopped following them on social media, but tossed out their books or albums or movies?

I used to follow a bunch of authors and artists whose work I loved (and still do.) But most of them, at one point or another, spouted off ideas that I found philosophically wrong or politically ignorant. Often in today’s climate you’ll see people attach their dislike of an artist’s work to a dislike of the artist’s values, whether or not those values are reflected in that work.

And I think back to Kino. I think back to a nation full of people living so far apart from one another that they have no interpersonal connections, no communication, because they can’t stand each other…and yet they miss each other.

People will spout off on the Internet with things that they would mostly never say in real life to a random stranger. (There are exceptions, we’ve all met one.) I don’t blame Twitter or Tumblr or anything for this; a person’s words are the property of that person. They alone are answerable for it.

I’ve had to unfriend very few people for espousing really, really offensive beliefs (including cutting out a couple of friends in 2016 who I found out were…pretty proud racists, actually.)

Other times, if I run into a fellow artist who starts spitting political fire all over their platform, my policy is just to mute or unfollow (if it’s bad enough), and continue to enjoy their work. I don’t have to be a florist to enjoy flowers, or a composer to enjoy music.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that social media connects us to each other in ways never before seen in human history. Maybe the rampant, staggering division is an unforeseen consequence (I doubt it) but we can still choose to be better. To be kinder. To listen to each other. And to share the best things about us with each other, patiently, and considerately.

I hope all of this made sense. Online, you’re pretty close to reading someone’s mind. Remember that everyone is imperfect, like you, and that before we completely cut anyone out, let’s remember the good parts about them in the first place.

That’s all for now. Get back to work.