I Can’t Swim the Lake if I’m Chained to the Dock

There was a time in my life when the people around me encouraged me to, just sign up for welfare.  Imagine that!  This was the atmosphere I grew up in.  It was not a nice neighborhood. I have a library full of “excuses” I could legitimately claim, but this is not an origin story, so I’ll leave it at that.  But, I was literally told to embrace all my excuses and to accept it. Welfare!  That was the advice.  So, should I drop out of high school now, or …

Then there was join our church, join our group, become a union member, join our street gang (no bullshit), join this or that; come with us.

I’ve always had something in me that said, “Fuck your group.”

If I’m chained to the dock, I can’t swim the lake.  Sure, the dock might save me from drowning, but I don’t want to be chained to the damn thing.

Those chains tell us what we can or can’t do; what we can eat and when, what we think, and what we wear.  How did they come up with these rules?  Chains that say, we’re poor and “underprivileged”, so accept it; this is our lot in life.  The chains of the dock say, there’s safety in our group, but here are all the rules you have to live by in order to be one of us.

I’m not a great swimmer; literally and metaphorically.  But, I’m swimming.  Freely.  It’s not easy at first.  In fact, I almost drowned a few times.  And when I was drowning, that’s when they really wanted me to quit, join the group, and chain myself to that dock.  Meanwhile, they think you’re and idiot for even trying.  Then they gossip about you and you realize your relationship with those people; friends, neighbors, and family as well, will be left at the dock.  I’m feeling lighter already and I’m really getting the hang of this swimming thing.

When we lose all the excuses, we gain all the power.

I don’t like chains; chains of that club, organization, mindset, and that thought process that wants us to believe that because we were born and raised behind the eight ball, that is where we’ll stay.

No chains for me.  I like my freedom.

I’m on my tenth president. Some had multiple terms.  You do the math.  Wait … don’t.  In that time, war, peace, scandals, assassination attempts, republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, effective, useless, uniting, divisive, morals, adulterers, and conspiracies, both real and theoretical.

Nothing …

Not politics, not the president –

Not that time the company I was working for closed its doors unexpectedly, when I had a young family with a mortgage and car payments –

Not that time we invested $40,000 into a business venture and lost it all in a matter of weeks (ramen noodles for everyone!) –

Not that time when either of my parents died and had to deal with Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, the banks, attorneys, and everything else –

Not that time I had two guns pressed into my skull –

Not all the nights I went to sleep to the sound of gunshots, screams, sirens, broken glass, and the elevated train –

Not that time I was hit by a car –

Not that time I got jumped and beaten in the projects, got attacked by a gang leader, got laughed at, failed ninth grade, broke my back, went bald, and … a million other things.

Nothing.  Not anything ever made me want to be chained to that dock, even when the swimming got hard.

Freedom and power.  Swimming isn’t easy.  But, it’s not that hard either.

Photo by Tj Holowaychuck on Unsplash

 

The Case for Care in the Face of Sympathy

I come from a rough neighborhood; that’s no secret.  Where I grew up, people were gruff, rough, and tough.  In fact, here’s a typical greeting; and seriously, no bullshit, verbatim: “Joe!  How the hell are you, you fat fucking bastard?  Life treating you good or what?”

Realness.  You know this guy cares about Joe; asking him how he is with a not so subtle reminder that he should probably eat less pizza and start walking more.  And, to get on ancestry dot-com to find his father, because all bastards should know who their dad is.

Ah, I miss that.  No fake, pretentious, politically correct, empty, hoping I’m better than you are, kind of shit greeting: “Oh, hey Joe.  Good to see you.”  No it’s not.  Shit, I hope he doesn’t talk to me.  How long does it take to make a latte?  Come on!

Yep.  The atmosphere just got a bit shittier.

Down south, you could be on the side of the road in the rain, changing a flat tire and people will drive by and say, “Oh, bless his heart.”  Useless.  Meanwhile, in Philly, they’ll pull over and help you change that tire, cursing you the whole time, for getting them wet.

How about this from Anthony Jeselnik?  I think this really hits the nail on the head.  He says, “People see some horrible tragedy in the world and they run to the internet.  They run to their social media; facebook, twitter, whatever they got, and they all write down the exact same thing: ‘My thoughts and prayers …’.  Do you know what that’s worth?  Fucking nothing.  Your’e not giving your time, your money, or even your compassion.  All you’re doing is saying, “Don’t forget about me today.”

Funny, but there’s a good bit of truth to that.  I get it though.  When there’s nothing you can actually do, you want to offer some words of sympathy.  However, put some thought into it, instead of some canned bullshit words.

Now, at this point in my life, I’m about 50% removed from inner city Philly, so I’ve come to understand that most people are fragile, easily offended, and will gossip about you to anyone who will listen about how bad of person you are, because you use “Fuck” as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, and pronoun and anywhere else it’ll fit.  Everyone has some kind of an accent.  Cursing and sarcasm is part of mine.  But, in many places, it scares the shit out of people, so I try to curb the accent a bit.  I fail, a lot.

But!  But, I cannot bring myself to say empty things, like “Prayers”.  Ugh!  No, I’ll say things like this: “I’ll mow your lawn, you can stay at my house, I’ll pick up your groceries, I’m on my way over with bourbon, I’ll walk your dog, take your trash out, change your tire, pick up your kids from practice, give you money, and sit with you at the hospital.”

The weird thing is … I often get silence or a blank stare as if people don’t recognize honest sincerity and care.  Remember Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, when Stan (William Shatner) asks, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?”  And she responds with what is truly important to her, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.”  Crickets.  To break the awkward silence, she finally says, “And … world peace.”  To which, everyone cheers.

We’ve taken the care out of care and replaced it with, “Hugs”, “Prayers”, “world peace”, and “Bless your heart”.  Sympathy with no actual help.

It’s like, if I say “Bless his heart”, I’m excused from all guilt of not doing anything.  It’s like saying four hail Mary’s or something.  Not sure how that works, but I’ve heard things.

Sometimes we can’t help or simply don’t want to and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.  It is what it is.  We’re not obligated to the universe in any way.  Sometimes we help and sometimes, we don’t feel like getting wet or putting our lives in danger or on hold to help someone.  It’s okay.  We’re human.  No worries.

But please, instead of “hugs”, say something real or nothing at all.  And please don’t hit the “like” button.  My fucking dog just died, dumbass.  He was an ugly, fat fucking bastard, but we loved him.

With all sincerity, Namaste.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Kung Fu in 5 Easy Steps

“I know Kung Fu”, said Neo (The Matrix).  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just “jack-in” and upload knowledge directly into our brains?  Is it upload or download?  I don’t know.  But, a four-year degree is completed in an hour with no effort.  Martial Artist, Yogi, or pianist.  Just sit back and relax.  Hmm.

The technology for jacking-in like Neo doesn’t exist yet.  Or … does it?  I can’t keep the timeline right.  In the meantime, here are five easy steps to becoming a Kung Fu master:

Step 1: Don’t train in Kung Fu.  It takes way too long.  Lots of work too and you could get hurt.

Step 2: Watch Ip Man I and II.  Three sucked.  And, maybe some Kung Fu YouTube videos.  It’s pretty much the same as earning a black belt.

Step 3: Do some calisthenics and stretching at least once a week.  Not a requirement.  Just a suggestion.

Step 4: Subscribe to Kung Fu magazine to make sure you’re aware of the most up to date way to do a front kick.  It’s always changing.

Step 5: Buy a black belt online. Now you’re official. And don’t forget to put that Kung Fu sticker on your car window, so everyone knows.

Congratulations!

Neo was right.  He did know Kung Fu.  But, knowing isn’t being.  Being takes more than just knowledge.

It takes hard work and time.  Actually, that’s the literal translation of Kung Fu. It takes heart and soul.  It’s passion, belief, diligence, perseverance, feel, discipline, practice, and immersion. We must embrace the philosophy and approach.  It has to be in us if we’re to effectively employ it outwardly.

‘Ever hear a really good blues guitarist do his thing?  Yeah, it’s like that.

The knowing of Kung Fu is not Kung Fu.  We must be it.

Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

Dangerous Drishti

In Yoga, Drishti is a focused gaze and relates to the sixth limb of yoga, Dharana (concentration), bringing us to the here and now in reality, as it truly is.  There are actually nine Drishtis and one night, I cycled through them all, with danger being the vehicle.

Back when the Breakfast Club was still in theatres, our martial arts school held its annual Christmas Party in a local parks & recreation gymnasium.  Part of our set-up included a big banner that was to be hung from the rafters.  Two of our elder students were seasoned steeplejacks; you know, those crazy people who climb cooling towers, church steeples, and the outside of tall buildings to do repairs.

They got a step ladder to gain access to the basketball rim on each side of the court and climbed the retractable framing system up to the steel truss that spanned the width of the building, some thirty-five feet above the floor. The truss was a zig-zag frame, that provided just enough crouching space for a very small contortionist.  But these two 40-something grown men, made it look easy.

After the event, most of the guests had left as well as the two steeplejacks.  But, there was the banner, still hanging.  I was seventeen at the time, which means I was basically a super hero.  I thought, “If those two old guys can do it, so can I.”  And no need for a step ladder.  I was able to grab rim back then.  I pulled myself up and began the ascent into the rafters without much thought.

As I was untying the first string of the banner, I slipped just a bit and caught myself.  Suddenly, it all became very clear as to where I was.  Adrenaline flushed through my body and I froze.  My vision was like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  You know; the dolly zoom camera technique where the periphery gets distorted and stretched, while the focus point becomes closer and sharper.

I couldn’t turn around and go back because, well … I didn’t have the skills of a steeplejack.  My fingers and forearms hurt from the grip and my legs were aching from squatting.  I was sweating and shaking, wide-eyed and heart thumping.

The floor looked like it was a hundred feet down and the distance to the other side might as well have been a mile, but I couldn’t stay here.  I had to move, but I was stuck.  There were people down on the floor, but they didn’t seem real.  No one seemed to notice me and I didn’t yell for yelp.  Not sure why.

Juke Box Hero began to play in my head, “It was a one-way ticket; only one way to go …”  Yeah, songs and movie scenes play in my head at the oddest times.

I closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and embraced the suck.  I looked up and the other side didn’t seem as far. I can do this.  Hand, foot, breath, other hand, other foot, breath: I moved slowly and deliberately with my Drishti (s) being just inches in front of me.

When I came to the other end of the banner, I untied it and let it drop to floor, without watching it fall.  There was no way I was going to go through this without accomplishing what I came up here for.  Done.

At the other end, I climbed down the retractable framing of the backboard and did a hang-drop from the rim to the floor.  I looked up, took a mental picture, turned and walked away.

Nothing focuses us and puts us in the now like fear.  As scary and intense as that experience was, every part of me was alive and focused down to my mitochondria.  Everything inside me was united towards a single goal.  Quite exhilarating actually, but I don’t recommend it.

There are better vehicles than danger.

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash. 

When is Someday?

When I was a kid, my parents and extended family would throw around the word “someday” as if it was a magical destination.  “Someday, my ship will come in.”  “Yeah, we’ll do that; someday.”

Everyone seemed to be okay with this, but me.  As if saying “someday”, sedated them.  I quickly developed a dislike for “someday; a word of appeasement, not of action.  It was hopeless hope.  Someday meant it’s not going to happen, but … whatever.

“Someday” is in the future and the future isn’t real.  Not yet.  It will be; it can be; but not right now.  The past isn’t real either.  Not anymore.  It was, but not right now.  Only now is now and we can’t get to an actual “someday” without it.

But when is “now”?  Now is always.  It was then, it is now, and it will be tomorrow.

Without now, someday is just an abstract thought.  In martial arts, a black-belt is merely a symbol of achievement; a result earned through the process.  In Aikido or Hapkido, the “Do” is “the way”; living, studying, learning, and training in the process.  That’s where the mastery lies, not in the result.

So, if we’re going to have a goal, then the goal should be the way, because the way is the goal.  A graduated continuum of the “now”.  Do this right and “someday” becomes today.  In fact, we’ll lose the need for someday altogether, because we’re living it.

Now that’s an achievement!

Enjoy the journey.

Photo by Basil Samuel Lade on Unsplash.