the great divide

I was going to write something touchy-feely about what happened yesterday in Boston, and I don’t need to explain what happened at this point; the media has flooded our consciousness with new and old information, video of the explosion, and photos of the scene and the aftermath. There have been stories of incredible acts of kindness and generosity following the attacks, and stories of people returning from Boston, happy to be alive.

This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

The Onion, classically known as a satirical publication that sometimes acts as the newspaper version of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, published a story today that said a lot of what I’ve been thinking for years.

There are a lot of great people on this planet. Some of them are reading this. We pay a price for living on this beautiful planet with so many kind people. Sometimes, that price, as Patton Oswalt so elequently said yesterday on Facebook, is dealing with people with bad wiring. It seems we’re increasingly dealing with this.

Our era of history seems to be defined by incredible violence and crippling ignorance, when we have the resources and manpower to battle both of these plagues. And yet, here we are, staring into a chasm that keeps us from being closer to our potential. There are literally millions of people on this planet who wish others ill or dead, both in the US and elsewhere (and some of them are also reading this), simply because they’re different. Because “they” aren’t “us.” It is, and for centuries, has been, “Us Vs. Them.” And it doesn’t need to be.

We have the power, the talent, the manpower, the ability to change this. But we haven’t. So many of us cry out for unity, peace, harmony, conversation, understanding, etc. I’m one of them. But our cries fall on deaf ears because it’s “hippie talk.” We become complacent and say, “Things will change,” and “One day it’ll be better.” Look around. We exist in a reality where we are more divided than ever, and it shows. Politics, religion, nationalism all act as glaring examples.

I’ve given a name to our part of history, and it’s partially my perception of what’s happening around us, and partially a continued cry for unity:

The Great Divide.

Boston native Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All violence, all that is dreary and repels, is not power, but the absence of power.” We have the power to put a stop to all of it. Step away from preconception, from crowdsourced opinion, from media-induced delusion, and religion-directed obsession, and think for yourself. Become that which you desire in the world, and it will become reality. But only if you make it happen.

The alternative is, the void becomes greater. We become so divided, so far apart from each other, that we begin to misunderstand even our closest friends, and the random violence happening around us escalates. We’re better than that. We’re stronger than the divisions between us. There’s always been more that unites us than that which separates us, except what we’ve learned to believe and what we’re told to believe.

a matter of trust

A Chinese proverb says, “Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep.” My road has been proof of that. I’ve fallen into some pretty deep, dark holes along the way, and they’ve left me scarred, cynical, and frustrated. I’ve always had trouble putting things in my rearview. I hold onto days gone by for too long, no matter how bad they may have been, because I constantly ask “What if?” and it’s come to hold me back. I’d begun to doubt my own ability to make decisions and trust my own judgment in choosing who I wanted to join me as I traveled through life.

Trust is hard to earn and disappears in seconds. We all know this. I allowed a series of events in the past decade to damage my any ability to trust anyone, and even myself, and it’s damaged and even destroyed relationships and kept me from moving forward. But that’s over. The last few years have introduced me to some of the kindest and most decent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and until recently, I didn’t understand the gravity of their presence in my life.

I have no reason to remain skeptical and suspicious of people. If anything, I’ve learned who I can and cannot trust, or at least how to spot a trustworthy person. Most people mean us no harm. We’re all fighting a battle, and most of us fight fair. Some don’t, but they aren’t hard to spot. They’re the people who stand to gain from hurting those in the way, and find no reason to consider how their actions affect others.

There’s a fine line between “healthy skepticism” and self-centered distrust. I’d become a person who lived by “people are stupid” and “I hate people,” and neither of those are true. If anything, most people are smart but generally unaware of what the rest of us endure. It lies within our power to educate the people we encounter every day on how and why we struggle, and what we can do to lighten the load.

The past few months have been hard. Most of you know why. I’ve been forced to face, accept, and break the chains I allowed cold hearts to place on me. They’ll face the consequences in due time; it’s no longer necessary to bear that burden for them. It’s okay to trust everyone. Just don’t trust the darkness within.

the bloodletting

I’ve waited a few days to write this, so I could cool down and be less angry when I finally did it. Regardless of your political leanings or feelings on this subject, I’m gonna offend somebody. Fine. Be offended. But we all need to think long and hard about this.

There’s a subject that no politician seems to be willing to touch lately, for fear of alienating voters and causing an outcry. By now, we’ve heard of several mass shootings throughout the country (Aurora, the Sikh Temple, The Empire State Building), and the homicide numbers in Chicago are rising fast. To date, we’re at 1,200+ non-fatal shootings in the city, and 350+ homicides.

The consensus is that guns don’t kill people. People with guns kill people. And this is partially true. Guns don’t act on their own. Somebody has to pull the trigger and start the reaction to expel the bullets. But the idea that loosening restrictions and allowing more people to carry guns through concealed carry programs is, in my estimation, fuzzy logic.

Guns are designed, in their primary function, to kill. Guns came into being for defense purposes in the late 1200s in China, though its predecessor, the fire lance, can be traced to the late 900s. Since then, they have evolved to be more precise, dangerous, and damaging. Originally, only military and defense forces were allowed to have them due to lethality and danger to the general populace.

Until the creation of my least-favorite of the amendments in the US Constitution, the Second Amendment. It reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment was originally written in time of war, during a time when it was young and still at risk of being dissolved by our former British masters. Jefferson wrote it to arm and authorize the formation of a domestic defense force, to protect against insurrection and invasion against outside forces.

Over the past two and a half centuries, it has evolved into a beating stick. One side of the argument uses the well-worn declaration, “You will take my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.” The other side decries guns and all actions related to them.

I write fiction. For years, I wrote about a man who came from a society in the distant future where poverty, hunger, and violence were nonexistent. His ancestors realized that fighting among themselves was not progress, and they cast off the ways that restrained their evolution as a culture. In their history books, they referred to our era of history as “The Bloodletting.” More violence per capita has occurred in the last 200 years than during any era of history, and it’s only getting worse. Our progress has to start somewhere.

These are my suggestions related to guns and violence. They will not be popular, and somebody will not agree with me, and that’s fine.

1. An immediate moratorium on the sale of guns over .22 caliber with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds, to anyone under the age of 30 with no previous record of purchasing a firearm. The only exception in this case is law enforcement personnel (because they are required to carry a backup, which the police force does not supply).

2. An immediate, sweeping ban on the sale of all assault weapons. Because, let’s face it, if the guy who shot up the movie theatre in Aurora can get a hold of one of these monsters, I can sure as hell go to a gun shop in the suburbs and buy an MP-5 with no trouble. These weapons are designed to wound and kill multiple people, and are, therefore, weapons of mass destruction.

3. A restriction on the sale of ammunition of guns over .25 caliber to one case every 90 days. Again, only law enforcement are exempt (because they have to buy their own ammo).

4. A thorough review and overhaul of this country’s mental health programs. The people who committed these mass shootings are clearly not mentally fit, and therefore should not be in possession of any firearm.

5. An immediate ban on the sale of any firearm of any kind to anyone with a criminal background, and especially to those with a history of violent crime. Any attempt by a violent criminal to purchase a firearm, or even possess a firearm, should result in immediate incarceration.

6. An immediate ban on the sale of any firearm of any kind to anyone with a history of mental illness.

7. An immediate cease-fire between all street gangs and organized crime syndicates.

8. Mandatory gun registration and education to any new buyers of handguns and hunting-style weapons such as rifles and shotguns.

9. A civilizing of our dialogue. An end to the blind screaming and yelling and divisive arguing. Because while it may not be bloody, it is still violence. Instead of just firing volleys of vitriol and hate, I suggest a moratorium. A conversation, calm, mature, and reasoned, must take its place.

In my personal opinion, no person, except military and law enforcement personnel, should possess a gun. They are dangerous, and in the wrong hands, deadly. We are supposed to be people living in an advanced society, and we are supposed to look out for each other. Over the past few decades, however, we have moved into a Darwinist mentality, which has led to increased violence, anger, ignorance, apathy, and hatred toward each other. We refuse to work together, which leads to divisiveness and exclusion. The arc of history is supposed to bend toward justice and progress. Lately, however, it’s bending the other way.

 

Stand together. Or fall apart.

the bucket list

I keep saying some place, or restaurant, or event is “on my bucket list,” but I’ve never actually written one. I’m going to compartmentalize this list into a few sections, since that’s how my brain works.

The Bucket List

Cities/Countries to Visit:

San Francisco, California

Key West, Florida

Austin, Texas

Livingston, Montana

Vancouver, British Columbia

Alaska and Hawaii

Lisbon, Portugal

Barcelona, Spain

Paris, France

Venice, Italy

Athens, Greece

Melbourne, Australia

Croatia

Beijing, China

Chengdu, China

Osaka, Japan

London

Ireland

Cuba

Restaurants:

Alinea, Chicago

Next, Chicago

Moto, Chicago

Calumet Fisheries, Chicago

Le Bernardin, New York

Per Se, New York

The French Laundry, Yountville, California

Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Minetta Tavern, New York

Babbo, New York

Shanghai 1930, San Francisco

Bali Hai, San Diego

Lola, Cleveland

Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue, Memphis

The Carolina Smokehouse, Cashiers, North Carolina

Ted’s Fry Bread, Mancos, Colorado

The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans

Antoine’s, New Orleans

Domilise’s, New Orleans

The Mexican Hat Lodge, Mexican Hat, UT

Norman’s, Key West

Tickets, Barcelona

St. John, London

Events to Attend:

A Presidential inauguration

A book signing for my own novel

The Woodward Dream Cruise

Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, Las Vegas

The Indianapolis 500

A U.S. Citizenship ceremony

People to Meet/Be in Close Proximity to:

A current or former U.S. President or world leader

Jim Harrison

Cormac McCarthy

B.B. King

Stephen King

Anthony Bourdain

Alton Brown

Various Life Events and Experiences:

Get married to the love of my life.

Drive Route 66 from Michigan and Adams in Chicago to The Santa Monica Pier.

The Olympic Games.

Write a bestseller.

Appear on late-night TV.

Meet a Celebrity Chef. (Dave Beran, Next)

Visit the St. James Gate Brewery, Dublin, Ireland.

Walk the Great Wall of China.

Visit Uluru (Ayers Rock in Australia’s Northern Territory).

Speak without a filter and without fear.

Stand at the top and bottom of the world.

The Great River Road.

(This list will continue to evolve with time and experience. Ideas and feedback are welcome.)

Michigan 175

My Dear Michigan,

It’s amazing to think that 175 years ago, with the stroke of a pen, you turned into a state. Especially after that whole mess with Ohio. (Toledo? Really?) But you got the Upper Peninsula out of the deal, so we’ll call it good.

You’ve led quite the interesting life so far. War, industrialization, prosperity, an economic depression, revitalization, and now a recession that left you bruised and bloody. But, and this is important, you aren’t dead, either. You’ve been a symbol of strength, resilience, innovation, and passion since the beginning.

You gave us Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Charles Lindbergh. My hometown was the beginning of the legend that was Abraham Lincoln’s political life. Music took on a new sound in Detroit, that echoes through most music today. Now you’re home to thousands of orchards, farms, and dairies, and the people who promote your greatness have made you the most popular state in the nation for tourists. They’ve taken to calling you “Pure Michigan,” because you don’t try to be anything other than you. Sleeping Bear Dunes was named the most beautiful place in America last year. See? You look good for 175. Other states try to imitate you, but they can’t come close.

Stories abound about events and places that shaped you, and those of us who call you our own. Mackinac Island was a fort in the American Revolution and saw two battles in the War of 1812. Our troops helped to protect the Union from defeat in the Civil War. The legendary steel freighter, The Edmund Fitzgerald, sunk in a bad storm near Whitefish Point in Lake Superior in 1975. You can even claim a President as your own, in Gerald Ford.

So happy birthday. Here’s to 175 more years, my old friend. I’m proud to call myself one of yours, and even from the other side of Lake Michigan, I think of you often, and I’ll visit you soon.

that’s a wrap

2011 was a tough year, for me and a lot of other people. As the year draws to an end, and I always do, I look back. A lot happened in the past year. Some good, some not so much. However, every event has had a role in my life and how I’ve grown.

After 2 years and 9 months, I left the only city I’d been able to call home for more than a year since I left Jackson. Fargo was good to me, even if I wasn’t always good to it in return. Some of the best friends and best experiences I’ve had in years, came from Fargo.

Chicago, the city of my dreams, became home. I transferred stores, and began working in what I could only describe as a pinball machine. It tests me every day, and some days, I fail.

Lessons learned:

-Some jobs just suck. But no matter how much it sucks, it’s a job, and it’s a means to an end.

-Big city life is both exciting and overwhelming. Striking a balance is hard, but it’s possible.

-The best meal of your life may not come from a Michelin 3-star restaurant. It will more likely come from a side street gastropub you only know about because a customer raves about it online.

-It is really possible, and honestly the easiest way in a big city, to make friends on Twitter.

-It is also possible to be surrounded by 3 million people and feel completely alone.

-Life is rarely at all like the movies. There’s no fanfare, no big climax, and no life-altering character catharsis. But a huge life change can feel like the movies.

-Finding comfort and solace is much easier than it seems.

-Your best friend is the person who doesn’t let you wallow in regrets and demands only the best of you.

Some key and defining moments of the past year:

Celebrity encounters:

Marc Malnati, owner of Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, the best pizza in Chicago

Chef Dave Beran, head chef of revolutionary restaurant Next, owned by Michelin 3-Star chef Grant Achatz of Alinea

Live music:

Mat Kearney, November 17th

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, December 15th

Chicago BluesFest, late June

Restaurants of the year:

Frontier

Cafe Spiaggia

McCormick and Schmick’s

Nichole’s Fine Pastry

The Hotel Donaldson

Song of the year:

Alter Bridge “Make it Right”

Writers of the year:

Jim Harrison

Kathryn Schultz

“Welcome to Chicago” moment of the year:

CTA Red Line experiencing catastrophic electrical failure on my way to work

“Proud to be from Michigan” Moment of the year (TIE):

Detroit Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander winning Cy Young and MVP Awards

Wisconsin Winter Tourism campaign controversy

Best week of the year (TIE):

Spending a week at Rose Lake in Michigan with Michonne and her family

My long-absent best friend, Tish “The Californian” and me together for the first time in 3 1/2 years

Best day of the year:

May 20, the day I arrived in Chicago

Resolutions/Goals:

Write more fiction.

Get fit again.

Get a new job.

Cook more.

Make more friends in Chicago.

Visit Michigan more.

Final thought:

Life is too damn short to be unhappy. At 31 years old, I don’t have time to spend any more time frustrated and unsatisfied.

 

see it through

When you’re up against a trouble, 
Meet it squarely, face to face. 
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do.
You may fail, but you may conquer.
See it through.

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you.
See it through. 

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset.
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whatever you do.
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through. 

-Edgar A. Guest

Poet Laureate of Michigan

1881-1959