Like there’s no Tom Tomorrow

Yes, I’m a 55-year-old man who still loves reading comic strips. And I’m not ashamed of that at all. (Mainly because I don’t read the crappy strips like Marmaduke. I have more discerning tastes.)

If you think comics are for kids, I suggest you read the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

This Modern World, a weekly political comic strip by Tom Tomorrow (a.k.a. Dan Perkins), is consistently funny and thought-provoking — a tough combo to pull off.

I used to read This Modern World in the local alternative weekly until budget cuts caused the paper to drop it. Now I subscribe to Sparky’s List, Tom Tomorrow’s subscription-based weekly email that includes the weekly strip as well as some notes about the work and other musings on life. It’s $10 for six months – a bargain at twice the price. If you don’t care to spare the ten spot, you can check out each week’s strip Mondays on the Daily Kos or Tuesdays on The Nib.

Make fun of me all you want for reading the funny papers. I don’t care, I’m still gonna read ’em. You may think it’s a waste of time, but I sure don’t.

The Old Man Olympics

Several times over the past few weeks, I’ve done a kayak/bike ride combo. I lock up my bike near my kayak destination (#1 below), then drive upriver, launch my kayak (#2), paddle down the river about 4 miles, lock up my kayak and pedal back to get my car. (Actually, it’s my son’s SUV, because his has a roof rack and plenty of room to stow the bike.)

The fact that the starting and ending points are near breweries is merely coincidental.

The launch point and the destination are both along the same bike path, so I don’t have to dodge cars on my bike ride. And the bike path extends far beyond the kayak launch point, so I can tack on more bike miles if I want. It’s a nice way to spend a weekend morning.

I also bought a $20 waterproof speaker, so the past couple of kayak rides, I’ve been able to listen to music as I paddle along.

If you count the steps I take hauling the kayak to/from the river, it’s basically the same as the Ironman Triathlon. Or the old man equivalent.

Bursting your news bubble.

Brett Newski is an indie musician. (Or, per Wikipedia: Brett Newski is a North American nomad, songwriter, illustrator, and folk punk guitarist from New Berlin, Wisconsin.) Times are tough for musicians these days, especially the nomadic types. Brett played a very entertaining house concert at the home of my friends Dave and Jacqui, back in the Before Times when house concerts were still a thing. I sure miss those days.

Brett’s newsletters aren’t the cut from the same cloth as most musician’s. They’re deeper, wider, not so much music-centric as life-centric. A recent one really hit home for me – I think you’ll find some wisdom in it as well:

If there’s one thing we can agree on as people, it’s that politics really suck. 
I don’t care how divided we are right now, deep down we want to be buddies. 
It breaks my heart to see us at odds based on what political team we are on.   
We have more in common with our fellow citizen than we do to Trump or Biden. 
The old white guys in the control tower of politics want us to be at odds. If we are at each other’s throats, it makes it very easy for these old white guys to run the show. 
Right now, the big guys are winning. They’ve got us emotional and angry and scared and confused. That’s what they want. But we don’t have to keep drinking their poison. 
A small boost to healing is this…
Seek out those on “the other side” and chat them up, but not about politics.
If you see a man in a red Trump hat, chat em up about sports or recreation or the nice park you’re standing in together. If you see a purple-haired fedora wearing liberal, chat them up about Modest Mouse or community-farming or whatever feels right in the moment. 
I did this for 3.5 hours on the beach yesterday. I swear it injected positive echoes between the 10-12 people I talked to. Those echoes will reverberate into their future interactions too. It’s a spiderweb of productive energy. Maybe this sounds tiny and insignificant, but it beats sitting in the car, absorbing more news, and getting more fearful toward our fellow people. 
Deep down we all want to be buddies. 

It’s easy to get trapped in your own news bubble, your own Twitter-verse, your own echo chamber. But understanding starts with reaching out. Let’s find the humanity in our fellow humans.

You can sign up for Brett’s newsletter here. His new album is here on Spotify.

Their pain. Someone else’s gain.

Death is part of life. But it’s tougher to wrap your head around it when it comes “too soon.” Carl Reiner was 98, and had dinner with Mel Brooks every day for a decade… I think most of us would slot that into the “he had a great run” category. On the other hand, there are those who pass in their prime. We all know them (Hi Mom!).

I admire my friends who have lost a loved one “too soon” yet have managed to look beyond their own pain and anguish and create something that will benefit others.

My old radio friend Steve and his family – their 17-year-old son Patrick took his own life this year after battling depression for years. They’ve started a nonprofit in the Chicago area:

The wife and daughter of a local musician and videographer, who have started a fund in his honor to aid organizations that treat mental illness:

The family of a Xavier grad who recently died of Legionnaires’ Disease at age 55:

The family of another Xavier grad, Kim, who died of a heart attack two summers ago at 52. Her siblings (two of whom also went to Xavier, and the third sibling married an XU grad) have started the Kimberly Ann Collins Memorial Scholarship fund to aid students in need of financial assistance at Villa Madonna Academy, the Northern Kentucky school that Kim attended from K-12. They held a fundraiser this past weekend, despite the fact that their dad passed away from COVID a month ago.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Antony said “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Kudos to the folks who are proving ol’ Billy Shakes wrong on that, and making sure that the good lives on, even after their loved ones are gone.

Life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. 

From a prayer written by William Penn, later included in a poem by Rossiter W. Raymond

Coloring outside the lines

Hugh MacLeod gets it. He (and others like him – Austin Kleon, Seth Godin, et al.) do their best to bring out the best in us. Hugh’s 2009 book Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) is quite inspiring. His blog, which features a sketch of his and some musings on life, is highly recommended. Sign up and each post will go directly to your email inbox.

This Monday’s post was an excerpt from Ignore Everybody. It’s about how each of us is born creative, but our creativity can be stifled over time.

Hugh’s artwork can be purchased here.

Reconnecting with that “wee voice” as Hugh calls it, can add color (colors, actually) to your life. It’s not a “nice-to-have” — it’s a “need-to-have” for your soul.

The wee voice didn’t show up because it decided you need more money or you need to hang out with movie stars. Your wee voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

Hugh MacLeod, in Ignore Everybody

“Don’t let them take away your crayons” is a message we need to hear over and over. Because so many of our societal “norms” (including our education system) are designed to steal them away from us, and because our “adult” brain is very good at trying to overrule our inner creative child.

They’re only crayons. You didn’t fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?

(Dis)connected learning

My kids started school this week – two in college, and two in high school. Everyone’s “remote learning.”

I’ve been buried in my basement for five months now, doing the ol’ “working from home” thing during the pandemic. It’s boring. It’s monotonous. It’s drudgery. (Don’t get me wrong, I do feel fortunate to still have a gig in a cratered economy.) But yesterday when I went upstairs and saw three of my kids staring at computer screens, my heart sank. They looked like mini-versions of me, zoning out during a boring meeting.

“Said no actual human ever.”

It’s one thing for an old man like me to be a Zoom Zombie for work. But school should be more lively, and more life-affirming. Their days should be filled with laughter, broken lockers, lunchtime sandwich swaps, PE in a gym with a freshly refinished floor, soccer practice, juvenile jokes (they still get those at home). They should be passing notes in class, and passing their friends in the hallway.

I know (or at least I hope and pray) that this is a temporary situation. And it’s the right call for their physical health. But this is making them old before their time.

C’mon science, let’s find a vaccine…

This ad is a bit too lively

OK, time for a guessing game – if you saw this photo in the Sunday newspaper (anyone under 40: you’ll have to Google “newspaper” first), what sort of business or service do you think it would be advertising?

Airline perhaps? Vacation destination? Megachurch? Political ad?

If you guessed “cemetery” go to the head of the class… and then walk out of the class and immediately schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist, because clearly you have issues if you see a family jumping for joy on a sunshine-drenched beach and think of death.

But yes, it’s true, that photo was part of an ad for a “burial package” at a couple of Cincinnati-area cemeteries.

Help me understand how you can make a connection between that happy family and a burial package.

The “WE STAND WITH YOU!” line is creating some cognitive dissonance too… no one in the photo is actually standing.

I guess they’re going with the “sell the sizzle” approach. It reminds me of those old print ads for Newport cigarettes.

The headline was “Alive with pleasure!” because that sounds so much more appealing than “Dying of Lung Cancer.”

The cemetery ad has ruined things for me. I love the beach, but now when my kids ask if they can bury me in the sand, I’ll get scared that they really want to bury me.

Peddling Paddling

Here’s a pretty cool Kickstarter for a combination kayak/paddleboard made out of recycled plastic, that can fold up and fit in the trunk of a car.

The inventor, Tim Niemier, launched the original sit-on-top kayak in 1971 with his company Ocean Kayak. His admirable goal is to “get a billion butts on boards and boats.”

My motto is a billion butts in boats because I believe the water makes us all humble and better people on our small planet. 

Tim Niemier

The Kickstarter level that includes a Origami Paddler ain’t cheap, but neither are kayaks and paddleboards, especially when you factor in the equipment that you need to haul them, and the hassle of storage. This folding watercraft eliminates those issues, which are a huge “barrier to entry” as the business bigwigs like to say.

I’m on board… how about you?

A Ray of light

This past Saturday evening, my friend Phil passed along a 2012 New Yorker essay by Ray Bradbury. Phil knows that Ray‘s my favorite author. But he probably didn’t realize that Saturday was also Ray’s birth date (a cause for celebration at my house).

Phil texted the article to a group of friends, because it’s about “fire balloons” – also known as sky lanterns, Kongming lanterns or Chinese lanterns. They’re small hot air balloons made of paper and fueled by a small fire source at the bottom.

I can neither confirm nor deny that Phil and his “biker gang” (a bunch of middle-aged folks who go on a late night bicycle ride on the night of the full moon) have launched a few fire balloons during their evening excursions on the bike trail.

Ray Bradbury’s essay about fire balloons is really a lovely tribute to his grandfather, and his childhood memories of Fourth of July and family:

I’d helped my grandpa carry the box in which lay, like a gossamer spirit, the paper-tissue ghost of a fire balloon waiting to be breathed into, filled, and set adrift toward the midnight sky. My grandfather was the high priest and I his altar boy. I helped take the red-white-and-blue tissue out of the box and watched as Grandpa lit a little cup of dry straw that hung beneath it. Once the fire got going, the balloon whispered itself fat with the hot air rising inside.

“The balloon whispered itself fat…” — most of us who fancy ourselves writers would give our right hand and our Smith-Corona for the ability to craft such gorgeous imagery.

But I could not let it go. It was so beautiful, with the light and shadows dancing inside. Only when Grandpa gave me a look, and a gentle nod of his head, did I at last let the balloon drift free, up past the porch, illuminating the faces of my family. It floated up above the apple trees, over the beginning-to-sleep town, and across the night among the stars.

Ray Bradbury’s writing was magical, but the process wasn’t. The dude got up every morning, sat down at his typewriter, and cranked out “content.”

Ray wrote brilliant short stories, novels, essays, TV and movie screenplays, poems… In interviews, he often recounted a story from his childhood, when he went to a traveling carnival and saw a performance from a magician named “Mr. Electrico”:

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

From this article

Ray does live forever, though the magic of his words.

We can’t all be like him. But we can certainly try.

(Don’t) put on a happy face

Wednesday’s Washington Post had an interesting article about “toxic positivity”… that term was new to me, but the article made a lot of sense. A positive mental attitude is a good thing, but not if you’re using it to gloss over, ignore or deny underlying issues.

“It’s a problem when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural or when there’s a problem that legitimately needs to be addressed that can’t be addressed if you don’t deal with the fact that there is distress or need.”

Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

“’Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have. So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling… “We judge ourselves for feeling pain, sadness, fear, which then produces feelings of things like shame and guilt. We end up just feeling bad about feeling bad.”

Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

For the first (and we pray last) time in our lives, we’re dealing with a very trying trifecta:

  1. Coronavirus pandemic
  2. Collapsing economy
  3. Racial inequalities fomenting civil unrest

It’s weighty stuff. And it’s perfectly normal if it weighs you down.

“Recognize that how you feel is valid, no matter what… It’s okay not to be okay.”

Natalie Dattilo

It’s also perfectly fine to spend our pandemic times “one day at a time” instead of some sort of “everything is fine” charade.

“Making the best of it is accepting the situation as it is and doing the best you can with it, whereas toxic positivity is avoidance of the fact that we’re in a really bad situation.”

Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Philadelphia

So don’t “put on a happy face” if you’re using it to mask some underlying distress that you need to address.

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