“I want your 3am ideas”​- Nurturing and enabling creative thinking is essential to building successful teams

Whenever I hire or find myself newly leading someone I tell them the important things they need to know about my management style and how I see my role as a leader:

  • I see my most important duty as being an advocate for those who work with me to those above me.
  • What we do between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm is what facilitates our real lives at 5:01. For me, that’s my kids and books. A good work-life balance is essential to being effective, sharp, and impactful while on the job.
  • Be empowered to take the actions you deem necessary, be sure to justify your response.
  • During your time with me, I want to help you take the next step in your career and help you develop in the areas you have a passion for. Tell me those things, or develop them with me. Time is valuable, and discontent consumes it faster than progress.
  • Bring me your 3 am ideas. Let’s try them. You’ll get the credit; I’ll take the blame.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been known as an innovator, dealing in creativity as much as process. It’s the former that has best served the latter, and both in concert have delivered results. Creativity and intellectual curiosity are traits that I find are invaluable, and too often it seems people come to me and don’t feel empowered to bring the crazy, the daring, the bold to the table.

“I want your 3 am idea,” I say to them, and I can see in their eyes that they’ve had one. They know exactly what I mean: Woken by an intense dream, still only half lucid, lying there at 3:02 am and suddenly that sales pitch, that marketing idea, that market penetration strategy, that new presentation, pops into their head. An idea so interesting, so kooky, so “outside-the-box,” that while the details of the dream quickly fade, the idea continues to stir like that third packet of stevia in their morning coffee.

I want that idea. More than that – I need that idea.

Modern commerce is enigmatic as we shift from old ideas about marketing and sales and embrace new methodologies and ways to apply business intelligence. Sometimes the old rules still work and should still be followed; but as I’ve said in other writings, the tenacity of an idea doesn’t necessarily instill it with value. It may still have value, but it’s worth evaluating – and sometimes it’s worth taking something new and different for a spin.

“Innovate or die,” as the adage goes.

Innovation, creativity, and the application thereof doesn’t just apply to products, companies, and services. It’s something important on the ground level. It’s important in the sales process. Important in marketing. Important in people and workflow. It’s important in rewards and recognition.

In my industry our biggest competitor isn’t another company doing something similar, it’s status quo. They’ve heard the standard pitch. They’ve seen the social pop-up ads and the LinkedIn post about new features. Those things do still work, but is there something that has even more impact? Can we tell our story in a different way? Can we be fresh and new, while still being deliberate and tactful?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes – and we should be willing to try.

Building a successful team means building a team of innovators, of creative thinkers, and of people willing to voice the bold, the new, and maybe even the little-bit-crazy ideas they’ve been chatting with themselves about on the commute. Enabling and nurturing those traits into your team and management is what can turn a gentle slope into a hockey stick, and turn a team of workers into artisans.

I want my sales team to be a group of people not just thinking about their next call, their next email, their next presentation – but also thinking about what they’re going to say on that call. What they’re going to type in that email. How they’re going to tell the story in that presentation.

Creativity knows no bounds and it is a trait that, for me, is more valuable than legacy experience. More valuable than talking a good game in an interview. Enabling a team and individuals to have the intellectual curiosity to ask the “why” questions about their own process is the greatest thing since the person who thought bread would sell better if it was already sliced.

Like I said – I want my team to bring me those ideas. They get the credit. I’ll take the blame.

What happens after you finish the rough draft?

There is this moment,
A moment found in the eastern hemisphere of the period that is preceded by the simple words “the end.”
For that moment, It doesn’t seem to matter the size of the font,
It doesn’t seem to matter what the seventy-thousand words prior to that period are.
What matters is my right ring finger, on instruction from my brain, but more on instruction from my heart, finds itself poised on the key, and with more pomp that that finger normally receives, it is asked to thunderously hammer a small round dot to the end of an adventure.

That moment, that elation, that rounded railroad spike of finality, hammered through the keyboard with purpose and resoluteness, reverberates back through your finger, your hand, your arm, your heart, and your mind – causing a cascading feeling of accomplishment that is as strong as any drug, any kiss, any manufactured moment of joy, to wash over you.

The first step after – the answer to the question – is to climb back onto the ledge from which you leaped seventy-thousand words prior. To find yourself back, looking over the world you built, the lives you created and destroyed, the passion you felt and instilled, and appreciate being able to look across that great plain of experience and seeing off in the distance the curve of that final period as it drops off into the horizon.

Take a minute, take a day, take a week to appreciate yourself… and once you do… get back to work. There’s editing to be done.

9/11 at Suisun City Train Station

On the train to the city… the same thing I was doing 16 years ago. We just arrived at Suisun Station. This is where I got off and waited for two or so hours while they inspected all the trains to ensure they were safe. I made it home just in time to watch the first tower fall.
 
Until Brian called me to tell me what was going on, I didn’t know. My dad had called and left me a voicemail early in the morning telling me he loved me and hoping I was okay. He never called me that early, and I thought maybe he was sick since it was so out of place. 
 
While driving my kids to school today, we talked about it. We talked about how terrorists seek to incite terror and hurt, maim, and kill people as a means to their end – but that any endeavor that can only be accomplished through acts of, terror, intolerance, or inhumane cruelty cannot be righteous in intent. I told them that those 19 men with box-cutters and a bankrupt ideology were willing to give their lives to hurt us and to instill fear, and in some ways, they accomplished that goal.
 
I think it would be easy to look at politics, the ongoing wars, climate events, and the other noise and wonder if the world is better… but I think we’ve all risen up quite a bit and may not notice how much higher our collective tide is. The fight isn’t over but marriage equality is real. The fight isn’t over but social and racial injustice aren’t things being whispered about at brunches and barber shops. The fight isn’t over but the conversations we’re all having, every day, are about how we all can be better, more united, more fair, more just, more equal, more loved, and continue to move forward and progress as a people.
 
In that context, sixteen years after it rained stone, steel, and blood onto the streets of Manhattan, while division remains, I feel very confident that what they endeavored to ultimately accomplish that day failed. They sought prolonged fear, they achieved prolonged resolve. They sought to maim us, but only left the shadow of a faint scar.
 
It’s sometimes difficult for me to bifurcate patriotic pride from inane tribalism – but just taking a moment to think about that day sixteen years ago – and think about those that ran into the buildings… and those that drove into the storm last week… and those driving into the storm today, all to grab the hand of those that need help because those people are *our* people… those are the days where I’m proudest to be an American.

Pitch Wars, Year 1

This was my first year doing Pitch Wars.

I didn’t get picked.

In fact, I didn’t get a request for pages, an encouraging note, or correspondence of any kind; and while that is disappointing it’s not surprising.

One of the most interesting parts of this experience for me was approaching it with little expectation about my personal success. I only considered entering days before the submission date and cobbled together the required pieces. My manuscript has been finished for a while, having been written, revised, revised, revised, revised again, put away, pulled back out, obsessed over, revised, and put away again. When Pitch Wars presented itself as an opportunity I pulled it out again, put together a revised query, a synopsis, and away we went.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, given the efforts, talents, drive, and hunger from you, the other authors – the reason I didn’t get picked is that I simply didn’t deserve it as much as those that did. I’m not saying my writing wasn’t good, that’s not for me to judge. I’m not saying that my characters weren’t interesting, or that my idea wasn’t unique, or that my work wasn’t worthy – I’m saying that’s not what this contest was necessarily about. It was about those who were ready and had positioned themselves on a great cliff, willing to step off the ledge to see if they had wings made from feathers or stone… and the mentors looking for the right hand to hold as they stepped.

I know that wasn’t me. Not this year.

Being part of this group has let me experience those who also have a passion to fulfill the manifest destiny of the soul. You, we, they, them… have some part, a whisper deep in our chest, that grows to fill out every ounce of our being until it can’t be contained anymore and pours onto the page through our fingertips. I feel it. I do. I know you do too. We stare off into the middle distance, trying our best to parse and compile thoughts into some coherent stream of story – to aspirate life from imagination and exorcise a singular moment of intangible thought out into the physical world.

Pitch Wars is the first “writer’s community” I’ve been a part of. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to experience – not just a conjoined communal passion for writing – but also the passion for being heard. The passion to have a voice. It’s a recent thing in my life to have the moxie to let people read what I write. It’s a recent thing in my life to understand that I’m just as entitled to be heard as anyone. I didn’t get picked because I didn’t understand that the way I do now, and others did. Many, if not most of you did.

If you, like me, didn’t get picked, don’t think for a second it’s because your voice didn’t deserve to be heard. The submissions were a murder of diamonds, with the mentors sorting through them not for their worth, but for their inclusions; and whether or not they liked the particular way you sparkled, doesn’t make you any less precious.

I’m excited for next year. I’m working on something new, and hopefully it will be done in time to spend more mental equity on the other parts – to use the community for help, to refine my voice in trying to describe my story – and with luck, maybe next year I’ll find myself on that cliff ready to jump off. I hope you will be there to jump with me.

 

Wondering what Pitch Wars is? Click here, or follow #Pitchwars on Twitter.

Professional Wrestling is fake, beautiful, and often misunderstood

As an adult in my late-thirties when people find out I’m a professional wrestling fan they often seem confused. “You know it’s fake, right?” It’s difficult for someone not in the know to understand the appeal of two oiled up men or women rolling around together in a choreographed fight. Most see professional wrestling for its surface appeal, and I’ll go so far to agree that if you don’t come to the show with a base level of understanding you may never quite understand the what the fuss is about.

The irony of professional wrestling is that people who outright dismiss it as a low brow, “Soap Opera for Men” don’t fully understand the nuanced performance and requisite beautiful athleticism and skill required to perform at the professional level; nor do they understand the subtleties of the performance and dismiss it with the tried and true, “you know it’s fake, right?” They equate a professional wrestling match to a boxing or MMA match, and since it’s a scripted performance where the winner is pre-determined, it is an inferior form of entertainment. What they’re missing is that professional wrestling is more akin to ballet than boxing, and should you watch it through that lens you’ll understand a little more what the appeal is to millions (and millions) of fans around the world. Imagine sitting dead-center while watching a ballet performance and the person next to you leans over and says, “that’s not really a black swan.” Yeah buddy, I know. That guy wasn’t a Mouse King either. Professional wrestlers are athletes, performance artists, actors, dancers, acrobats, comedians, deft public speakers, and work through injuries, pain, and difficult lifestyles to entertain the people who love it.

Before I delve into my personal love for pro-wrestling / sports entertainment, let me first give a little bit of history regarding how professional wrestling really became what it is today.

The first name on your road to becoming a fan, or at very least understanding the appeal begins not with a man named Hulk Hogan, but a man named Lou Thesz. Lou Thesz is generally considered the greatest wrestler of the 20th century and invented many of the moves wrestlers still use today. More importantly is that Lou Thesz was so wildly popular that he would sell out arenas and propelled professional wrestling from being a sideshow attraction to a mainstream form of entertainment. He really opened the door for making professional wrestling the international phenomenon that it is today.

There are many names between to be talked about, but let’s fast forward fifty some-odd years and get to Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Vince McMahon, having just taken over the World Wide Wrestling Federation from his father (also named Vince McMahon), had one of the hottest promotions, one of the hottest stars, and a great idea. Prior to McMahon wrestling was territory based and wrestlers moved from territory to territory to build their character and audience. You might have been Sterling Golden in Memphis, but in New York, you’re Hulk Hogan. Vince McMahon the younger took the numerous professional wrestling territories and started buying them out one by one, eventually created an international brand. He put nearly all his money into this endeavor, lastly putting his proverbial dick on the table to try a closed circuit (pre-pay-per-view)“Superbowl” of wrestling, Wrestlemania! On the back of stars like Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and more, Vince pushed the boulder down the hill that eventually became the multi-billion dollar international corporation and entertainment company that is World Wrestling Entertainment today. Vince McMahon, whose wife Linda is Donald Trump’s Head of the Small Business Administration, is a true American success story.

In the 1990’s Vince McMahon was put on trial for Steroid distribution, and the “kayfabe” of wrestling — the idea that wrestlers never broke character and maintained everything was real — was broken for good. That’s when “Pro-Wrestling” morphed into “Sports Entertainment.”

There are two important terms that fans of professional wrestling throw around a lot; “Mark” and “Smart.” A mark is someone who thinks it’s a real fight, while a smart understands it’s a performance. Even those of us considered “smarts” occasionally “mark out” when something legitimately surprises us or something happens in a match that is worth celebrating. Imagine again watching Swan Lake and one of the ballerinas climbs up on a balcony rail and pirouettes perfectly only inches away from death. The crowd rises to applaud her show of skill and athleticism: that’s marking out. This is important because those “marking out” moments are what we, the intelligent professional wrestling fan, wait for.

So, let me outline a couple of different type of matches and what the appeal is for me.

Match #1:

The music hits and wrestler number 1, let’s call him Adam, comes down to the ring. Adam is a skilled performer, whose moves all look very authentic. He’s charismatic, has excellent verbal skills on the mic, and is rarely boring. He also knows how to “bump” (fall) extremely well and takes a beating with gusto. Music hits for wrestler number two, let’s call him Matt, who comes down to the ring. Matt is also a seasoned and convincing performer, though not as crisp on the microphone as Adam is, and as such hasn’t quite broken through to main event status. If this was just a normal match, I’d watch this as a performance. I’d watch how they improvise (call) the match (though the winner is pre-determined, the choreography is done on the fly), and how they interact and execute the moves. I appreciate not only the well-performed body slam but also the convincing way the guy being slammed writhes in pain and “sells” the move. I let myself “mark out” a bit waiting for the finish and overall find it to be an entertaining story.

Match #2:

Imagine the exact same scenario as above, with a small exception: Matt, in real life (called “shoot” in wrestling parlance), was dating one of the female wrestlers. Not long ago Matt was injured and left the road to rehab. While on the road Adam and Matt’s girlfriend (let’s call her Amy) began having an actual affair. Matt returned from the road to find out his actual friend and his actual girlfriend were sleeping together. Management has gotten wind of this and decided to turn the situation into a story-line and take advantage of the “realism” the actual scenario would provide. Adam and Matt are looking across the ring at each other and they’re job is to put on a good show and not injure each other. Of course, in this particular match, the punches look a little more real than normal.

Match #3:

Adam and Matt are at it again, except this time they’re performing at Wrestlemania, the biggest show of the year in a match called “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs.” Matt and Adam work the match with “spots” (specific spectacular moves) that range from falling from the top ofifteen-footfoot high ladder through a table, to forcefully hitting each other in the head with chairs. The match is finally won when Adam retrieves a belt hanging from a cable fifteen feet above the ring floor. This is Adam’s first championship, which is a recognition by the company that Adam has achieved a personal level of success and thus is worthy of being the “face” of the company. He’s respected by his peers and fans alike and deserves a run with the belt.

In all three of the examples above, the entertainment is the same; two professionals performing at the highest level in a violent ballet that is meant to look convincing, tell a story, and be exciting. From the ring of the bell to the finale, the match itself tells a story and, even to a “smart” like myself, is unpredictable and surprising. In Match 1, it’s all about their skill. In Match 2, it’s about their skill and their professionalism in not letting personal feelings get in the way of protecting their partner. In Match 3, it’ also about the respect for these two performers to put their own bodies on the line for the sake of entertaining the fans and the recognition that Adam has proven himself worthy of a championship run.

Something that most people overlook and dismiss with the “you know it’s fake” comment is that professional wrestlers, while trained, still risk their well being every night because they truly love entertaining in their specific art form. Like a ballerina who sacrifices her own physical health through intense and robust training, professional wrestlers spend hours perfecting their moves, bodies, and performance skills all because they love their chosen discipline. For any WWE fans reading this, they’ll recognize that the scenarios above actually happened.

Ironically, people who consider themselves “above” professional wrestling because of their perception that it’s two men rolling around in tights simply don’t understand the nuance of the art form. It’s possible that their pre-conceived perception won’t ever allow them to see it any other way, which in my opinion is unfortunate for them.

If you’re looking for a primer on what professional wrestling is supposed to be seek out the following matches and performers:

Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 30

Undertaker Vs. Shawn Michael @ Wrestlemania 23

The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin @ Wrestlemania 17

Undertaker vs. Mankind (Mick Foley) @ King of the Ring 1998

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels @ Wrestlemania 12

Macho Man Randy Savage Vs. Ricky The Dragon Steamboat @ Wrestlemania 3

Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat @ WrestleWar ‘89

Trump: The Rollercoaster

It’s been happening fast — maybe too fast to keep up. When President Trump, nay, Darth Orange, fired FBI Director James Comey, (a man who by all accounts was such a boy scout that his proficiency in knot tying was world renowned and his farts smelled like smores) I began to question how truly deep the inane idiocy of our quickly devolving empire had gone. That was followed by a week of mass fuckery in messaging from the White house as Trump himself contradicted his team on the why of the dismissal. Then the Comey memos accusing President Trump of asking to quash the Michael Flynn investigation dropped, a special prosecutor has been named, subpoenas issued, and finally today comes an audio tape of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan swearing the GOP members to secret regarding Trump being funded by Russia.

There have been times in my life where I have felt exacerbated by the information stream. There have been times where I felt those who seek to lead us to do so because of a need for power and influence without the character to wield power and influence. There has not been a time before now that I truly felt the need to piss into the wind just so I could feel some passing warmth.

What the entire fuck is happening? Is one party essentially complicit in undermining our sovereignty, elections, and democracy so they could push an ideological agenda? That’s where we are? Trickle down Keynesian Ecofuckinnomics has been such a colossal failure that we need to sell our souls to the Kremlin to push more tax cuts?

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “ The ugly fallout from the American Dream has been coming down on us at a pretty consistent rate since Sitting Bull’s time — and the only real difference now, with Election Day ’72 only a few weeks away, is that we seem to be on the verge of ratifying the fallout and forgetting the Dream itself.” Well, I’m hear to tell you that the dream died a long time ago and we’ve been trying to make a baby by fucking her corpse.

Someone on Twitter today asked the great Patton Oswalt, “Where is our Hunter S. Thompson in this Watergate scenario?” His reply was simple — “Sadly, I think our HST in this thing is the entirety of Twitter?”

Is that true? Do we not have a codifying,if not crazy voice of a madman who seems to be shaking his fist at the sun until you put him in context? Who is going to be the person who steps up and says the things we need to?

I’m not saying we lack those with the vocal and testicular fortitude to speak up. Keith Olberman, risen again from the depths of journalistic Hades, dials it up on the GQ YouTube channel. Dan Rather writes deeply sensible paragraphs on the tragedy unfolding in America today.

The politeness of society has melted away, and the shock and awe of gonzo writing exist in nearly every meme, every article on Medium, every tweet. The anger is real, the people are all fucking crazy, and this political hurricane of piss we find ourselves swirling around in is about to land on the house with a witch named Paul Ryan.

There will be those on the right who put their version of reality, their version of country, and their party in front of the facts. They will deny their eyes, their ears, and the river of fecal extravaganza rising around them until the weight and smell of that shit is so overpowering they have to move.

In the wise words of Samuel L. Jackson, I offer the following two quotes:
“I am sick of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.”
“Hold onto your butts.”

It took 20 years to finish college, and you can too

I’m 38 years old and this last December I finished my Bachelor’s degree in English from Arizona State University.

It’s not often that we get to take real time for self-reflection and journey back through our works from the past to see how far we’ve come. My collegiate career has been atypical than that of most who find themselves at the end of the journey reflecting on what they’ve learned. I started this journey as most do, when I was eighteen — but now, graduating from Arizona State University, after twenty years of work at the age of thirty-eight, I find that revisiting past work isn’t just seeing how far my education has come, but also how far I’ve come as a person.

I graduated high school in 1996 and had little aspirations of attending college. I was an IT guy at the height of the dot-com bubble and college just didn’t make a lot of sense. Reflexively, mostly on a whim, I enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College, signing up for English 1A: College Composition. I sat there on the first day surrounded by classmates from High School, and it felt more like Thirteenth Grade rather than my next step in education or life.Three weeks later I dropped out and focused on my career.

About a year or so after that I found myself living the college lifestyle in Davis, California. I went to the parties, the football games, hung out on the quad; I did everything one does in those years of personal exploration — except get an education. My friends were all students, but I wasn’t. When I sometimes run into someone from those days that they are inevitably surprised to learn I was never a student. “But you lived in the dorms!” They say. “IT security in the 90’s was pretty lax” I joke back. Meanwhile, I continued my career, working IT jobs, and progressing professionally step-by-step. I did, on two separate occasions enroll in community college, again dropping out both times within weeks — because in truth I didn’t see the point. I had all of the social benefits and felt like I didn’t need the educational ones. I was wrong.

After putting the time in, by 2003, I was well on my way in my career and my life. I was engaged to get married, getting promoted at work, and overall doing well — but in the quietest part of my soul something still bugged me about having tried and failed three previous times at college. I enrolled in English 300 — College Composition at Sacramento City College with the sole intent of simply passing the class that had beaten me thrice before. This time, however, I found that it was easy.

Really easy.

It seems that in the intervening times between attempts I’d grown up a little. I learned to think, to listen, to be enthralled by education. I was so encouraged I took another class. Then another. Then more. I discovered in myself a love of the process. I loved to learn, and what’s more is that I was pretty good at it. I discovered that the frustrations that plagued me during high school had fallen away and all that was left was a simple humility and openness to be more. I discovered that the benefits of schooling go well beyond the class materials, and touch every aspect of your life.

I continued taking classes — sometimes just one, sometimes four — whatever I could fit into my schedule. I never even considered a major or a degree. I simply kept going for this newfound love of learning.

Some years later my profession took me and my family to Canada. It was an incredible experience where I grew professionally and personally. I learned so much, but for those three years, even though I wasn’t taking any classes, school never left my mind. I even applied and was accepted (much to my surprise) to the University of Calgary, but didn’t attend over finances. Another career opportunity presented itself, and I took another major step forward, returning to the United States — specifically to Scottsdale, Arizona. Within the first three months, I researched the local community college and was excited to resume my studies and rediscover my love of education. Mostly on a whim, and with zero expectation, but encouraged by my UOC acceptance, I applied to Arizona State University and was accepted. Over the next five years, I took classes when I could. Sometimes on campus, mostly online — but kept just chipping away.

The collegiate journey for me has been one of persistence. It’s been one of tenacity and self-growth. It has been with me my entire adult life and now that it’s coming to an end in many ways I feel more sad than excited. It was hard to balance family, work, fatherhood, and personal time with classes and school — but I want more. I don’t know what’s next. I haven’t decided on that yet. For now though I’m planning on taking a deep breathe, maybe raise a glass to myself, and find a place on my wall for my new Bachelors Degree.

The greater lesson in this, the lesson I hope my children will one day understand, the lesson about myself that took nearly twenty years to learn, is simply to keep trying. It’s cliché for sure, but clichés are such that they are based on truths and persistence. If you want a degree, even if it takes you twenty years, keep trying. If you want a better career, to learn a new skill, to be more than you are now — keep trying. Leave complacency to the other person, put your effort on the table, and whether it takes a day or twenty years, keep trying. The effort itself is also a reward.

If you haven’t started yet, stop waiting for the right catalyst, the right moment, or the right motivation to come. If you want to be more, take any action, no matter how small, and start that journey. Waiting costs nothing, weighs nothing, and delivers nothing. The road may be long, but you’ll never know until you take the first step.

If you want to know where to start, reach out. I can’t walk to the Emerald City with you, but I can show you where to start on the Yellow Brick Road.

IKEA: The Norse God of Regret

A bit of musing on IKEA

 

I needed a dresser. Well, I suppose need isn’t the right word, but it is the universally agreed upon way to store one’s clothes and who am I to go against convention? Having just resettled in the Sacramento Valley I took a cursory glance at the internet to determine where one could easily acquire a piece of furniture that was functional, aesthetically pleasing, and within the general price range I wanted to pay. Dressers, as you may have guessed, vary wildly in price. They go from cheap pieces of shit all the way up to hand-crafted, rare wood, absurdly expensive pieces of shit. I wanted something that wouldn’t buckle under the sheer weight of my underwear, but also wasn’t made by a sacred village of furniture artisans only recently discovered in the Amazon rainforest. It took mere seconds online to come up with that singular word that I’m fairly sure is Swedish for Cluster Fuck: “IKEA”.

I’ve been in IKEA before, but not in years – and what’s more the last IKEA I was in was a Canadian IKEA – a people and culture world renowned for their courtesy and politeness, and even then I barely avoided a knife fight over the last collapsible laundry basket. IKEA in my mind is where your day goes to die. It’s the place where the hopes and dreams you woke with are slowly tortured out of you in a rainbow haze of inexpensive furniture and meatballs. I knew it was the best option. They’d have a dresser, sub two-hundred dollars, and I’m handy so I’m not afraid to assemble. It all made sense on paper, but even then I had reservations. I’d have a free couple of hours on Saturday morning and going to IKEA on a weekend is akin to being in Pamplona during the running of the bulls with a severe limp and a bad case of diarrhea: You might get trampled or shit yourself. Maybe both. What’s more is that in a total collapse of mental acuity I decided to bring my kids. Now I’d not only be defending my own psyche from the overwhelming desire to own a new rubber spatula – but also fending off the pitiful yammers of children who want their room to look like that room.

Before we left I cleared some room in the car, folding the seats down in my SUV knowing that as much as I loathed IKEA, she also sings a siren song calling in sailors to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Who knows what waits to seduce me with its low price and cheap craftsmanship within the confines of that building? Who knows how long I’ll be able to withstand the evolutionary bestowed upon cuteness of my daughter’s eyes that allow her to make me buy things for her and not kill her for meat. Finally, having satisfactorily rearranged my car to accommodate two children and a rash of bad decisions yet made, we set out on our journey.

The drive over wasn’t long enough. Maybe seven minutes. I live seven effing minutes from IKEA. This fact disturbs me greatly as it means I’m always seven minutes from emptying my bank account in an uncontrollable meatball binge. Seven minutes from rustic outdoor décor… from kitchy wall prints of Marilyn Monroe… seven minutes from more wicker baskets then any one single parent should own. What in the great wide blue fuck do people keep with wicker baskets?

Looking for a parking spot I see that there is an entire section near the front, for “families,” and I think to myself – “Oh Shit! That’s us!” I may have thought that out loud… which explains why my daughter from the back quickly shot back, “swear jar.” Dammit – this trip was already costing me money and I hadn’t even parked the car yet. I pulled into a spot and handed a dollar back, which she took with a smug, satisfied look.

My daughter is eight. I don’t worry much about her. She’s smart and feisty. I’m not scared about the possibility of her getting misplaced amidst the folds of IKEA. My son is five, and a bit scatterbrained. He has a tendency to examine something so thoroughly that he understands not only the assembly of a thing, but the philosophical drive that created it. He’s a thinker. If I’m not careful I could lose him as he’s trying to work out the nuances of Swedish philosophy as it relates to decorative shelving.

We enter and are immediately presented with the choice: Do we venture upstairs, where the store seduces you with its unique and well-designed room vignettes; or do we venture straight into the “marketplace” and start filling our cart with trinkets. I freeze, unsure of what to do. It’s my daughter who jumps on the escalator and makes the choice for us.

At the top we’re again offered a choice. To our left is the first section with a series of couches along a path neatly plotted on the floor; to our right is the cafeteria with the wafting smell of meatballs. The smell is so good that I think my stomach growled out its own “Oh shiiiiiit…” – I hand my daughter a dollar and say, “You guys want to get food first?” This was less of a question than a demand using my dad voice. My daughter, having known me for a while, says “Nope,” pockets the dollar, and heads down the path. My son, who likes her taste in toys more than mine, follows her.

It’s on. We weave through the living rooms. Then the kitchens. The Bathrooms. The bedrooms. The Kids rooms. It was an hour of…

“Oh, look at this end table!”

“Oh, look at this shoe rack!”

“See! This is the thing that will be perfect for that spot!”

“Oh shit! This is the thing I’ve been trying to find for a year” (hands over dollar).

“No, you can’t have bunk beds! You already have bunk beds!”

“I don’t know why that woman smells like that.”

We were hypnotized. The place had it. At some point we stopped walking the path and began dancing it. It was as IKEA had seduced us and we had ascended to Swedish heaven. We lay in beds. We sat in chairs. I went into an absurdly small water closet and sat on the toilet to see if this claustrophobic little bathroom was something that wouldn’t terrify the literal shit out of me. The people around us also danced – sometime in unison. How long had we been there? Days? Weeks? I expected the world outside to have fallen into a post-apocalyptic zombie uprising while we lucky few danced for eternity in the fluorescent joy. Odin never vanquished the Frost Giants, he just built them a damn IKEA.

The spell is broken when my son utters the magic rune that has gotten us out of plenty of bad situations before, “Daddy. I have to go potty.” The opium of cheap furniture seeps out of my pores and my parental lizard brain kicks in. I grab his hand and the look on his face tells me it’s go time. This is no time to walk. He is moments from unleashing his American manifest destiny on the floor of IKEA and creating an international incident. I see a sign, then another, and another – and in a flash my daughter and I are sitting on a lonely bench, in a lonely hall, listening to my son eek out a rather loud grumpy through the men’s room door. A woman on a rascal scooter rode into the family rest room just as my boy let out a rather descriptive “It’s really biiiiggggg.” I don’t encourage this type of behavior, but it’s rather difficult to discourage it. Fecal humor is funny at any age.

I take the fifteen minutes to collect my thoughts and reprioritize the rather long list of “must haves” I’ve come up with over the last hour. Shoe rack. Dresser. Miscellaneous. I can get out of here under $200. It’s possible. I hear the hand dryer going off in the bathroom and know we’re close getting back on the horse. My son emerges looking flustered and a tad like he just wrestled a bear. I’m determined to get out, so I grab their hands and guide them to the marketplace downstairs.

“Should we get a cart?” Damn my daughter and her reasonable thoughts! A cart? A CART? Do you know what will happen with a goddamn cart?

“Sure sweetheart,” I tell her and we’re off. My list is small but things are jumping out at me.

“Yes you can have a new bed spread. Pick one out.”

“Sure we can get that whisk.”

“Of course we can buy that wicker [expletive deleted] basket.”

The cart is full. We finally reach the end and get in line. I look over the bounty – which is a weird word considering I feel like I’ve just been hypnotized by the Norse God of Regret. The line is long – long enough that three more impulse items make it into the cart. We make it to check out and I’m actually starting to feel heart palpitations as she rings up item after item. How did I end up with this much crap?

The bill comes out to $458.73. I can actually hear my credit card scream as I run it through the point of sale machine.

Not long later the car is loaded and we’re eating at the International House of Pancakes. It seemed apropos considering the international adventure we just had.

In the end I got the dresser I wanted. Along with a bevy of other items – and I can still hear the call. She sings to me every time I see an empty space that could be filled with something. Every time I think to myself, “I need a…” then I stop. Take a deep breathe. Tell myself, “you don’t need any more of that shit,” and hand my daughter a dollar.

Tunnels & Light

 

 

For much of my life I’ve been screaming at the wind that the tenacity of an idea doesn’t necessarily instill it with value. Simply because we’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean we shouldn’t re-evaluate to see if there is a path that is more efficient, more effective. Too often it seems that people find themselves immobile in their complacency toward tradition and repetition.

This concept is something I’ve constantly tried to employ in my own life as a parent, as a professional, and as a student. It’s not remotely easy. In fact, there is beautiful simplistic innocence that comes with doing something the way it’s always been done. How can it be wrong? It’s always been done that way. What’s more is that it’s often not wrong.

As a parent, this couldn’t be more relevant. I’m constantly questioning “conventional” wisdom with my children and forging my own path with them. There are lots of good things in conventional thinking – but also lots of stifling things that don’t make sense to me. It’s true for me in religion, in marriage, in sports, in work, and in life. The thing I seem to always have at my disposal is skepticism.

With progress comes good and bad. The beauty of evaluation is that it’s constant. It’s fluid. It’s an ideal that must constantly be applied. Whether it be religion, or belief, or politics, or social issues – having the gravitas to step back and ask the simple question of whether there is a better way for you, the individual, to accomplish that task; and then broadening the question –  do we, as a family… or a community… or a city… or a state… or a nation, have audacity to ask the question of not just what are we trying to accomplish, but how are we going to accomplish it.

The tenacity, or staying power, or immortality of an idea doesn’t instill it with value. It may still be valuable – but just because we’ve seemingly always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s still the right way.
Writing for me is oxygen. It’s the only form of artistic expression I feel I can adequately do. There is often a screaming chaos inside of me, and as I can’t paint, play an instrument, or sing to save my life, the written word is my sword; the period and semi-colon the arrows in my sling. For me, having the opportunity to share my most beloved expression with strangers and professors is an honor and a privilege. I do so knowing that it will be judged and evaluated, but I also do so knowing that it’s judged and evaluated so that it can be better. It can be sharper, tighter, and ultimately more refined. That’s the beauty of writing – it’s ever evolving. On a whim I may change a word in a paragraph that has remained static for months. I may add an adjective, or change gears and delete a sentence entirely. Neither is wrong, but both aren’t right either. Outside of grammar and structure, and even withing sometimes, there is no right or wrong in writing. There is beauty, there is art, and there is effort. Ultimately, it’s the ultimate form of breaking away from complacency. What happens on the page is different moment to moment, day to day, month to month.