PHONE JACKS …

That damn phone jack bothers me.

I see it literally every day of my life and it just bothers me. It’s there doing nothing. It will never be used again. It is obsolete. And yet it wasn’t that long ago when we had to make allowances for where the “phone would go” in any given room.

Now, that plastic covered wire center is nothing more than a relic of the distant past. We haven’t used a land line, connected to phone cables, in years. And every time I look down at that thing it gets me thinking …

Why isn’t there a “Phone Research Endowment” in the government? Or, the P.R.E. (it’s all about the acronym). Why don’t we have to stand in line and have congressional hearings to get funding for phone development? Why don’t we have to apply for grants and fill out paper work in triplicate and cross our fingers that we got the wording right in our dissertations? Why don’t we hold national referendums and vote on which direction phone technology will go?

The answer is simple, really. Phones are doing just fine without the government. Yes, communication is regulated to a degree. But while we are barking and marching and protesting everything under the sun, we’re texting our friends to make sure they meet us at the designated protest site. Then we’re Tweeting where we are and what we’re doing. We’re posting pictures of our protest to Instagram and Face Booking live our utter disdain for this or that.

Yes, while we’re arguing back and forth about politics and all things related to it, phones are quietly changing the world. So, why aren’t they funded by the government? Because they don’t need to be.

The President’s new budget came out this week and the gasps could be heard all around the country. To be fair, I haven’t read it. And to be fairer …I don’t actually need to. I’m absolutely certain he’s cutting things that are making people livid. There is life and death in that budget. I get it.

But here’s the thing …

Conservatives often get labeled as “monsters” and “inhumane” and (my personal favorite) “draconian” (although I defy anyone to define that word without Google.)

The buttoned-down white guy with the fresh haircut and boring suit is often made to look like Satan incarnate, when he proposes a governmental budget cut. Kids aren’t going to get lunch. Grandma is going to die. Things aren’t going to get funded. But he’s DEFINITELY giving his “fat cat” friends a tax cut. That’s for sure!

If you see a government’s budget through that prism, you’re not alone. Many people do. And I totally understand your anger. But I keep going back to those phone jacks …

The thing is this: just because someone believes the government shouldn’t fund something, doesn’t mean they believe it shouldn’t be funded. Let me explain …

I’ve always been for de-funding the NEA. That’s weird because I live and breathe in the arts. Why on earth would I want art to be DE-funded?!?! That doesn’t make any sense. Does it?

The thing is art was funded just fine before the NEA was put in place, in 1965. The Beatles’ “Help” got made. Yesterday got written. Elvis recorded Hound Dog. Frank Sinatra recorded Come Fly With Me. Annie Get Your Gun was produced. Rhapsody In Blue was composed. Hank Williams lived, wrote and died. Citizen Kane (ranked one of the greatest films in history on EVERY recognized list) was shot. James Brown made records. Aretha Franklin made records. Jackson Pollock dribbled on canvass. There was art …BEFORE the National Endowment of the Arts was ever even thought about. Why? Because the genius of the free market had allowed it to happen.

I not only want art to be made, I want it to be FREELY made and as unconstrained as possible. In China I remember hearing about how the state owns all intellectual property …including copyrights. And my heart sank. That is the end game for those who want a safe artistic space. Government funded art is always suspect to me.

I understand the funding of school bands and local art centers and things of that nature. But there is nothing in our society that the NEA COMPLETELY funds. So when it comes to government funded art, if there’s not enough …there’s too much. Let the project find its own legs and its own way. And let the government stay out of it. That’s MY opinion.

As we debate this upcoming budget, I keep seeing that stupid phone jack in my living room and remembering: just because the government doesn’t fund it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t get funded. And THAT’S the essence of the conservative view point.

Do I want art funded? Absolutely! It’s my life’s blood. But I keep seeing Mozart standing at the mercy of Emperor Joseph II, as he tells him, “there are too many notes.” THAT’S what happens when the government funds your anything. Some duly elected official tells you you’ve written too many notes. No thanks.

I believe the concept of “other” funding can apply to science and healthcare and a half dozen other things we think can only be funded out of Washington DC.

Sometimes well-meaning friends of mine tell me I should run for office. I always tell them no I shouldn’t. When they ask why, I give them the same answer: “Because you probably wouldn’t vote for me.”

And the reason is I would lobby to de-fund a lot of stuff I think could be more efficiently funded OUTSIDE of the government sphere. On the surface it would look like I didn’t care about such things surviving. But the truth is I would be setting them free to find greener and more creative pastures outside the government prison.

You see, I love texts and siri and tweeting and updated posts and all of the things we do on our phones …that are not funded by government. And I would love to see how cool everything else in our life could become if we found a way to fund it in a way that didn’t involve tax dollars.

If you’re reading this on your phone, maybe you would too …whether you know it or not.

R

THE STRAIGHT STORY …

We were already opening champagne anyway …don’t ask. Let’s just say it’s not uncommon to open champagne at my house. Don’t judge.

Anyway …

The flip phone rang. In those days I usually unflipped it and said, “hello.” These were different times. The voice on the other end was a dear friend who was breathless, “Turn on American Idol right now. Krippayne is on. He won a contest. He’s on camera right now. Ok. Bye!”

So, I grabbed the remote and flipped over to American Idol. And sure enough, there was my friend Scott Krippayne, talking to Ryan Seacrest about the coronation song he’d written. I had no idea such a thing existed. I soon pieced together that Idol had run some sort of songwriting contest in tandem with the show itself. And I learned – right there, in real time – that my friend of well over a decade had won said contest.

I distinctly remember my wife and I doing a little victory dance around the kitchen bar and toasting Scott and his wife Katie. Then I began calling other mutual friends to discuss the awesome news of our dear friend. This was a “chalk one up for the good guys” moment.

Months later, Scott flew in from Seattle (where he lives) to Nashville (where I live). We had drinks at a local bar and grill with several other friends. After a few minutes we got him to tell us about his American Idol experience. It took all of fifteen minutes and was sandwiched in the middle of a conversation about kids, wives, the state of the music industry, and probably a dozen other minor issues and topics unique to old friends. It certainly didn’t dominate the conversation. It was just great seeing him.

The following American Idol season, I entered the same song contest, at the behest of my wife. I called Scott for pointers in entering. He had none. He simply told me “good luck.”

Then I called a friend who knew some people at 19 Management. I asked if HE knew any inside info on the contest. He said he didn’t. And again, “good luck.”

After I entered the song, I called him back to see if he could at least confirm that my song was entered correctly. He called a friend of a friend who confirmed that my title was in the data base. Other than that, “good luck.”

That was all I got from anyone in the 2008 American Idol songwriting contest. Even though I “knew some people.”

After I won the contest, some VERY angry songwriters began piecing together a theory. They postulated that the connection between Scott and I was simply TOO close to be coincidence. They refused to accept the results of the contest because Scott Krippayne and I had a prior relationship. And they were absolutely right. We did. A close one.

And THAT fact alone HAD to mean that something about this “contest” didn’t smell right …if it actually WAS a contest at all. Someone did the math on forty-two thousand entries – at ten bucks a pop – and was fairly certain American Idol had created a “fake” contest in order to make an extra four hundred thousand dollars. And they concluded that the songwriters were pre-determined from the beginning. The proof was in the fact that Scott and I knew each other prior to the contest. And that we were both professionals. And this was supposed to be a contest for amateurs ONLY.

The truth was this: the contest rules said nothing about “amateur” or “professional.” They were only looking for UNPUBLISHED works. Scott and I both owned our own publishing at the times we entered. And if you had any real sense of how much money American Idol was making at the time, you’d know that an extra four hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t have been worth the time for them to set up a website and hold the contest. They were making that much money on any given 30-second spot.

After hiring the extra people needed to comb through the thousands of songs, they actually broke even on the contest.

Their REAL goal in setting up the contest was to simply be able to control the copyright of the coronation song. That was all. They had used songs in the past that were published and well known works as their coronation songs. And they’d had so much difficulty in getting permission to license them they decided to control the process as much as possible. I totally got it from a business stand point.

But if you are a songwriter who just poured your heart and soul into a song you truly believe should be heard by the world, and you feel like you’ve been duped and railroaded, you don’t want to understand such things. It feels better to believe two guys met in a dark room, somewhere, with American Idol executives and cooked up a plan to take advantage of you and get your ten bucks.

I can assure you I have not, to this very moment, EVER met with an American Idol executive. I’ve tried. But they don’t know (or care) who I am.

Still, there were class-action lawsuits pending and public accusations and dedicated blogs and web sites devoted to getting to the bottom of this issue …that did not exist. Ever.

By the time my finale night came around, my ONE contact at the show pleaded with me to NOT bring up Scott’s name in any of the press I did. He told me that the controversy (that was completely MADE UP) was so heated that they were probably never going to do the contest again. His exact words were, “I work around creative people and songwriters have proven to be the craziest of the bunch.” I could’ve told him that part.

Why do I bring all this up now? Almost a decade later? Because I was an eye-witness to – in fact, a PARTY to – a wave of assumption that had absolutely NO basis in reality. But it got traction. It got scrutiny and investigation. It got enough believers in it to make a board room of executives, of the most popular TV show on the planet, shut down a contest that might’ve launched or saved the careers of a few more songwriters. That last part has always made me sad.

I’m really glad Face Book and Twitter didn’t exist back then. I often wonder what the outcry would’ve been if there had been platforms with such power to persuade during my contest controversy. I have no doubt I would’ve been forced to forfeit the contest, somehow. Because even if a thing is not true, if enough people believe it …it almost becomes true. When a huge consciousness moves in a certain direction, the truth almost doesn’t matter anymore.

As I watch media forces play tug-of-war with our current president and his alleged entanglements, I stay silent on these issues. I don’t post “reports” or “breaking news.” And I don’t write opinions on whether I believe or disbelieve this or that. I didn’t do that with the last president either.

I’ve seen, first hand, how simple, well-intentioned truth can get buried in an avalanche of noise. I’ve lived it. And I just don’t jump to conclusions anymore.

Did Donald Trump collude with the Russians to rig an election? Maybe. Maybe not. I have no idea. Neither do you. Could it have happened? Sure. Anything could and can happen.

But through my own experience, I’ve learned to wait and listen. And I’ve also learned that the truth – the straight story – is probably not what anybody thinks it is. It may be worse than you think …or it may be better.

Either way, I’m sure there are still some songwriters out there who think I somehow stole an opportunity from them. No one can know for sure that I didn’t. You can only decide to believe me or not.

Unless we get evidence to the contrary (and we might – I have no dog in the fight either way), my hunch is we’re going to have to finally accept our 2016 presidential election results in much the same way.

R

MAMA KNOWS …

I’m THAT dad.

The one who says, “rub some dirt on it. Walk it off. You’re fine. It’s just a scratch.” I never believe anything is anything. Everything is nothing …to me.

I don’t like to panic the kids. I like to get all the facts before I rush off to the emergency room. I know that some things feel worse at the time than they actually are. Injuries need to be addressed logically and calmly. That’s how dads do it. That’s how I do it.

But my wife, on the other hand, can FEEL when something isn’t right. She can hear something in the way one of my children is crying, that tells her something. It tells her something it doesn’t tell me.

Once, my daughter was given a certain drug for an ear infection. My wife knew nothing about the drug scientifically. But she kept saying, “THAT drug is not working. I know it. I can tell.”

This bothered me a great deal. Because I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember when my wife got a medical degree. With my daughter being non-verbal, she couldn’t tell us if her ear was feeling better or not. But somehow my wife could SENSE that she wasn’t getting better. I thought she was fine. But finally, on a Sunday, my wife dragged us both to the ER and forced a doctor to take another look at the ear in question. I thought the doctor was going to say, “Mom, rest easy. Everything is okay. She’s doing just fine.”

But instead what the doctor said was, “Mom …good call. This medication hasn’t been working. And the infection has gotten worse. We need to change medications.”

I’m not gonna lie …I was stunned.

This past weekend my son went to one of those bouncy places with his cousins. Apparently, on one epic jump, he landed the wrong way on his wrist. My father called to let us know he had hurt himself a little but that everything was okay. I was satisfied with the call. But my wife heard my son crying beyond my father’s voice and KNEW everything was, indeed, NOT okay. She heard something in his cry that bothered her …through the phone …in the background.

We had dinner guests over. But my wife excused herself and jumped in the car to go bring my son home. After she left, the guests asked me if I thought the damage was as bad as my wife thought it was. My answer was, “I can’t imagine that place would allow my son to leave with a broken arm. And I can’t imagine they wouldn’t know something serious if they saw it.” But I finished the sentence with, “but she needs to do what she needs to do. And we will see.”

My son came home, took and Advil, and went to bed. His wrist didn’t look that bad when he went to bed. I thought maybe he’d sprained it. And I HOPED my wife had been overly cautious. But when he woke up the next morning, his wrist was swollen and in pain. My wife jumped into action and rushed him to the ER, where they found that he had actually BROKEN his wrist. He came back home in a full cast.

And again, I marveled at my wife’s intuition with all of this. Left up to me, I shudder to think of what condition my children would constantly be in. But the mother “sense” is strong. They know stuff. They know when their children are in distress. Even if they didn’t give birth to the child, they still know.

Both my children are adopted. But my wife still has this strange, spiritual connection to them that I cannot comprehend. I love them with all my heart. I would lay down on train tracks for them without thinking twice about it. But I can’t look into their eyes and know they are scared. I can’t tell by the way they hold their head that they had an incident at school. I don’t hear the same thing in the tone of their voice that she does.

THIS is what mothers are all about. Moms know. They just do. You might think you’re fooling yours. But you’re not. She knows you’re in pain. She knows you’re having trouble. She knows you’re battling an addiction. She knows you’re lonely. She knows you’re unhappy. She knows you’re depressed. And that’s why she prays for you for seemingly no reason.

When she calls you and says, “I’ve been thinking about you,” don’t blow it off. Don’t just try to hurry and get off the line. She’s dialed in to you somehow …even if she’s driving you crazy in the process.

Mothers don’t just love us. They KNOW us. And they know us until the day we …or THEY …die.

So, do something nice for your mother today. She feels things about you all the time.

And SHE knows you’ve got a broken arm …even if YOU don’t.

R

THE IL …

As I type this, FBI director James Comey, has just been fired by president Donald Trump. If you’re reading this years from now, that will be an important fact.

The firing of Mr Comey has set off a fire storm of innuendo and speculation about a certain theory. The theory is that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government to hack into the DNC email servers, in order to release private emails to the world that would show Hillary Clinton in a bad light …thus swaying voters to vote for him. I think that’s about the gist of it.

As of yet, this theory has yet to be proven. We do know the Russians tampered. We just don’t know why. But if the collusion theory ends up being true I would find that an incredibly risky move on Mr Trump’s part. After all, you don’t really know what’s in those emails. And if they just turn out to be yoga schedules and pasta recipes you’ve broken a bunch of serious laws to get that information. I personally would never take a risk like that. But that’s just me.

Conversely, the “the-world-got-to-see-first-hand-that-I-was-liar-and-that’s-why-I-lost-an-election” defense is certainly an interesting one by Mrs Clinton. The world also got to see that Mr Trump was a misogynist and yet he won. Personally, I think the reasons for who won and who lost are a million miles away from leaked emails and leaked Hollywood Reporter interviews. But none of that is the real interesting part to me.

The interesting part to me …is the infamous “il.”

According to the DNC the “hack” wasn’t as much a hack as it was a phish. Someone sent John Podesta a phishing email. Before opening it, he texted his IT guy asking if the email was legitimate. The IT guy says he meant to text, “the email is ILLEGITIMATE.” But spell check turned “ILLegitimate” into “Legitimate.” And he didn’t catch it until he read back over the texts later and realized what had happened. By then, it was too late. And through Mr Podesta’s email, dozens of other people’s emails were hacked …including Mrs Cilnton’s.

I’ve dubbed scenarios like this “the IL theory.” That’s the idea that the course of history gets changed by two letters. I think that’s just about right.

The battle of Gettysburg happened because a Union scout found Confederate battle plans wrapped in three cigars, that had fallen off some general’s horse. Three cigars changed the fate of millions of people. Wrapped around three cigars was the balance of power on planet earth, the future of slavery as an institution, the life and death of thousands of men, and the ultimate question of how the United States would continue as a nation. Three loose cigars fell off a horse …and changed every moment from that day to this.

If you study enough history, you find “ils” everywhere. Someone shoots the Archduke Ferdinand and starts WWI. Then, during that war, someone has a clear shot at a young, private Adolph Hitler …but his gun jams. How many little “ils” had to happen for that particular gun to jam at that particular time? In that one gun jamming incident hung the fate of six million Jews and millions more allies. One gun jamming. The “il” theory.

I don’t know how all this Trump/Clinton/Comey stuff will play out. It all feels like a reality show to me. Those who supported Trump still defend him. Those who hated Trump still hate him. If you thought he rigged the election, you think it even more now. If you thought Mrs Clinton was corrupt, you probably think it even more now.

NONE of that is interesting on any level. That’s all predictable and kind of a yawn. What isn’t predictable is what “il” is going to show up and turn the whole thing on a dime.

The “il” is the human folly in every endeavor of life. It’s the tiniest detail that brings down an empire. The “il” is the accidental cough, at just the right time, that keeps someone from hearing the operative word in a meeting …then they go do the opposite of what they were told to do.

The “il” is the cat’s tail that knocks over a coffee cup that stains a dress that then has to be taken to the cleaners before it normally would. And the wife, taking in the dress at the earlier time, happens to see her husband’s shirt with lipstick stains on the collar laying in a bin.

The “il” is the thing we cannot account for. It’s the maddening (seemingly) random event that can be our doing or our undoing.

And in this current climate, more than ever, the “il” is what I watch for.

 

R

RINSE CYCLE …

Before reading any further, hold your breath for ten seconds …

It’s estimated that I have over ten thousand regular readers. So, if all my readers held their breath for ten seconds, we just conserved a hundred thousand seconds of air. That’s over a minute of extra air for over sixteen hundred people. See how easy it is to make a difference? You’re welcome, world.

Did that make ANY sense to you whatsoever? No …me neither. I’m pretty sure we can’t run out of air. We can make it dirty, true enough. But we can’t run out of it. More on this later …

We had the old Maytag for twenty-one years. It had only been serviced ONCE in that time. It was a good, sturdy machine. But finally, its motor gave up the ghost on a Saturday night. It was going to be $400 to fix it or just get a new one for roughly the same price. We decided to go for a new one and make a fresh start with our clothes washing.

So, I went on the search. We wanted pretty much what we’d had: Top loader. Simple. 3 cycles. Easy, right? Nope. Apparently, in the last twenty-one years washing machines have gone through a metamorphosis …especially in the last decade. I talked to four separate dealers (all different ages and races). And they were ALL very unimpressed with the current state of washing machines. In fact, they all pretty much told me (in not so many words), “they’re all the same. It really doesn’t matter which brand you buy. And NONE of them are great.”

When did the washing machine industry stop being competitive? Why are they all built the same way, with the same problems? Well, as it turns out, it’s all about the new government “eco standards.” Built into every new washing machine is a limit on how much water you are allowed to use, how the cycles are allowed to work, how hot the water can be, etc, etc. This is the government wielding its power to protect the planet from all us wasteful, destructive humans.

One of the dealers I talked to said that the entire industry has started petitioning the government to get a lot of this regulation removed. Because there is a climate of “severe customer dissatisfaction” with the products. I had no idea there was so much turmoil brewing in the household appliance industry.

Since I had already hauled my old machine to the recycling center (because, you know …I’m environmentally conscious), I had no choice but to buy a new machine and install it. So I took a day off and did just that. And I started the first load of laundry. The “wash” feature stalled out and didn’t work. I tried it three times. When I called the manufacturer, they told me how those mandatory computer sensors go out a lot. But hey …at least they were sorry. So, I rented a truck and took another day off to take the BRAND NEW washing machine back …and get another brand new one.

While I was driving all over town, burning fossil fuels, making trips I hadn’t planned on making (in order to save a few gallons of water per year), it was raining. In fact, it rained the entire day.

The rain soaked through my clothes, as I unloaded one “high efficiency” machine and loaded another “high efficiency” machine onto my rented truck. And while I stood there drenched, I realized why people get so frustrated with government. I was losing hours and days of my life. I was spending money and burning fuel I didn’t need to burn, to keep from using water someone at a desk somewhere decided I didn’t need to use. All the while, water was literally pouring all over me.

Once I got the machine home I discovered another irony. Because of the water sensors, the new machines don’t always fully rinse your clothes. A lot of people do double rinse cycles to get the soap out. We find ourselves having to do that. So instead of saving water, we’re actually using more. But hey, at least it takes twice as long to wash the clothes, now.

I could buy a Speed Queen industrial machine (apparently we only need to save water in our own homes – NOT laundromats) but it’s not in the budget. Why is not in my budget? Because my profession (songwriting) has been devalued to almost nothing thanks to new technology models that have blazed past established royalty systems. Who set up those systems? You guessed it. Thanks, government.

I was thinking about this whole scenario while standing in yet another TSA line. We all look at each other the same way in those lines. We all know we’re not terrorists. We all know most of this is just a forced formality. We all know the teenage girl doesn’t really need to remove her flip flops for “security reasons.” We all know this whole system is a big reaction to one event that could’ve been avoided if the government had done ONE job well: keep a guy with an expired visa (Mahamad Atta) off a plane. And that’s really the essence of it.

Unbelievably, people are STILL doing the post mortem on why Hillary Clinton lost an election layup to a foul-mouthed, crude, brash political novice. I have friends who still can’t figure it out. But when I’m standing in the rain trying to save water or taking off my belt and shoes to keep air travel safe, or trying to get copyright laws that were designed for piano-roll sales (a hundred and eight years ago) to catch up to the world of digital streaming, I know why.

The government dances and we pay the band. The government cuts itself and we put on the bandages. The government eats and leaves us with the tab. And some of us just want a little reprieve.

My hunch is Donald Trump will oversee as much government overreach as any other president before him. But his election was a cry for help. It was a lot of people saying “please stop trying to fix us. Please get out of every single tiny detail of our lives. Please let us decide how much freaking water to use when we wash our clothes.”

Holding your breath to save air for other people makes no existential or scientific sense. But it’s JUST the kind of thinking that would make a great government program. Put a snappy name on it like, “The Air Share” program and I’ll bet you could force people to hold their breath a few times a day, to make an environmental difference. I could see breath holding sit-in demonstrations on college campuses. But it would still be stupid …as are so many government decrees that try to fix something that is essentially not broken.

I believe in certain regulations that make sense. I believe there is a place for government in our lives. But when people who are completely disconnected from (and ignorant of) an endeavor have complete power over that endeavor – from healthcare to music to washing machines – mistakes will be made. And we, the public, have to deal with it.

The next time you’re in a TSA line or buying a low-flow toilet or installing an “energy efficient” light bulb, hold your breath for a second. It’s all doing about the same amount of good.

 

R

THE RIVER …

I’ve always felt that the best way to win an argument is to be right and let the other side talk.

If you’re truly right, they will eventually talk themselves into a corner and get engulfed in their own frustration. And you won’t have to say that many words. The world will know. But in order to have that kind of a debate, everyone must be allowed to speak their mind openly and freely. For my money, the first amendment is the most important one for just that reason. Maybe that’s why it’s the FIRST one.

There aren’t many things I will march for. I wouldn’t march with Promise Keepers or Tea Partiers or Occupiers or women or men or …well …anyone. I don’t march. It just never looks like a good time to me. I don’t know if it ever solves anything and it just always feels like a bunch of people yelling out in the heat. I don’t like loud noises and I’m not fond of chafing. So, no …I don’t march.

But if I were to ever march for anything, it would be for free speech. I’m a pretty big crusader for that right. I have made a living, my entire adult life, on freedom of speech. My father did the same and my grandfather did the same. The basic ability to say what’s on your mind is the cornerstone of the American experiment. Without it, none of the other rights matter. Speech is sacred. It’s the flowing river on which every other right we have floats or drowns. It’s the basis for all art and expression. Without basic freedom of speech we wouldn’t have Martin Luther King Jr, Buddy Holly, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner, Chris Rock, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Wayne Dyer, Madonna, Prince, Alex Jones, Sarah Silverman, Reverend Wright, Johnny Cash, Jane Fonda, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Donald Trump.

You were probably reading that, saying, “what are THEY doing on this list?!?!” Well …THEY are all people who have let us all know where they stand. It doesn’t mean we have to agree or disagree with them. It simply means that for better or worse, they have shown us who they are. And THAT is the essence of the first amendment.

I get private messages almost weekly, asking how I can tolerate this person or that person. People wonder why I keep such a wide range of opinions and points of view in my news feed. The truth is I actually WANT to hear from every side of every topic. I truly want more speech, NOT less. As long as we’re talking, we’re safe. We have everything out on the table. We see each other. The danger comes when one side clams up and accepts that they aren’t being heard.

If you’ve ever been in (or known someone in) an abusive relationship, you know they reach a point of silent acquiescence, where they simply surrender the verbal territory to the abuser. At that point, they don’t need to talk anymore. They know they’ll just get shouted down. So they plan their escape instead. Once the dialog has ended, the relationship is essentially over.

As we watch speech being shut down on college campuses, I wonder if we’re not heading for the end of a national relationship. People are still reeling from the Trump presidential win. My personal view is that they’re reeling because they were never really listening. There were voices trying to tell us, “Hey …we’re being ignored, here. We’re not being heard or understood, here. You’re missing the point, here.” And those people came out in droves to vote for the most unlikely presidential candidate in history.

This is why we must ALWAYS listen. Even if we disagree. In fact, ESPECIALLY when we disagree. Shutting down things you don’t want said isn’t actually shutting it down. It’s just moving it somewhere else. More often than not, it’s moving it further to the fringes. Shutting down speech just drives it under ground, into the arms of the like-minded. And before we know it, we have waring factions and we’re asking ourselves, “how did it ever come to this?”

In my mind’s eye I see it metaphorically …

We’re on opposite sides of a river and we’re yelling at each other, trying to find a safe place to cross. If someone on one side of the river stops listening to the person on the other side, they might still find that place to cross on their own. But while they were finding the crossing point on their own and not listening to the yelling person on the other side, the person being ignored gave up on the yelling and simply found people on their own side of the river to talk to.

By the time the person looking for the crossing point gets across, they will encounter a tribe they do not know or understand. Because they haven’t been talking to them. They stopped listening. And by the time they get to common ground it isn’t common anymore. The ignored tribe has made its own rules and set its own course. And now it doesn’t see someone who was looking for common ground. It only sees an intruder. An invader. A threat.

And it could’ve all been avoided if they had just kept yelling at each other.

I welcome all points of view in my world. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with all points of view. I believe there are wrong points of view and right ones. I believe in certain things and won’t budge on certain core principles. But if I only talk to people I like or agree with I will stop understanding the person on the other side of the river; the person I’m trying to get to. And that’s how we go backward instead of forward.

No one has the right to be heard. Your’e not guaranteed a crowd. But everyone should have the right to speak. We need to know who you are. Your speech tells the world where you stand. It lets us know if you are a good soul or a bully. It lets us know how you feel about things. It puts everything on the record. And that is as it should be.

When I find myself in an argument with someone, I end up wanting them to say more …not less. They’re letting me know everything I need to know.

And THAT helps me determine if they’re worth crossing the river for.

R

RED EYE …

It was William F Buckley.

He was the one who sent me down a certain path in my late teens. I was in another hotel room, on another tour, flipping through the same channels, trying to pass the time and quell the abject boredom, when I happened on an in-depth interview with him. He wasn’t talking about politics as much as he was talking about human behavior. As a songwriter, THAT got my attention.

I was raised around southern Democrats who had all turned for Reagan when they got a stiff dose of just how bad presidential policies can be, in Jimmy Carter. I probably leaned conservative (as did most of the country) in certain things already. I mean those were the dark ages when your gender was based on whether or not you had a penis or a vagina; when enforcing immigration law wasn’t considered fascism; when lowering taxes was thought to be a good thing and not an act of pure evil; and when loving your country was something actually expected of you instead of a scarlet letter of racism branded on your forehead.

But I didn’t pay too much attention to political thought or theory …until that day. Buckley didn’t talk about Ds and Rs and prattle on in hack political jargon. He talked about motivating principles. What do we as humans all want? Need? Expect? How do we achieve those things? Where does the government fit in to those needs? Where does it NOT fit? Is it present in places it shouldn’t be? Is it NOT present in places it should be?

And what of the people IN government itself? What are their motivating principles? Are they inherently better people – more inherently moral – because they work in government instead of the private sector?

These questions are at the core of any writer’s day-to-day work. Finding out why people do what they do is part of my job description. Buckley led to Milton Friedman and de Tocqueville and Thomas Sowell and many others. And becoming a “conservative” (for me, at least) was more about an odyssey of political thought than it was a knee-jerk reaction to personalities and sound bytes in sensational news stories.

The big problem with a conservative (or what it actually is: classic liberal, which is what I am and what most “libertarians” are) is that it often puts you in the same camp with some of the least thoughtful, least savvy, least articulate politicians this country can produce. And as the token conservative in any room (especially in the entertainment business), I have often found myself being forced in a corner to defend the indefensible.

For the record, I’ve never used the phrase “legitimate rape” or “Adam and Steve” or “Freedom Fries” or any of the cliches that have so often turned some conservatives into …well …cliches.

And so I, like so many others like me, have laughed along with one-sided SNL sketches and late night talk show host jabs and looked past all the absurd Hollywood stereotypes of conservatives, to try and enjoy a movie or sit com. Even when I know they are mischaracterizing ME, I let it go. Because …you know …it’s no big deal. And I allow for all the speeches at the Oscars and Grammy’s and chalked it all up to …I dunno …whatever.

But one night I was again flipping through channels (I do that a lot), when I stumbled on a show at 3 in the morning. I had no idea what network it was on. All I knew is these guys were on fire comedically and their humor was right in line with my own. I perked up and laughed out loud (I hardly ever do that). It felt as though I’d found some kinship out there in TV land.

I’d never seen anyone send up the things I had always rolled MY eyes at but had no one to roll them along with me. These guys weren’t afraid to jump all over the absurdity of sacred cows on the right AND left. They were able to riff on subjects that drive conservatives nuts. They took shots at celebrities (in the right way – not the “barely missing the mark by someone too old to actually get it” way). They were completely on the bleeding edge of culture and weren’t afraid to push the envelope. They were doing jokes inside jokes inside jokes. They were taking nothing, including and ESPECIALLY themselves, seriously.

After the first commercial I realized this was the FOX News Channel. And the show was called Red Eye. From that moment on, I was hooked.

The high-strung host would shamelessly get the names of bands and their songs wrong. Then make the passing comment about house boys being tied in his basement, while making cogent arguments about congressional budgets and culture clashes. Clearly he was moving in and out of schtick so fast it made my head spin; spoofing the straight-faced media host who constantly gets things wrong and doesn’t know it, while simultaneously dissecting the stupidity of things that would be called out by “mainstream” comedians …if they themselves weren’t a part of that stupidity. He played it straight and unapologetic.

It was more edgy and fast-paced than the slow-plodding Colbert (who had one overtly obvious running gag) and was operating on a few different levels than even than patron saint of the humor/news mashup, John Stewart (one of Stewart’s writers even ended up as the Red Eye host, later).

There was a character named “TV’s Andy Levy” (halftime ombudsman) which was a clear send up of people being “TV’s” something. Famous for nothing, yet there. We have no idea why, but we just accept it as if it’s supposed to be. Sidekick Bill Shultz was the easy-going liberal balance to host Greg Gutfeld’s brash, intractable character.

Then there would always be a beautiful female guest who was unapologetically showing almost too much leg. It was a literal, living joke about Fox News, itself. And if you weren’t paying close attention and you didn’t understand the context or the “send up” factor, you wouldn’t get all the subtlety. The whole thing was genius.

When my first book came out, my publicist asked me what shows I wanted to do. I said I only wanted to do one: Red Eye. She looked at me like I had three heads. “Seriously? Not Oprah? You want to do that little show at 3 in the morning?”

I told her I would obviously do whatever show she set up, but Red Eye was the only place on the TV dial where I thought I might feel completely comfortable. So, she made some calls and got me on the show. And I did indeed hit it off with the guys. My first run-in with (then) host Greg Gutfeld was when he caught me coming out of the bathroom. He didn’t lecture me about the “slant” of the show or give me any pointers on what or what not to say. He simply introduced himself and said, “I got one rule on this show. Don’t F&*k up!” Ten minutes later …we were on the air together.

Later that night, we shut down a bar, discussing everything from spirituality, love, Jesus and oblivion to wine and wives to weight and nutrition to the absurdity of fame.

His (then) sidekick Bill Shultz was a very sweet man who had actually done research on my daughter’s condition before I came on the show (hardly anyone really ever does that). I got to sit with Imogene Weber (Andrew Lloyd’s daughter) and discuss how her father could actually fix a sink. Or maybe he couldn’t. I can’t remember and it was loud in the bar.

I found them all to be genuine, gracious, knowledgeable, curious and much softer edged than their on-screen personas. Incidentally, I didn’t find ANY of those things to be the case when I did CNN.

I ended up doing the show several times. And they asked me back several times after that. But flying to to New York and getting my own hotel at a moment’s notice is hard to do with my family situation. It also gets pretty expensive. So I stopped doing the show several years ago. And the people I met on the show went on to other things.

Greg Gutfeld is now a bonafide FNC star, co-hosting The Five as well as his own show on Saturday nights, that bears his name.

As Fox News goes through a tectonic shift in its programming, and all eyes are on (and off) Bill O’reilly (who I don’t know and couldn’t care less about) and the new bevy of faces and names (who I don’t know and couldn’t care less about) floating across the screen, this little late night show has officially left the air waves. But Red Eye – NOT Bill O’reilly – represented the kind of rowdy, irreverent, “post-everything” conservative I am. NOT the buttoned down, “family values,” “war on Christmas,” brand of conservatism that is such an easy punch line for lazy, comedic hacks. I, for one, will miss it.

The legacy of Red Eye (for me, anyway) is that it exposed the fact that while there is certainly absurd, religious dogma on the right, there is as much absurd, religious dogma on the left. The difference is the left’s “religion” IS government. And government is made up of people. And people are flawed and contradictory and ridiculous.

And if you take yourself or your politics too seriously, it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on. You’re already the punch line of a joke waiting to be written.

R

CLICHE FRIDAY …

Cliches. They’re a dime a dozen (see what I did there?).

And there is no place steeped in cliches more than the Christian faith.

I’ve been around the Church all my life. And I’ve heard phrases that made no sense to me whatsoever, millions of times. In fact, faith itself often doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m just being honest.

I have no idea what it means to “let go and let God.” I’ve never felt Jesus “touch” me and I’ve never heard the voice of God …that I know of. I never feel any “invisible arms” around me. I am routinely given more than I can bear (even though the bible is adamant that this won’t happen). Putting my “trust” in Jesus has often felt like giving up and watching TV when I should be doing something.

And honestly (and this is going to get some people upset, I know) I always had a difficult time with the whole idea of a “personal relationship with God.” See, all the personal relationships I ever had required a two-way conversation. In my dealings with God, I would talk and talk and talk …and nobody ever talked back. I would listen. But it was pretty much just silence.

People told me that God spoke through the Bible, so I would get my answers by referencing a 66-book study guide. Basically, you take your question to a pastor or priest or youth leader or someone in power, and they would then give you riddles to research and coordinates triangulate. And THAT was how God spoke back to you. NO fun!

I mean, don’t get us wrong, God can do anything. He is bound by nothing. He is all powerful, all knowing, all present and all understanding. But he can’t seem to manifest himself in our dimension or talk to us in our own language. It’s a minor glitch. Help him out, would ya?

It wasn’t just the cliches. There were also some contradictions that bothered me about faith. Still do, in fact. We were always taught that material possessions and physical beauty meant nothing and were temporal, superficial pursuits. We were to find our reward in more spiritual things. But then, when you get to heaven, it’s NOTHING BUT material things! Streets of gold, walls of jasper, gates of pearl. Everybody gets a ridiculous mansion and a beautiful, new body that never ages. I gotta tell ya …heaven sounds a lot like Beverly Hills.

A lot of the hymns I was raised singing seemed to sound a lot like union grievances and tenant complains. “Some glad morning when then this life is over I’ll fly away. To a land on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.” In other words, “this place sucks. It sucks so bad I can’t wait till I die! I can’t believe I’m stuck here. I not only want to get out of here, I want to freaking FLY out of here!

I love I’ll Fly Away. But it sure didn’t bolster my love for the earth.

All of our cliches are based on what we choose to believe. Plain and simple. But what if we found out that something we believed deeply …was not true? Admitting you’re wrong about something as important as spiritual faith is almost impossible to do.

I used to listen to family members, in the 70s, debate the right or wrongness of hair length. I’m not even kidding. These were people who had studied scripture for decades, actually wasting precious time and breath contemplating the length and style of someone’s hair. Even at 7 or 8-years old I was dumbfounded by this and could not wrap my brain around why God would care about such things.

As it turns out …he doesn’t. And my 7 or 8-year-old way of looking at it was actually the correct way. Who knew you had to approach all of this as a little child? Anyway …

As I age, I think more and more that what we are going to find on the other side of our lives might end up being vastly different than what we think it’s going to be or what we were taught it was going to be. And I have a strange feeling it won’t be anything as boring and mundane as the cliches we’ve developed or the rules we’ve set up to strengthen those cliches. At least I hope not.

And what of the here and now? Well, for my part, I decided a long time ago to stop living by cliches. I don’t understand them anyway. How on earth could I build my life around them? I think we have to find the heart of it in our own way. For some it IS about those cliches. And I respect that, if that’s what moves you and helps you make sense of it all.

For me, the whole ball of wax comes down to Good Friday. A voluntary sacrifice; a revolution of unconditional love; a willingness to lay down one’s life for those who despise him, is the essence of the whole thing. It is argued that the resurrection is the most important part of the Easter story. I get it. Cinematically, we HAVE to have that ending. And if that part of the story doesn’t happen …well …all this is a lie, isn’t it?

And so this coming Sunday Christian preachers from coast to coast will load both barrels (see, I did it again) with cliches we’ve heard for centuries, and scatter them into the congregation. This will incite big, triumphant song singing, involuntary hand raising and inexplicable tears of joy. Our guy won! He did it! He’s not just a defeated loser. He is a winner! We are winners!

But as these celebrations take place, I often wonder if the cliche of being the ultimate winner is really what Easter is about. If Christianity is about winning, Tom Brady is a better Christian than Detrich Bonhoeffer.

Easter is a sacred day for so many. What it means to us is probably more what we need it to mean than anything else.

For me personally, it’s more about sacrifice than triumph. It’s more about the willingness to endure Good Friday than it is the foregone conclusion of Sunday. It’s about going against your basic survival instincts to show love to someone else.

Maybe that’s the voice I was waiting to hear all those years. Maybe that’s how God gets into our dimension and speaks our language. Maybe that’s how all of this transcends the cliches and becomes …well …divine.

Enjoy the cliches this weekend. There are sure to be plenty of them spoken from pulpits all over the nation.

If you find yourself bored, waiting on the sermon to be over, just remember …this too shall pass.

R

THE NAM AND THE NOW …

We were putting dog tags in a sack and betting money. Five of us. I didn’t recognize any of the faces but somehow I knew them all very well. What was the bet? See who would survive running over a certain bridge …the only way out. It was surrounded by enemy gun positions and we knew we wouldn’t all make it. But we’d become so crass in our disregard for human life that we’d resorted to betting on our own survival. At the end of the run, somehow, I ended up with the bag and the money. But now I was alone and in enemy territory. THAT revelation frightened me so much that it shook me out of my nightmare and back to a bus bunk in Mets, West Virginia. I was fifteen …

These Vietnam nightmares recurred with me all through my high school years. I don’t know why. But it sent me on this strange quest to learn about that era and that war. I read a bunch of books about the conflict and watched some pretty bad movies (not counting the Deer Hunter – THAT one was haunting.) Then, in 1986, Platoon came out. And it was the first time I’d seen, on the big screen, something close to what I’d been dreaming about for years. Then Full Metal Jacket came out. Then Hamburger Hill. Then an onslaught of depictions that allowed us as a nation to finally talk about that war and face some things we’d been avoiding for years.

I’m old enough to remember watching Vietnam on the evening news.

I remember hearing prayer requests at church for young men, who might be getting their “number called.” We prayed for my cousin’s number to never come up. And it didn’t. I suppose that’s an answer to prayer. My own father had flat feet, children and was a minister. I suppose those things kept him stateside. To this day he occasionally regrets not volunteering to go as a chaplain.

I work with veterans, now. I’m part of a program that does songwriting therapy with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) patients. One of the things I can tell you from my own experience is that the current generation of veterans is as fine a group of people as this country has ever produced. They’re not uneducated hayseeds who had no other options, as some would have us believe. The men and women I’ve worked with all knew exactly what they were signing up for and did it with pride and purpose. They all legitimately wanted to help. My own brother volunteered six months before he would’ve aged out. And he did it because he wanted to serve. We have a lot of good people in this country. And we’ve asked an awful lot of them.

PTSD is a serious issue that we’re just now getting a handle on as humans. In my opinion, it’s the next existential conversation to be had among the human race. If you’ve been through any trauma, you probably have it on some level. Many special needs parents have it. I’m pretty sure my wife and I have it. Car accident victims can have it. Police officers definitely deal with it. And of course, combat veterans are at the front lines of this perplexing disorder (no pun intended). Music (in particular, songwriting) seems to soothe the rough edges a little. It helps put certain things associated with the trauma in a “place.” I’m very honored to be a part of this.

But of all the vets I work with, the ones who seem to have the most unanswered questions and unresolved issues are the Vietnam vets. These men not only faced horrors on the battlefield but then came home to ridicule and protest and anger directed toward them. I’ve heard stories of them being spit on in airports, having entire restaurants get up and leave en masse, upon them being seated, and even violence directed at them.

These guys didn’t get parades or people clapping for them spontaneously in public. Many of them were drafted, but they showed up and did what their country asked of them. They put their lives on the line. And they were greeted by their nation with disgust and disregard. And of the ones I work with, THAT is as much a part of their PTSD as the bullets they dodged in God forsaken jungles.

We will be debating Vietnam for decades to come. Why were we there? What was accomplished? My own view is that all wars are reactions to previous wars. And Korea and Vietnam were attempts to head off having to fight another world war in one century. We are STILL on the 38th parallel in South Korea …and we SHOULD be. The South Koreans are glad we’re there and we’re probably the only thing keeping them from being overrun by that fat little piece of crap to their north. When we pulled out of Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered one million people. ONE. MILLION.

Had that war not become a political football I wonder how many people would be alive today.

And now we watch as children are being suffocated with chemical weapons, in Syria. No one seems to be asking where Syria got these weapons. I would like to know. But I’ll bet they came from Iraq. Just a hunch. In true American tradition, instead of protesting Saddam Hussain back then, we protested ourselves.

It was reported that Saddam Hussain watched the protests on CNN and thought the world was on his side. Shame on us for sending such a mixed signal on the world stage, simply because we didn’t like a presidential policy. The truth is the emboldening of that despot might’ve cost innocent lives.

Being an American requires that you work through and come to terms with certain things. If you were born in this country, you have to make peace with the fact that you were born into more privilege than 99% of the rest of the world (99% of all the people in the history of the planet, for that matter). That’s an awesome responsibility. You also have to make a daily decision: do you have the stomach for war or do you have the stomach for global atrocity. Because without American intervention, there are going to be a lot of babies being slaughtered at the hands of third world dictators. There always have been.

Some leaders are content to allow that. Some are not. I have a feeling our own current president is about to have to make a decision in regards to Syria and that region. We cannot simply re-locate the entire country of Syria to Montana or somewhere. It won’t work. If you lead in the world, you either become the world’s police or the world’s fire department …or the world’s paramedics. We’re about to have to decide which one we’re going to be …again.

What I know about American soldiers is that they have a moral compass. None of them sign up to kill women and children and blow things up indiscriminantly. All of the ones I’ve worked with wanted to do a job that preserved freedom and helped the world. It didn’t always work out that way. War is an inexact science and NO ONE gets out of one unscathed. But American soldiers don’t volunteer for service so they can rape and pillage and destroy for fun.

For my part, I believe in the American soldier more than I believe in the people who give them orders. And our Vietnam vets slogged through the worst of this country’s history. Because when they got home they had to slog through an America that was so holier-than-thou and certain of its properly placed indignation. But all it caused was more physiological trauma for men who didn’t deserve it.

If we’re headed for another military conflict I hope we take a minute before we protest and rage and spit and curse …just because we can’t stand a certain president.

Loving the troops but hating the mission isn’t quite that simple.

R

CRUTCHES …

I don’t have a rider. All I ever ask for is water and some fruit or nuts or whatever. The whole concept of demanding something in a green room still feels weird to me after all these years of performing. Whatever’s there is there. Whatever isn’t, isn’t. I take what I need …then I go do my freaking job. And I don’t complain about anything. Because even on my WORST night, my job is easy and cushy and almost not a job at all.

Even when I was a “rock star” I didn’t have a rider. And I never bothered people too much back stage. One runner, at the House Of Blues in Chicago, once told me (in tears) that I was the nicest artist she’d ever met. This was only because I said “thank you” to her when she handed me a water bottle. I was appalled at how she said most artists treated her.

I say none of this to tout myself as any sort of a nice person. I’m actually not all that nice. But I come from a family so full of deep, spiritual characters, that I always see them watching me in any situation I’m in. And acting like some kinda hifalutin so-and-so would make them all want to stand in line and slap some sense into me. I feel their eyes on me everywhere I go …from high rises in New York City to sound stages in Los Angeles, California, my family will not allow me to act like something I’m not.

One of the most sharply drawn characters of my life was my Aunt Jewel Kelly. My earliest memory of her is rock-strong hands gripping ivory crutch handles. Somewhere in my childhood vault is a wood burning stove and the smell of hickory smoke. It’s cold outside but warm in a small house filled with gravy and biscuits and chicken and dumplings and green beans and sweet iced tea. And I can hear those braces squeak. She’s sitting down in her chair and hoisting her legs around and bending the braces into sitting position. She lays the crutches to the side. And she’s finally able to rest.

I always watched closely while she did this painstaking ritual. Everyone else at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner was sitting down and raising up in one fluid motion, at will. But I would watch, from the kids’ table, my Aunt Jewel work and toil and struggle to achieve this simple, human thing. And in my 6 or 7 or 8-year-old mind I would try to extrapolate how many times a day she might have to perform this act …just to live normally.

My Aunt Jewel was a super hero to me. Those hands – gripping those crutch handles – were burned into my memory at such a young age.

The stories of how it all started were spoken of in hushed tones around dinner tables. Polio at 4. In an iron lung for a year. Unable to go to school because of stairs and restrooms and such. And yet she volunteered at the VA where she fell in love with a wounded vet and married him. Then she bore two sons. And then she raised them …and she raised them well. My cousins, Ricky and Mark, were both valedictorian of each of their high school classes. The breakfasts, lunches and dinners they ate and the clothes they wore and the schedules they kept were always prepared by a woman on crutches.

Whenever I stayed with her, she was up before me and had a big, country breakfast on the table before I could get my eyes adjusted.

I remember, as a child, watching her drag herself across a hardwood floor on a rug, while she polished it. Again, I was transfixed. And I couldn’t comprehend her strength. I still can’t.

My Aunt Jewel was from a generation of people who wouldn’t understand “safe spaces” or time off for dealing with an election result they didn’t agree with. They were from a time when consequences were a little more dire than getting your feelings hurt. Those people didn’t have time to wring their hands over who they thought might be the next Hitler …because they were dealing with the REAL one.

They didn’t recycle because they were trying to save the planet. They did it because they realized it’s just stupid to waste something that still has use. They didn’t worry about climate change …they worried about weather. Because they weren’t sitting around a granite bar, sipping Merlot, pontificating over the ill effects of carbon emissions. They were actually GROWING beans and carrots and potatoes and corn. And they needed rainfall and sunlight.

My Aunt Jewel was one of the best of that generation. Whenever I’ve wanted to give up or feel sorry for myself, I hear those braces squeaking and I see those hands gripping those crutches. And I pick myself up and say to myself, “what’s wrong with you? Stand up. YOU can stand up.” And of all the family members in my memory who simply will not allow me to huddle in a corner and suck my thumb, Aunt Jewel stands at the front of them all.

I played an abstract version of Amazing Grace for my Aunt Jewel, once. She wanted to hear me play something. It was full of all the new, cool chords I knew. I thought it was awesome and avante guard. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “baby …that’s not Amazing Grace.” In that moment I realized just how childish it is to try to be cool. Being cool only matters to people who care about cool. And anyone who cares about cool …isn’t actually cool at all. REAL people want to hear Amazing Grace. Just play it and sing it. It’s pretty great EXACTLY the way it is. My aunt Jewel taught me that.

There’s an old schoolhouse/church house on the property where my Aunt Jewel lived. I never really knew it as anything functional. For me, it was always that old, crumbling white building. But it represents a time when people sat in one room and learned how to read and write, together. Everything about that time wasn’t good. But the spirit of refusing to be a victim of something lives in little buildings like that. And that’s what I always saw in my aunt.

She had a special affection for my daughter with Angelman Syndrome. And I think she recognized in her, a fellow traveller who would have to overcome enormous challenges to fit into a normal life on earth. They liked to stare at each other. I prefer to think of it as my daughter gaining strength from her. One super hero transferring her power to another one.

Aunt Jewel asked me to smuggle Taco Bell in to her once, while she was in the hospital, in Nashville. And I did it gladly. I remember her telling me, “this is delicious.”

She only said that …BECAUSE. IT. IS!!! And people from her generation don’t lie about something as true and right as the perfection of Taco Bell. It’s now one of my fondest memories of her.

My aunt Jewel left this mortal plane and sailed into the great mystery last night. In my version of things, she is walking with fresh legs and listening to Chopin play Amazing Grace the way it’s supposed to be played …and having a taco or two. And there is no nonsense allowed in her sphere. And there are no braces squeaking, anywhere. And her hands aren’t gripping crutches.

Because where she is …nobody needs them.

R