Untethered

I’ve been married for fifteen years, and I want to tell you things are WAY easier now than they were in the early years, but that would be like telling you putting a man on the moon is way easier the sixth time you do it compared to the first time. NO! Successful moon missions are ALWAYS hard, no matter how many times you do it.

Sure, the first time you do it, you’re inexperienced. You have no idea if you’re going to make it. Your body and mind are untested. Yes, you’ve been preparing, quite often ‘til you’re exhausted, but gearing up for something is WAY different than actually doing the deed. Yeah, I’m still talking about space travel; get your mind out of the gutter!

Going into your sixth landing, you know you can do it, but now you’re dealing with budget cuts you didn’t have before. Your body and mind are stronger, but you also know that you’ve suffered setbacks along the way, and the astronauts and equipment may not hold up under the strain. Your space agency may not be able to perform like it once did.

The same holds true in marriage. You may think you’ve got this thing on lock. Look at all the disagreements you worked through with your partner. All those magical moments you shared and the hard times you limped through together. But those hard times keep coming, you argue about the same things over and over again, and the tough stuff is easier to recall than those magical moments. Plus, you’re just older versions of the two broken people carrying all their baggage all those years ago, and it’s easy to drop that baggage at your partner’s feet, just as they’re gaining momentum.

Just recently, my wife was mad at me for an entire day, and I had no idea until we sat down to eat dinner. The one good thing about years of experience is you start to detect patterns.

She’s avoiding eye contact.

Okay, something’s just shifted.

You ask how her day’s going, and she gives you a one-word response, “Fine.”

This is when you identify with Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 who just heard a bang. All your electronics fluctuate, your thrusters don’t work, and you lose connection with Earth. It feels like all the air is sucked out of the room, and you realize man isn’t made to live here.

So you ask a follow-up question: “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I said I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Just like Lovell had to wait while NASA determined the fate of him and his crew, I found myself surrounded by huge gravity wells of silence. One small mistake could send me hurtling into the unknown.

The BEST thing about our marriage is that I’m an external processor and want to resolve problems immediately, while my wife needs time to think through things and figure out why she’s feeling the way she is, so while she’s checking the instruments and doing the calculations necessary to stay on mission, I’ve dumped out all the materials the crew have in the capsule and am trying to build something new out of it, sorting out exactly what’s gone wrong, so in that moment when I asked her how her day was going, she may have just been realizing she felt upset, and when I asked her if she was okay, that’s the moment she realized that yes, she was in fact mad at me.

People, learn this now. Your person can be upset with you long before she knows why she is and you WILL make it worse if you try to fix it immediately. Imagine Jim Lovell jumping to conclusions, talking over Houston as well as his crew, and steering Apollo 13 into a trajectory from which they’d’ve never returned.

The crew of Apollo 13 blew an oxygen tank just like I’d blown it with my wife, producing unanticipated consequences. The astronauts experienced a drop in temperature due to a lack of electricity, while I experienced the cold shoulder due to a lack of empathy.

The rest of dinner passed as I tried not to take up too much oxygen, the atmosphere thick with animosity. Short breaths. Try not to talk. Slow movements. Yes, you’ve got to eat, but taking your next bite is not as important as taking that next, deliberate breath.

After dinner, I told the kids that mommy and I were going for a walk, which they were totally fine with as Maggie was already perched on her bed, playing Roblox on one device and FaceTiming with her friends on another. Meanwhile, Asher was watching other kids alternate between playing video games and playing with toys on YouTube. Sure, they were both substituting real life experiences for simulated ones, but that meant the wife and I could get out of the house without concern for our children’s safety. What were Jim Lovell’s kids up to while he hurtled through outer space? I’m sure somebody knew.

Securing the door, I had to catch up with the wife as she was already heading down the sidewalk. I adjusted my steps to hers as the crew adjusted their rations to the pace Houston set. It must not have been all that long before Laura started opening up about what was bothering her as we turned the corner together.

“What’s going on?”

“Weekends are for spending time together, but you’ve been doing your own thing all day, and I haven’t gotten to see you at all.”

Instead of realizing all Laura wanted was to spend time with me, I decided to defend myself, pointing out the times in the day I tried to spend time with her, she was preoccupied, because I can be a real asshole sometimes.

We walked. We talked. She held my hand. I apologized for the hurt I caused, and she did the same. And suddenly I could breathe again. The air scrubbers reactivated, dissipating the animosity. 

Just like NASA used their years of experience to slingshot Apollo 13 around the moon and back for a safe splashdown, the wife and I worked our way around feeling like the other was spending too much time alone. We literally looped the neighborhood together on the same trajectory, and instead of feeling like I could vanish into the dark unknown, she kept me tethered by holding my hand well before she felt like doing it.

It feels like that’s where I should end that story, with a nice little bow wrapping up the Apollo 13 analogy, but that’s just it. I’m still an asshole. After the fight about not spending enough time together on a weekend, two days later, we had another fight about basically the same thing, then when I was trying to spend time with her in the sexy way, we had another argument when I thought she called me weak, triggering the emotional baggage I still carry from middle school.

Life is fucked right now. I haven’t hugged my parents or sister in four months, and we haven’t even seen any of Laura’s family since New Year’s. We isolate ourselves from our friends yet see our neighbors lining the street with cars for Father’s Day with nary a mask to be seen. Protestors are gassed in the streets of what will surely become Flavortown, statues tumble while a noose is left for a black man to find because he got the confederate flag banned from NASCAR, and people are shot and run over for celebrating Junteenth while others cheer the President drinking water one-handed, so what’s the point of maintaining our marriage when we could all be dead after the second spike hits?

Well, somebody’s got to generate material to write about, so he can get his homework done for his unaccredited writing class.

Who’s Your Audience?

As a comedy performer and writer, this is one of the first things I ask myself when creating new material. A comedy show at a downtown bar that regularly hosts burlesque and poetry readings attracts quite a different crowd than a comedy show at a craft brewery in suburbia that hosts bluegrass pickin’, beard growing contests, and children’s birthday parties.

Considering the identity of your audience also applies when you present yourself as a salesman, teach in a rural school, or even post to social media. If you want your jokes to land, sell your product, instill understanding, or earn some likes; you have to package your message just right so those to whom you present receive, accept, and respond positively to it.

On Friday, President Trump addressed the nation, speaking exclusively about China and taking no questions about the protests erupting across America. Instead, he took to the protective Presidential bunker unused since September 11, 2001 and tweeted, “If they had [breached the fence] they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

On Monday, President Trump stated, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” As he spoke, police were deploying tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of protestors outside the White House before curfew and without warning. The President then led a retinue across a cleared Lafayette Square to be photographed standing in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while brandishing a Bible.

His words? The President spoke them to convince us how strong he was, referring to himself as “your president of law and order” after people accused him of cowardice for hiding in a bunker.

His actions? The President stood in front of a church that had been damaged in a fire and held up a Bible declaring, “We have the greatest country in the world,” which leaves me confused.

Was he illustrating that because the church was damaged during a protest, the protestors went against the law of God? Was he showing that America was founded on Biblical precepts and would therefore triumph over evil? Was he trying to look tough, appealing to religious conservatives? Was he claiming God was on his side? Was it some combination of these? Did I miss his point completely?

As an evangelical Christian, I believe the Bible both communicates the message that God loves all people without exception and tells the story of how He, Jesus, pursued relationship with humanity throughout history. I read God’s Word to deepen that relationship, gaining the courage to love others as I am loved.

The Old Testament book, 2 Chronicles, summarizes the reigns of every Israelite king from David’s son, Solomon, to King Zedekiah whose rule culminated with Babylon subjugating Israel. For the author of 2 Chronicles, the true test of whether a king was effective or not was if they “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” The kings who led their people in serving the Lord and obeying Him enjoyed long reigns and victory over rival kingdoms. Those who turned away from God saw their reigns cut short and suffered defeat in battle, so Biblically, a leader who achieves success is the one who realizes their audience is the Lord, ensuring everything they do is done to please Him.

In the New Testament, the book of Titus states, “An elder (leader) must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

If it’s your job to lead a nation, and you are bold enough to stand in front of a church, hefting a Bible like a shot put, then who you are as a person should reflect the standards to which God’s Word calls you.

Mr. President, the world is watching, If you’ve done wrong; been unfaithful to your wife; raised unscrupulous children; are overbearing, quick-tempered, drunk on power, and violent. If you pursue dishonest gain, are inhospitable, love what is evil, fly off the handle, are morally and ethically corrupt, deny the truth, and tear people down; you need to set an example by humbling yourself, admitting you’ve done wrong, and seeking to heal the hurt you’ve caused. If not, this desperate situation will collapse into a crisis from which we may never recover.

Don’t perform for your political base; don’t flex when you feel threatened. We’re all looking for someone to follow, and if you’re following Jesus in name only, if you don’t make Him the audience to whom you devote yourself 100%; you risk shortening your time in power and relinquishing your role as the nation you’ve led succumbs to subjugation.

Do the right thing.

Bright Spots

There are bright spots in the grayest of days
Work to do when no one’s willing to pay
Art to create which will never be displayed
There are bright spots in the grayest of days
There’s love to give in the midst of pain
Truth to tell when your partner remains unswayed
Even if Hosea’s wife still strays,
There’s love to give in the midst of pain
Be magnanimous in all of your ways
Lend the money knowing it won’t be repaid
As you watch your life’s savings circling down the drain
Be magnanimous in all of your ways
Choose to help when your nerves are frayed
Take no offence when mistakes are made
Lend a hand instead of giving in to your rage
Choose to help when your nerves are frayed
There’s a city in which the song won’t fade
A fountain of grace through which we’ll wade
Where we’ll lift our voices, no longer dismayed
There’s a city in which the song won’t fade

Hitting the Reset

“Sometimes it’s like hitting the reset button,” a bodiless voice called out of the darkness behind me. Whichever runner offered this encouragement, I’ll never know as I had my back to him, heaving up the Honey Stinger Waffle and Tailwind I’d just consumed. I was 22 miles into the Hallucination 100-miler and started wondering what was wrong with me.

I signed up for the race five months prior, enlisting the aid of a buddy with several 100-mile finishes as well as one 200-miler. With a change in career, I had more time to train and wanted to know of what I was capable. A rack in my basement hangs heavy with ribbons and hunks of metal, wood, glass, ceramic, and even a coonskin cap commemorating the races I’ve completed, including several marathons and even a fair few 50k’s. They weren’t ever easy, but at each event, I’ve crossed the finish line with a smile, knowing I’d be completing other races soon thereafter. Running keeps me happy and healthy, injecting adventure into days that I would otherwise spend on the couch with a beer in one hand and a controller in the other.

The platitude, “do the thing that scares you,” has been echoing in my head over the last several years, leading to me to push past the comfortable and conventional and compelling me to consider the complicated and the crazy, such as completing the 200-mile Pelotonia ride last month. Since taking up running in 2010, my body befuddles me with its ability to go further and faster, recovering far sooner that I’d expect. If I can do THIS, of what ELSE am I capable? Signing up for Hallucination seemed challenging enough. I’d be pushing my limits, yet it was practical as well, as I know several runners who view their 100-mile finisher’s buckles as the crown jewels of their medal collections.

Therefore, puking my racing fuel into the ditch four miles short of marathon distance threw me off with as much force as a brahma bull. Eating and drinking every 45 minutes is what I’ve always done. I’m not even running that hard. Am I sick? Should I not have filled up my hydration bladder from the sink at the campground? We’re not that far from Flint. The emails said to bring water for camping. Was that because the water isn’t potable? Dean Karnazes had to drop out of his first Badwater because drinking out of that water hose made him sick. Will I throw up again? I’m not okay; I feel off. Maybe if I get this loop done, I can complete the 50k and just sleep in the tent tonight. Getting a 50k done with stomach issues is plenty, right?

That’s the cycle of thinking I got stuck in for the next few miles. When tripping on a root sent me to my knees, my right leg cramped, confirming to my already anxious mind that things had gone sideways, and that stopping was probably the best option.

None of this happened at the Eagle Up Ultra where I’d run 50 miles back in the spring and stopped, not because I didn’t have more miles in me, but because Laura and the kids awaited me at the finish, and I wanted to go out to dinner and spend the evening with them. I felt stronger running those 50 miles than I did running the double 50k’s just the winter before.

Now I was done. With doubt plaguing me, I staggered to the next aid station, sure I could do no more. Nevermind I’d run the first loop of 17 miles in four hours, well ahead of the allotted time. My body betrayed me. I’d gotten sick. Time to pack it in. And I would have…

If not for that aid station volunteer who put up with zero of my horseshit.

I stepped over the timing mats as everyone beneath the white pavilion cheered, celebrating my arrival. 

“How’re you doing?”

“Not well.” I sidestepped another runner to sink into the nearest folding chair.

“What’s going on, buddy?”

I don’t remember verbatim how our conversation went, but I do recall telling the volunteer I’d thrown up and expressed my doubts about continuing. When another runner tried to share a story of one of his buddies experiencing stomach issues in another race, she cut him off and told me I could sit for five minutes. Seeing I was no longer on my feet, a third runner tried to tell me it was a bad idea to sit down. Frustrated, I told him I understood that. He backed off, and the volunteer handed me a saltine. “Eat this.”

“How does your stomach feel now?” I chewed the cracker, responding that my stomach seemed to be fine. “That’s good.” She handed me a second cracker.

At no point did she give me choices, just facts. Willing me to look her in the eye, she affirmed, “You look really strong. Get to the next aid station; it’s just four miles from here.” I stood up, drank two pre-poured cups of Coke, and trotted off as she called after me, “We’ll see you again.”

And I kept going.

It’s been said that small decisions matter, that wars aren’t won on the strategy laid out by generals but on the everyday choices of the enlisted. Getting up and continuing on was a small decision I made, the only choice with which I was presented, really, but it proved the volunteer right. I did see her again, twice in fact. Her telling me the truth when all I felt was despair was the reset my mind so desperately needed. 

Now, if this were a Disney movie, I would’ve gone on to not only finish the Hallucination 100 but in the process would have set the course record, aided by a wolf I found injured in the woods. Last time I checked, though, my name’s not Natty Gann, and injured wolves tend to maul people.

In real life, I tagged up with Jim, a fellow first time 100-miler, and we paced each other through most of the rest of the night until, complaining of blisters at mile 47, he encouraged me to go on without him.

That I did, for 20 more miles.

Bartending for six hours can leave my feet sore. Doing a trail run in excess of 20 hours makes me ache from the waist down, so I slowed my roll to a pace of 20 minutes per mile, missing the noon cutoff by more than an hour.

When I came out of the woods, Laura was there to capture my rapture on camera. Only thing was, I was no longer smiling. As I passed, one spectator remarked to another, “That’s what death face looks like.”

Crossing the finish, I announced to the volunteer who approached me with a medal, “I’m done; dropping down from the 100-miler to the 100k.”

With an enormous smile and a hug I didn’t expect, she announced, “You did such a good job; come get something to eat.”

Banana in hand and Laura directing me to a shady spot, I removed my shirt and shoes and laid down in the grass, it’s coolness a welcome respite from the grind.

Though not the distance for which I signed up, doing Hallucination marked the first time I ever ran from sundown to sunrise and provided a new PR for distance of 67.25 miles in 21 hours, 10 minutes, and 42 seconds. I also found my limits and one spot of chafing on my left hip. Other than that, I left unscathed. No blisters, not even a hotspot — miraculous — that or I didn’t push nearly as hard as I could’ve.

Prior to the event, Laura told me how training for the 100-miler took me away from other things, and we agreed that this would be my last one. I asked her if this meant I was only going to run 5k’s from here on out, but she assured me she was fine with me continuing to do marathons. “Can I still do 50k’s?”

“Those are fine. Just no more 100-milers.”

Every time I came out of the woods, Laura was there taking care of me, handing me socks, bringing food, and kissing me, letting me know she loved me no matter how bad I smelled. 11:00 pm? She was there. 7:05 the next morning? Throwing down the folding chair she’d brought for herself, she ensured I was seated comfortably and brought me pancakes, scrambled eggs, and half a cup of coffee. “I wasn’t sure how your stomach was, so I only filled it up half-way. Do you want some more?”

Back at our tent, Laura continued caring for me, bringing me drinks she’d chilled precisely for this moment and handing me items just beyond my reach, as getting back out of my chair proved to be an arduous task.

After showering and brushing my teeth (Oh, sweet relief!), whenever I nodded off, Laura let me sleep, no matter how oddly my head bobbed. She also packed up our campsite by herself and drove us home, letting me lie down in the passenger seat to snooze throughout the four-hour drive, pushing away her own weariness in the process.

With better preparation and training, I could’ve completed the Hallucination 100, but without that volunteer, Jim’s encouragement, and Laura’s sacrifice, I would never have made it as far as I did.

Did I fail to meet my goal?

Yes.

Did I accomplish a greater feat than I ever have before?

Absolutely.

Have Laura and I agreed on how much running is healthy not only for me but for our family as a whole?

We sure did.

Will I sign up for my next 50k this weekend?

Most likely.

Is Laura considering the nine-miler at the same event, marking the longest distance she’d have ever run?

With the right people in your corner, you can accomplish astounding things.

False Prophecy

Yes, I realize it’s been 10 days since my last post. I was just seeing if you were paying attention. We’ll go with that lie. Sure.

Imagine confirming that what the prophet decreed was God laying down exactly how the world would end and abandoning everyone and everything you ever knew to help fulfill the prophecy, but then you discover the prophecy was wrong. My grandfather, along with a few hundred people, gave up their lives, thinking they were specially chosen to survive, but then the Soviet Union never pushed the button.

At that point, they had two choices. Either:

A) Admit they were wrong and leave the church. Maybe try to restore some of those relationships they severed.

B) Double down on the incorrect prophecy with an additional prophecy explaining how the first was correct and would still happen. God just chose to test their faithfulness, which they passed with flying colors. Well, most of them. Some were disillusioned and left the church.

My grandfather opted for option B. The thing is, like any lie, in order to cover it up, you have to lie again, so things make sense. Thing is, this wasn’t an isolated incident. It begat 50 years of whoppers that some still believe to this day.

Wal-Paul abandoned his family and started a new life based on a lie, which became a twisted perspective on reality.

But he was happy. What harm could it do?

Oh, let me tell you.

Which One?

I never wanted to hug Wal-Paul. Note how I refer to him. It’s either by his official title of “my grandfather,” which denotes how we were related genetically, or I call him Wal-Paul, a name concocted by smashing two other names together, one being the identity he used when visiting, and the other being the mantle he picked up to show how important he was. Whenever I saw him, I never knew which personage he’d put on parade.

Both Wal and Paul were gregarious and eager to be the focal point for the evening. Wal was stationed near the front door and would pull whomever stood within arm’s length in for a bearhug, exclaiming, “Come give your grandpa a hug! I’m so glad you came to see me.”

Paul would sit either at my uncle’s kitchen table or in a metal folding chair near the family room’s fireplace. Here’s where it got tricky. Whenever he got comfortable, you never knew if it was Wal or Paul who sat there. They both looked exactly the same. They were both flanked not only by the second woman they married after leaving my grandmother but also by the Full Gospel Assembly’s resident prophet as well as his wife.

The only way to tell the difference is if nonsense started coming out of my grandfather’s mouth.

What’s in a Name?

Did you notice in the prior post that I referred to my maternal grandfather as Wal-Paul? No, that wasn’t his given name. Born Waldon William Meeks back in the 1900’s, he went by Wally, until the prophet decreed his heavenly name was Paul. Yeah, the few remaining members of the Full Gospel Assembly Church in Benson, Arizona would claim they practice prophecy. Here’s where it gets a little muddy.

Prophecy is when God gives someone a message to declare to another person or group of people. The person declaring the message has the gift of prophecy and may be referred to as a prophet or prophetic. If what they declare comes true, God’s actually speaking through them; if not, they’re a false prophet and shouldn’t be trusted.

Furthermore, one can quantify prophecy into two categories: general and personal. General prophesy is declared to a group of people, usually to serve as encouragement or in some cases, as a warning. Personal prophecy is a message from the Lord spoken specifically to one person. Makes sense, no?

Well, the Full Gospel Assembly church that my grandfather joined practiced personal prophecy, and somewhere along the way that personal prophecy became a vehicle for instructions to be given, such as give this much money to the church, here’s your heavenly name, you’re going to marry this person, or here’s what you’re going to name your children.

That’s why we referred to my grandfather as Wal-Paul. We knew his real name was Wally, but he referred to himself as Paul, so my family combined the two. Oh, we knew better than to call him that to his face. He was our grandfather and we needed to show him as much respect as we could muster.

Two Grandfathers

Well, I already broke my commitment to post every weekday, so that means I get to redouble my efforts. Plus, you get to see what I look like at 3:30 am. Jury’s still out whether that’s a reward or punishment, but we’re forging ahead anyway.

Like many people, I had two grandfathers, my paternal one, Willis, and my maternal one, Wal-Paul. Unlike most people, my paternal grandfather was a gentle farmer who loved spending time with his family, while my maternal grandfather lived out of state, never recognized birthdays or holidays, and only saw us once a year to convince us we were all going to die in a nuclear devastation.

Guess which one I preferred.

Finally! I found my purpose.

For at least as long as I’ve had this URL, I’ve not known what this blog is, and if I don’t know what I’m doing, then, dear reader, you wouldn’t have the foggiest notion either! Therefore, since I’m writing a book about my grandfather, the former cult leader, I figure that’s what I’ll blog about. Buckle up.

Expect five things. First, I’ll post some pieces that will become part of the book. Second, I’ll post updates on how things are progressing. Third, some posts will just be me reflecting on the process.

“Jake, I can count, and that’s only three things.”

Yes. The other two things you can expect are a new aesthetic for the site and blogs to go up each weekday.

“What? Usually, months go by between your posts.”

Yeah, that’s shitty. If I commit to posting each weekday, that means I have to come through, which creates accountability and gets my rear in gear, so thank you, dear reader for visiting. I’m going to make this a place worth your return.

Burn Pile

I begin where everyone does. Awkwardly. Unsure of their ability. But without a beginning, there can be no finish, so I toe the line. No more will I stand aside as others take their marks and set off without me. I spectate from the sidelines no longer.

Harmony came to group just to hear my new writing, which I never did. I disappointed my friend. There was a time where I would have said this project was ten years in the making, but I know better than that. It’s been five years of avoiding.

Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing, and the only rules to follow when writing a book are subjective. When you write, you build your body of work. Sure, some of it’s going to be shit, but you have to learn what not to do in order to learn what to do. When gathering firewood, you take what the forest has cast off. You can make predictions on which chunks and sticks will burn hotter and longer than others — which will emit smoke and which will produce flame — but you won’t truly know for sure until you add that fuel to the fire.

I don’t know which pieces of writing will make the book and which will reek with smoke, but I have to take the time to gather those scenes, work through those reflections, until I have a little blaze going. The other thing is, bad wood still adds to the fire. Saint Paul speaks of the quality of each person’s work being revealed by fire, that whatever we build upon the foundation of Christ will be either yield a reward or create loss; however, even the one whose work is burned up will still be saved “even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

I was afraid and buried my talent. I built nothing, thinking it wouldn’t be good enough, but even the worst work still ends in salvation. It’s time to listen to my voice memos again. Not transcribe them, but just enjoy hearing the stories again. It’s time to reread the notes I have written. I will immerse myself in the story, let my guard down, and start building a burn pile ready for ignition.