Burn Your Ships
My neighbor has a tattoo on his forearm. It's of a square rigged ship being devoured by flames. A banner beneath the illustration just says, "Burn Your Ships." I asked the guy, country artist, Sam Grow, what exactly his tattoo meant, and he relayed a story I'd never heard about the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Read More
In 1519 Cortes along with 600 men and 16 horses landed on the coast of Veracruz, Mexico. Before embarking on their campaign against the Aztecs, Cortes dispelled any notions of retreat when he gave a seemingly reckless order: "Burn the ships."
No retreat. No surrender. Do the thing or die trying. It worked for Hernan Cortes. It's worked for Sam Grow (the kid's got hundreds of thousands of downloads and just bought himself a new tour bus, all without the backing of a record label).
So...what are you willing to go all in for?
Last month I wrote about how I had just committed to narrowing my focus down to three passions: music, writing, and woodwork - Sound, Script, & Sawdust. The thing that finally got me to dial in on what I wanted my life to look like going forward were not the words of some self-help guru or the latest life hack from a productivity coach. It was this poem. It was these simple lines by David Whyte that started me thinking on where and to who and to what I gave my time. I'm willing to bet his words will resonate with you too. Read More
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
I know what you’re thinking — 40 is impossibly distant. Like I might as well be Alpha Centauri, something you know, at least intellectually, is beyond the horizon but seems too far to fathom ever reaching. By the time you get here you will have seen 495 full moons over 350,400 hours. Your heart will have beat more than 1.6 billion times. And the hair on your head that you worry is getting too thin at too young an age will be gone. That girl you have your eye on, the one who drinks on a fake ID she made in art class, the one you play shuffleboard with at Midway Cafe under the team name The Flaming Death Skulls, she’s the one. The mother of your children. And I think you might already know that. You think you know a lot of things though. Read More
“I’m goin’ to Chicago.” I had just said these words to my wife with an almost giddy certainty as we watched history play out in the washed out images on the bar’s projector screen. We lived a thousand miles away and could not afford the time off work or the gas to get there. None of that mattered. The Cubs were five outs shy of winning the National League pennant and reaching the World Series for the first time in living memory of all but one member of my family. Their first since the invention of the microwave oven, their first since the integration of the game. Decades of loyalty to these lovable losers were about to pay off. It was going to happen. It was inevitable. Things, it seemed, would finally be made right at Wrigley. That was 13 years ago. Read More
It does not matter to me that Albert Camus once called it “a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” And I don't care that it brings days free of humidity and bugs, nights cozying up to a campfire wearing jackets and wool gloves. Autumn sucks. It is the slow slip into winter and the dimming of the lights. Read More
I did not see the wreck. I only heard it— steel and skin on asphalt followed by a terror-stricken shriek. When I turned and hurried back up the path I found my daughter, my eight year old child, standing over her pink and white bicycle spitting mouthfuls of blood on the ground. Read More
It was right about the time I broke the third commandment that I heard the word of God in the distance. It came echoing through the pines on a misty Sunday morning in a soft South Carolina drawl. “Hunger not for the things of this world, for they are fleeting,” the voice said, “hunger instead after righteousness.”
Except I did hunger for the things of this world. Terribly. I hungered mostly for the granola bar pinched between my fingers and still sealed in a wrapper I could not tear. I was more than 40 miles into the bike leg of the Augusta Ironman 70.3 triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) when my stomach began to gnarl and moan. And now, my sweaty hands slipped uselessly on the cellophane, the only thing that stood between my lips and my lunch. I struggled to focus on the road ahead while wrestling with the wrapper and praying I wouldn’t drop the only food I brought with me onto the pavement. Sustenance so near; so absurdly far. Hunger can turn even the the most abstemious person into an irritable prick, but hunger when you’re holding the very thing you crave and yet cannot have, that invites a rare kind of rage.
“God. DAMMIT,” I barked. Read More
In the rising heat of an Orlando Sunday morning 49 bodies lay cold on a nightclub dancefloor. With every worried mother’s call, every desperate sister’s text, a cacophony of ringtones and notifications buzzed in the stillness. The calls just went to voicemail. The texts would go unanswered. And while the FBI and OPD sifted through the aftermath of a massacre the country awoke to chilling headlines.
We’ve been here before though, haven’t we? Surely this is old hat by now, a yellowed script so often read we no longer need the cues. First is the offering of thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones. Next, a show of solidarity in ceremonial moments of silence. And then, do exactly nothing.
The first dollar I ever made as a writer was composing a love poem to a boy I’d never met. It sounds strange; I know. It does. But the girl who sat next to me in 8th grade history— the one with the blonde hair, crimped and teased; the one with the Tretorn shoes and the Hypercolor shirt; the one I had an undeniable crush on— she “hired” me to write a Valentine’s Day poem for her boyfriend. Maybe she didn’t know how she felt, or if she did she couldn’t find the words to say it. I was the kid with notebooks scrawled full of teenage angst in verse, so I contracted myself out to her as a freelance Aphrodite. I dribbled out some generic couplets about his eyes (which I’d never seen) and his hands (which I’d never held). I can almost guarantee I rhymed “miss” with “kiss” and made some shitty reference to true love found. She copied those lines in her own hand, delivered them between classes, and let him feel her up in the water fountain alcove. It was fraud. It was also the easiest dollar I ever made. Read More
The best known photograph of Evelyn McHale is a portrait of appalling beauty. At first look she appears to be lost in a dream. You might think she has spilled onto a bed with black satin sheets billowing around her. "Maybe she danced her feet sore," you’ll think. Maybe she enjoyed one too many glasses of champagne before succumbing to sleep without even removing her white gloves. In the picture Evelyn lies in elegant requiescence, ankles crossed and head tilted just so. Her fingers reach delicately for the pearls around her neck. And if you didn’t know you might imagine her the envy of her friends, the crush of every boy. If you didn’t know you might think this 23 year old has a life of glamour and good fortune laid out before her.
You might think that. If you didn’t know that minutes before this image was struck Evelyn McHale had been hurtling toward the earth at over 100 miles an hour. Read More
I was a Memphis kid with a Chicago hat. There was nowhere I went that summer that my blonde, unruly locks weren’t covered by the same blue wool and red embroidered “C” that my baseball heroes wore. I was seven years old, and as I sat looking out the window of a CTA train, or rather the “L”, an unfamiliar city passed by in an unrecognizable blur. Riding on rails was a foreign thing to me. The trains I knew carried coal, carried chemicals, but not people. My grandfather, a lifelong Northsider, sat next to me with a Cubs hat of his own— a floppy brimmed bucket hat adorned with buttons and sweat stained from a thousand innings under the sun before the lights brought night baseball to Wrigley. Read More
It wasn't until the livestock trailer was backed up to the open gate of the barn that I realized I didn't have the slightest clue how I might get a 1,300lb bull to climb inside. Tasty McGee was our grass-fed Holstein who, after a year of pasturing with the goats, had filled out and was bound for the slaughterhouse. Or, at least that was the hope. I tried coaxing him toward the trailer with a bucket of grain. He would follow obediently only to stop in his tracks just as suddenly. Tasty continued moving in fits and starts toward the trailer until he’d followed as far as the gate and would go no further. I pleaded with him. I damned his obstenence and told him great lies of the paradise that awaited if he would just get in the fucking trailer. I shook the bucket once more and cast a handful of feed across its steel floor. His nose twitched as he weighed his suspicion against his desire. Some thresholds were not worth crossing no matter the reward. Read More
Ten years ago I buried a time capsule. I put 24 samples into a black canister and hid it away for a decade. It was an accident. Read More
Generally “year end retrospective” and “best of” lists are published before the ball drops, and midnight choruses of Auld Lang Syne rise drunkenly in the streets, but, well, I wasn’t quite ready to look back during the final days of December. With that in mind I am going to leave the light on in 2015 a moment longer and share my 10 favorite discoveries from the year that was — 5 books, 5 albums in no particular order. Read More
Forget your resolution; set a goal. I know the temptation — we are turning the page to a new year, and the time feels right to resolve to change something about yourself and in turn your life. You know you should eat healthier, drink less, exercise more. Maybe now, maybe this time, your resolution will take. After all, you are a year older and more mature, better able to control your impulses. Maybe this year will be different. Except no, it won’t. Read More
The field of a chessboard is divided evenly into 64 squares, and on that 8x8 grid the 32 pieces are mathematically capable of bearing out more unique games than there are atoms in the observable universe. The first time I heard this I scoffed at it. Considering that just one average grain of sand alone contains 50 quintillion atoms (that’s a 50 followed by 12 zeros) the idea that a handful of pawns and some miniature royalty are going to play through enough different sequences to outnumber the atomic totals strewn across 14 billion light years is unthinkable. On its surface it seems like a preposterous claim hardly worth serious consideration- that is until one seriously considers it. Read More
I have a Confederate ten dollar bill. It is neatly framed in a shadow box and sitting on a book shelf in our home office. Among the imagery is a cavalry artillery unit pulling cannons presumably into battle. A portrait of Robert M. T. Hunter, Secretary of State for the Confederacy, looks out expressionless from the lower right corner as though he knows how this all will end. It was given to me by my father and to him by his father before. Read More