Category Archives: people

Freshman, Snowboards, and That One Girl Tina Dixon.

I had always been artistically inclined but never thought myself the “artsy” type. I still don’t. But as a kid with no direction, and even less confidence, I started college as an art major thinking it was the only area where I possessed potential. The University in its wisdom paired freshman from the same majors into the same dorm rooms and so I found myself assigned as a roommate to an actual art major.

He was good. He could draw, drew on everything, and he was a little more in line with what some might assume an art major might be, at least more so than me. He played guitar, wasn’t much of a fan of anything established or authoritarian, and also, he liked to snowboard.

I’m going to start over in describing my roommate, and say that rather than him being what one might assume of an art major, he was absolutely what one might assume of a snowboarder.

And I liked him.

He taught me how to play a mildly inappropriate Green Day song on his guitar, we traded off attending and taking notes in biology class, and the two of us watched the Beavis and Butthead marathon while everyone else was studying for finals. I had at this time never attempted snowboarding, though living where I did it, was a normal thing to do. I had been too busy concentrating on things like football, the establishment, and submitting to authority. He didn’t mind so much. We had the whole art major thing in common, and he wasn’t ever a real chatty guy in the first place so lack of common snow sports wasn’t really a thing.

But he hung out with this girl…

This girl was friendly enough, pretty enough, but above all else she was a perpetually positive person who appeared to operate on the principle that everyone everywhere should learn how to board. If I recall correctly she wasn’t an actual expert, my memory tells me she wasn’t even all that experienced, but she rode, he rode, and she wanted to ride more and “so should you” was her mantra.

As an 18 year old I tended to assume there were types of people, and I wasn’t, so I existed in a perpetual state of not belonging. Normally this meant that if you were a snowboarder, and I was not, that you would do your thing and I would watch longingly from the sidelines contemplating my own awkward existence. But this girl who hung out with my roommate didn’t see people like that and without making me feel less-than, got to work trying to convince me to snowboard. I mostly wanted to play rugby, but on one day a group of guys I knew from high school came upon a set of free lift tickets and in contemplating whether or not I should take advantage, and weighing out the pros of a free pass and familiar faces compared to the cons of having to pay money to rent equipment, this girl stepped in and sealed the deal. She offered to loan me a pair of goggles, or gloves, or something I cannot recall exactly, but whatever bit it was, was enough to convince me to give it a try.

I was horrible. But everyone is horrible their first time snowboarding and somehow I still enjoyed it.

Then I left school. After one semester, or rather we were on quarters back then, so after one quarter with my snowboarding roommate, I left for a 2 year Mormon mission in Atlanta, and I didn’t keep in contact with anyone.

But I remembered.

When I returned to school all the faces were different but the mountains and the snow were still there. I was a little older, much more mature, but definitely still lacked direction, so I went back to the last thing I remembered liking.

I went snowboarding.

A lot.

I was never, nor will ever, be a physical risk taker and things like half pipes, rails, and cliffs never appealed to me but there is something magical about drifting through powder under the tram at Snowbird that just sort of shuts down your mind and carries you away into a blissful “now” unlike nearly anything else I have ever experienced. I was in love. I went with friends, I went by myself, I went almost every day save Sundays from the first day the resorts opened till that last day in May when the snow turned to rocks.

But then I moved down South where it wasn’t the same and I drifted into other things. It has been years since I’ve been on a lift and the last time I pulled out my goggles the foam fell apart. It was as if the dry dusty foam was my youth crumbling in my hands. I felt old.

Then I turned on the Winter Olympics to watch Shaun White win the gold and there was that snowboarder girl interviewing the half pipe champ of the world!

It was Tina Dixon.

I always knew her name but apparently didn’t pay enough attention or watch the right shows between then and now to know that that girl who was so positive and enthusiastic all those years ago wasn’t all talk or fluff or sparkle without substance but was a real life dream chaser. All of those great things about her back then, were really who she was, and if the television is telling the truth (of course it is) that is who she still is.

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They Didn’t Learn it at Home: they learned it everywhere

I have recently seen a spattering of high school and college kids getting caught on cameras saying and doing racist stuff. The public reaction is most often shock and horror, which is appropriate, and then there is this accusation that this is surely an indicator of nefariousness among the adults who raised these kids. I hear “They must be learning that stuff at home”.1_multipart_xF8FF_5_chimney rock 007

Maybe not.

When it comes to ignoring, dismissing, or disparaging the experiences or ideas of black people in America, that message is taught in the air. No one needs to be at the chalk board. Just like a child learning to walk, if left alone, they will figure it out.

The truth is that very intentional steps need to be taken in the home for a child to NOT learn the messages of assumed black inferiority, or more to the point, the inherent message of white superiority.

The idea that white is the default setting of all things America, be it citizenship, relatability, models of behavior, or representatives of corporate or skilled positions is built into how we go about our daily lives. Yes there may be, and increasingly are, representations of “diversity” throughout our environment, but they are very much just that- diversity. They aren’t the norm or the default but rather representations of the deviance from that norm. There is whiteness and then there is all that other stuff we like to sprinkle into the white pool and we call it diversity. Many of us may love diversity, but really we see it as extra. When all things are left to themselves, they float and rest in whiteness. So much so that it needn’t be named or acknowledged.IMG_6422

Because of this anything outside of white is a thing and people react to “things” in all sorts of ways. Some of us don’t really think we have “things”, as in cross-fit is my “thing” or saving the whales is my “thing”, and those of us who think we don’t have one tend to dismiss the “things” of others. I may think extreme attention to physical fitness is a distraction from things that matter, like literature, and if I am that sort of person, I might even tell jokes about cross-fit (the other day I tried to kill a roach by spraying it with Axe body spray, now the roach is named Blake and it won’t shut up about cross-fit). That would be a bias and we all have them, and we should keep them in check. Keeping our bias in check is not being overly sensitive, it is being appropriately sensitive.front gate arch

When it comes to race, this default setting of white in America means that anyone or any time blackness, or race at all, is brought up, it immediately registers as a “thing” and we tend to react accordingly. Some are into it, some dismiss it, but is not the norm. Those that mock things they aren’t into generally, will likely mock those who complain about the killing of unarmed black people because race politics aren’t their “thing”. Those who generally ignore things that don’t interest them, will likely just ignore those who claim gerrymandering intentionally suppresses the black vote, because making politics a race issue isn’t their “thing”. And then there are those who, like puppies, get excited about every”thing” and jump out to join a march or rally or just a conversation about whether or not the Oscars have been whitewashed with the same uninformed fascination I might give to excavating shipwrecks along the Outer Banks. That isn’t really my thing but it sounds cool.

Realizing this will help us understand why kids do stupid things regarding race. Understanding this is the first step in changing. And we do in fact need to change. Because America does not need to be white. America has never been a geography or system where only white people live and work. Those who aren’t white deserve full recognition and that recognition should go so far that it is assumed and need not be called out- but we are a long way away from that.

That is the goal and we cannot get there by skipping the in-between parts. That would be like running the first and last mile of a marathon but not all those pesky miles in between. Though I would argue that this is what American has historically done. Every time we start running the marathon of race (see what I did there?) we get a little bit tired and skip all the way to the finish line and just ignore race as if it is suddenly irrelevant. And when we do this without truly changing the default setting of whiteness, what we really do when we ignore “race” is ignore the people and ideas and issues that aren’t white. When we ignore race, deny its relevance, or simply do nothing, we let the environmental default do the teaching for us. We are left to the messages sent by television, peers, music, peers, schools, churches, or even just soccer teams.

And when the default is whiteness, and the default goes unchallenged and unchanged, that is what racism is.

So we have to fight that. We begin by teaching that all people have value and none of that value is based on pigmentation. That is mile 1 of 24. Mile 2, and I think most, but definitely not enough of us have been at least this far, is that skin color, that thing we call race, isn’t really a biological thing. Skin does not make anyone fast or slow, smart or dumb, lascivious or prude. Melanin, hair texture, face structure, none of those things are related. Got it. But then comes miles 3 through 23. I think mile 3 is listening to black people. I don’t mean watching black people in order to be entertained, because America has always done that, but I mean when black people, or really all non-white people but I think we have plenty to chew on if we actually invested any real time and effort listening to African-Americans or Native-Americans. Listening not talking. Again, and I really do need to repeat this, because listening to is not the same as listening about. Plenty of messages out there are about black people, I am saying the work of mile 3 is listening directly. Then next maybe asking- but not sharing. You see most of us, because it is such a human thing, after asking one little bit and hearing a little about someone else, we then share a boat load about ourselves. I know I’m a criminal offender in this regard. But white people shouldn’t do that here. We have more than 300 years of sharing all and everything about white America, we can afford to shut up for a little bit.

There is a lot more to do after that but we have never gotten even this far. There is still plenty of asking, and voting, and investing, and teaching, and repairing, and then probably more investing, before we get to mile 24 and we can start “ignoring”. I’m not sure how long that will take but I do know that marathons aren’t run naturally. What I mean is no one just sat there and waited their time and found themselves having completed a marathon. They had to train and run. We will never get to race not mattering in America by just waiting for it to happen. We cannot just wait for all the older runners to age and pass away. All this does is clear the course but it doesn’t run anywhere. And we all get fat waiting.

If America is a set of ideals, and laws, bound by a physical geography, there need not be any real place for skin color in that definition. If we stick with what America is or should be striving to be, or claiming to be, it also need not be defined by a language. Or a religion. Because the ideals of liberty and justice open to all, should in fact mean all Americans. But historically it has meant white Americans. Meant it so much that we at some point just stopped saying it out loud. But we never changed the default

So when high school kids get caught on video making light of lynching or saying racist things, we shouldn’t act so surprised. We shouldn’t assume that something extra nefarious is going on in that home. It could just as easily be that nothing about race is going on in that home. And that is exactly what doing nothing will get us.

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It Isn’t About Playing Nice in the Sandbox, It is About the Deathtraps Hidden in the Sand.

Let us not twist Martin Luther King Jr’s work into something it was not.

It was not about turning the other cheek and being silent. It was about getting punched in the face and persisting.

It was not about us all getting along and being nice, it was about claiming promised rights and justice.IMG_5719

Too many of us were taught that the civil rights movement was about where someone sat on a bus and how the solution was friendship. Simple friendship and getting along was no more the point than a bruise is the point of cancer. This simple narrative ignores the devastation and violence imposed on Black Americans by local governments, school boards, police departments, corporations, as well as run of the mill every day white people.

Black people were not fighting for the right to sit on a bus or drink from a fountain, they were screaming, shouting, fighting, and dying, for basic rights promised to all Americans. Those rights were being systematically and violently denied. The “colored” signs and fountains were just a little token on the surface to warn against those who might be tempted to scratch a little deeper. This was never really about sitting happily next to each other, it was about the fact that one group of people weren’t allowed to ever sit and rest.

Friendship without rights or justice is a degrading sort of condescension that was never a goal of the movement. Simplifying the issues of racial injustice to the basics of treating everyone kindly is similar to telling a child not to sneeze on a gunshot victim in the ER. Of course we should be kind to each other but there were, and are, bigger issues at play.

But Dr. King did talk of the day when we could be friends. I dream of that day. I think we have seen glimpses of it, but we should never fool ourselves into thinking that the friendship is the goal. It isn’t.

It (friendship and harmony) is, and would be, the natural consequence of actual justice and equality- which we have never completely attained. The field was never leveled, injustice persists, and many of us haven’t woken from our dreaming state to do the hard work required to get to that promised land.

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What Are We Building?

We all came from somewhere and someone. This is true for all of us. Our past is just that, we can appreciate it or not, but we should understand this truth especially when we consider that whether we are intentional about it or not, we are all creating what comes next for others.

Actively, passively, it doesn’t strictly matter since time is inevitable and as no one was created in a vacuum, we have all played a role in someone else’s story. Once you begin a story, then start the clock running, a plot has begun and the player in the tale cannot undo it.

So what are you doing with yours? What story, or setting, are you creating?

I was recently able to spend some time with extended family including my parents and together we spent time with my children. I enjoyed it and I enjoy them. I appreciate those who gave so much of themselves to create what and who I am, and I appreciate- though in a different way- that the things I choose to do now and into the future have an effect on those with whom I began.

My grandmother, the one I don’t remember, taught ballet. By all accounts her love and appreciation for ballet outpaced her own skills at dancing, enough-so, that what she passed on to her daughters was a critical and nuanced love for the art more than a participatory aspiration. I am the son of that grandmother’s son, and as this inheritance was apparently maternal, I wasn’t gifted that. Not completely.

I haven’t been raising my children in the same place that I was raised, nor where my parents grew up, and from this new environment my daughter somehow got infected by pointe shoes and tutus. She got it from a “there” (Philadelphia) and not from a “who” (her parents) as we had no ballet appreciation to gift her. But just this past weekend, watching my aunt, watch my daughter dance the Spanish role in the Nutcracker, I saw directly how what I am doing now, ripples out and touches others in all directions- those in my past as well as those who are “now” but may be way off to the side. Because we are swimming in the same body of water. My aunt loved both the dance and the dancer in a way that even her parents couldn’t completely match. I loved that.

And all of this that has happened and is happening now, will matter and help determine what my children do or become when they move out and move on and start their own new things.

We should all look at ourselves and all of our ripples, and consider what it is we are trying to create for tomorrow. We can love who we are and where we come from and still work to do better. We can work to create good things that have never been, or like my family and ballet, skip back to something that was good before but lost along the way.

Because while we all have some sort of genesis that goes in to what we are, none of us are completely bound by it. I may feel limited in my abilities through either or both genetics and socio-economics, but at the end of the day I am my own, and I have will, and what are we all going to do with that?

If things aren’t what they should be now, let us acknowledge that “we” created our “now” and with our volition we can and must do something about it. This means that both you and I and they are all responsible for my very own now, and we all will create what comes next. We all have played a role and no matter what we choose, we will continue to play one moving forward. You did this to me, and I am doing it to you now. We cannot escape the we- nor the I.

If things are good, let us appreciate that and realize how it got that way and determine what should be done with that good going forward. We have to. We are obligated because we all came from somewhere and someone, which means that everything we do is creating those things (someones and somewheres) for new people who are to come- we are connected.

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It isn’t my Family’s First Time in Town

Five generations ago Charles and Louisa Booth lived in India. He was an English officer and she claimed to be a native of Manila. They met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and joined them. In those days becoming Mormon meant moving to America and the Booths sold everything they owned, which by their account was a lot, and prepared to move.

They boarded a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Once there they traveled south and joined an oddly multi racial and multi national group of Mormons who had settled in San Bernardino. They thought this was the final stop but in 1857 when The United States declared war on the Mormons, Brigham Young called all the Saints to gather in Utah. The Booths sold everything again, and walked up through Las Vegas, to a place called Beaver. IMG_1968

Beaver has grown quite a bit since then and still, it can at best be described as a town.

I paid a visit to the San Bernardino historical Society to see if I could find any records of where exactly in town my great-great-great- grandparents lived. The didn’t know. All we found was a tax assessor’s record showing they paid taxes on a plot of land and one horse. I imagine it was a mangy flea-bitten horse.IMG_73431

By the time all those generations filtered down to me, there was, or isn’t, at least not than any of us are aware, any inheritance or property to pass along. They left all that in India. All that they left to their descendants, was the Mormonism.IMG_1958

And that amuses me just a little.

I find it funny because it isn’t a thing I can own and while I can in many ways inherit it, gaining it, my Mormonism, strictly that way would make it kind of worthless. Beliefs held simply because those before held the same, aren’t inherently valuable. Or true. Plenty of generations are gifted traditions that oppress or misguide, so to simply assume that those gifted me are better than the rest is at best- dangerous.IMG_1969

But I am still very much what they were. Five generations and I’m still Mormon.

Because I choose to be. I understand all the reasons one might not, and to be quite frank, I really dislike a lot of the reasons many choose to stay. No tradition remains unchanged over hundreds of years and despite the things I hold as truths, there is other junk in there too. I despise those things and I will work on those things and while I see those things- here I am.IMG_1965

Because I think I have found what the Booths found. They found it in India. I found it somewhere between third and fourth grade. And while I couldn’t find the place they lived exactly, there is a common ground.IMG_1966

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A Prayer of Thanks and Thanksgiving

For some of us there is an inexplicable need to crash into another person. There is no malice in it, just a reciprocal pleasure in collision. Its fun.

At this season of giving thanks, and turkey bowls, I must offer my gratitude for those who have fostered God’s great game on Earth. Whether it be the primordial birth at English boarding school, the formation of an ivy league, or the frozen tundra of Vince Lombardi’s soul- thank you.133982157633763565_FF2pqoAT_f

Thank you to Joe Cool, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, the backfield combo of high knees crazy eyed Roger Craig and smash mouth soft handed Tom Rathman and the greatest second string QB to ever play, for making the fandom of my youth worthwhile.

Thank you Walter Camp for making Web Ellis’s game into a militaristic chess match and thank you Bo Jackson for knowing.

There may possibly, but only maybe, be some other way to satisfy the mannish desire to dress up in armor and gear and run and jump and win and lose and scream and play and dance and fall down and put your face right into someone so hard that snot bubbles up in their nostrils and spit flies from their throat and then you offer your hand to help them up. Or maybe you just stand over them and roar. There may be some other way, or venue, to do these things, but they are, or would be, inherently inferior.bowlfight1905

Thank you Barry Sanders for shifting sideways better than everyone. Thank you TO for giving me reason to say out loud, “Wait! Did you see that? Did he just pull a Sharpie out of his sock and sign the ball? Did you see that!?” Thank you Lawrence Taylor for that moment of sympathetic terror we all had in those moments when you got around the corner and the QB hadn’t seen you yet. Oh yes thank you for that.

Thank you Jonah Lomu for being a freak before Jevon Kearse and thank you Jerry Collins for making my sternum hurt despite having never met you.Chabal_Rugby_Racing_vs_Stade_Toulousain_311009

Thank you Chad Hauser for that one time in wind sprints where you didn’t see me coming and thank you Asi Mohi for my first broken nose. Thank you Deb Bilbao for teaching me in 6th grade that a girl can pick a boy up over her head and toss him away like trash, and thank you Vern for teaching me every dirty trick a lineman should know despite my being 2 years and 100 pounds your inferior. Thank you gigantic racist Afrikaner for teaching me that if you reach your right arm all the way over toward the loosehead’s waistband it will keep him from boring in.270919733803588039_YMsWTYK4_c

Thank you Jon Brown for being both classy and terrifying. Thank you Randall Cunningham for throwing the ball in Randy Moss’s general vicinity so he could make amazing things look easy, and thank you Steve Atwater for nearly chopping people in half.

And thank you Thanksgiving for providing a day to celebrate gluttony and collisions together.

click here for a visual ode to beauty, grace, and truth.

Also… team in D.C…. Change your name. You are ruining everything.

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I Have

As I watch so many people post #metoo, I look back on my youth and I think I was, and try to be now, one of the good boys- and this terrifies me because I was horrible. If I was a good kid, and I know how bad I was, how much worse were, or are, the others? And even now, like someone carrying a benign cancerous tumor, I wonder how healthy I really am.idahobeach

I grew up with strong female role models, grandmothers, mother, four sisters, and my father demanded the women in his home be shown respect. So much so that the only time I can recall my father ever raising his arm as if to hit me, was when I made a flippant remark toward my mother. I had not defied her, but simply been less than respectful. Dad would not stand for that. I had women teachers in school who were formidable and bright, I knew and believed that the smartest students in my grade were all girls, and in church I was taught of the existence of a divine feminine, a Mother in Heaven.

And still, in my mind, women became objects.

I had no idea how to talk to girls. I couldn’t do it. I was so caught up in an internal inferno of sexual desires, hyper male competitiveness, and crippling pubescent insecurity that I could not deal with anything beyond myself in the presence of a girl. All I could see was the shape of her body. All I could think of was whether or not she wanted me in the same way I might want her and if so what were the physical possibilities and how could I really know what she thought, or wanted, and how could I get there.

Sex was everywhere and in every thing. It was in the music I listened too, the shows I saw on tv, in my science text books, in Sunday School lessons, in the jokes my friends and I told each other, and most of all, it was in my head and all throughout my body. It was simply a part of the atmosphere, like oxygen or carbon. There were other things there too, like ozone, STD’s, and god given commandments against fornication, but somehow there was so much sex that if it didn’t crowd everything else out, it at least engulfed it, like an oil spill covering a beach. There might be a bird on that beach, but it would be an oil covered sex bird.

And this was before the internet.

The other things, the ones that were not sex, were either trivial, like algebra, or important, like football. Football was power and glory both on the field and off. It rewarded strength and violence with points on the scoreboard, and it brought me, or anyone associated, an elevated status among our peers. It wasn’t just football, there was basketball and baseball too, and all were important, almost “most” important. And they were really meant for boys. There were of course girls’ teams and even a separate girls’ gym. It was smaller and less elaborate. The girls sports did not have cheerleaders or dancing girls at half time. The sports I played did. The boys with status played and the girls wore short skirts and cheered us on. It was how the school, and the community, were set up. It did not matter that the girls teams won more games and garnered more awards, the pageantry and focus was on us- the boys.

And I bought it all.

Because of all this, and because of me, I went on dates, and took girls to dances, and talked to girls in class and on the phone and all the while I am not sure I ever truly treated them, or considered them fully, as people.

They were body parts. They were trophies. They were potential reflections of myself. I did not go on dates to share ideas or witty banter. I did not have a relationship because I valued the companionship of this other person’s soul. I surely did not share my soul with any of them, I was simply navigating the build up in the teen movie relationship where looks and status are the driver and there might be some words or events that crescendo in what it is all really about anyway- which is the kiss, or depending on the movie, sex. That was the win, the goal, the point.

This was me and I do not think I grew, or evolved, or was taught, out of that mind set and attitude. I wonder, or fear, that I might not have ever changed at all had I not detached from society all together for a full 2 years. For me that is what it took. I went away to a new geography without my friends where I knew that for a solid 24 months I would not go on a date, hug, or even hold a girl’s hand. I did not listen to the radio or watch tv. I wore uniform clothes in a uniform style where status, sex, or social rewards were completely off the table and my only true focus, was talking to people about what was important to them. That time taught me a lot in a very fundamental, very foundational way.

I went through a 2 year hyper masculinity detox, and in large part, I think it worked. I hope it did. But when I came home, it was all still there, it was all the same, it was just me that changed. It was like I had been washed free of the oil slick but no one had touched the beach and I was back. So I wonder how clean I really am and want to know how much oil I swallowed with all those years of swimming. I wonder how clean I ever really got because that 2 year detox wasn’t built “for that”. There was no lesson or curriculum deconstructing paternalistic hyper sexualized masculinity. There were lessons that related, or maybe correlated, but brushing against is not the same as confrontation. Correction and eradication, while related, are not the same.

So as I see people post #me too or #I have and I consider them and I reflect on me, I know that I have a part to play. I know I have been, and probably am, part of the problem. Sexual harassment and objectification isn’t a them problem, or a girl problem, or a Hollywood problem, it is a me and us problem. And when I reflect on my own experience and heart, knowing my own truth, my own sincere desires for goodness, I have to admit- I have.

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