My primary Writing.com blog.
Welcome to my personal blog.|
Sometimes I write whatever I feel like.
Sometimes I respond to prompts borrowed and/or stolen from the following places:
I generally don't have regrets about the course of my life because it's very possible that the things in my life I have now that I love wouldn't exist if I had done things differently. If I said I would go back and get out of or pursue a different relationship, I wouldn't have our kids, or the great experiences I've had with my wife. If I said I would go back and avoid a particular mistake, I wouldn't have the wisdom I gained from going through that particular trial. So with the caveat that I'm not really sure I'd turn back time at all, if I had to, I would probably change one or all of the following things:
1. Unhealthy Habits
I spent a lot of years not exercising and eating like calories didn't count. And I've spent a lot of years overweight and out of shape as a result. If I could change the course of my life so that I could have spent the past 10-20 years making better choices in order to feel better physically (and not have to go through the current struggle to lose the extra weight!), that'd be pretty nice.
2. More Risks At Work
I was admittedly very timid with my career choices. My parents really pressured me to prioritize being able to support myself and I took a lot of jobs (and turned down quite a few) because of the financial component. I sometimes wonder if I'd be in a different and better place professionally if I took risks like stepping off the corporate track and steady paycheck in order to get a job in a writers room, or if I'd said yes to opportunities that might have required me to travel more, or step outside my comfort zone. My career has been largely comfortable, but I often wonder how it would have been different if I had taken more risks instead.
If I ended up going back in time, I would have taken my writing more seriously. At the time, I always believed I was too tired or too busy to write and now in retrospect I recognize that it was instead closer to laziness and fear of failure. Had I the ability to do it all over again, I would love to be able to teach myself that lesson earlier on, so I didn't have to spend so many years being so afraid of living up to my potential as a writer that I ended up not really writing very much at all.
4. Live Somewhere Else For A While
Being born and having lived my entire life in California, I wish I would have taken the opportunity to live somewhere else for a while. Maybe a semester abroad, or a gap year, or more mission trips, or just more leisure travel in general. I've been fortunate enough to have taken some amazing vacations in different spots around the world, but I do always wonder what it would be like to have lived for a season in a place completely different from California. Maybe somewhere on the East Coast or an international city somewhere.
"Take up Your Cross" | Prompt ▼
At my weekly Bible study (which is reading through the entire Bible in a year), we finally reached the New Testament and just finished the Book of Matthew. The conversation this morning brought up a couple of things I hadn't considered before, the most interesting among them - at least for me - being a conversation about the questions Jesus was asked and answered. By many accounts, the other characters in the Bible asked Jesus 183 questions. Jesus only definitively answered three of them, and asked 307 questions of others, often by answering their question with a question or two. I hadn't really thought about that before.
One of the things I've always struggled with as a Christian is my fellow Christians who treat the Bible as rather than . So many Christians look to specific passages of the Bible to tell them how to act, or to make an argument in support of what they already believe. But looking at the stories of Jesus as told in the Bible, it's remarkable how often he didn't have an explicit and direct answer for someone's question.
What that's taught me is that the Bible isn't a how-to instruction book as much as it is a book that's meant to be studied, learned from, and applied to our own lives and contexts. In terms of my own life, it means that I need to spend less time reading the Bible looking for answers and more time reading the Bible to figure out what the right questions to ask are.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show
The Wish Dragon
Schitt's Creek (Season 1)
Selling the OC (Season 1)
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Stranger Things (Season 2)
Stranger Things (Season 3)
After watching an early cut of BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, I'm really excited about it. I think audiences are really going to respond to the story, which had to be completely reworked after the passing of Chadwick Boseman. But my favorite thing I watched on the movie side last month was the SHOWRUNNERS documentary about what it's like to be the head writer/producer on a television show. It's basically my dream job, and the documentary featured interviews with several prominent showrunners about what their job is like.
I'm finally getting caught up on STRANGER THINGS on the television side, which I'm really enjoying. I didn't think Season 3 was as good as Season 2, but I'm really excited for the most recently fourth season. SELLING THE OC is pretty dull because the personalities aren't nearly as interesting as the original SELLING SUNSET show, but I enjoy seeing the real estate being sold closer to my neck of the woods.
TOP PICK: Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show
I was initially tempted to say that my worst job interview was the time I was up for a job with a very, very well-known production company, studied up on their films extensively, and when asked what my favorite movie of theirs was, promptly forget everything and had to admit that I literally could not think of a single movie they had produced. And then I blurted out a movie that wasn't even theirs. Needless to say, that recruiter did not end up calling me back for a second interview.
But, no. That was just an embarrassing interview. My worst one? That would be the time that I interviewed over the phone for a job with an independent producer and the assistant that I would have been replacing. Everything seemed to be going well until they found out I lived in Long Beach at the time. This producer worked out of his home in Westwood which, for the non-Angelenos reading this is almost exactly 30 miles... which means it could be anywhere up to two and a half hours away, depending on traffic.
The producer and the assistant were incredulous that I would actually be able to make it to the job on time. I assured them I would make it to work on time, every day without fail. I prided myself on my punctuality. The producer put me on hold to confer with his assistant, came back on the line and said, "Okay, here's the deal. I'll bring you in for a second interview in person at my home office. If you're even a minute late, you're not getting the job. Oh and let's set the interview for 9:00am right in the heart of rush hour to see how committed you are."
In retrospect, I should have taken that as a warning sign. But I got up the morning of the interview at 5:00am and got ready. I left for the interview at 6:00am and got there by 7:15am. I parked down the street from his house and literally waited there in my car for an hour and a half. At 8:45am, I was just about to get out of my car and walk up to the house to be a few minutes early when the producer called me.
"Are you here?" he asked me.
"Of course," I replied. "I actually just parked on your street."
"Goddamnit," the producer muttered.
I was a little perplexed.
"I'm sorry?" I asked.
"I just lost 20 bucks to my assistant. I was sure you weren't gonna make it and he bet me you'd be on time. Anyway, look... I'm not going to hire you. I was never going to hire you. I was just hoping to make 20 bucks off my assistant to teach him a lesson. Anyway, sorry you drove all the way up here. Good luck, kid." And then he hung up.
Most of you are probably reading this and thinking that's pretty messed up... but don't worry, because this was also one of my very first lessons in this industry about how you're supposed to treat everyone with respect because you never know when you're going to run into someone again. "Be nice to those you meet on the way up because you'll meet them again on the way down" is how that adage often goes.
Cut to a few years later and the job I ended up getting instead of that one was for a pretty high-level senior executive at a much better-known and well-funded production company. This producer was a decent name at the time I interviewed with him but had struggled in the years since. As it happened, he was kind of desperate to meet with my boss to see if he could get our company to invest in his latest movie. When he called to ask for the meeting I told him the only time I could fit him in was at 4:00pm on a Friday.
Producer: "But I'll get stuck in traffic both ways. It'll take me hours to get across town and back."
It was the only time I offered, so he took it.
That Friday, I called him ten minutes before the meeting. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Producer... my boss actually had a last-minute conflict and he'll have to reschedule this meeting."
Producer: "I... just drove... all the way here. For nothing..."
"Take up Your Cross" | Prompt ▼
Do I think churches should have been included in the stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic when nobody was sure of anything about COVID-19 and many of us were worried that ourselves our our loved ones could die of a new virus of unknown lethality? Nah, we should have totally let churches stay open right alongside other essential services like hospitals and grocery stores. They're basically the same thing, right?
While religious freedom is certainly a freedom we here in the United States and many other places around the world enjoy, it's not an absolute right. And despite what conservative politicians and the majority on the Supreme Court may say, that freedom is not under fundamental attack. The public good supersedes personal preference, so just like freedom of speech has its limits (you can't yell "fire" in a public place and cause a panic, for example), so does the freedom of religion (like, oh, maybe having to stay home along with the rest of your neighbors when there's a public health emergency going on).
As a Christian who regularly attends church, the pandemic was hard on me (as I know it was for many, many others). I missed my church family. Doing church remotely was not even close to an ideal substitute, and yet it was something that I did gladly because part of the whole "love thy neighbor" thing is, you know, keeping them safe from a raging pandemic. And sure, with the benefit of hindsight, we could argue about what the actual lethal risk of this virus was, what mitigating factors were necessary and which were less effective, and when the right time to open different types of activities back up again would have been. But this question doesn't contemplate having any of that hindsight; it asks about the beginning of the pandemic, when things were uncertain. And during those times I just don't think the Christian faith supports a position of, "Who cares about the risk to other people, my religious freedom demands that I be allowed to attend church in person when 80% of other establishments are shut down!"
The larger issue I think this question speaks to, though, is a pervasive attitude of Christian exceptionalism combined with a massive persecution complex. Christianity is, admittedly, a religion based on the the idea of evangelizing the "good news" and bringing others to the "true" faith, so it's somewhat understandable that feelings of superiority that often come with the exceptionalist beliefs present in the Christian worldview. But many Christians have also convinced themselves that they're an oppressed group, even in countries where they represent the overwhelmingly dominant religion (and in many cases the majority of the total population). Church attendance and the number of citizens who consider themselves Christians may currently be down from their record highs from a few decades ago, but that's not the same thing as being persecuted.
You want to see people being persecuted for their religious beliefs? Spend some with the underground Christian churches in China. Do some missionary work in Africa. Talk to any of a number of Muslim communities in America about how they've been treated since 9/11. With approximately 65% of all Americans still identifying as Christian, we are not an oppressed class in this country. The fact that we couldn't gather in a physical location to worship during the same time where people had to close their business and shelter in place does not mean our religious freedom is being infringed upon.
In case you haven't noticed, I have a real problem with this question. I have a problem with it because its phrasing at the very outset ("Do you think it was right...") implies that there is a value judgement to be made and I don't think that should be the case here. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, we were all focused on keeping ourselves and others safe and that should be doubly important for Christians whom Jesus commands to radically love and sacrifice for others. If this question had asked whether the pandemic measures were necessary, or what churches could have done different in hindsight or something like that, it would have been an actual conversation piece with differing opinions and perspectives on what could have been done.
But this question instead basically presumes that Christians were persecuted for not being allowed to attend church early in the pandemic and asks if the respondent agrees with that. For the record I don't, and I don't even believe that churches being closed during the early stages of a pandemic is an indication of religious persecution. We were still free to worship, we just couldn't gather publicly during a period of time where community spread of a lethal virus was a major worldwide concern. Those aren't the same things.
I think the world would be a better place if a lot of Christians spent less time being aggrieved about how they're being perceived or treated and what they want, and instead spent that time focusing on the mission of Jesus and following the commandments he gave us.
If I had access to a time machine, I'd divide up my travels into two components. The non-interventionist "just visiting" component, and the "meddle with the timeline" component. For the first component, the tricky part would be narrowing the list of times and places to see. I suppose my top five list of historical places to visit in my time machine would include, in no particular order:
Prehistoric times - gotta see a living dinosaur!
Italy during the Renaissance
Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt during the time of Jesus
Ancient Rome and/or Greece
The Roaring 20s (before the Great Depression)
If I were going into "meddle with the timeline" mode that's a little tougher because (a) there's so much I'd want to change, and (b) I generally subscribe to the butterfly effect theory of time travel, and often think that if massive changes were made to pivotal events in history (the "kill Hitler so WWII never happened" type of things), it would have unintended consequences that we can't predict. So my meddling would probably be relegated to things designed to get us to the familiar present with just enough different to put our modern world in a better place.
For example, if I went back in time with $10,000 and systematically bought stock, jumped forward in time, sold that stock to have even more to buy stock in the next big company (i.e., IBM or GE to Microsoft to Apple to Tesla, etc.), you could have literally hundreds of billions of dollars. Maybe trillions. Now as much fun as it would be to imagine having astronomical personal wealth like that... imagine if that wealth was concentrated into a private firm that was designed to use its wealth and power to influence the shaping of economic policy for the better? It could be run by a board of progressive interests: pro democracy, pro equality, pro labor, etc. With that kind of money they could afford just as many (if not more) lobbyists as the special interests.
They could fund social programs designed to help the lower and middle classes. They could lobby for regulations on industries and special interests that otherwise could use their own power to circumvent accountability. They could invest in new technologies to fight climate change, or stabilize our crumbling educational system to make the next generation's outcomes that much better.
I'm a progressive at heart. I believe in change and pushing things forward to try and make the world a better place. If I had a time machine and used it to go back and meddle in the least invasive way possible, it would be to help the progressive interests of today build as strong of a foundation as possible so that the scales aren't quite as tipped against them as they currently are.
Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers
The Gray Man
Top Gun: Maverick
The Old Man
Only Murders In The Building (Season 2)
On the movie side of things, Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers was a fun, surprisingly subversive movie that was crammed full of references to both Hollywood and the old Saturday morning cartoon. File that one away under "pleasant surprise." The Gray Man was entertaining enough, I suppose, but as a huge fan of the book series it's based on, I found myself a little disappointed. It felt like they just kind of made a generic espionage thriller and a generic action protagonist out of what I think is a really compelling literary character. It was fun to watch, but I like the books way, way better. Spiderhead was a weird little movie that I'm not sure actually made sense, but kept my interest. And Top Gun: Maverick was delightful. It's a total old-school action movie and they don't make many of these anymore. Definitely worth watching if you were a fan of the original. It's a masterclass into how to do an excellent sequel.
On the television side, The Dropout was good but hard to watch because it was a little slow and the subject matter of watching Elizabeth Holmes basically destroy her own life and the lives of others in pursuit of a fraudulent invention is not the lightest of fare. Loot was fun to watch, but didn't really feel like it was offering much new to the "out of touch rich person learns to be a human being" genre. The Old Man was really slow but got good until abruptly ending. I'll definitely watch the new season and the acting was phenomenal, but it was a bit of a frustrating show. Only Murders In The Building Season 2 is a lot of fun. They found a way to continue the story in a completely different and yet familiar way that captures the magic of the first season, which is hard to do in the second season of a show.
TOP PICK: Top Gun: Maverick
The first foreign country I visited was Spain in 2009. My cousin-in-law's parents were missionaries at a Christian school outside of Madrid for almost a decade and hosted us for their last summer before returning to the States. After years of wanting to travel but never having the opportunity, my wife and I soaked everything in and immediately fell in love with international travel.
The following year (2010) we visited London for the first time and I surprised my wife with an overnight trip to Paris, which we followed up two years later with a trip specifically to Paris in Spring of 2013. Later that summer, my wife went on a mission trip with his sister's church to Brazil (Sao Paulo, specifically), and I followed her on a second mission trip a year later in Summer of 2014.
The next few years were filled with lots of domestic travel for various reasons (mostly short getaways and attending weddings). Other than my wife's third trip to Brazil for Thanksgiving 2017, we went on trips to Hawaii, Nashville, New York, Portland (Oregon not Maine), Reno, Seattle, Texas (separately to both Austin and Dallas). When we were getting ready to start the foster-to-adopt process and start our family, we took one last "big hurrah" trip to Thailand in July 2018, and that was the last international trip we've taken. I was hoping to visit three different continents before our parenting journey began and thanks to that last trip to Thailand, we were able to get stamps for Europe, South America, and Asia in our passports.
Since then, being new parents and the whole global pandemic thing have really put a lot of our travel plans on hold, and our list of places we want to visit has only increased in the intervening years. If I were to narrow down those places to a short list, the top three places I still want to visit at this point (which one is first depends on the day and the price of flights ) are Japan, Australia, and either Ireland or Italy. There are a ton more places I'd love to visit someday but whenever my wife and I talk about international travel, those are the destinations that we most often check first to see what's available.
With the kids' adoptions being finalized earlier this year, we're just waiting on their official paperwork (new birth certificates so we can get new social security cards so we can get passports), and once that happens we'll be cleared to start traveling the world again!
"Blog City Prompt Forum" | Prompt ▼
I remember this quote. It's from a commencement speech that SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts gave at his kid's graduation ceremony from some boarding school somewhere. At the time it was met with mixed reviews, with many either celebrating its irreverence or dismissing it as faux-intellectual nonsense. The version in the prompt is actually an abridged version, though. Here's the full text of that section of his commencement speech:
"Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.
I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes."
He gave that speech back in 2017, before the Supreme Court replaced Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett, and Stephen Breyer with Ketanji Brown Jackson. Back before the Court's most recent term where they overturned Roe v. Wade, gutted the federal government's ability to regulate major types of environmental pollutants, and have dramatically limited the rights of states to regulate guns (funny how they say we must entrust reproductive rights to the states, but gun rights are too important to be left up to individual states to decide... ), all things that are wildly unpopular with a significant majority of Americans.
In retrospect, maybe this is exactly the kind of person that John Roberts has always been. Someone who prides himself on being moderate and sensible and an institutionalist is, at heart, a "fuck your feelings" type who foreshadowed five years ago what they were going to do when given an opportunity. After all, it's good for us to be treated unfairly, to be betrayed, to lose and have your opponent gloat over their victory. The really important part isn't how badly you get screwed over; it's whether you learn something from the experience.
Spoken like someone who has routinely done the screwing over and has rarely been screwed over himself.
Don't get me wrong, I do think there is a grain of truth in what he's saying about the fact that we are all tempered and shaped by our failures. We often learn the most salient lessons about who we are and what we believe in the face of adversity. I guess I just have an issue with the messenger on this one. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who by most accounts has led a pretty charmed life and now has the power to change the course of history in this country is telling a bunch of middle school graduates "I hope you'll fail at your dreams and be disappointed so you learn to suck it up."
For me, it's kind of like being lectured on your parenting skills by friends who have live-in domestic staff, or like an inheritor of generational wealth giving you tips on how to build a fortune. At best, it's the misguided advice of someone who hasn't actually practiced what they're preaching. At worse, it was a subtle warning of what was to come... an era where we're all going to get jurisprudentially fucked and his advice for when that happens is to basically be the dad from Calvin & Hobbes and tell us all how it "builds character."
I used to think John Roberts took his role as the steward of the Supreme Court seriously. That he actually believed in the fair and balanced application of the law was more important than partisan politics. The more I read about John Roberts and the actions he's taken since helping the Bush team argue in Bush v. Gore to stop the count in Florida and declare Bush the winner of the 2000 presidential election (a decision he directly benefitted from by subsequently being appointed to the federal bench), almost all of his opinions and decisions have frequently aligned with the interests of the Republican Party. And I don't mean with conservatism as a general judicial philosophy, I specifically mean key decisions that have implicitly and explicitly entrenched the political power of the Republican Party. I know all this sounds a little
... but seriously, look it up sometime. See what Roberts had to say in Exxon Shipping v. Baker about corporate responsibility for wrongdoing. Or Citizens United about corporate political donations being considered free speech. Or Heller, which disregarded the "for the purposes of a well regulated militia" part of the second amendment (odd for so many "originalists" on the court to decide in that specific instance that the founders didn't know what they were talking about!). Or Shelby County v. Holder where states with a record of voter rights violations no longer needed the federal government's approval over new voting laws because racism doesn't exist anymore. It's remarkable how often Roberts' opinions aren't just generically conservative but are very specifically in favor of a course of action that benefits the Republican Party in efforts to entrench its own power.
Maybe a guy like that shouldn't be telling a bunch of kids that he hopes the struggle and fail. Then again, maybe someone who seems to be putting his thumb on the scales of justice is exactly the kind of person who would tell kids that he hopes they learn something from inevitable adversity and disappointment with the system.
"Take up Your Cross" | Prompt ▼
My favorite church activity is Bible study. For a long time I didn't read the Bible, and for a while after that I read it quite skeptically. To be honest, I still do that, but I now have a much greater appreciation for the text, thanks to years of listening to really smart sermons, and realizing that a bit of confusion and uncertainty is kind of the point. Once I accepted the fact that the Bible isn't supposed to be a step-by-step blueprint, I was able to really appreciate all the nuances it contains, including inconsistencies and pieces of it that can be vastly misinterpreted by different people.
As a piece of literature, there's nothing quite like it. How it was written, how it was compiled, the sheer among of complexity and different authors and styles and types of writing... it's a remarkable text. I love attending Bible studies where people who are much more familiar with the text than I am weigh in on their interpretation of certain passages.
I'm particularly enjoying my church's current Bible in a Year study where we're reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, between January and December. Our pastor, who has a number of advanced degrees not just in theology but also ancient languages and history and other supplemental studies that are applicable to the Bible, meets with us once a week to talk through what we've read from both a historical and pastoral context. I've really gotten a lot out of this particular bible study and I anticipate it will encourage me to continue to read more and learn more about the Bible for years to come.
"Take up Your Cross" | Prompt ▼
This struck me as a really odd question. The entire Christian religion is based on following Jesus. Almost the entirety of the New Testament is about following Jesus. Most Christians spend their life seeking to discern God's will for their lives. So Jesus decides to do a one-day encore performance on Earth and he's going to spend it with you... and the question asks what I'm going to do that day? How can it be anything other than saying to Jesus, "I'm doing whatever you're doing" because I'm not the most important person in that meet-up.
The question makes it seems like we should be debating what to do with the presence of Jesus as if he were an out-of-town relative, or a VIP visitor from work, where you're debating whether you should plan a chill day of showing him one of your favorite shows on Netflix and ordering in Thai from the pretty decent place next door, or if you should make reservations at a cool new restaurant and maybe take him out for a night on the town.
What's being proposed in this question is nothing short of world-changing. Jesus, a figure that up until this point, modern Christians have had to read a very old book about and do their best to intuit what he would do in a given situation, is back and willing to spend time with you. The New Testament is full of stories of his disciples following him around, or those who follow in the footsteps of the disciples and try to do what he would have done if he were with them during the time periods depicted in Acts, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. I just can't fathom any response other than, "I just want to go wherever you go, and do whatever you do." The whole point of the Christian faith is that we're supposed to follow Jesus' teachings... what better opportunity to do that than if he were to show up on your doorstep.
If Jesus said, "Let's go to the beach, there's something I want to do there," I'd grab my keys.
If Jesus said, "Hey, are we close to Jerusalem, because I want to check on something," I'd book us plane tickets.
If Jesus wanted to kick up his feet on my couch and said, "I have some thoughts on some things," I'd grab my laptop and start taking notes.
The whole point of the Christian faith is that it's not about us; it's about Jesus. I have no idea what he'd want to do if he showed up on my doorstep one day. All I know is that I'd be far more concerned about what he wanted to do than what I wanted to do... and whatever he wanted to do should be something I automatically say "yes" to.