My Self When I Am Myself

(Click here to read “I, Myself, and Me,” which is the first half of this post.)

I spend 4 months of the year in sleep mode. A few months in early winter and a few months in summer. Sluggish hibernations of the mind and soul. Then something — and it’s hard to pin down exactly what — jolts me awake. So what does it look like when I emerge from my slumber?

When a bear wakes up from hibernation, it lumbers through the woods in voracious pursuit of sustenance. When my bear-like self wakes up from a hibernatory funk, I do something similar.

Suddenly wide awake, I emerge from my cave and barrel through the woods, barrel-chested, with more energy than a barrel of monkeys. Whereas I had been a bit of a morose drag in my torpid state, I’m suddenly a barrel of laughs too. Or a bear o’ laughs, if you will.

And I run. Headlong. Practically stumbling over my paws with eagerness. I run in pursuit of… everything. Music. Conversation. Nature. Movies. Writing. Quality time with my kids. Quality time with my wife. Every worthwhile thing on earth abruptly becomes hyper-vivid and eminently worth lunging toward. I suddenly remember the most important thing about life itself. That it’s absolutely packed to the hilt, to the gills, to the ceiling, with lavish depths of meaning. And exquisite pleasures of all kinds.

Oh and beauty. My gosh, the beauty. I suddenly remember the extravagant beauty of the world. Beauty, the ideal which I had emblazoned in ink on my chest when I was 20 years old, back when I would have proudly called that ideal the linchpin of my worldview. Beauty, which makes life worth living. Beauty, which makes the world’s stomach-churning horrors bearable. Beauty, which proves that we are not mere bundles of neurons or accidents of cosmic fate.

(Pauses, exhales, collects thoughts.)

Like that hungry bear, my thoughts are running out ahead of me, running so fast I have to keep pace. Because that’s what my thoughts do when I’m wide awake. I shall try to slow down. At least a smidge.

Depending on your perspective — and your inclination for wide-eyed conversation — my lucid self is either really fun to be around, or a bit exhausting. In my highest moments, I can imagine someone describing me as borderline manic. Danielle might say I’m being too hard on myself by saying this, although she would readily admit with a wry smile that I’m certainly a handful when I’m in my awakened state. (And an entirely different sort of handful when I’m hibernating.) Fortunately, I married supremely well. Danielle bears with both the semi-manic and semi-depressive sides of the bear she married.

So here is what it’s like when I wake up. This is a glimpse of what I’m like when I emerge from the cave of my creeping anxiety and neurotic self-loathing, out into the daylight of what I believe is my true self.

When I am wide awake, my mind runs on high-octane fuel and my tongue follows suit. My thought processes are lucid, often forming in my mind like a waking dream, and I don’t second-guess my logic or gut instincts (which is the diametrical opposite of my sluggish self). The verbalization of my thoughts becomes fluid. Whereas my torpid self gets tongue-tied and struggles to think of the words I want, my lucid self speaks smoothly and with enthusiastic conviction. I am somehow able, finally, to access every page of my internal lexicon with ease. I’ve been known to say to my wife, “I have my words back.”

I can construct spontaneous edifices of logic and reason that help me make the decisions I need to make, thus pushing forward my personal narrative on any given day. And in contrast to my head-down, brow-furrowed, gaze-averting, hibernatory self, my awake self proactively seeks out conversation. I crave it like I crave food. (And by gosh, I crave food almost constantly.)

Remember the stuttering, stammering Colin Firth in The King’s Speech? Now remember his fluid, pivotal speech at the end? Purely in terms of the articulation of my thoughts, the transformation in that movie sums up my 2 selves nicely.

Truly, it’s a bizarre phenomenon to witness.

When I am wide awake, all I want to do while I’m by myself is listen to truly great music and watch truly great movies. I have very little desire to fritter away my time with disposable entertainment of any kind (reality shows, sports talk radio, random YouTube clips). What constrains my consumption is that the only time I usually have by myself, besides my morning blog session, is an 80-minute round-trip commute and a 60-minute lunch break. So I listen to carefully selected albums — and a few good podcasts — during my commute, and I stream carefully selected movies during my lunch break. As a result, I’m now finally chipping away at my bottomless movie queue. And with the help of a music streaming service, I discover or rediscover a great album almost every day. (Side note: The pool of stellar music is seemingly infinite! Which I guess makes it… an infinity pool.)

But the point is not the quantity. The point is the level of engagement. Being awake enables me to see, once again, the intensely textured beauty contained in a thoughtfully rendered sonic or cinematic creation. My mind is not distracted by worry or dulled by lethargy. It is sharp and receptive.

So I feed it the best art and the most compelling narratives I can find, and these nourish my mind and soul. I would even say they nourish my body, which was designed to crave (among many other things) the visceral rush of carefully curated auditory stimuli.

Evocative music and resonant movies make me feel more human. As I see it, that’s one of the most vital functions of any well-crafted narrative. After all, stories are woven into our human fabric.

When I am wide awake, I have much more to offer my kids. Or more accurately, I remember that I have much more to offer my kids. I’ve always had the same amount to offer, but my hibernatory dad self can easily get lost in the weeds. I can be defeated by the struggle of the moment, be it something the kids haven’t learned to do yet (i.e. potty training for Greyson, independent sleeping for Violet) or some momentary meltdown that in reality is just part and parcel of the toddler parenting experience. But when I am awake, I can much more easily put all of this in perspective and simply be grateful for all the kids’ glistening moments and achievements, which are plentiful.

My awake self is prudent enough — and content enough — to know that it’s infinitely more important to be warmly present in each moment, than to lug around my various axes and grind them dejectedly whenever the kids do something that disappoints me. Clarity tends to infuse me with a certain hard-earned wisdom on this point, and perhaps even the humility to know that my ax-grinding (and teeth-grinding) has never accomplished anything in the first place.

To quote a song by The Who, which later became the name of a good movie, the kids are alright. And so am I, when I am awake enough to embrace that affirmational truth.

When I am wide awake, I am a better husband. I won’t spell this out in too much detail since it feels odd to write in great depth about my marriage, but I will say this. When I’m in hibernation mode, I am codependent. I am emotionally needy. I am desperate for Danielle to be my quiet place, my rock, my steadying force in the midst of the storms that blow through my mind. And she provides all of that.

But when I reemerge into my true self, I don’t need or demand any of that. I still appreciate her being rock steady, no doubt. And I’m deeply grateful for her affirming, unwavering moral support. But I am perfectly able to maintain my own emotional equilibrium. I don’t slouch and slump over against her. I stand up straight and hold my head high with joy and purpose.

And that’s when our marriage — any marriage — is the best kind of partnership. When each partner can navigate their own ship. That frees up both of us to support each other’s ship however we can. Not because either of us is helpless or codependent, but because we love each other enough to throw our full moral support behind what the other one has energetically set about to accomplish.

But to do that, both partners have to be awake, and clear-eyed. And right now, that’s where we find ourselves.

When I am wide awake, I have the good sense not to barrage my mind with more than I can handle. I take a week off from the news from time to time. I modulate my Twitter usage. I avoid watching movies that might crush my spirit for no good reason, with no redeeming value. I try to steer clear of bleak conversations that I know will likely burden me with despair about things I can’t control. (Unless it’s a conversation with someone who needs a listening ear about something difficult in their own life. That’s a totally different can of worms, and one that’s well worth prying open.)

In short, I prize and proactively preserve my mental health. Especially since at any given lucid moment in my life, I can vividly remember having the exact opposite feeling within the previous 3 or 4 months. And I want to do anything in my power to hold onto that sweet sense of lucidity.

For my own sake, certainly. But equally as important, for the sake of my deeply impressionable young children. For the sake of my friends and family. For the sake of everyone I rub shoulders with. And for the sake of my true love, who deserves my best self, given to her with the best of my ability.

So I press onward, clinging to my clarity for a dozen different reasons. I will do my best to remain wide awake and stave off hibernation with reckless abandon.

After all, as a roving band of North American musical philosophers once sang:

“Sleeping is giving in…. no matter what the time is.

Sleeping is giving in… so lift those heavy eyelids.”



So there you have it. The dramatic ebb and flow of my mind, which pinballs me every few months between a semi-paralyzing flatness and an exhilarating depth of clarity. To be clear, I’m not helpless in this back-and-forth toggling of my mind. There are numerous things I can do — and indeed do — to enact and preserve my awake self. I’ll lay those out in some other post.

But there is a decent portion of it that still feels beyond me and my efforts. And it is that part I seek to understand by publicizing this aspect of my journey. Please don’t hesitate to comment or message me if you would like to engage with this post in any way or share the details of your own experiences. I’m all ears.

And finally, allow me to just say: THANK YOU. Thank you for reading this far. I am grateful for every person who takes the time to read the things I write. I am honored by your presence here on my bare-bones little blog (which at some point I’d love to spruce up a bit!).

To the extent that I know you personally, I’m grateful that our paths have crossed. I’m blown away by the array of fascinating people I’ve had the good fortune to meet over the years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that human connection is truly infinite.

And if you and I have never met because you somehow stumbled onto this page through some online conduit, I’m glad you’re here!

Make yourself comfortable.

Goofy Papa & Violet


FOOTNOTE: The roving band of philosophers is Arcade Fire. Gotta make sure every quote is properly attributed! Especially when it’s from one of my favorite bands.

I, Myself, and Me

I am 2 people.

Those 2 people have identical values and a similar worldview, but nearly opposite temperaments. I spend 6-8 months a year as one of those people, and the other 4-6 months I gradually morph into the other. I don’t know exactly when the split took place.


Before I tell you about the 2 people, I feel the need for a few preemptive caveats. I know there is a clinical diagnosis called bipolar disorder. I know there is a clinical diagnosis called manic depression. And I am positive (or as positive as I can be given that I am not a psychiatrist) that these do not describe me. So please know that I am not in any way trying to conflate my experiences with those of people who struggle under the weight of actual mental illnesses, many of which are debilitating. The low-end struggle I will describe here is entirely manageable, and none of it constitutes what I would describe as depression. I have witnessed a bit of depression in my extended family — in some cases of the crippling variety — and while I know it’s possible that will afflict me someday, I have not yet been bitten by it.

So I want you to meet the 2 people inside me, who are both… me. (I hope you’ll bear with me as I introduce the first guy, who’s a bit of a bear.)

The first person is — no, let’s be clear, I am — paralyzingly neurotic, lacking in confidence, devoid of creative inspiration; and also fully functional. I genuinely don’t know whether my colleagues know when I am in this state. I think I can hide it fairly well at work. I’m not sure my kids know either, at least not at their current ages (3 and 1), although it’s possible that I’m underestimating them. But my wife knows, better than anyone, and she gently and gracefully bears with me until I get my sea legs again.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, I find it brutally hard to wake up early. My usual weekday alarm the rest of the year is 5:00, for blogging purposes, but during my doldrums I can quickly convince myself to go back to sleep for an hour or longer. And even when I do manage to crawl out of bed at the desired time, it’s exceedingly difficult to summon a writing topic or to conjure up the verve needed to put pen to paper — finger to keyboard — and ruminate freely. So instead I end up turning off my brain and watching goofy clips on YouTube until the kids wake up.

This chronic writer’s block, combined with the fact that I view myself as someone who needs to write in order to feel fully myself — creates a billowing cloud of self-loathing that then makes it even harder the next day to wake up early, or to write, or to feel clarity. Writer’s block begets shame, and shame begets more writer’s block.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, I am also crippled by self-judgment and second-guessing. I morph into the hyper-neurotic character that Woody Allen played in most of his 1970s films — but without the sardonic humor that made that guy halfway watchable. I become cripplingly indecisive. I can make a case for every possible course of action, and so I find any course of action difficult. I subject myself to withering internal critiques of almost everything I say and do, even down to the most innocuous of workplace hallway exchanges. (No one would not want to be a fly on the wall of my brain as this thought process unfolds.)

My self-judgment in turn makes me far more inclined to judge others as well, and I find myself vexed all day as I observe human behavior in the world around me. I become a front-row critic of mankind. But ultimately that judgment brings me back again and again to a feeling of teeth-grinding self-flagellation. Never feeling I’m good enough. Never being able to quite make peace with myself.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, reading the news is a nearly unbearable act that fills me with despair. Now to be fair, reading the news in the Trump era is already a brutal slog, a sad truth to which morally sensitive folks of any political persuasion can attest. But when I am un-awake my internal mechanisms for preserving hope and sanity start to fray, causing them to malfunction. It’s like knowingly exposing yourself to a room full of sick people while your immune system is already compromised. Infection is inevitable. So my un-awake self, already tainted by some fear and inertia, reads the news and then plunges deeper into paralysis.

Just like the writer’s block thing, it’s a vicious cycle.

In this state of mind, I also avoid excessive conversation as a general rule. I keep my head down at work, hoping not to be engaged too often, and my brow is furrowed for much of the day by some unarticulated burden of worry. I worry about things that merit some degree of concern, and I also worry about things that it makes no sense whatsoever to concern myself with.

As a result of this burden, I end up feeling I have nothing particularly worthwhile to offer others in conversation. And I find myself irritated by the mundane demands of small talk. In short, I’m not very enjoyable to be around.

One more thing: My un-awake self is not that great of a husband. Just picture living with the guy described above on a daily basis. Sound fun? I wouldn’t imagine.

My un-awake self usually emerges — or un-emerges — for about 2 months at a time, twice a year. Strangely, it’s almost like clockwork since it usually happens during summer (oddly enough) and early winter (perhaps more understandably). December is usually a low point. And somewhere around July or August is the other epicenter. So a compelling case can be made that this is a textbook case of seasonal affective disorder.

But it feels like more than that to me; I just haven’t been able to pin it down yet. I hope that by writing this all down I might find some solidarity with, or advice from, others with similar experiences that might help me do just that. I want to understand my un-awake self and learn how to sedate it (preferably without medication).

Because I don’t want to live with that guy anymore. He’s a drag.

Click here to read part 2 of this blog: My Self When I Am Myself.

Equine-librium (or, The Undeniable Emotional Spectrum of All God’s Creatures)

On Sunday I witnessed both the saddest horse and the happiest horse that I’ve seen in a long time.

We live in the countryside, near a horse ranch and numerous farms. So when we take family walks, we get to show the kids an array of horses, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, and barnyard cats. It’s one of my favorite perks of the peaceful rural house we bought 5 years ago.

I love that our kids are growing up with a deep affection for peaceful farm animals, in addition to all the voraciously wild animals they voraciously read about. Greyson remembers the name of every animal we meet (like two local goats, Xenia and Cactus), while Violet points and waves at each one and cheerfully shouts out “Hiiii!” I know I’m hopelessly biased, but it’s quite charming.

As we walked past the horse ranch on Sunday, with six horses grazing in separate areas of the pasture, one horse greeted us in a way we’d never been greeted before. She trotted right up to the fence, clearly wanting to meet us. Maybe she was lonely or maybe she was just a giddy, gregarious girl. Either way, she was visibly pleased when I approached her. She sniffed my hand closely and briefly grazed it with her upper lip. Her breath was warm and earthy. The earth would be a warmer place if people made friends as easily as this horse did. She seemed disappointed when we continued down the road on our walk.

Then we headed to our favorite family walk endpoint, a farm run by an exceedingly charming large family whom we’ve gotten to know a bit over the last few years. They had told us recently that their horse, Cheyenne, was having physical difficulties due to weight gain and diabetes. But we hadn’t yet seen her up close since the onset of these struggles. And it was a jolt to see this beautiful horse, previously so radiant and energetic, now torpid and rickety and despondent.


It’s the last part that weighed on us the most. Seeing a once-happy creature reduced to a listless sadness, despite being well-loved and cared for, as a result of physical decay. Any animal can experience this emotional swing, but something about the gravitas of a horse makes it even more pronounced.

And it’s not the first time we’ve seen Cheyenne in a sad state. A year or two ago, a goat named Muddy that she was best friends with — truly, those 2 were inseparable — was sold to another farm because he was getting too aggressive with people. And Cheyenne was visibly depressed after that separation. When she seems reflective, I picture her thinking back fondly on the glory days with her Muddy buddy. Maybe that was what she was thinking about on Sunday when she gingerly started to approach us but then stopped in her tracks. She stood still, staring flatly at us from a respectful distance with her big, glazed eyes. I don’t know the exact contour of her thoughts, but I do one thing: She was sad.

On the way back home, we saw the happy horse again. She seemed thrilled to see us (twice in one day, what joy!) and even trotted along parallel to us, seeming to accompany us as we walked back up the road. Then she saw her owner get in a car and galloped over to see her. A few seconds later, she trotted back to see us once more before we receded in the distance toward the horizon.

There are people who think that animals have no emotional life. Or even, God forbid, that an animal’s experience of physical pain has no moral significance. I grew up in a religious environment that downplayed, or downright scoffed at, the sentience of God’s non-human creatures. “Dominion over the animals” was cited endlessly as a way to avoid grappling with, for instance, the grinding horrors of the meat and dairy industry. Or on a less systemic level, that dominion ideology was used (by people I knew) to justify keeping a dog or a rabbit in unthinkably tight quarters for its entire domestic life, despite those animals’ obvious displeasure when put in such a position.

Ever since I attained my own adult sentience, I’ve been mystified by this. If God designed all of us, wouldn’t that imply a meaningful divine imprint on not only humans but also on the 90% of living things that are not human? And wouldn’t it also then be self-evident that all creatures have some meaningful degree of sentience and sentiment? And that we thus have some degree of moral responsibility to thoughtfully coexist with and gently care for these creatures?

I’m no trained zoologist. But I’ve loved and lost a dog (Taz) and a cat (Dominic) in the last 3 years, holding them each in my arms as they breathed their last labored breath. And I’ll tell you this beyond any shadow of a doubt:

Taz and Dominic were sentient. Taz and Dominic had emotional lives. Taz and Dominic could achingly feel pain, and that pain could (and did) take a unmistakable toll on their emotions. Taz and Dominic were not “mere” animals to exercise dominion over.

Walking through the countryside and seeing up close the unmistakable chasm between the lived-in, love-influenced reality of a jovial horse and a despondent horse reminded me once again of the undeniable emotional spectrum of all God’s creatures.

We pompous, pampered, 2-legged beings so often assume that our particular brand of sentience is more impressive and more significant than all other brands of sentience. (This despite the noteworthy fact that we of all species are the ones who have done irreparable damage to the natural world.) So here’s my advice to all of us.

Let’s get off our high horse.

A good way to start? Say ‘hi’ to a horse.

You might be surprised how much she says in response.

Greta Gerwig’s Not-So-Little Ode to Women

I don’t mean to brag, but a friend at work called me a feminist the other day. It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever been paid. If my kids were 5 years older and understood the term, I probably would have rushed home that night and said “I don’t mean to brag, kids, but my friend called me a feminist today.” And I don’t think I would have exactly been bragging, but rather modeling for my son and my daughter the immense value of the word, and of the movement.

That’s a subject for another blog post, though. I bring it up here because I finally caught up with Lady Bird, despite wanting to see it ever since it was released to sweeping critical praise in late 2017. Greta Gerwig’s debut film is many things; but above all in my mind, it embodies the best and warmest and wisest kind of feminism. Lady Bird is a love letter to women. Or more accurately, it’s a love letter addressed to all of humanity, about women.

And it’s not only a love letter about the main character, high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by the preternaturally talented Saoirse Ronan, who is in nearly every scene of the movie. It’s also, just as potently, about Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf, so vivid and vulnerable that she got an Oscar nomination). And it’s about Lady Bird’s adoring best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). And it even has ample room to shine a light on the ever-wise Sister Joan (Lois Smith) for a few lovely scenes.

All of these characters are painted in rich emotional detail. Gerwig’s humorous and achingly humane screenplay makes each character, including the men who are adjacent to these women, feel comfortably lived-in and deeply alive.

Rather than hashing out the coordinates of the plot, or gushing further about the performances, or listing all the many awards I think the film should have won (in addition to the ones it did win), here are a few things I love about Greta Gerwig’s film.

Lady Bird

I love that the movie prizes friendship over romance. It’s sadly rare for any movie to depict a deep, believable platonic connection, between men (especially) or between women. The drama of romance — and sex — simply sell more tickets. But the relationship between Lady Bird and Julie is a friendship for the ages. Everything about it rings true. It’s full of humor and sadness and the stuff of life. And not just high school life, either, but life itself. I can’t think of another movie about a high schooler that feels more universally resonant.

I love the extent to which Lady Bird’s brusque, brow-furrowed mother is portrayed as equally compelling as Lady Bird herself. She’s never depicted in a patronizing way. And she’s never used for cheap laughs. By the end of the movie, I felt I understood her narrative arc almost as much as I understood the main character, even though she was in about 1/3 as many scenes. In this way, the film is an ode to motherhood, while also not reducing Marion to being only a mother. She’s a fleshed-out character who hurts achingly, and sometimes hurts her daughter as a result.

I love the final scene. My gosh, do I love the final scene. It’s so important that a movie stick the landing, and this one goes full Kerri Strug in that department. I watched the movie on my phone, lying in bed, with earbuds, and as soon as the movie faded to black, I think I audibly said “wow” in the dark to my wife. Everything about the hard-earned wisdom and warm humanity of the film’s approach to its characters is summed up in that final scene.

If you know me, you know I could go on. And on and on. But if you’ve gotten this far and are not yet convinced that it would be worth it to watch Lady Bird, I’ll just have to wave the white flag. However, if you’ve gotten this far and either beat me to the punch a year or two ago, or want to track it down soon as is humanly possible (FYI, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime), then by all means — let me know once you do! I’d love to discuss this movie with anyone who has engaged with it.

Lady Bird is a breathtaking, heartbreaking film. It’s a hilarious film. It’s a warmly wise film. It’s a film that understands daughters, and mothers, and fathers too. It’s a film with a deeply resonant worldview. It’s a film that’s light-hearted when it needs to be and poignant when it needs to be. It’s a film that depicts the ache of beauty and the ache of pain, but doesn’t revel (or wallow) in either for too long.

Oh and one more thing: It’s a feminist film.

As a feminist, I wholeheartedly endorse it and embrace it with open arms. And I will sing its praises to anyone who will listen.

So thanks for listening.

The Great (& Impossible) Beyond

I haven’t yet tried the Impossible™ Whopper at Burger King, a product which has been hyped to a degree that would have been unheard of even 5 years ago. (A vegetarian product being marketed during NFL games? Right alongside beer commercials and action movie trailers? Are you kidding me?)

But I’ve had an Impossible Burger at both a sports bar (Arooga’s) and a farm-to-table restaurant (Harvest), and my jaw was on the floor both times, eyes rolled back in my head at both the sumptuous flavor and the appealing texture. So I can vouch for the mouth-watering allure of that brand of suddenly-mainstream veggie meat.

Then this week I used a gift card and tried the Beyond™ Sausage Breakfast Sandwich at Dunkin. I’ve tried Beyond’s burger patties before, grilling them properly and even sharing them with a group of 10 college buddies on a pontoon boat, nearly all of whom were either blown away or respectfully surprised. Impossible is a tough product to one-up, and Beyond doesn’t quite pull it off, but they make a noble effort.


My “sausage”-based breakfast sandwich from Dunkin, which I ordered with no cheese, looks almost exactly like an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s. But it has the decided benefit of (1) not requiring me to be complicit in the horrors of industrial pig farming, and (2) not requiring me to spend 1 greasy cent at McDonald’s, one of the corporations on earth I trust and respect the least.

So what’s the verdict? Well, it was delicious. But it was also fast food. So in terms of comparison with Egg McMuffins and Croissan’wiches, it held its own admirably. And to me, the guilt-free quality gave it a decided edge.

But if you want a genuinely revelatory breakfast sandwich experience, you’re not likely to find it at Dunkin or Burger King or McDonald’s or anywhere else with a drive-through. You’ll have to seek out a real restaurant. Or even better, craft one in your own kitchen!

And if you do go to that trouble, I highly recommend using Impossible or Beyond products as your protein of choice. Both companies are helping to revolutionize the (admittedly processed) food landscape. And both companies have created products that are winning over more and more skeptics each month.

No animals were harmed in the making of this breakfast sandwich (or burger, or wings)?

To me, that prospect is Impossible™ to resist. And it’s Beyond™ appealing.

Your Belly Will Ache, Your Heart Will Break


People overuse the word “masterpiece.” And by people I mean me.

Having said that, BoJack Horseman is an unequivocal, un-caveat-ed masterpiece.

Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (and yes, that hyphenation is somehow correct), this animated show about a washed-up former sitcom star who also happens to be an animated equine just wrapped its 6th and final season. And it’s not only the best original show Netflix has ever produced; it’s one of the most thought-provoking and well-constructed television shows of the 21st century.

BoJack somehow manages to excel in both comedy and pathos, often making your heart hurt with empathy mere minutes after making your belly ache with laughter. There are hundreds (thousands?) of goofy sight gags — both in the foreground and the background — and go-for-broke wordplay flourishes that made my pun-adoring self beam with awe. And then right next to that goofballery, respectfully adjacent to all the bonkers humor, there are scenes of childhood trauma and substance abuse that made me reel with sadness.

And somehow, with an emphasis on the “how[?!]”, the helium-infused levity of the Naked Gun-by-way-of-MontyPython-but-it’s-own-thing-entirely dialogue doesn’t in any way undercut the deep gravitas of the darker elements of the show. It’s a dizzying high-wire act, but the standout writing staff manage to adeptly maintain their balance for 77 episodes. (Well, the first season is a bit tonally inconsistent. But it’s an amazing ride after that.)

There are individual episodes, like “Fish Out of Water” and “Time’s Arrow” and “Free Churro” and “The View from Halfway Down,” that are works of art — achingly poignant or achingly beautiful or achingly devastating, or some combination of the above. How can an animated comedy (slash psychodrama) about a horse possibly pull that off, winning several Writer’s Guild awards in the process?

The short answer is: I have no idea.

I could gush for days about this show. And heck, I’ve barely even hinted at its actual plot. Or the bottomless well of voice talent (Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, Lakeith Stanfield, and what felt like 100 others over the course of the show’s run). Or the eye-popping, hyper-vivid animation design. Or the mind-boggling web of cultural and pop-cultural and literary references that are skillfully woven through every single episode. Or…

You know what, I’ll leave it at that. All I really want to do is make one person want to watch BoJack Horseman. (Assuming that person can tolerate some dark, psychologically probing, and sometimes melancholy content.)

I hope you’re that person! Please let me know if you are. I’d love to discuss the show.

And if you’re not, thanks a lot for reading this far. I genuinely appreciate it.

Worth the Weight

It felt like someone was standing directly on my chest cavity. And occasionally stomping on my heart.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I managed to see 4 or 5 movies in a theater last year, and while Knives Out and The Lion King both wowed me, only 1 of my big-screen experiences felt transcendent. It gave me that elusive, priceless sense of watching pure cinema and achieving pure catharsis. That movie, directed by Sam Mendes, was 1917.

1917 Poster

Of the 6 Sam Mendes films I have seen over the last two decades, I loved 3, liked 1, didn’t care for 1, and initially loved but gradually — the older I got — came to loathe the 6th. I never caught up with his 2 Bond flicks. Feel free to do the math and venture a guess as to which 2 of his films didn’t resonate with me.

But in the interest of keeping this positive, in addition to 1917, I was also floored by Revolutionary Road and Away We Go, two movies about married life that couldn’t have possibly been more different. Away We Go was seminal for me while my now-wife and I were dating, and 6 viewings later is still a movie that feels as close to my heart (as well as the darker end of my funny bone) as any other movie on earth. Revolutionary Road, on the other hand, put me through a nearly unbearable wringer. A meat grinder of emotion.

Which is apparently something Sam Mendes is quite good at constructing.

1917 is a film for people who adored Saving Private Ryan but wished it portrayed the horrors of war in even more excruciating detail, and with an even greyer color palette. Both movies are about soldiers following orders to get from point A to point B in order to preserve the life of a brother (among others). And both are animated by a hyper-earnest sense of honor, which makes 1917 a breath of fresh air in a modern era where earnestness is trampled upon and honor sometimes feel like a relic.

But fresh air notwithstanding, watching the horrors of 1917 unfold makes the act of breathing difficult. The fact that it was filmed to look like one unbroken, 2-hour-long tracking shot amplifies that claustrophobic effect. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as immersed in a sense of heartbreaking dread while sitting in a movie theater.

And not the kind of dread that you experience watching a twisted horror movie. But the kind that’s heightened by the knowledge that all of these things happened. All of these ordinary men left their ordinary wives, and their ordinary children, and their ordinary lives, and were asked to do extraordinary things — terrifying, barbaric, demoralizing, and borderline impossible things.

That is the weight that rested like a boulder on my chest as I watched 1917 and strained to breathe. I had to will myself not to break down sobbing in the midst of 100 complete strangers. I kept shifting in my seat to create space in my lungs for what little breath I could muster up.

There are a hundred things I could say about 1917. Superlatives and gushing hyperbole. But all I really want to say is:

It crushed me.

The Wonder of This Woman (or, I’m No Superman)

(Click here to read my last blog. This one is Part 2, although it can easily stand alone if needed.)

When a banker recently asked my wife, “Do you work?,” I didn’t only cringe because of the regressive and condescending words she used. Although the optics of a “working” woman asking another woman if she also “works” are a bit wince-inducing.

I cringed because for this particular person, Danielle Marie St. John Wingert, to be asked if she works is a unique rhetorical injustice. It would be wrong for anyone to be asked the question in those words, but it’s absurdly wrong in this case.

It’s no secret that parenting, as a generalized human activity, is not for the faint of heart. But when parenting is a shared endeavor between two people on a given day or a given weekend, it is decidedly more manageable. You can divide and conquer. You can play man-to-man or, as needed, zone defense. You can divvy up the emotional and logistical responsibilities based on which parent is better at which parental tasks.

To use an entirely random hypothetical, one parent can, let’s say, put the hyper-creative, hyper-energetic 3-year-old to sleep by reading him books, listing obscure animals in alphabetical order, and singing 9 straight Christmas songs. All while the other parent, again random and hypothetical, lulls the hyper-wriggly, hyper-stubborn 16-month-old to sleep by invoking a kind of maternal magic that would make Harry Houdini roll over in his handcuffs.

But when one parent, all by themselves, is responsible for the safety and well-being and intellectual engagement of a child, especially a small child, and even more especially multiple small children, the task becomes exponentially harder and notably less for the faint of heart.

When I’m home from work on a sick day or a vacation day or a Christmas break, there are a lot of things I feel about my kids. A preponderance of them are glowingly positive. Often quite heart-warming. Sometimes even straight-up euphoric. But the other thing I feel is this:

I absolutely could not do this on my own.

I’m capable of doing it, of course. Because anyone who loves their kids can muster the strength to do anything that their kids need them to do. But I am not naturally wired for the kind of hyper-rigorous tenacity and boundless patience that would be required to be either a single parent or a stay-at-home parent.

Rest assured, this is not a commentary about gender. As I see it, every couple who makes the decision to have kids and live off a single income (as opposed to the myriad couples who each work and then utilize child care, an equally viable way of life) has one person who is more cut out for the rigors of stay-at-home parenting. I know a couple — and if I knew more people or lived in a city I’d know lots of similar couples — who are a trauma surgeon mom and a stay-at-home dad, and they have what appears to be an ideally functioning family. I aspire to be as strong and patient a man as that stay-at home dad. And from what I can tell, that trauma surgeon mom and my stay-at-home-mom wife have a great deal in common as far as tenacity,  maternal or otherwise.

So to be clear: This is not a blog post about gender roles. This is a blog post about the respect and awe that is due to any parent — female or male — who chooses to stay at home with the kids.

But I slightly digress. What I want to talk about is one particular parent — the aforementioned Danielle. The woman who was asked “Do you work?” and because of the constraints of semantics and society had to answer that question “No.” Rarely has a simple yes/no question so simplistically undercut the simple truth about a person.

It’s been said — although not often enough, in my mind — that being a stay-at-home parent is a 24/7 job with no sick days, personal time, vacation days, or (non-soul-based) benefits. Whereas I clock in and clock out at my job, and get 80 minutes a day of “personal time” in the car, Danielle never clocks out. And given that our kids are obstinately sleep-averse, the idea of personal time is pretty foreign to her too.

So she’s on the clock all day long, with my co-parenting efforts only available for 1 hour in the morning and 2-3 hours in the evening. And given the nighttime resistance to sleep that both of our babies have valiantly demonstrated, she’s also been on the clock all night long for the past 3 ½ years. (Or 4+ years if you count the time that our in-utero Greyson was impolitely sitting on her bladder, forcing her to frequently wake up to frequent the water closet.)

That is an epic span of time for a person to be on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And what makes it even more epic is that I have almost never seen Danielle complain about it. Even when she’s occasionally gotten sick, or not-so-occasionally endured sleepless nights, my wife is stoic in a way that would put the Hellenistic philosophers to shame.

Hell(enist), those toga-clad dudes are namby-pamby by comparison.

But Danielle is not just stoic. It’s not just that she endures the intensity of being a stay-at-home mom. She savors it. She leans in to it. She full-body embraces it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone relish any role like my wife relishes motherhood. She basks in it. She treats it like a gift that she never gets over receiving. She honors it like a destiny. You know how in a superhero movie, the protagonist has a steely look in their eyes? Like they know this is exactly what they were born to do?

That’s the unwavering look that my own wonder woman has in her eyes every day. (Albeit with a good bit more levity, like when Greyson improvises some off-the-wall little song or Violet starts doing her goofy duck-waddle walk.)

As I’ve often told Danielle with wide eyes and utter solemnity, her job is exponentially harder than mine. Truly, it’s not even close. And she executes her vocation with both masterful competence and delightful panache. She is superb at attending to the needs of our 2 attention-needing children, one of whom demands to be held for more than half the day (that phase will end soon… right?) and the other of whom fluctuates between the sweetest reveries imaginable and some fairly brief but fairly inconsolable bouts of fussing.

Clearly she has her work cut out for her. But she is clearly cut out for her work.

I could write another volume on this subject, and a voluminous one at that, but I’ll leave you with this question.

Would you ever be inclined to ask the person I’ve described above, “Do you work?”

When I watch Danielle in action, doing the work that she is preeminently good at, and doing it with grace and aplomb, I’m more inclined to ask:

“Do work?”

Danielle Reading to the Kids

Show SAHM Respect

Danielle & Greyson at Church

The other day I was at the bank with Danielle, updating our accounts in a sit-down meeting, and the banker posed a question to her that caught me off guard. It made me wonder if we had pulled a Marty McFly and stumbled back into 1985. With our children sitting in our respective laps, the banker asked Danielle the following:

“Do you work?”

Asking this 3-word question to a person — usually a woman — in this context, where her husband’s employment and the existence of 2 small children are both readily known, presumes the existence of two possible answers: (1) the person works, or (2) the person does not work.

But what, I would respectfully (or maybe resentfully) ask, is the scenario in which that second answer is a viable one? It is either true that the person being asked the question labors in a workplace for a paycheck, or that the person labors in the workplace of the home without getting a paycheck as a stay-at-home mom or dad (SAHM or SAHD). There is no meaningful scenario in which the person being asked the question does not work. Or there is, since I suppose it’s possible to drop kids off at all-day child care and also not be employed, but it’s not common enough to justify the wording of the question.

How hard would it be to ask, “Are you employed outside the home?” Or if that could somehow be construed as impolite, how about “What is your occupation?” This would allow every hard-working SAHM and SAHD the eminently deserved dignity of answering with “I raise our kids at home” or even an “I’m a proud stay-at-home mom/dad.”

Think about it. Which exchange would make you feel more valued?

Option 1

Banker: “Do you work?”

You: “No.” (Or “no, not outside the home.”)

Option 2

Banker: “What is your occupation?”

You: “I raise our kids at home.” (Optional flourish: Add an exclamation point!)

One exchange is built around a negative, and implies the lack of something. The other is built around a positive declaration of identity and purpose.

I ask you: How is this a hard thing to figure out? I think we can all agree that no one’s career should be summed up with the word “no.” Wording a question like this is not rocket science. It just requires a modicum of basic respect for those in our society — a plurality of whom are women — who make a 2-decade career out of performing arguably the most fundamental human task: Raising children.

It also requires even a rudimentary understanding of the job of being a stay-at-home parent. And anyone who has ever (A) been married to one, (B) been raised by one, (C) been friends with one, or (D) observed one in daily life can attest that this job is more physically and emotionally grueling than a majority of paycheck-accruing vocations.

And it’s a job that deserves far, far more respect than the careless utterance of “Do you work?” intentionally or unintentionally conveys.

(To be completed tomorrow…)

Snuggling & Sabotage

Best laid plans are made to be sabotaged. And babies are made to sabotage them.

On Sunday night I was bound and determined (and frankly a bit excited) to wake up and launch into my recently resuscitated blogging pursuits. Early the next morning, I drank my first sips of coffee and collected my wits after an overstimulated night watching the Super Bowl and its garish accoutrements at my parents’ house, where we had slept over. But at 5:30 as I headed toward our laptop, repository of all my morning ruminations, I heard Danielle coming down the hallway with a baby in tow. Our wriggly, sleep-averse daughter had tossed and turned all night.

We exchanged groggy good mornings and Danielle headed for my parents’ sunroom in hopes that Violet would re-settle herself in a new location. Our mama’s girl is fond of me during daylight hours, but she loudly rages against being held by me (or presumably anyone else) during the graveyard shift. Our wee Violet only wants one person in the wee hours.

But something surprising happened in this moment. In the pre-dawn darkness, Violet reached her tiny arms out toward me. I gratefully took her snuggly little body and, as is my instinctual habit, inhaled a whiff of her sleep-scented scalp. I figured I would have about 1 minute, 2 tops, before she insisted on being returned to her mama, at which time I would launch into my blog.

I nestled onto the couch to enjoy that fleeting minute, but I could barely believe it when Violet made herself comfortable. Was she really going to fall asleep on my chest? That physical pleasure of parenting that surpasses almost all others? I vividly remember the few times that Greyson has drifted off in my arms while we were on a walk, and it’s a priceless feeling to cradle a tiny body as it surrenders to sleep. Pretty soon, Violet was breathing those slow, deep breaths that every parent knows (and loves) quite well. I felt honored and weirdly humbled.

But what about my best laid blogging plans? I had resolved in no uncertain terms that I would start this week strong, writing about the wonders and joys of fatherhood during the quiet morning hours before the kids woke up. On this morning, Violet clearly had different ideas.

So here’s my takeaway, which should go without saying but which I think we all (and especially I myself) need to be reminded of in this modern age.

Parenting is vastly superior to writing about the joys of parenting. Experiencing a thing is vastly superior to posting on social media about experiencing a thing. Being present in a moment is vastly superior to taking a picture of that moment. Living life is superior to reflecting on the wonders of living life.

Blogging and all other forms of reflection are not ends in and of themselves. The moment you prize the public documentation of an experience, or even the careful written reflection about an experience, ahead of the actual climbed-into, lived-in reality of the experience itself, is the moment you lose the plot entirely.

Violet slept on my chest for more than an hour and a half that morning, and we woke up together in the dawn’s early light. Other than the times we spend out in nature together, it was one of the most special moments I’ve ever shared with her.

Our children give us gifts when we least expect it. And I’m grateful that my little girl gave me the gift of that moment by holding her arms out to me in the darkness.

Blogging can wait. Facebook can wait.

The world can wait.


P.S. Violet is a very sweaty sleeper.  🙂