The Protomen are my religion now.

No, really.

I saw The Protomen live for the first time at Lola’s Room last week. The Protomen are a band that sings dystopian agit-prop tributes to the classic video game Mega Man. Every album (there are two so far) is an Act in a dark, epic rock opera that grows more and more agonizingly tense as straights get more and more dire for a futuristic city under fascist robot domination, and for their would-be saviors. They played back-to-back shows, each one featuring a different Act.

I could only attend one, so I chose the second, which is the one that resonates more strongly with me, though both are amazing. Act I is about Doctor Light’s robot son Mega Man defying his creator’s will and standing up to Doctor Wily and his robot thugs, only to be disillusioned by the fickle public he fights for. Act II is a prequel, chronicling how Light and Wily created the robots together, how Wily seized control of them and of the entire city, and how Dr. Light’s first attempt at ending his rule met with disaster.

Continue reading The Protomen are my religion now.

We All Suck at Joy

Regular readers, if any remain, no doubt have noticed that there have been no posts on Story by the Throat! in a long, long time. There are a number of reasons for this. There are a lot of things pulling on my mental and physical resources that make it difficult to do such a simple thing as write blog posts.

I’m going to be real with you for a moment. My life is not what I want. like, really, truly deeply falling short of what I dream and yearn for. Oh yes, I have many pleasures, many wonderful, enriching friends, many creative and fulfilling pursuits available to me. And of course I live a life of incredible privilege compared to most of the world. But still somehow I find myself beaten down by life until I can barely even remember my dreams, much less pursue them. I drive many miles to work long hours at a job I hate, for a world machine designed to chew me up and spit out the bones. The joyous work I dream of doing–celebrating story, poetry, music–is unsupported in society outside of a corporate-sponsored celebrity system. The precious work that awaits me at home–husband, father, simple liver off the land–increasingly declines as the job exacts its toll. It takes the best wine from my cup and leaves me with dregs.

It’s like I’m running a deficit on spiritual resources; everything I do, everything I attempt, requires a loan against a soul reserve I can’t back up. And acts of love, of creativity, of joy, are the most draining, so it’s much easier to sit and anesthetize the ache with entertainment and frivolity. My time and energy are drained away until I have none left for the pursuits I care most deeply about.

And I’m not alone. I think many of us, maybe all of us, are suffering in one degree or another from this soul disease. Someone I love has found themselves stuck, trapped in a life that looks far different from what they planned, hemmed in with debt and workload and isolation until even the ability to hope for more is numbed.

Continue reading We All Suck at Joy

The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

I gave a talk at my church, The Bridge of Portland, OR, on August 15. It was based on my post here, The Sheathed Sword, but expanded and elaborated into a dramatic storytelling extravaganza! It was quite fun and rewarding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgyeXIvlA0M]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8VZ9rBoCww] Continue reading The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

They buy why you do it

Simon Sinek gave a fascinating TED talk in September 2009 called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” I wasn’t drawn to it for principles of “leadership” in the typical sense, but Sinek said some wonderful and thought-provoking things about purpose and vision, which really moves me in light of my recent drive to grab hold of my dreams.

Sinek’s repeated refrain is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” If you simply talk about what you do in rational terms, it might be useful to people, but still fail to draw them in. But if you lay bare your purpose, the reason you make your product, offer your service, you’ll connect with people who are attracted to that purpose. Sinek says, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with the people who believe what you believe.”

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Continue reading They buy why you do it

The Green Man of Portland

So I’m out with some of my churchmates last week with fresh-baked ham, corn and potatoes to help feed the homeless.

Except we don’t call them “the homeless,” we call them “our friends without houses” or “our friends who live outside.” It’s more humanizing and personal, as opposed to “othering” these real human beings with a handy sociological label. But anyway:

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and as always I’m enjoying being there face to face, looking people in the eye and handing them something they need and can enjoy, fresh cooked from my oven, making human connections. And I’m thinking about the sign I received a month ago, the three-fold omen whose significance I’m still pondering.

I wore a mask of the Green Man of medieval myth for Halloween. Then I found a beautiful leaf on the street downtown, sporting beautiful colors and seeming to leap into my path. Then I passed a sidewalk art fixture that spoke of the “Green Man of Portland.”

Turns out the fixture was created by comics artist Daniel Duford as part of a series about the Green Man and his mystical, perception-altering  influence over the city’s inhabitants. What stood out for me at the time was the artwork’s closing line of poetry: “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.”

While I’m hardly a seasoned veteran at interpreting signs and portents, I’ve generally found them to occur at pivotal times, when I’m feeling blocked about a particular problem or when I’m entering a new season of my life.

So I took it in and mulled it over. “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” For a long time I’ve been drawn to the “shunned” in all aspects of life, from the invisibles of the street to the passionate, the dissident, the radical. These are in so many ways “my people,” so it was no surprise to read those words. But what to do with them?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” I do long to reach out to people. To hold them in my arms, to awaken them to a way of life–of health, of freedom, of joy–that even I only dimly grasp. But do I have the right to push my way of thinking onto others? And even if I do “have” that “right”, do I really want to exercise it?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” Maybe I can find a way to hold people in my arms without smothering them, without trying to “fix” them, without “knowing what’s best” for them,” loving without any strings attached?

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and I believe that I can.

There are still a lot of unknowns. What about my life will change as I assimilate this new focus? Will I adopt some kind of persona and mission, or just keep doing stuff informally, as plain ol’ me? Will I continue to reach out piecemeal, doing little things here and there, or will I take up a dedicated mission and cause? I don’t know. I just know that I have a renewed focus to love people, and if there’s any kind of valuable lifestyle I can impart to help them, it will be by doing, by living in such a way that it invites them to do the same.

This isn’t a scientific process. Nor is it some esoteric mysticism requiring saint-like patience, fanatical devotion, or elite, hidden knowledge. it’s just a matter of looking and listening. Consider everything potentially significant. Be alert for connections in all things, even, ESPECIALLY, the unconscious. When you look and listen, story finds you.

Peace,

-Joel