Brothers

The Hoffman's, about 1985

The Hoffman’s, about 1985

I am the middle of three brothers. We have never been close. The family we grew up in, our parent’s dysfunctions, our age differences (we span nine years and I’m right in the middle), our own personal issues – all of these have led us to misunderstand each other. They misunderstand me, and I surely misunderstand them.

I have sent both of my brothers to the hospital in the past. My older brother was when I was just a few years old by hitting him in the face with a snow shovel (in summer, no less), and my younger brother was when we were young men during a scuffle. I promise they were both accidents; I didn’t mean to hurt them.

I have tried very hard in my life to avoid hurting anyone. My need to avoid hurting people borders on the pathological. I have a long list of failed attempts – many of them girlfriends – which are a testament to my social awkwardness. To this day I feel guilt and remorse for the way I treated several people. In my heart, I rarely have malicious thoughts. It just isn’t in my nature to want to harm others.

This doesn’t mean I’m perfect. If you wrong me, I hold it inside and let it fester until it makes me sick. So basically, if you harm me, I’ll punish you by harming myself even worse. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Try living in here.

I also have a habit of coming across to people as arrogant or conceited. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but trust me when I say I never feel arrogant or conceited. Usually I feel weak and confused, or inept and graceless. Never arrogant. I just come across that way. Call it my personal superpower.

I might have a condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome which makes it hard for me to understand other people’s feelings and emotions. It’s never been diagnosed in me, but my son has it, and it’s often hereditary. Asperger’s kids also often have issues with gross motor control, making them physically clumsy. This condition also makes it hard to read and respond properly to social situations. I might sound arrogant because I’ve read a situation wrong, and I’ve responded inappropriately. But there could be another cause. Please indulge me while I tell you a story.

When I was an infant, my mother noticed something wrong with my eyes. After being examined by an eye doctor, I was diagnosed with Strabismus, a disorder where the eyes fail to line up. In my case, my left eye was fine, but my right eye would turn outward. Sometimes this is called ‘walleye’. The doctors tried to correct the problem but, for a variety of reasons, their efforts failed. When I was 16 years old I had this condition surgically corrected, leaving me legally blind in that eye, but fairly normal looking.

So going into elementary school I was physically awkward, socially crippled and visually different from the other students. Oh, and I was a scrawny runt.

boy-child-being-bullied-by-two-other-boysThings went OK until about fourth grade. That’s when many of my classmates seemed to notice I was different from them. Between fourth grade and 11th grade, I was heavily bullied. I know some kids have had it worse, and this isn’t meant to be a pity party for me, but bad things happened. I was pushed down stairs, had my fingers slammed in lockers, was poked and stabbed with pens and pins and forks. I had my lunch knocked to the cafeteria floor several times, and I was openly mocked and laughed at in the halls and the classes. I was called every name you can think of. I was ‘pantsed’ (had my pants pulled down) in front of a group of cheerleaders. It was ugly.

If you can imagine for a moment what that was like, you can understand that I had, and still have, serious self-esteem issues. I felt there was nothing I had to offer the world, and nobody wanted me in the world with them. Three different principals at three different schools told me I needed to “just stand up to the bullies”. This was the late 1970’s and 1980’s: There were no anti-bullying campaigns. In fact, several of my teachers encouraged the bullying. My gym teacher told a bunch of the boys that he didn’t care if they picked on “faggots like Hoffman.”

I only had one asset, one thing that I could trust and rely on. I’m fairly smart. You might be thinking that’s a good thing. The poor, bullied kid had something he could be proud of. In a sense that’s true, because it was what eventually helped me to compensate for all my other issues. But it had a downside as well.

You see, the bitter irony here is that the only thing which made me special is the one thing that has alienated me from my brothers. Please read that again, so you understand where I’m going here.

And let me be crystal clear as well: My brothers are smart, too. I am not insulting them in any way. But they had other gifts they could rely on, so they didn’t need to rely on their raw intellect to get by in life. They had a toolbox with many tools in it. They are clever as I said, but also both are good with their hands. And they have a grasp of the world at a physical, practical level that blows my mind. They can fix things.

Me, I had one tool. That was it. I had to use my brains or get outta Dodge, and since I’m not the suicidal type, I went to college. Now I write, and I think I do a fair job of it.

But I feel to this day that neither of my brothers really appreciates my college success, or values the stupidly large and mostly useless database of facts and concepts I can draw on. I suspect they believe that when I spout facts and opinions I’m lording over them. That somehow I’m acting ‘uppity’ or superior in some way.

I am not. I never, ever have. I am a 13 year old boy crying in the bathroom, hoping nobody hears me so I don’t get beat up again. I am an 11 year old hiding my face because the teacher dumped my desk onto the floor just to embarrass me. I am a 12 year old boy begging my mother please, please not to make me go to school anymore. I am still that boy inside. I will always be that boy.

misc 00003

My older brother with my father near the end of my father’s battle with cancer

Recently I wrote a story about a painful period in my life, the death of my father, and my brothers were hurt by it. I thought they would understand what I wrote about our father, and my experiences dealing with his death, one way, and they saw it another way. But it was never meant to be hurtful. I was having a reflective moment, and wanted to write down some thoughts and feelings about my father, and about my personal loss.

I am hoping my younger brother will understand this. My older brother and his wife, well, I am afraid too much damage has been done. But I have to try, as awkward and clumsy as my attempts may be. I need to say for the record, and publicly, that I am sorry for hurting them. But I must also ask them to understand this might happen again. I need to write what’s inside of me and sometimes that will involve powerful, volatile, dangerous feelings. That’s what writers do, and that’s how I need to heal.

But how can I write honestly about the world around me if I am not allowed to call it as I see it? My brothers may not have been the way I portrayed them in that story, but am I wrong for writing how I felt, how I experienced them? In this politically correct world of ours, are my feelings really invalidated because they might be hurtful to someone else?

I am very sorry to have caused anger and pain in my brothers, but the story is my story, not theirs, and I stick by my experiences. There is a very fine line between a true story, and a story written about a true experience. I am  not a journalist and I am not a historian. I am a writer, and I draw on my life for experiences. What I wrote was true, from my point of view. That it was hurtful, or had factual errors, was an unintended and unforeseen consequence, and for that I truly am sorry. But I must write what is true for me, and pray that they can understand.

My name is Matt, and I am a writer. Please forgive me for that awkward, difficult truth.

Can I Trust You?

If you wanted to hear about something fairly inane, simple, innocent, you’re at the wrong blog. Many bloggers keep things light on purpose. They don’t want to burden their readers. I am not one of them. My goal is to share some of my pain in the hopes that others won’t suffer like I have, or at least won’t feel alone. I want to wrestle with deep, complex, painful issues, and I want to do this because that has been the bulk of my life. Today I would like to tell you about the deepest pain I endure. Today, I want to tell you a bit about my bullying story. I’m not looking for sympathy, so please trust me when I say I am going somewhere with this. Please, sit with me a moment and listen.

This was me

This was me

In some very important ways, my story is a very normal American story. In other ways, it’s a tragedy. What I want you to understand about me right now is this: I am a survivor of long-term, systematic, intense bullying, and it’s still happening to me. Right now. As you read this. I am a victim, and part of me always will be. What happened to me in my youth will never fully go away. Those wounds will not ever heal. Mike and Eric and Perry and so many others in high school harmed me truly, badly and deeply. The pastor and his wife at my church harmed me in different, but equally terrible ways. So did several blood members of my family. Some of these people didn’t realize what they were doing. Some of them were very, very aware of what they were doing. All of them left me emotionally damaged, socially crippled, spiritually scared, and as I sit here writing this, I feel the pain.

In fact, it is this pain, this damage, that has prevented me from realizing my purpose here on earth. I am a writer, but I have told myself for more than 25 years of my life that I could never do it. In fact, the damage is so complete that I didn’t even realize until I was in my late 30’s just how complete. I didn’t have a little voice in my head talking me out of writing, or telling myself that I would fail, so why try. No, the self-confidence issues were, and in some ways still are, so bad that I never even considered writing. It just never even occurred to me that the thing I love most – even more than music and singing – and the thing I was constantly doing in my quiet moments (mentally), was what I was born to do.

A new life, a new spiritual awakening, and a new person who loved me for me alone, these things have given me enough perspective that I now see the damage. I now see early-childhood-bullyinghow it effects me mentally, emotionally, and even physically. I see now that the crazy ideas and thoughts scratched on bits of paper are all stories that I should have been writing all my life. I’ve statistically lost about half of my productive working years, but embraced the remaining ones. I’ve finally woken up from the nightmare that was my life post-bullying. I am finally writing, and writing for real. One novel done, a second started, dozens I could work on next, and a bunch of short stories.

But as much as I write, I can’t make a living at it unless people actually want to give me money for my writing, and so I’ve been learning as much as I can about how this can happen. In this process, I stumbled upon a TED talk with Amanda Palmer. If you don’t know who that is, you should look her up. She did an amazing talk which you can see on YouTube [HERE] on the way she has been able to give her music away for free, trusting those who love her music to support her. It’s an old model, she explains, and is the way musicians and other creative people have lived for about as long as they’ve been around. Only in the 20th century did that model change. And that’s where I’m going.

My being bullied destroyed my trust in others. In some ways I’ve always been very optimistic, but when it comes to trusting others to “catch” me – to support me when I can’t support myself – well, that needs some work. Amanda Palmer talks about what it takes to trust your own personal “crowd” with things like a place to sleep and compensation for creativity. It’s not all about money – in fact it often isn’t. It’s about trusting that the greater world has room – and an interest – to support people in non-traditional ways. The model you were raised with is “Get a job, do the job, get paid, repeat”. Amanda’s model is this “Create something (do the job), trust you’ll get paid by those who care about your work”. That’s it. It’s very simple, but almost impossible for many to understand, and it’s hand-in-hand for me with my desire to trust in God. In both cases, that little part of my brain, the one that still hurts so much, tries to talk me out of it.

Healing-How-Does-It-HappenIt’s difficult to trust like that, especially for someone who was bullied so harshly for so long.

I am trying to trust my “crowd”. You, reading this, you are my crowd. I am trusting you for any of three things, and I am on my knees begging you, yes you, to help me out.

  1. I am trusting that you will read what I write as frequently as you can and will, and forward what I write to others.
  2. I am trusting that you will point new people you meet in my direction if they might like what I do, or might be curious about what I do.
  3. I am trusting you to give me honest feedback about what I do. If something is badly written, I need to know that. If something is well written, I need to know that, too. If something is very relevant to you, or has some serious impact, please tell me.

Can you please help me with this? It’s not much, I promise, but I am asking for your help. Amanda Palmer points out that it’s very hard to ask for help like this, and I assure you it is. But I have a chance to tell some important stories – trust me, my head’s full of them, all screaming to get out on paper – and to bring some joy and happiness into the lives of others. Others will enjoy my stories, but I need you, my friends, to help spread what I do. I am asking you.

And I am trusting.

trust

Giving Thanks

My latest article on The Good Men Project was just published today. Please read it here. When you’ve read it, please “like” it and share it with others. I’d also love to get your thoughts, so please comment!

This is what I am thankful for today. After more than a year working on my writing, I am finally starting to reach a wider audience. All I want to do as a writer is to reach others, share thoughts with them, and learn all I can. This world amazes me, and I’m curious what will come next. Aren’t you?

Thank you for taking a few steps on this journey with me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Good Men Project

I’d like to invite you to read my first published article on The Good Men Project. It’s about having purpose as a man in this modern world of ours.
Please take a moment to read it, and comment. Then please “like” the article, and share it with others! It would mean a great deal to me and my family if you did, and would help in my quest to become a published author.
I am filled with stories I want to share with the world. This is an important step on that road to Respectable Author-hood.
Cheers!
Technospiritualist

People Are People

usatodayWhen a major media outlet like USA Today Tweets something that is racially blind and offensive, and they don’t even realize it, I shudder.

In a wonderful piece on how “The Best Man Holiday” isn’t a “black” movie, my fellow blogger Olivia A Cole dissects how we are still living in a “default-white” society: Everything is either “White” or it’s “Non-White”. There is no crossover, no middle ground. This, my friends, is a The-Best-Man-Holidayproblem, but most people are too busy or uninterested to see it as an issue worth addressing.

But this issue affects us in so many ways, many that you don’t even notice.

On our planet, the average person is not white. Now I understand that in America, the majority population is still white, and that’s just the way it is. But why, when almost one in five Americans identifies as African-American and a similar number identify as Hispanic, are about 90% of the models we see on advertisements white? Why is a movie with an all black cast called a “black movie” but a movie with an all white cast isn’t called a “white movie”, but just a movie? These are troubling issues to consider.

Texas, the Lone Star State, likes to portray itself as the stronghold of the traditional white American culture. They don’t deny there are people of non-white origins in their state, but simply don’t put much emphasis on them. Rather, they talk about “American values” and “Traditional Texas_20LogoAmerican culture”. Nothing against the citizens of Texas, but some of your politicians aren’t living in the same demographic world as the rest of us. They are denying the future.

Fun fact: According to a Saber Research Institutes study of Texas demographic trends, people of Hispanic descent will be the majority population group in Texas by 2020 (That’s just over six years from the writing of this blog), and by 2040 Hispanics will be more than 50% of the Texan population.

So things are changing, and they will only change more as the future becomes the present. Why, then, do we keep clinging to the “default white” cultural norm? I’m afraid I’m not qualified to say why, but it’s a fact. Whites seem afraid to acknowledge they are becoming less and less relevant as time marches forward, and this denial dilutes some of the amazing cultural diversity we have here in America. It makes me sad.

It also scares me, because the novel I am currently shopping around has a unique racial makeup. Only one of the major characters is white, and he’s a villain. All the other major characters – all of them – are people of color. I didn’t choose for them to be that way, they just are. And so I am shopping around a novel that might be totally unpalatable to the “default white” culture I live in. How will editors react to a book that, if made into a movie, could never star Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, or Bradley Cooper? In fact, of the 10 most popular actors in 2013, only one – Will Smith – isn’t white. Oh, and to keep the discrimination going, each of them is male. Not a single female on the list. Grrrr.

So what hope do I have, to sell a novel that flies in the face of the current cultural trends? Do I really think anyone will want to read about people of color as they struggle through my story?

In a word, yes. I believe – no matter what our culture keeps trying to tell me – that people are people, and the fact that you have more pigment in diversity-2your skin than I do, that you grew up speaking a different language, or eating a different food, doesn’t matter. At the end of the day I am confident that people will be able to see themselves in any character so long as they are well written.

No, I won’t be bringing everyone along with me. There will always be those who are offended by any daring choice an artist makes. That’s the nature of the world. But I am confident that enough of you will see my characters as people, not black people or asian people, or even religious people or female people. Just people, nothing more and nothing less. And I am proud of that faith in my fellow-man to be better than he was yesterday. Not everyone will be, not today, but sooner or later race will cease to be the issue it is today.

Someday, we will all be just people.

Bang, Bang

reading-shootingTwo men died in my city of Reading, PA on Monday, November 4th. They were shot to death by a citizen after they robbed a convenience store. To quote a local gun merchant, “He who lives by the sword shall perish by it,” a paraphrasing of Matthew 26:52 from the Bible.

I’ve been thinking about this tragic incident often in the past two days, and to my mind it is a perfect summary of the gun control debate that has raged in America for decades.

There are those here in the US who think anybody should be able to buy a gun with little restriction, arguing that by owning guns, one is safer.

The flip-side of the debate runs that if guns were heavily restricted, there would be fewer of them, and thus fewer deaths.

There is data to support both sides of the debate to some extent, and it’s very difficult to know which side has any advantage in the court of public opinion. The Gun Rights people, however, certainly have some political clout. They have the 2nd amendment of the US constitution to lean on for starters. They also have 230+ years of history and precedent to back them up. And they have the NRA, the National Rifle Association, which is one of the most politically robust lobby groups in this country.

The Gun Control groups, however, have some strength of their own, with growing demographic and study data showing that an increase in guns (legal or otherwise) in an area increases the amount of gun-related deaths. This is especially true in homes, with many studies showing more gun deaths of children in homes with guns.

And that brings me back to the two men who lay dead on the sidewalk on Monday.

Those who support Gun Rights will argue this is a perfect example of why gun ownership makes our streets safer. The man who killed the robbers – andgun-control there is no question they were criminals since several witnesses can verify they had just held up the store – was a concerned citizen and a friend of the store owner. He had approached the store, witnessed the robbery, and waited until the robbers exited the building. Indications are he challenged the two young men, who then drew guns on him. He, a licensed gun owner with a permit to carry a firearm, then pulled his own weapon and shot both men dead. The Berks County District Attorney, John Adams, has affirmed that he will not press charges against the shooter since he acted within the law. This, the gun lobby will argue, is exactly their point in preventing heavy restrictions on gun ownership, and it is a very strong argument.

gun death statsThe inverse argument by supporters of Gun Control would run something like this: Three guns were involved and two men killed. How many men would have been killed if there were zero guns at the scene? It is unknown at this time whether the guns the robbers pulled were legally owned or not, but all bets are that they were unregistered or otherwise illegal. If gun sales were strictly controlled, there would be fewer guns available for criminals to use, so logically less gun violence and less need for citizens to walk around armed. This also is a strong argument. Both sides have valid points.

So where does that leave us? Two men are dead, and that can’t be changed. They were both young, 18 and 24 respectively, and who knows what they might have accomplished in the years to come. But even their family members have admitted they were headed down a dark path. They were moving the direction of so many other young men trapped in decaying urban environments. Perhaps they were dealing or using drugs. Perhaps they just wanted fast cash. It may never be known, and it’s not truly important right now. They are both dead.

There is little doubt that other young men who might be considering robbing a store here in Reading will think twice about it, at least for a little while. If I were a local shopkeeper, I would breathe easy for a few weeks.

But the bottom line is this: Nothing will change because of this violent exchange. The underlying conditions that cause so many of our young people to resort to crime aren’t going away anytime soon. There is no political will to fix our broken system, and we are awash in guns, both legal and illegal. Unless we reduce the number of guns on the street and/or reduce the conditions that drive crime, this situation will stay the same and more young men will die.kids-and-guns-80793284813_xlarge

When will America choose to put her house in order, however that may look? How many of our young people need to die before we will act as a country unified and fix our problems? How long before we shout with one voice, “Enough!”