A Poem of My Life

Do you think about your childhood? Do you remember it fondly? Or was it painful and hurtful?

I suspect that most of us would say both. Each childhood is different, each person has a different life.

This is a poem about my life. I hope it means something to you.

 

The Boy

 

I took a walk today where a boy once walked,

in a dream, in a memory, a lifetime ago.

I stepped where he stepped and stood where he stood,

I stared across fields of his long-vanished youth.

And I reached out to touch him…

But then he was gone.

 

He looked somewhat like me,

Brown hair, blue eyes,

But the brown hair was all brown,

Did not yet have gray,

And those blue eyes -

So blue!

So much brighter than mine.

They had not yet seen cruelty

From lover,

From brother.

They had not yet seen someone

For the very last time.

 

His face, it was smooth.

It was bursting with life.

It didn’t yet sag and it carried no pain,

It was not yet a roadmap of worries and woes.

It was young, oh, so young, so impossibly so.

 

I noticed him smiling, though no one was near,

Well, no one but me, but I don’t count, I fear.

He smiled as he built a dam in the creek

That ran behind his house, his trailer with wheels,

With cement blocks under to hold it all up.

He smiled because he was happy,

He was free,

And had no idea the bullies were coming.

Had no idea that his classmates could be

like werewolves, like monsters, like Jekyll and Hyde,

To turn on him suddenly, hateful and cruel.

And drive him to madness, and drive him to tears,

And drive him to beg his mom, “Please, let me stay!

Don’t make me go off to school today!

They’ll hit me, they’ll hurt me, and I don’t know why!”

The car would echo with his cry,

But she would send him off to die, a little, every day.

 

I noticed his shoulders, so small and so fine,

And perfectly built for climbing a tree.

They did not yet bear the weight of a life

They hadn’t yet shouldered the yolk of a job,

And bills, and ills,

And deaths. Or worse,

Of children who slay you,

One day at a time

In discrete little pieces, all numbered and tagged.

And filed alphabetically in small Zip-Lock bags.

 

That boy didn’t know of storms that were coming,

but who ever does? Who am I to complain

That he wasn’t yet ready

To suffer, to suffer,

To suffer and cry and little by little to die,

to die.

And yet live, to live and love.

The ‘Good ‘Ol Boys’ of Gaming

4042346573_45b74490d6_oWhen I was a kid in the 70′s and 80′s, I was told directly we’d have flying cars and pick-your-features babies by “the distant future of 2000″. What I wasn’t told directly, but what was strongly implied, was that we would not have racism and sexism. Now, I’ve been trying to live for years with my non-flying car, and my children were not programmed into the computer and picked up at the BabyStore. Funny thing: I can live with both of those.

What I cannot live with is racism and sexism, and yet here it is. I was rudely reminded of that today when I heard that Anita Sarkeesian, who is an advocate for a healthier representation of women in the video game industry, withdrew from a live speaking engagement because gamers threatened to murder her and commit a school massacre!

I’m sorry for putting that in bold and italics, but I am horrified today to say I am, and always have been, a gamer. I feel like that is an embarrassing title, one that I should neglect to mention in polite society because it’s become odious. And I thought we gamers had gotten past all that when we learned what showers and toothbrushes were.

Apparently not.

In an article published on the New York Times website, the details were laid out. You can read it here.

It’s now become apparent that, in spite of a generally egalitarian approach to the world held personally by many gamer-guys, there is a small but vocal – and apparently violent – male segment of the gaming community that thinks women ‘gittin all uppity’ and ‘actin’ like they’s got raits’ exists.

I don’t even know how to process this, because I am disgusted.

People, if you are a gamer and you feel this way, get therapy! If you know someone who is a gamer, especially a young man, please talk with them. The very industry you love needs females to join the ranks: Gaming isn’t a Gentleman’s Club. Women have every right to expect an industry that portrays them respectfully. After all, who really thinks that this is OK?avengers pose

And if you do, you really need to examine your priorities, because you’re a Good ‘Ol Boy in the very worst possible sense.

Rant Ends!

McWhat?!

So this thing just happened. People I know from a church I used to attend held a fundraiser to fight childhood cancer. The corporation that was hosting them is known for philanthropic giving in regards to children’s health, so yay them. Also,sock it this corporation was matching the money these people were raising dollar for dollar. Also, yay. These are all good things, and I want to make sure I am clear on this. Money raised to fight cancer = good! Here’s the problem, in three easy steps.

1) The company is McDonalds, which serves some of the least healthy food-like products on the planet and is a corporate behemoth that does everything possible to increase its profits, no matter the cost to the world or its customers. This information is out there on the internet if anyone cares to look (or ask me and I’ll provide links), but my family won’t go to McDonalds unless we have no other choice. My opposition to this company is so strong that, if I’ve been in a McDonalds 10 times in the last 25 years, I’d be shocked.

2) I made a poorly-worded comment about this on Facebook:  “I don’t want to offend anyone, but trying to stop cancer at a McDonalds is pretty much like trying to prevent hearing loss at a Megadeath concert. McDonalds serves food that *causes* cancer!”

3) People equated my less-than glowing review of the situation as my personal attack on their efforts to fight childhood cancer, resulting in name-calling, derogatory comments on my intelligence and intentions, and even the dreaded “un-friending” of me by a long-time friend on Facebook.

I have since posted a public apology, but in the eyes of those people, I have now been demonized. I carry a taint that can never be erased. I have ceased to be an *us* and become a *them*. I am outsider. I am unclean.

people-arguing-alberto-ruggieriIn America today, discussion and discourse are for all intents and purposes dead. Not one of the people on that Facebook post asked me to clarify my comment, or gave me a chance to discuss what I meant in detail. None of them actually wanted a discussion, I suspect, because that involves possibly being challenged on a belief they hold dear. I don’t really want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but since they aren’t talking to me, my brain struggles to fill in the blanks.

I am so terrified that our country has resorted to the social equivalent of slaughtering each other in the streets. Yes, my comment was ill-conceived and badly worded. Yes, I should have done something different that what I did. Yes, I am very sorry. But people say stupid stuff all the time. If I had to stop associating with people just because they did something that offends me, I’d live in a shack in the woods and never talk to anyone. This is serious, people! We are feeding on ourselves, socially, in some twisted version of Facebook Piranha. Worse yet, we are failing to have the sort of deep conversations that challenge our beliefs and sharpen our minds. You want to know why we are falling behind academically in the world? You want to know why children from dozens of countries outperform us on a wide range of academic tasks? It’s because we don’t think, we react.

When faced with a challenging situation, most Americans don’t try to understand what’s happening. Instead, they have an emotional reaction and respond based on that emotion. You do it. I do it. We all do it, with few exceptions. Here are some increasingly absurd examples of this type of thinking. If  someone cuts you off in traffic, they must be an idiot instead of a worried parent trying to get home to their child. If someone says something that offends you on Facebook, they must be an ass or an attention-seeker instead of someone scared for the damage being done to himself and others. If someone holds different political views than you, they must be uninformed or, worse yet, stupid instead of someone who has weighed the evidence and made a careful decision. If a leader makes a mistake, they must be totally incompetent, and should be fired.

hope-2-570x379_5b2a74a98dc194118606e13bfb555bea30e30e32Look, people are complex. People do things for many reasons. People are, honestly, very much like you. But they aren’t identical to you, and it’s well worth your time to seek the middle-ground. We can’t keep judging each other this way. To do so will lead to madness, or to a circle of friends that only agrees with what you already believe to be true. The Founding Fathers of the United States would be horrified (though not, I suspect, surprised) to see the way we treat other Americans in 2014. They bent over backwards to reach compromises that have made us the most powerful nation in the world. Just imagine what would have happened if those great men had refused to seek compromise, and had instead resorted to calling each other names. Where would we be now?

So I challenge you, dear reader, just as I challenge myself: Do something every day that  involves compromise, or involves getting to know another person’s views better. It’s the American thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.

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!