Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

What’s your go-to song in the shower? What song did you dance to at your wedding? Which song reminds you of a loved one who’s past? Did you lose your virginity to a certain song? If so, what was it?

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t written about music before. Music is a big part of my life. I guess I consider myself a singer. I’ve competed in karaoke competitions for many years. I’ve even done well enough to win some money in a few of those competitions. When I clean my apartment, I crank up some tunes and go to work. I need a playlist while I’m showering. I have a great number of friends and family who are musicians and singers. Music is everywhere for me.

That isn’t to say that I love all types of music. Although I understand the draw of hip-hop and rap, it just isn’t my thing. I was at a bar Saturday night to celebrate a good friend’s birthday. What the DJ had going on was disturbing. There was a lot of bass and lyrics about putting middle fingers in the air or something. As music is concerned, it apparently did its job because girls with ill-fitting clothing were popping their asses to the crowds of guys with straight-billed caps who were licking their lips. It felt a bit like watching the mating rituals of some ancient Aboriginal tribe that should have gone instinct. People were “dancing.” I guess that’s the point of music. Me? I like songs with lyrical quality. Tell me a story. Make me feel something. You know, other than epilepsy. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

The magic of a song for me is how it can instantly transport someone to another time, another place, another set of emotions. Individuals with severe stutters can often sing without a hitch. I watched a video of a man with dementia who could barely respond light up and start talking coherently when he was given some headphones playing music from his past. Another video shows a street musician singing I Will Always Love You to a girl with Down syndrome. She had amazing moments where she lifted her arms as though she was conducting the music herself. Her disability almost disappeared in those few seconds. If you have ever watched cable, you’ve most likely seen those abandoned and abused dogs. That’s sad. Hearing Sarah McLachlan accompany the images is so much worse. Well played, advertisement. Well played. Whenever I hear The Gourds version of Gin and Juice, my mood is brightened and my mind goes back to being in my early twenties, working in Florida. Every morning, my coworkers and I would jump into the jeep and blast that song on repeat on the way to work. I swear it cured hangovers from Jägermeister.

If you haven’t noticed, the majority of the titles for my pieces on this blog are also song titles. Music, like my writing, is part of me. I see my life like a story that is being written as I go. And there is a soundtrack. I’m not sure it’s entirely fitting or appropriate for the situation, but there’s music, by God. I caught myself humming It’s Raining Men the other evening while cooking dinner for my daughter and me. I have no idea what that means. If it’s my subconscious trying to tell me something, the joke is on him. I can’t pull off the cowboy, Indian, biker, or police officer look. But I do look good shirtless in my utility belt. Hallelujah.

My life soundtrack Volume 1:

Track 1: American Pie by Don McLean—I had this song about the Day the Music Died on vinyl and used to play it over and over again in my bedroom when I was a pre-teen. His lyrics were poetic. They told a sad and brilliant story. This was the first song I ever sang karaoke. All eight minutes and thirty six seconds of it. I knew every word by heart. It was probably terrible. But an extremely drunk man stumbled up to me and told me that if Bruce Springsteen ever covered that song, that’s what it would sound like. Thank you, Super Drunk Guy, for encouraging me to continue singing. I hope you still have a liver.

Track 2: Crazy Mary by Pearl Jam (originally by Victoria Williams)—Riding shotgun in my oldest sister’s white Ford Tempo. The summer air blowing through the windows and those haunting minor chords telling a somber and powerful tale. I sat there elated and humbled that I could be included in this moment. Sharing a love for music with a woman who had been my arch enemy through early childhood. It was an acceptance into her world. Her showing a piece of herself to me without saying a word. Thank you, Kim.

Track 3: Goodnight My Angel by Billy Joel—The first woman I ever loved romantically. Kara Bohannon. My freshman year of college, I saw her at a house party from across the room. She was wearing a green sweater, blue jeans, and a brown leather jacket. I thought she was stunning and crossed the room to show my roommate “how it was done.” After saying something stupid about her having the best bellybutton I’d ever seen, she shut me down and walked away. She later found me in a ridiculously drunk stupor on the couch and tied my shoe for me as though I were an infant. In fairness, that would not be a far off assumption. It took me three months to find her again. She played this song for me and told me how her father used to sing it to her when she was little. I later shared the same song with my daughter when she was a baby. Thank you, Kara.

Track 4: A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum—16 years old. Sitting in the cab of my dad’s truck when this song came on the radio. He immediately stopped the conversation to turn up the volume. Among the smell of stale coffee and cigarette smoke, my father turned from the no-nonsense man talking work ethic to a lover of art. He sang along tentatively while I watched him go back into his own life soundtrack. It was like watching the metamorphosis of a caterpillar in front of me. I remember thinking right then how amazing the power of music was. Thank you, Dad.

Track 5: The Freshman by The Verve Pipe—The summer after my senior year, I went on my first solo camping trip with friends. No adults. Just a group of teenagers, a trunk full of illegally purchased alcohol, and so many ideas of bad decisions. During the two and a half hour drive to the campsite, we played this song at least twenty times. It always brings me back to sitting in the back of the car with my cigarette smoke blowing out the window and a chorus of voices wailing away. Think the scene from Almost Famous on the bus, but with less harmony and much more off-key. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Track 6: Long Day by Matchbox 20—Back when LimeWire was still a thing (because who doesn’t love giving their computers AIDS?), illegal music downloads were huge. The best part for me was finding an acoustic version of a song. A version I’d never heard. Sarah Fergemann, my girlfriend at the time, shared a love of Matchbox 20 with me. While I was at work, she downloaded an entire album worth of songs she thought I’d love and burned them to a CD. An exquisite acoustic version of Long Day was the first song on that CD. I own it still and occasionally go back to listen to it around all the scratches. It takes me back to sitting on her couch, talking about our hopes and dreams, and my first time getting drunk off wine. The leather-bound notebook in which I write my notes for this very blog was given to me by her to encourage my writing. That was thirteen years ago. I’m sorry it took so long, Sarah, but thank you.

Track 7: Angel Eyes by Jeff Healey Band—I met my daughter’s mother in a karaoke bar. I was the guy who took his karaoke singing a little too seriously. She was the girl who would hold a microphone in her hand, but sing into her Bud Light bottle. Not particularly on-key. I liked her anyway. It was in that bar that she would have me sing Angel Eyes to her. So many drunken nights in a bar surrounded by our friends. But even in the middle of all the shenanigans, that one song could make her stop and smile. And made me feel like great things would come of this. Which leads to track eight. Thank you, Liz, for both tracks.

Track 8: With Arms Wide Open by Creed—Before you judge me…never mind. Your judgment is valid. But this song was sung by me to slyly announce to the bar full of friends that I was going to be a father. Yes, it was Creed. But it didn’t take away from the lyrics. And it certainly didn’t take away from the fact that every time I hear the song, I go back to the moment I was told I was going to be a dad. Or the moment my daughter’s mother called me at work to shout the word “Madison” in my ear because she’d happened to come up with a name she thought we would both like. And that song plays in my mind every time I reflect on taking Madison out of the nurse’s arms to hold her for the first time. That simultaneously weightless and heavy moment. Responsibility and possibility crashing into each other.

Track 9: Let Her Cry by Hootie and the Blowfish—I have a picture of me with hair. Well, most of my hair. In that picture, I’m leaning down over a baby and my mouth is open. The baby is smiling up at me. I’m singing Let Her Cry to my daughter. It was my baby go-to song. She loved it. So many times that I would come home from bartending at three in the morning, Madison’s mom would have hair pulled up in a messy bun while staring at me with bloodshot, tired eyes. Madison wasn’t an easy baby. Colic plagued her. She cried. A lot. When I would come home from work, her mom had been up with her all night. It was then my turn to take the devil spawn baby so her mother could get some sleep. It was one of my favorite parts of the day. Madison had usually just about worn herself out from crying. So she and I would curl up in the recliner and I would sing Let Her Cry while rocking her. She was often passed out within fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes were ours, though. The smell of baby skin and the sound of her breathing slowing down between the words. Her staring at my mouth through content and heavy eyes. Secret seconds that belonged to no one but us. Thank you, baby girl.

Track 10: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star—Potty training is long and tedious. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Taking ten minute bathroom breaks every twenty minutes or so just in case. Toddlers aren’t the most patient companions on these trips. Distractions are a necessity. Thus, Madison had a toy microphone that played a selection of song instrumentals. One particularly long day, we’d been on the toilet more times than I could count. It was the last push to get her out of diapers. The microphone went with us every time. I would sing along to every song on there. I was getting pretty good at London Bridge. I won’t lie to you. In the middle of it all, though, something just clicked for my daughter. She busted out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as if she’d been singing it forever. It was a little off key. Some of the words were wrong. And it was the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. My daughter had crossed the threshold from a baby who bopped or hummed along to songs and became a singer. She looked in my eyes the entire time. I looked at her with my own content and heavy eyes. And the teacher became the student. Thank you so much, Madison.

I’m absolutely missing some songs to my soundtrack. It’s Volume 1. I can’t give them all away.

But, I’m interested in your own soundtrack. What songs punctuate the story that is your life?

Photo credit: http://media4.picsearch.com/is?KFUhTeglGbuf_B3c9Ony3Atr8nPsHNUVhylqO1QZeuk&height=259

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My Funny Valentine

“It’s just a ridiculous Hallmark holiday.”

That statement fills up my Facebook newsfeed pretty regularly toward the end of January and into the first half of February. It’s also heard from the mouths of co-workers, friends, and random passers-by. Valentine’s Day seems to bring out in people a certain loathing disdain. Some claim it isn’t a “real” holiday. Some smugly say that we shouldn’t have one day to show our significant others that we love them, but that it should happen every day. Some believe it’s a holiday that ostracizes single people everywhere. Me? I like chocolate. It is delicious.

The origins of Valentine’s Day are a little cloudy, but the timeline is still pretty clear. What was once an ancient Roman holiday known as Lupercalia (February 15) was turned into a Christian day of feast (February 14) around 496. In the 14th century, the big V day was officially associated with love by none other than the famous author Chaucer. Celebration of the day continued into the 18th century. It was celebrated by people giving gifts and handmade cards that featured hearts and cupids. Hallmark was founded in 1910. I’m not a mathematician, but those numbers don’t add up. To all the “Hallmark holiday” people: please shut up. I mean that as politely as I can when talking to broken records who repeat inaccurate clichés over and over.

Has Valentine’s Day become commercialized? Sure. And of course no other holidays do that. “Man, I’m stuffed from that delicious feast at which I told everyone how thankful I was. I should probably nap before I wake up at the butt crack of dawn to shove and yell at people. Grandma needs that 75% off big screen next month. ‘Tis the season.”

So, why do we celebrate it at all? That’s where the history gets muddled. Kind of like me trying to remember why I decided it was a good idea to eat an entire large pizza after drinking for eight hours. The most common lore behind Valentine’s Day revolves around a certain priest, St. Valentine, who married couples in secret after marriage had been outlawed by the Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius worried that men with wives at home would be less effective soldiers, or that they wouldn’t want to go to war at all. When St. Valentine was discovered, he was executed for his acts. There is stipulation that he either fell in love with or had befriended the jailor’s daughter while awaiting execution. Before he was martyred, he supposedly sent her a letter signed, “From your Valentine.”

Regardless of how accurate the story is, it became a holiday that we’ve celebrated for centuries. If questionable historical significance is a problem, a large part of society might argue that a holiday celebrating a miraculous birth by a virgin leaves room for more explanation. I will admit that I’m unclear on the Valentine’s Day significance behind flying, naked babies wielding archery equipment. But I chalk that up to the same people who connected resurrections with egg-laying bunnies, and the births of saviors with rotund old guys using slave labor to build gifts for children. I’m a free spirit. I just roll with it.

Another argument against Valentine’s Day is that we shouldn’t have to have a certain day to tell us to show our love and affection to our significant others. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Love and appreciation should be shown every day. But what’s wrong with having one day to make it a really big event? I think of it as the Superbowl of love. I’d like to point out here that I just used a sports analogy. Be proud, Dad. It’s not all books, movies, and video games for this guy. Anyway, if we’re lambasting holidays because the meaning behind them should be celebrated and honored every day, we should probably get upset with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day. That would be upsetting. I’m kind of partial to Father’s Day. I would bet anyone who uttered out loud, “Mother’s Day is bullshit,” would be met with a few horrified looks. I have many friends who both serve and have served in the military. Although we should appreciate them every day, I like that they have their own holiday. My grandfather was a pilot in WWII. He’s now passed, but I love the idea of honoring our deceased ex-military collectively on one day.

Finally. Aww, the bitter single people. The day that forces us to avoid social media in an effort to not see sickeningly sweet posts about how happy everyone else is. The pictures of cards and candies. The plethora of engagements. Long soliloquies about how “my significant other is better than yours.” I get it. I’m one of you. I haven’t had a meaningful relationship in years. There’s the distinct possibility that my daughter is going to be the one to find my body one day. It will have been partially eaten by our two cats. I mean, if they panic when they see the bottom of their food bowl, I can only imagine what they’ll do when the food is gone and I’m not responding to their monotonous meows. I only hope they start with my love handles. I can’t seem to completely get rid of those bastards for anything.

The fact is, we need a day dedicated to love. Especially in these times. Why not do so by honoring a man who gave his life in the pursuit that endeavor? Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about being in a romantic relationship with someone. Nor does it have to be about commercialism. Here’s a tip, fellas. Listen to what your significant other has to say throughout the year. A gift that touches on something your partner mentioned she (or he) loves or appreciates doesn’t have to be expensive. It only has to be meaningful. Are you widowed? Spend the day going through old pictures that make you smile. Are you single? Adopt a shelter pet. Bring a homeless person food. Crash a singles party, have a few drinks, and hope for the best.

How will I celebrate? After I get off work tomorrow, I’ll be picking my daughter Madison up from school. She’ll probably have a Valentine card for me. I still have every one she’s ever made. I’ll have one for her too. We’ll exchange cards and talk about her day at school. Then we’ll go home and get ready for date night. My Valentine’s Day won’t consist of dozens of flowers or an expensive dinner at a five star restaurant. It won’t end with rose petals and lingerie. I’ll be exchanging poorly written homemade cards with my Valentine. I’ll sit at Olive Garden across from the most beautiful girl in the room. We’ll talk and laugh about whatever comes to mind. It will end with me tucking her in, telling her I love her, and listening to her giggle while I make kissing noises into her ear. My heart will be full. That’s a great day in my book. That’s a solid holiday. Happy Valentine’s, baby girl.

Lift Me Up

My first thought was to start this off by telling you to close your eyes and think back. Yeah. Close your eyes. I actually began to type that. Forethought is not necessarily a strength of mine. Hindsight? I have that on lockdown. “In hindsight, I recognized that she had crazy eyes the moment I met her and I should never have dated her.” Or, “In hindsight, sending that text message to my ex, Crazy Eyes, after the sixth drink was probably a bad idea.” You get it. But I digress.

The original point was to have you think back on role models throughout your life. I would say that family members are an obvious choice, but I’ve been watching a lot of Shameless recently and that isn’t always the answer. Me? I’m certainly not the perfect father. However, my daughter has never had to find me passed out anywhere on the ground and I put that down in the win column. Likewise, my ten year old daughter is a huge fan of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and gaming. The Nerd Force is strong with that one. She is humble, kind, and polite. I like to think I played a part somewhere in there. But that’s what I’m supposed to do. As a parent, I should be a role model for my child.

The really impressive role models to me are those random individuals who find themselves invested in our lives through no course of heredity or marriage. I think most of us have a teacher or two who played these roles. Sometimes, it’s the old neighbor down the street who is stocked with years of wisdom and a brazen openness that our parents are not. The common thing about true random role models is that their lessons and direction continue to guide us well after we’ve lost contact with them. Those who’ve stuck with me the most are those who turned a little light on to a specific aspect of my life.

Mrs. O’Brien. My fifth grade teacher. To say I wasn’t the most popular kid in fifth grade would be an understatement. Pretty much the equivalent of saying that Sauron didn’t have the best interests of Middle Earth in mind. See what I did there? Although “nerd” is the new cool, that wasn’t the case when I was in fifth grade. I was overweight and pretty fluent in Smartass. In case you’re not a member of society, that combination is a fairly sure-fire way to get your grade school ass kicked regularly. I handled it with grace, which is how I once found myself in the cabinet under the classroom sink trying to dislodge the world’s most brutal wedgie. I mean, that thing was up there. Really, really up there. Drug mules would have looked on in pity. It was so far up there, in fact, that I had to hide under the sink so I could take down my pants in order to follow the thread. Mrs. O’Brien discovered that I was under there sans pants. Due to my history of having a smart mouth and being a disruptive class clown, most teachers at that time would have disregarded it as something I probably deserved. I probably did. But instead she stood guard in front of the sink cabinet, blocking the students’ views, to allow me a shred of dignity. That shred was thinner than the current string between my butt cheeks, but it was something. After class, she asked me to stick around so she could talk to me. The advice given to me by her stays with me to this day. I didn’t exude much confidence. Overweight grade schoolers rarely do. I walked with my shoulders hunched. Head down. Avoiding eye contact whenever possible. I was the gazelle who wandered from the herd. Mrs. O’Brien explained the power of exuding confidence. She told me to practice at home walking with my chin up and my shoulders back. To look people directly in the eye. She said it would change how people viewed me and, thus, how they treated me. It wasn’t easy. It felt uncomfortable. But it worked. There were still a few incidents, but those were the result of my mouth and me not realizing that I wouldn’t be physically in shape until high school. I have people occasionally tell me that I come across as cocky. My inner fat kid smiles every time.

Mr. Brown. My junior year History teacher. Mr. Brown was a short, feisty Vietnam vet from Kentucky. His teaching methods were not that of a traditional high school History teacher. He threw Nerf balls at students who were dozing off or talking. He asked students to stand on his desk and model outfits if they were dressed nicely that day. He would give them the equivalent of an “A” on a quiz if they did, encouraging his classes to dress respectably and to not fear the judgment of others. Unfortunately, my collection of flannel shirts never fit the bill. It wasn’t my fault. Grunge was a lifestyle, baby. Mr. Brown didn’t stand up front and drone on about the Hamilton/Burr duel. He had us act it out. Instead of bringing history to us, he brought us to history. We were active players in a timeline. He explained that learning history wasn’t about memorizing facts about a bunch of dead people. It was about learning our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. His lectures were raw and honest. When we discussed the Holocaust, he showed us Schindler’s List in its entirety (much to the chagrin of parents and the school board), pausing it regularly to explain the historical importance of a scene. Human history was tangible and right in front of our eyes in a way no textbook could deliver. When we got to the Vietnam War, he had us open our books to the first page of the section and read the overview. Then he had us close our books and began the real story of Vietnam.  The decisions behind the U.S. getting involved. The cultural attitude of the time. And what it was really like to be there. I remember his face and the sad, distant look he got when he described the first time he killed another human being to save himself and the other men in his unit. How he had been ashamed that he crapped his own pants the moment he did it. This was real life. This was not a textbook. War was not a distant concept. It was standing in front of us with tears in its eyes. Mr. Brown’s non-traditional methods landed him a three month suspension and regulations placed on what he could or could not do in his classroom. He retired the year after that. He said that he wanted to teach. He couldn’t do that their way. What he taught me more than anything is to be true to who you are. Never let others stifle your passion.

Dwight Szabo. When I was 19, I started working for a restaurant chain. After about a year, I was offered the opportunity to corporate train. I began travelling the country and training servers at the new stores. At my first opening, my Training Manager was a gentleman named Dwight. He was a huge Vince Lombardi fan. He believed in teamwork and pushing his people to better themselves. At trainer orientation, he handed each trainer a notecard and told us to write down on the front what we hoped to gain from the experience as corporate trainers. For example, if one was a server trainer, maybe he or she would like to learn how to broil steaks. On the back, we were to write how we thought we could accomplish that goal. Dwight promised that he would do his utmost to make our goals happen. I was impressed with him immediately. It was clear that he loved what he did. And that he wanted to guide his people to bigger and better things. He was a leader and an inspiration. So, on the front, I wrote that I wanted his job. On the back, true to my self-sabotaging nature, I wrote that I would accomplish that by sleeping with the three female front of the house trainers. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant or bar, you might think that could be considered sexual harassment. Amateurs. In hindsight, it was probably not the best move. That evening (night number one at the opening), there was a knock on my hotel room door. It was Dwight. He was holding my notecard in his hand. His exact words were, “What the hell is this?”  Damn. Well, I had a good run. Dwight asked if I meant what I wrote. After a lot of very eloquent stumbling over of words, I told him that I really did want his job, but that I was only kidding about wanting to have sex with the three women, at least for the purposes of getting the job. Dwight, the class act that he was, had taken the back side of the card for what it was. He was asking about the front. He told me that my goal was the only really solid one he’d gotten. From that point on, Dwight became my mentor. Two years later, Dwight retired from corporate to be the Managing Partner in his own store. I got his job. I haven’t spoken to him in years, but he remains a close friend in my heart.

The most powerful lesson I ever learned from Dwight involves sincerity vs integrity. We were with a training team that was together for three straight openings, back to back. When you live and work with your people, you become a family. Our family had run into some rough patches. One trainer’s father had committed suicide while we were on the road. Another’s father had suffered a massive heart attack. Morale was low. Some of us had become disheartened. Focus was waning. So, Dwight brought in his friend Don. Don had a project for us. He handed us each a notecard (those bastards loved notecards). On the front, we were to write the word “sincerity.” On the back, the word “integrity.” The directions were to write ten things on the front about which we had sincerity. Those things that we really, truly believed. For example, I believe in working hard for what I get. Easy peezy, lemon squeezy. Then, on the back, we were to write ten things about which we have integrity. Those things about which we’re sincere, but also follow through with completely. No cut corners. No bullshit. Gut check time. It was here that I felt like a piece of trash. Whereas I was able to name ten things without a problem about which I was sincere, I could only come up with two about which I had real integrity. After the notecards were put away, we took a break. The other trainers were laughing and throwing footballs around. I was on the side of the building in a state of shock. How had I become someone who believed in so much and followed through with so little? Obviously, the rest of my “family” had no problem with that. Dwight found me around the corner and asked me if I knew what the difference between myself and the others was. He said the difference was that I “got it.” That I had been absolutely honest with myself when none of the others had. He claimed that, if they had, they wouldn’t be smiling and laughing. I’m still aware that I lack real integrity in various facets of my life. But I know when I’m doing it. The little notecard flashes in my mind’s eye regularly. Without having to speak to him, Dwight Szabo gives me a kick in the ass whenever I feel like cutting a corner. Thank you for that, Dwight.

I like to think that someday I’ll be a random person’s role model. Granted, it will probably just involve them knowing which morally questionable websites pose less threats for viruses. Or which cheap vodkas won’t give them hangovers, but I’ll take what I can get. You know, little victories and all that.

Turn the Page

books

What do you like to look at when you visit someone’s home for the first time?

There are the obvious first-impression items. Decorations, furniture, pictures. These things are all laid out and organized specifically to promote a particular impression of who a person is and how that person keeps his or her home. However, if most people’s homes are anything like my own, they aren’t entirely accurate. If I know I have company coming to visit, my first order is to tell my daughter to make her bed and find her bedroom floor. The glass coffee table, usually home to Littlest Pet Shop toys and delicately-placed fingerprints, is wiped down and the toys are replaced with the TV remotes that spend most of their time on the arms of the couch. The toilet is inspected to get rid of any rogue poo splatters that might have not flushed away. God forbid any guests assume I use that retched device for evacuating my bowels. I make sure the stove top is clean enough so as not to allude to any past events of feeding myself or my daughter. The throw on the back of the couch is replaced with one not covered in cat hair. My guests will naturally assume the cats use the cubby I bought for them. They do not. The bathroom counter will show no signs of me brushing my teeth, shaving, or wearing deodorant. Any evidence of having used the faucet will be eradicated. Scented wax will suggest that no part of my home has ever smelled like last night’s dinner or a fart. Luckily, I’m an excellent cook and those two cannot be confused.

These things are just what we do. We clean and organize. We make it clear that we are not people just like everyone else. But there are those items in our homes that give away our secret selves. They offer peeks into who we really are. I’m not referring to our medicine cabinets, despite some sociopaths feeling it is okay to find out if a homeowner is depressed or ever had a rash. I once had a friend come out of my bathroom and ask whose moisturizing gloves those were in my closed shower. Um, they were exfoliating gloves, Marcus. And they were mine. You freak.

My movie collection is extensive. It does offer a small look into my secret self. There are a lot of chick flicks. We’ve already established that I’m a crier. Although I love music, my collection isn’t very large. But music collections offer other previews. The problem is that it’s rare to listen to an entire album. Usually, a person skips to his or her favorite handful of songs. Likewise, movies only take a couple hours. There isn’t necessarily a lot of dedication involved in music or film.

Thus, I like to look at a person’s bookshelves. Bookshelves are beautiful open doorways into the soul. Most books take days or weeks to finish. That is a lot dedication in today’s busy world. A collection of books is like a map of someone’s passions and interests. The secret self on display right in clear view. Whereas we rearrange our coffee tables and bathroom counters to hide the messy day to day happenings, bookshelves are rarely altered for perception. No one thinks about it.

My own bookshelf represents me pretty well. It’s a five-shelfer. Not that I’m tall by any means, but I needed a shelf that would hold a lot of books. Every shelf is filled, with a few of my latest books resting on top of the others. I’m not terrific at letting go of things I enjoy. The top shelves are bowed from years of heavy hardbacks weighing down on them. I can relate to that. Sometimes I feel a little bowed myself. Although the books are fairly well organized, there is a certain chaos to their placement. I can definitely relate to that. The shelves often find themselves acting as the home to various trinkets belonging to my daughter. It currently houses a small bottle of blue raspberry-scented hand sanitizer, two Littlest Pet Shops, the game Jenga, and three smashed pennies with the logo from the St. Louis Zoo imprinted on them. As with the shelves, there is always a piece of my daughter with me. The most read and loved books have weathered edges on their covers, bent pages, and cracked spines. Like a person who has lived a full life, books also show their wrinkles, laugh lines, and scars. I have plenty of all of these.

One glance at those often dusty shelves, and you see the real me. An inscribed copy of the Holy Bible. I’m not a religious man, but it was a gift from the first woman I ever loved. I keep it to remind myself that faith comes in many forms. And that sharing your faith with someone isn’t always about religion. The collection of the What to Expect books. I read them front to back because I was terrified of failing as a father. While that dread never completely leaves, they helped me at least step into the business of parenting with some idea of what the hell I was doing. Most of Stephen King’s books. I was always an adept reader, but didn’t fall in love with reading until I stumbled across my first work of Stephen King in sixth grade. The book report was due in four days. I finished the book in three. A dictionary. Something about opening those musty pages when looking up a word is far more satisfying than Googling it on my phone. Psychology text books. I’m still fascinated at how a lump of sludge in our heads can do so much. The Idiot’s Guide to Playing Guitar. I have a classical guitar in my closet. And I can rock out probably a good four chords, no problem. Just don’t ask me to switch between those chords without doing that weird neck-crane move while I stare at my fingers. True crime and criminal investigation books. I know more about forensics, criminal investigation, and serial offenders than the average Joe. I try to avoid discussions on the topic with a woman until she has at least spent the night and left unharmed. First-date talk about serial killers and behaviorally profiling them generally doesn’t lead to a second date. The Lord of the Rings collection. Tolkien was one of the most dedicated writers ever. He insisted on having incredible back stories for his characters. He loved them and it showed. I’m still slightly upset I wasn’t allowed to name my daughter Eowyn. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Dr. Seuss at its finest. This book is also inscribed. It was given to me by my sister when I graduated high school. It reminds me that, while I might not always have a clear idea of where I’m going, other people believe in me. And that children’s books don’t have to lose their potency just because we grow up. Robert Fulghum’s collections. Fulghum was introduced to me early in my original college career. He quickly became, and continues to be, my favorite author. Those books act as tokens that original plans don’t always turn out how we hoped. But also that we can always take something away from any situation. And that the written word has real power. These are only a handful of the doorways in the mansion that is me.

Unfortunately, with the creation of tablets, fewer and fewer people own actual books that can be displayed on shelves. Me? I’ll stick to my books. There is something so much more exciting about turning an actual page as opposed to scrolling a screen. Tablets don’t have that scent of old ink on yellowing paper. Stories on a piece of electronics can’t be transcribed. And I love having my secret self in plain view if you’ll only look hard enough.