The Karma Police

March 21, 2013

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When I was a child, my father and I used to have the same conversation nearly every day. It was short and concise, and would almost always begin and end the same way. It went a little something like this:

Me: (in an angry tone) That’s not fair!

Dad: (in a calm but firm voice) Well son, life isn’t fair.

I would then exit stage left, stomping loudly, as my father kept his place behind the newspaper.

It was usually a very brief exchange, punctuated by a slamming door, or the exclamation of a word or phrase that would most likely result in a sore bottom.

The End.

This went on for years. I would present my case to the jury (in this case the jury being my father) and what I thought was a very logical, well thought out argument, would always get shot down with a very broad and confusing blanket statement like the one I presented above. And with one swift strike of the gavel, my feeble attempt to gain any sort of leverage or understanding was crushed into dust.

I hated the fact that nothing seemed fair. That Jeremiah Hargroves could watch The Simpsons and I couldn’t. That I had to be in bed by 8:30 on a school night. That my sister got her own room, and I had to share a room with my brother…

I often look back on my childhood fondly, and long for those carefree days, but in reality it was often a very frustrating time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good childhood, and grew up in a very loving family, but I certainly didn’t make things easy for myself. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. I was so preoccupied with everything being fair and balanced, that I cheated myself out of a lot of joy and happiness.

The truth is, of course, my father was right. Not only was life not fair at home, but I would soon learn that life was even more unfair as I grew up and entered the real world. Bad things will happen to good people, and good things will happen to bad people. No matter what anyone tells you, karma is a myth. Sometimes things just don’t add up. But that’s because we live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, with infinite free will.

The trick is to not let it get you down. We have to remind ourselves that the only thing we can control is ourselves. The variables around us are simply that. Variable. We can hope that if we do things the right way, follow the golden rule, and take care of ourselves, that things will ultimately work out in our favor. But that still doesn’t mean that we have any control over things like the weather, job promotions, our health, or relationships.

Things change. People change. And you will change. Add constant change to an imperfect world, and what do you get? Chaos. But there is beauty in the chaos. There is beauty in a fresh start. A new perspective. A lesson learned. There is no growth in standing still, only in movement. And when we move, we make ourselves vulnerable. But that should never stop us from moving.

Life is unfair. And some things just don’t make sense.These truths can be hard to swallow, and they still drive me crazy sometimes. But life is also beautiful. Inspiring. And most of all…worth it.

The Love Of My Life

February 21, 2013

It was somewhere between exiting my mother’s womb and my fourth birthday. I don’t remember the exact date, but that’s not important. The important thing is that it happened. There was a day early in my childhood that I fell, deeply and madly, for what would become the love of my life: Music. I was always aware of music. The sound of my mother’s voice as she sang me to sleep. The radio playing high up on the kitchen counter. My parent’s record collection. The church choir. I was immersed, from a very young age, with these beautiful sounds and melodies.

But there must’ve been a moment where it became more than just an acknowledgement or an awareness. A moment in which this callow fascination transformed into the passion that it has become in my life. And in that moment, everything changed…

I looked at everything from this new found musical scope. In my mind, any equation, weight, or measurement, could just as easily correspond with any song or composition. I found myself listening to the radio as I laid in bed at night, dissecting every song, and soaking in the very shape and flow of each tune. I spent countless hours sitting cross-legged on our living room floor, playing (and occasionally scratching) every record that my parents owned. From Stevie Wonder to Boston, from Dan Fogelberg to Kansas, then Billy Joel and eventually Keith Green. The list goes on and on.

Both of my parents are singers, and my mother plays the piano. So I had the fortune of not only growing up listening to great music, but being surrounded by it as well. I can recall as early as two or three, sitting on the edge of our worn out piano bench, and watching in awe as my mother sang and played. For all I knew, she was the greatest pianist and singer in the world. I would eventually grow old enough to realize that this wasn’t exactly accurate, but it didn’t matter; I had the best seat in the house, and what I heard was beautiful. (And for the record: my mother was and still is a very talented musician, with a beautiful voice, as is my father.)

I soon discovered that this new love of mine was all around me. It was playing on the intercom at the grocery store. In shopping malls. At church. At school. And also, in my head. Around 5 or 6, I started piecing together compositions in my mind. I’m sure some of them were recycled melodies that I had heard throughout the day, but some were truly my own. I would hum them to myself during the day so I wouldn’t lose them, and then I would race home from school, run to the living room, jump up on the piano bench, and starting pounding them out on the keys. This went on for years, until that is…I picked up a guitar for the first time at the age of 15, and everything changed. The piano had been a worthy translator of my musical musings up to that point, but I’ll never forget the feeling that spiked through my core as I strummed my first chord: E minor. I knew right then that this was the new vessel that would help create and convey the songs that were singing within me.

In addition to learning piano, guitar and singing, I’ve also taught myself how to play the bass and the drums. I even fooled around with the harmonica just long enough to realize that I hadn’t quite reached the emotional breadth to fully appreciate such a sad and lonely instrument. I’ve been in countless bands, some of them actually pretty good, including the two that I am currently in.

What started as an infantile fascination, has turned into my livelihood, my passion, and my one true love. It is the blood in my veins, and the air in my lungs. No matter my mood, or my circumstance, I crave music. Just the other day a friend of mine, who is obviously aware of my unrelenting need for music, asked me this question: “If you had to choose between going one day without eating, or one day without music, which would you choose?” I smiled, and without hesitating, gave him my answer. He laughed and said I was crazy. Maybe he’s right. Who knows.

All I know is that from an early age music has been the one constant. My point of reference. And the language for which I speak. If I liked a girl, instead of telling her outright, I’d make her a mixtape. It didn’t always achieve the desired effect, but when it did, I knew I had found a true kindred spirit. For some, music is a nice distraction, much like a sitcom or a board game. But for me, it magnifies life in a way that nothing else can. It brings me closer to God. It makes me feel alive. And it gives me a sense of purpose and belonging.

Victor Hugo once wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”. So true. Where mere words fail, music succeeds. So hit play or drop the needle, whichever you prefer, and let’s get lost in the music.

 

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Daydream Believer

February 13, 2013

I tend to daydream. A lot. In fact, I think I may be the only person that dreams more throughout the day than I do when I sleep. My mind is always running a mile a minute, pulling my focus in multiple directions at a time. I may come off as a pretty laid back guy, but don’t be fooled; beneath my cranium is a three ring circus, and the shows run all day.

I can recall one particular report card from first or second grade that read something like this: “He is very bright and engaging, but seems to daydream incessantly. He lacks focus on his schoolwork and seems to let his imagination get the best of him throughout the day.” Yup. Sounds about right. I used to stare out of the classroom window, watching as each leaf would make its one and only descent, swaying back and forth, taking its time, and really enjoying the only trip it will ever take, until it reached its final resting place. I saw life that way, even as a child. I was that leaf. I longed to let go and be free, even for a moment. As fleeting as life can be, I wanted to truly enjoy the ride…as long as I was here on this earth. I hated the thought of being stuck in a classroom all day when there was so much to discover in the outside world.

Even as an adult, I’ve seemed to retain that childlike wonder. I may not be that innocent boy that I once was, but I’ve never lost the ability to get lost in my own head. Even as we grow older and our once innocent thoughts can turn to sadness, longing, or pain, I can still find that place where I can go to be free. Where creativity is a river that flows endlessly and without effort, and peace is a lake, silent and blue.

I realize that we live in a world of fast tracks and deadlines. None of us, including myself, are exempt from the stresses and burdens of life in the twenty-first century. It’s a jungle out there, and we’re all just trying our best to stay sane in a very insane world. But I encourage all of you to take just a few minutes of each day, whenever you can, to turn off the TV, log out of facebook, shut down the computer, turn off your phone, close the book…and just let your mind go. Pray. Meditate. Think of a loved one. Stare out of a window. Find a trail near your house and take a walk. Whatever you have to do to shut out the world, and plug into your mind.

This might sound ridiculous to some, but our minds need a breather every once in a while. A chance to reset and break from the daily grind. Think of it as a joyride for your mind. It’s a simple concept, I know, but we often tend to overlook the simplest things. Sometimes we need to be reminded to simply slow down. To breathe. To forget about the worries of the day for a while. And just be. It may feel like you’re wasting your time at first, but trust me…you’ll soon discover just how productive that quiet time can be. Take it from me; there is no better place to get lost than in your own mind.

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Expectations

January 25, 2013

When I was a kid I had it all figured out. I was going to become an actor, or a lifeguard…or both. And I was going to marry the most beautiful woman in the world. We would have two kids. A boy and a girl. How novel. Once I turned 25, I was going to sell my baseball card collection, which at that point would be worth a small fortune, and put a down payment on our three story mansion. Once I got tired of being a famous movie star, I was going to take my talents behind the camera and become a movie director. I would spend my last days making movies, occasionally acting, and living in a quiet log cabin in the northern woods with my loving, and still very beautiful wife, by my side.

…Or something along those lines.

It’s funny how things never turn out quite as we expect them to…or want them to. I gave up acting, and picked up a guitar instead. My life changed in an instant. I was offered a job as a lifeguard at the local pool, but our family moved before I ever had a chance to save a life, thus ending my very brief career as a lifeguard. My video camera, along with every minute of footage I ever captured over the course of three years, was stolen out of the back of my car, one hot July evening. I never bought another camera. I got married at the age of 24, and was divorced before my 28th birthday. No kids. No mansion. No golden Oscars glistening in the light from the chandeliers, as they stood proudly on the mantle above the fireplace…

And as for that nest egg also known as my baseball card collection? Surprisingly, it didn’t net me a fortune. Instead, I sold it all to a guy from the trunk of my car a couple summers ago for a whopping seventy-five bucks. And I was lucky to get that.

Our dreams and expectations often have a way of colliding with reality. Sometimes it’s a violent collision, and sometimes it’s a slow, gradual one. Either way, it can be a disheartening realization; that there are many things simply beyond our control. But you know what? That’s ok.

If someone had told my ten-year-old self that in 20 years, I would not be a famous movie star, who also directed movies, had a beautiful wife, and saved people from drowning in my spare time, I bet my response wouldn’t have been…”but will I be happy”? Not a chance. It probably would’ve brought about tears, anger, and confusion. But I had not yet had the benefit of living a life of consequence, of making decisions that would affect the course of my life, and the lives of others. The truth is, despite all of the failures, missteps, and disappointments I’ve endured, I honestly wouldn’t change a single thing. Because the person I am today is exactly the person I hoped I would become. I may not have the accolades and my bank account may tell you differently, but I feel like a rich man. Sure, I’m still a work in progress, and I will be until the day I die. But I can tell you this: The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour, and the light isn’t quite as bright without the darkness. My mental and emotional scars are not marks of defeat, rather signs of battles fought and won.

To be honest, I’m right where I want to be. I’ve taken a few unexpected detours to get here, but I am in a place of endless possibility. For the first time in my life I see the glass as half full. I may not be rich and famous, but the last time I checked, you can’t buy wisdom with golden statuettes…or baseball cards for that matter. I may have taken the long way to finding a life of contentment, but I never gave up along the way. My journey isn’t over. And there will undoubtedly be many dashed hopes and maybe even some more dreams crushed along the way. But that’s life. The sun will once again trade places with the moon and a new day will begin. And the life that lies ahead of me could be far greater than anything I could’ve imagined as a child. And to tell you the truth…it already is.

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The Road to Rediscovery

January 1, 2013

I’m not going to lie. 2012 wasn’t one of my better years. In fact, if I really thought about it, I might conclude that it was one of my worst. There were no monumental failures, or catastrophic events that took place. Just a series of missteps, bad luck, and a bit of heartbreak for good measure. I made some new friends, but had to say goodbye to a few as well. I fell in love, but as often happens, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve gained and I’ve lost. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. But, when it is all said and done, I probably learned more about myself in this last year than I have in the last ten. And that’s definitely something to be grateful for.

We truly learn who we are in the trenches, in the rain and mud. When we are down and out, at our lowest of low points. When we have no where else to hide, and are faced with only one way out. To look inward and find what was missing before. To look ourselves in the mirror and see what we are really made of, other than flesh and bone. You’d be surprised what you are actually capable of. Most of us will sell ourselves short in one way or another. It’s a fact. The majority of us will never reach our full potential. Doubt plays a big role. Fear. Self-loathing. These are just a few of the many reasons why we will only become a fraction of what we could, and should be.

But it’s never too late to start discovering yourself…

All it takes is that first step. It’s the hardest one, but the only one that really matters. Whether it is your goal to run a marathon, learn to play the piano, or reconnect with a long lost loved one, you must take that first step to making it a reality. The road to rediscovery won’t be an easy one, but don’t let that discourage you. Nothing worth achieving is going to come without a little hard work.

So maybe it’s time to hold off on the resolutions, and just learn to be yourself again. Remind yourself of what makes you happy, and what really makes you tick. Fall in love with yourself…yeah, that’s right…learn to truly like that person staring back at you in the mirror. Because you know what? Behind the blemishes, the insecurities, and the crooked smile, lies a pretty amazing person. The only one that needs convincing is yourself.

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My Life, As It Were

November 9, 2012

“You really should be writing all these stories down. Seriously. You have so many crazy stories that you could write a book.”

This is something I have heard dozens of times in my adult life. “Sure, I’ll get around to it”, I always thought. And to be honest, they are right. In my 30 years of existence I have had quite an interesting life. Not a life that would necessarily jump off of the page at you, or even one that has been lived to its fullest extent, but one that has had its fair share of ups and downs, its triumphs and heartbreaks, and its moments of sheer absurdity. The book of life has many chapters; some more interesting than others. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, and some just don’t make sense. The foreword is constantly being rewritten, and the epilogue is just a heartbeat away.

With this blog it is my intention to begin writing, in essence, the story of my life. Word for word, story by story, and in no particular order. A tall task I know, but I intend to give it my best effort. I won’t share everything. Some stories are best left untold. And to respect the privacy of other parties involved I may often change a name here and there. I will also try my best to steer clear of politics and religion. There is enough division in this world, and I don’t intend to let it infiltrate my little corner of the worldwide web.

My hope is that these stories can help inspire you. Make you think. Make you laugh. Lift your spirits. Even if they do nothing more than give you a nice little distraction from this crazy world, then I will have accomplished my goal. And perhaps no one will read these stories. I am after all, just a man, with no extraordinary accomplishments. But to me, I have lived an extraordinary life. And if this blog serves no other purpose than for me to chronicle the random events that have made up my life so far, that’s just fine with me. I look forward to finally putting my stories to words, and I hope you enjoy getting to know me a little better!

- Josh

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