Author Archives: joejmedler

About joejmedler

Joe Medler lives in New Jersey with his wife, who is universally understood to be far too good for him, and his two young sons, who are far too smart for him. His work has been featured on MamaLode, The Original Bunker Punks and Sammiches and Psych Meds. You can find more of his work at https://developingdad.com/ and follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/developingdad

Looking Back At Me

img_5002When did those show up? Those points. My skin is falling, my face is aged and aging and now I have points. Hanging on either side, mid chin. They are not shocking, until you notice them. Staring blankly in your mirror shaving. You see them. They are just there.

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad told me that it was mildly haunting to look in the mirror one day and for a second see your father staring back at you. It sounded like it could certainly be freaky. To know that you are looking out of your own eyes, possessing your own body, studying a face that is yours, you know, but doesn’t look anymore like it feels. It feels like that face you had in high school. That young, narrow, strong, perfectly fitting face you had. The one you stared at and inspected for laughs when you were little. Searched for blemishes when you got older. Ignored entirely for what appears to have been 20 years now as you got on making a life.

It was a utilitarian face. One that was being used to see the world, eat the food, drink the drinks, make the jokes, scream the pains, howl with laughter, bare to the elements and wear through it all. You hadn’t considered it for years. And years. And there it was. A face wholly your own but weathered and worn by time.

The first reaction for me was to recoil a tad. How did this happen? Why did this happen? The answers are obvious but the reactions are cascading. Shock, worry, awareness, fear, love and wonder. Reflexively I recall my own father sharing this moment with me, a young boy unaware of how this must have felt. I’m aware now and the moment, the memory of that brief conversation in a room long ago left for others to live in is reformed. Some new meaning, some heavier weight.

I’d never noticed anyone other than me looking back at me in the mirror until recently. I’ve played with faces when I was little, trying to see if I could make myself laugh or be angry or scary or silly. I’ve tried to pull faces, to see what others saw as I came into my own and was desperate to figure out who I was and thought the answer might lay somewhere on my appearance. I tried to hide the emotions I felt that my face betrayed. I’m embarrassed by that now, but shouldn’t be. It was some strange form of embarrassment that compelled me to try so hard to not show anything but anger for some early man years there.

Now I see a hint of my father in that face, but just a hint. There’s some of my mother there to. It’s not what I want it to look like. I want it to have so much more left to find. At least that’s the first thought. I want it to look like me. Like the memory I’ll have of my face whenever I can’t see it. The one that had no cause for lines and no time for sag. The me that was stupid but pretty. The energetic, unknowing eyes. The vibrant and taut skin. The me that wondered what it would feel like to see the years looking back at me from the past.

‘Shake It, Shake It, Hillary…’, The Miseducation of an Impressionable Young Man

‘It’s because Donald Trump is Mayor!’

There’s some subtle humor in the phrasing, but it doesn’t overshadow his tone. Charlie is not a fan of our current President. We kept the election from the kids but we haven’t been able to control the fallout.

Charlie came home on November 8th having learned about the process of voting. Apparently they held a mock vote in his class. Kindergarten. Whatever. Best I can tell he heard the names of the candidates the first time that day. Being our child he felt a great deal of guilt when he found out that he voted for a candidate he wouldn’t have had he been better informed. Than a kindergartener. Again, whatever.

‘Now Charlie, we disagree with President Trump, but we don’t get angry.’ I say, obviously causing some confusion as I’m certain he has met me before this moment and is aware of my Tuck Frump t-shirt I wear on my demeanor at all moments of the day. That said, I’m here to teach. ‘We have a job to do. We have to be extra nice to people. We have to show people that we love them and care about them. Right?’

It’s not that often, but it’s a routine conversation by now and we are all familiar with our script. Some of the older kids at the Y dropoff informed him one day that his brown friends were going to be kicked out of America. Strange conversations are being had with kindergarteners these days. Lots changed since either of my turns in Kindergarten in pre-Reagan America.

Over the weeks following the election he became more militantly defensive of Hillary than I was. I certainly liked her enough, to paraphrase my favorite POTUS. But we fancy ourselves decent people and as such we believe in equality. Some people call this many things, one of them being feminist. I prefer to think of it as decent, but fine, feminist is a badge we men in this family will wear well if a woman so chooses to place it on us.

So you could imagine my shock when I heard Charlie dancing around the house singing…

‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

On it’s face this may be the exact antithesis of what we hope for our boys. It sounds objectifying. It sounds dismissive. It sounds sexist. And it would be if, say, I were the one saying it. It wasn’t me. It was a six year old kindergartner.

I got one of those Google Home things for my birthday. It’s amazing and can change how everything in your home, née your life, works. It can apparently simplify everything from taxes to exercise, provide onsite security and clean your house at the mere utterance of ‘ok, google.’ This is what the commercial will have you believe. For our purposes however it’s mainly a voice operated speaker. It plays music. Still, a great value for such a magical thing.

One of the magical memories of our brief, though memorable courtship my wife and I share were our many weekend trips from the city up to our favorite hippy dippy slow food gourmet restaurant in Woodstock. We used to luxuriate on the rides upstate. After our meals we would drive home, not a care or pressure in the world. After having kids I’m pretty sure I remember life before as pressureless. One of the things we liked to do on these weekend trips was listen to cool radio. We dated in our 30’s so sometimes this meant NPR weekend entertainment. Other times it meant college radio. WFUV was a favorite. You could get it for about the last hour or so of our ride back to Astoria, Queens.

‘This is a Dead song. I don’t know who’s playing it, but the dead played it as well.’ I said.

‘Hmm. It’s good.’ She said.

We enjoyed after the song hearing the story of the song, what the meaning of the song was and all it’s somewhat obvious storytelling. The history of the song was fascinating as well. How different bands had come to it, earliest known playing of it and the songwriters story. I could have this all wrong. Whatever was said, we both kinda fell in love with the song. ‘Sugaree’ was the name and it was one I’d always known but never really heard. It was like we discovered it together that night.

So fast forward eight or nine years and it was nice to finally have our magical voice activated jukebox be able to whisk us back to that awesome time. It was a more than risqué song, but it was buried under melody and metaphor and adult knowledge, and none of the words in themselves were bad, so what harm could it do to have it playing while we raised two little boys. Besides, could do worse than the Grateful Dead.

Until your burgeoning little man starts singing a woman’s praises by imploring, ever so innocently, to ‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

My Silly West Wing Dreams

‘I’ll have a shark sandwich. You like shark? Never had it! You’re in for a treat.’ I thought.

I wasn’t so much paraphrasing Jeff Bridges in the contender as I was riffing on my memory of him. I mean, shark sandwich. Come. On.

Not that I have a taste for killer beasts of the sea. Not much for seafood, actually. But what a cold and cool way to announce your power as President. Invite your opponent to come to the east wing and order someone near you to get you some shark. Damn.

No one ever imagines life in the governors mansion. Not from here. Not sitting in council chambers suggesting yourself as next town council rep. Why would you place such limitations on yourself. Nope, I could already imagine it. Life in the White House. Hell yeah.

I had written a statement to read that had gotten a very positive response from the organizer of our event. She was enthusiastic beyond words. Her email calmed me down before stoking my Walter Mitty like daydreams of shark sandwiches and front yard Easter egg hunts.

You have to understand. A writers work has an emotional ebb and flow. Allow me to illustrate using art. ‘Talledaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’.

At the beginning of the movie Ricky is running hot. Winning everything, on a roll, full of confidence and unable to imagine it ever stopping. In an interview he makes a statement that is EXACTLY what it feels like when you are writing and it’s flowing. He said…

‘Look. Here’s the deal, I’m the best there is, plain and simple, I mean

I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.’

Okay, it’s crass. But you know what, I don’t care. That is how it feels when it’s working.

There’s another scene in the same movie. This is later on. Our main character, the beloved Ricky Bobby is in the middle of his comeuppance. He has failed and failed and failed and he finds himself imagining a himself being engulfed by a fire ball and he has stripped naked and is running wildly on the abandoned track in tighty whitey’s and a helmet screaming in a panic…

‘Help! Fire! Oh god help me. Help me Oprah Winfrey, help me Tom Cruise!’

This quote (paraphrased from memory) typifies exactly what it feels like as you push ‘publish’ on the writing you were so recently so confident of while producing it. It’s a pretty extreme variation between unflinching confidence and bed wetting fear, to be sure. Especially considering these emotional states exist without any transitional states between them. Typically, at least.

So when the organizer replied to my email, sent with all the confidence of a church farther hoping to god it be both silent and odorless, with the opening of WOW! Well, I was right back to my writerly confidence. She wrote a bunch more, but to be fair ‘you had me at wow’ is a statement I feel fairly confident making for all writers.

I arrived to the council chambers with humility in my heart, not that you’d see it on a topographical map as it was a tiny sparrow sitting behind a mountain of confidence. Warmly greeted upon introducing myself I was so very excited to be around similarly minded resisters. A moment of sincerity here, it was truly heartening to see all these folks, neighbors and friends I’d yet to meet who felt the same as me. We have a town council that by what I can gather has been 100% republican for decades, without so much as opponents to run against them.

So newly friendly with my neighbors who’d come out of the shadows I took my seat and the evening began. We pledged allegiance. Off we go. I had no idea there would be so many folks here. This was a real meeting, not just a town gathering. County officials from the party there, candidates for state office. It was a real thing happening. The pros got up. The first stood behind the table at the front of the room. Party guy told her to come around front, but I knew what she was doing. There was no podium. It had caused me a moments panic, but I had my WOW in my back pocket, already committed to paper, why should I worry.

I’ll tell you why. Because when she came around front of the table it snuck into my mind, around the mountain of confidence. The tiny sparrow was on my side of the mountain now. I’ve only once read my own work to a crowd from a stage. I barely got through without sobbing. To be fair that one was about my son, it was a tender piece about the fears of a father. This wasn’t that. It was a political speech. Still, I learned through the many times I’ve spoken to groups at work that holding my paper was a bad idea. The hands would start to shake.This would trigger the completely illogical loss of breath control. Then, yep, the water works. But this was a friendly crowd. Why should I worry.

Her reason for running was profound, heartbreaking, personal and touching. I was definitely in the right place, with the right people. Okay, I can do this.

Next candidate got up and announced that she was working on her speech. She would be reading from cards. CARDS! Why the hell didn’t I think of this. It would give me a natural way of looking up and realizing I’m not naked, these people are with me. And when the hell did this sparrow get so goddam big! WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOUNTAIN OF CONFIDENCE! And I was totally wrong about the sparrow being humility. The sparrow was humiliation!

At least I was still confident in the support of the audience. It would appear my rabble rousing, ‘conscience of the liberal left’ speech would meet the tenor of the room. We were all here to organize resistance. What the hell am I so afraid of. Get out of here, negative self talk. I don’t need you!

‘Okay, I know it’s been a long night, but we have some people that have offered to run for Town Council and they will all address you this evening.’

HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. DEAR GOD, I KNOW I’M ATHEIST BUT PLEASE BECOME REAL AND TRANSPORT ME YODA LIKE TO SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE ELSE… Maybe I won’t be fir…

‘First I’d like to bring up Joe Medler.’

Shit. That’s not a sparrow. Is that an eagle? Why does he seem so angry and threatening. Shit. That’s a vulture, dude. Oh no, when I start calling myself dude in my brain something is way off. Crap. Don’t trip. Wait, why would I think that. I’m a grown man in fine health, I won’t trip. But god it would be the worst time to trip. I’M NOT GOING TO TRIP.

Breathe. This is easy.

‘Hello everyone.’ I said.

This isn’t so bad.

‘I’m not a politician. I filled out a survey, literally last night, and said yes, I’d be willing to be a candidate for town council. Then Tracey, wrote to say I should prepare a statement on why I was running. So I did. Thank you for being here and here goes.’

That was fine. What was I so worried about. All I gotta do now is read.

I pick up my paper, chin nailed to my chest, head down and we’re off.. that’s a strange tremble in my hand. Maybe two hands will be better. Wait. That’s supposed to stabilize not double the shaking. Where was I. Oh my god, why did I write suvch a personal piece. I really am kind of naked up here. Where are you mountain, don’t disappear.

NONONONONONONONO! It was just a simple crack of the voice nothing to worr.. shit, again. Is that water in my eyes. Fuck. I’m doing it again. Hands up, Im done.

‘And I think that’s a good place to stop.’ I said, and started to make my way back to my seat to see if I can fit under it. Forget the shark sandwiches, forget the glory of being a vessel for equality and democracy, forget the more humble aspirations of serving the town and being a politician.

‘Okay, Joe, do you mind if I read the rest. It’s really powerful and think it’s worth everyone hearing.’ said, Tracey.

‘My goodness, I can’t thank you enough. My god, yes, please, save me and this moment from the disaster it feels like!’ I thought. It came out more like a barely audible, ‘Yes. Thanks.’

She proceded to complete my story. I have to say whether they were just taking pity or genuinely appreciative of the writing, I don’t really care. Everyone was so generous with their kindness. Handshakes and thank yous and people sought me out to tell me they enjoyed it. I was in the right place after all.

But perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out how exactly I can best serve the goals of our group. After all, there is very little need for a crying call to arms. Might play into the worst stereotypes of liberals, actually. I’ll stay a bleeding heart, but perhaps i should retire the crying eyes;)

My First Political Speech

Tonight I will be presenting to my towns local democrats club. It’s an opportunity for people willing to run to make a statement as to why they would run. 

………..

Good evening. Thank you all for being here. This is my first ‘speech’ of a political nature, or of any variety and I appreciate you baring with me. 

A few months back I sat on my couch feeling things I’d never felt before. The champagne stayed corked, some heavier drinks got drunk and I fell asleep ashamed and saddened by the choice we made.  We elected a President that was shamefully unqualified, dangerously temperamental and hopelessly out of touch with American ideals. I’d lost my country. More to the point, I may never have had a good handle on who we were. 

It appears I wasn’t alone. I started to find likeminded people coming out of the woodwork. People similarly startled and shaken and searching. Searching for what we could do to resist this wave of ugly nationalism that seems to be growing in vitriol and volume. Voices of disunity and intolerance rising from every corner of the globe it would seem. 

What can we do, now that we’re here, I thought. 

First there were raised voices in the form of marches and protests and, well, resistance. The energy I saw was a huge help. It made me see there were so many of us.  

I’ve long believed there was no home for me politically. I’ve been an independent for most of my life because the left refused to speak it’s conscience. That changed this cycle. We’ve been unbridled of late, but it wasn’t so long ago that a candidate such as President Obama would say they were for civil unions as opposed to saying they were for gay marriage. I understood the political expediency of such a statement, but everyone knew it was not his opinion. The left, over decades, has been pulled so far to the middle by redistricting and the seemingly never ending march to the right by our fellow Americans in the other party that it left anyone with a truly inclusive perspective out. 

There’s a liberal conscience that has risen to the surface in the past 5 months. It’s kicked into high gear since the inauguration. It’s a conscience that knows what is right and what is dead wrong. It knows that we are strengthened by diversity. It knows that we are strongest when we show compassion and charity for those that struggle. It knows that we owe it to our children, to all children, to start cleaning up this earth before we hand it over, picked clean of its sustaining bounty. The conscience of the left knows that security cannot come from acting out of fear and cowardice. It knows the world is a dangerous place because decades of the redistribution of wealth from the broad middle to the fat and getting fatter at the very top of the economic food chain has left many in desperate conditions. The left has a conscience. What it’s been lacking is a voice. What we’ve been lacking is the confidence to stand and say plainly what we believe to be true.

What does that have to do with conducting the business of New Providence you might ask. I’d ask it too. It’s a bit of a stretch to tie all of this to us in this room, I know. But ultimately all of these things are what are animating this rising engagement on the left. For too long we haven’t been organized and many of us have felt alone in our views while unable to avoid seeing the brazen confidence of a conservative movement that has come to its current place of untethered rage and unabashed hate and undoubted electoral dominance at every level of government seemingly without resistance. They’ve done all of this because they’ve always, always been better at this than we have been. They are better at organizing. Better at being present in the local meeting rooms like this one. They are organized. 

We’ve spent far too long relying on the fact that our ideas would rise to the top regardless of whether or not we spent any energy pushing them there. We’ve spent far too long assuming that love would trump hate. We thought that before the sticker, before the president. We still think it. But if we’ve learned one thing from the past few months its that effort wins. Participation wins. Showing up AND speaking up wins. And we haven’t been doing it. Not here. Not in the ‘Trump Country’ where I was raised. Not in the halls of power where state after state after state have come to not even be concerned by our existence, forget our ideas. It’s not a contest of ideas now. It’s an organizational challenge now and we’re way behind. 

I don’t know I’m the right person for this job. I don’t. I’m frankly excited to have anyone of the people you see here tonight as an option. For too long we’ve ceded our towns and villages and counties and state governments to the conservatives by not meeting their civic engagement with our own. They have beaten us fair and square. They sustain on a culture of service. A culture that prizes community leadership at the most fundamentally local levels. It sustains the entire movement. And we’ve surrendered, over decades, without so much as raising our hands to participate. 

Well, that’s where I see the problem. Ultimately I hope I’m a small part of a much larger movement. One that gets in there and fights for what’s right unabashedly and unashamedly knowing that we stand together. That will show up, that will ask questions. That will not let control of our most basic, most crucial resources be controlled by one party without so much as a single voice of descent in the room when decisions are being made. 

I’m offering my service because I believe it’s what we need to do. We need to be engaged, we need to participate, we need to lead. Here in our town. I’m hoping there are meetings like this happening all over the county, the state and the country. Because we need to change what it means to be liberal. We need to change it right here, where we live. 

Snow day or raising kids?

First it’s daunting. How can we change our lives so completely and so quickly? Will we be able to tolerate turning on a dime? Had you asked us before anyone considered this as a possibility what our lives would be like we could have told you, with pretty decent accuracy exactly how things would have gone. But, some things you control and some things are out of your hands.
To be honest, just sitting there having your coffee, still groggy and tired, it can catch you off guard. I mean here we are. A family. All together, just us. Everything I planned for is gone and I don’t need to explain myself. It’s amazing what’s been given to us, how lucky we are. What are we going to do with all we’ve been given. It’s energizing.

Looking out the window it really is beautiful. A whole new angle on the world. One I don’t think of often, but it’s always there. The magic of it all. Bounties and possibilities falling from the heavens in a seemingly neverending supply.

Before long practicality has to step in. You can only sit safely inside the safety of the whole world now existing in these four walls for so long. There’s places to go. But how. Life is changed and all that mobility, all that freedom you had it seems just yesterday is gone. I frankly don’t even know how we’d go about getting out of here. Like logistically. Emotionally.

Eventually, and much later than I should have, I had to do something. I knew there was work to be done. Jobs I might not have done given my druthers. But my druthers aren’t really the deciding factor any more. I start to wonder if they ever were. Whatever. Time to get on my big boy pants, the comfy, functional, warm ones and get out to that driveway and get going. It’s time to work dammit. For my family.

At first the work is overwhelming. Really, did I sign up for this, I ask myself. Isn’t there some other way? And of course there is. Or there was. I could have planned better. Could have made decisions long ago that would have made all this work easier. Would have put me in a better place on this day. Would have given me the tools to make all this easier. But that’s not the bed I’m lying in. Besides, after all the monotony, the pain and the drudgery it isn’t long before I look up and look back and see that it’s almost done. I’m excited. At first.

Sure. There’s a lot I’d like to have behind me. But given our fun times we’ve already had, and the fun times surely still ahead of us, well I’m not sure I want this to end. Ever. What’s facing me after this. This is all of us. Together. What can be better than that.

In the end though, you can’t think of it that way. So much of this was magical. So unexpected and full of fun and play and laughs. Good food and junk food and games and hugs and love and movies and forts and conversations big and small.

The work all got done. Each of us doing what we could to make the best of it all. It was so great and so precious that we just hope it all happens again sometime, in some way.

Immersed

via Daily Prompt: Immerse

We immerse ourselves in what we love

and find a love there waiting.

A love of all we see and learn while falling

Into a light that’s magnetic and never abating.

We fall forever and gather momentum

never once thinking of halting or breaking

when beckoning the courageous and curious and brave

Immersion too often convinces through magic

A belief that deeper and deeper, fathoms upon fathoms

can somehow broaden your knowledge

can give a light to wisdom that travels

at speeds your fathoms can’t fathom.

Until you believe your deeper knowledge

the knowledge that gives you meaning

is somehow the secret to all that is wanted

by all those who don’t study your journey.

Without warning and only in hindsight

do we recognize all that has brought us

to proselytize, believing our wisdom is better than yours

and seeking others who follow.

The same footsteps and thinking

experiences not thinking or asking or seeking or wishing

to learn of an others earned wisdom.

For nothing not swimming in which I had sought

can have knowledge that equals what my search had wroguht

Balance is not what the holy demands

but wisdom arrived at by only my path

and only by those who are near me.

Our tribe has found the one lonely truth

and your path is filled with deniers.

Not wanting salvation for simply committing

to that which is so bloody, so simple

Immersion in me is fealty to thee

and the only true way from damnation

Summers, Cities, Lucy, Diamonds

I danced without thinking or knowing or asking

Spoonfuls of Beatles fueling the frenzy

Summers, cities,Lucy, diamonds

I saw Wonders when Stevie sung to me

In his words but the voice of my mother

Who wrapped me and calmed me and held me

In the warmth of her arms while she borrowed

His words but their awe at such a creation

From an apple residing along with her visions

I saw fire alight in the crescendo of voices

On stages and altars and living room theaters

Words reached out and found me on landings

Compelled me and tempted me slowly

First I whispered stories while reading

Not knowing a sound was even escaping

From mothers and fathers and Hammerstein and Rodgers

And the books those men made me look for

I found shelter for years when I could not find footing

In words and ideas that I never surrendered

Tween covers of stories I carried in backpacks

Of journeys glorious and reverent and abysmal

Sewn into the fabric of many a traveler

By writers and poets commanding attention

Despite never knowing who listened

Who but me, perhaps knew their meaning

The weight of such words beat out on the keys

On Benny’s and scrolls strung together

Cross countries and boundaries times unimagined

Explorers, the greates minds of a generation

Or later while starving in cold water flats

Living just enough for a city of wonder

To rhythms and whims that would have broken

The heart of an apple in an eye

Less buoyed by Beatles, Beats, Wonders and I

To see art in the suffering and wish to collide

And grind and mash my way through the classics

I have come to the time when I must commit to

Try to create and express and learn to be

Less guarded, more trusting that others will see

A simple expression of thought and of feeling

Given through songs and stories and colors

In my life I’ve learned to be and to breathe

Through works of others more gifted than me

Now I try and I struggle and I say I’m happy

Just busy and thinking and fully connected

To art and to life and to all that may be

On the path that stretches forever behind me.