Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 23, 2017

Fear the Living

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Whether it’s Trump and the 49% who voted for him, or the warmongering Saudis, the desperate fearmongering Israelis, the bombers AND attendees at dipshit teenybopper concerts, the grunge rock prophets who are their own worst enemy, the despots and thugs in our homeland and throughout the world (especially the Third World), or the noble elitist thugs on Wall Street and running the Swiss banks, the nihilist libertarians and godless communists lying in wait in every nook and cranny… what does one do when one loses faith– not in God –but in humans as a species? 
One takes one’s medicine, then watches The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Homeland, and learns of human nature. Then one gathers one’s family close, one shows up again –for now– at the latest McJob, and one waits for clarity while licking one’s wounds. 
Save us, Jesus. We screwed it up again.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell’s Blackest Day 


. (Aka “Hope is a basement window, broken, to exit out of a dark alley”)

Fell On Black Days -video, acoustic solo, Chris Cornell

        https://youtu.be/gu4Qmy2UGdA

Whomsoever I’ve cured I’ve sickened now

Whomsoever I’ve cradled I’ve put you down

I’m a search light soul

They say but I can’t see it in the night

I’m only faking when I get it right

Cause I fell on black days

How would I know that this could be my fate

Fell On Black Days, Soundgarden, on 1994’s Superunknown

Chris Cornell has died, reportedly by his own hand. Who will be able to replace that beautiful wolf now, howling at the moon, trying to pull it down and ingest it whole?

.
In My Time of Dying -article detailing his final performance

  • [Article linked above is about Cornell’s final show, just this week… and his carefully chosen swan song, a plaintive shout-out to God.]

There are musicians. And then there are artists who transcend their chosen genre, field, form or medium. 

And then there are the great souls: greatly influential strugglers, battlers, many of whom bear the burden of an entire generation’s struggle to find or create meaning and hope amidst the chaos. Kafka. Picasso. Shakespeare. Cash. Beckett. Stravinsky. Hitchcock. Marley. Eliot. Dylan. Monet. Ramone. As unhappiness stalks them, they invent entire new art forms and movements, by the sheer force of a fierce imagination and a hunger to expose some elusive truth on behalf of us all. Or at least they strip away our illusions, so we might have a chance to glimpse the truth on our own thru the fog (possibly made by an onstage fog machine).

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Then there are also the paired powerhouses, who –simply by being contemporaries, or foils, if not partners– challenge and collaborate and compete and make each other better, and bring millions of us along on their wild, conflict-filled ride:

Miles and ‘Trane. Kahlo and Rivera. Simon and Garfunkel. Dali and Magritte. Bird and Dizzy. Dylan and Cohen (the original “twin sons of different mothers”). Lennon/McCartney. Mick and Keith. Townshend and Daltrey spawning three generations of punks. Plant/Page. Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. Pryor and Carlin. Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. I’m sure I’ve missed dozens more in various fields. 

Even more rare: trios like Bowie, Iggy, and Eno. Or Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.  Moe, Larry and Curly.  (I’m only half-joking here. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.) 

We may not like everything –or maybe anything!– that these giant souls did (or are still doing), either together or in parallel. But still, they must be reckoned with.

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And now I would add Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (plus Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and some excellent solo work) to one or all of the above lists. 

    What we have now is A trio in search of a fourth.   Cornell. Cobain. Vedder. If there is a Mount Rushmore of what used to be called alternative rock and is now called Modern Rock, Chris Cornell is on it, with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on one side of him and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on the other. Auditions for the fourth face on the mountain shall begin tomorrow, at a Seattle warehouse near you. 

In other words, we can discuss Alice In Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Nine-Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Cornell’s pals Linkin Park, or various metal, nu metal and post-punk music till the end of time. But for average fans and casual Facebook browsers, from now on (partly because Cornell was likely a suicide), the historical, sociological and creative connections between Cornell, Cobain and Vedder now bind them together in our minds. These symbolic and yet very traceable links between them far surpass those with any of the other equally talented but less influential musicians to emerge from their era.

Cornell was the captain of this rag-tag team, too, in my opinion. The more level-headed, less popular elder statesman of the movement. Based on my understanding of what came to be called the grunge scene– and Here I point directly to Cameron Crowe’s excellent “Pearl Jam Twenty” 2011 documentary for testimony of this– Cornell was the glue. He was the Zelig, the class president, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon guy, the guy everyone knew and almost everyone loved. A superb writer, and the best pure singer of the bunch, by a mile.

I’m actually much more of a Vedder/PJ fan, but even I can admit that Chris’ vocal technique and diction are better. And while I can also admit that Nirvana was important, I think that Kurt’s  “influence” points more to the screwed-up nature of our culture than to Cobain’s ultimate talent (which was substantial, but not enough to canonize him like some folks have). Compare him to James Dean: not a very large body of work to point to, not every performance brilliant– but a tragic end made cult heroes of both men before they had time mature or to “fade away” (and yes, the Buddy Holly reference is intentional, though he was likely the most important of any of the above “tragic end”  figures–with Holly more on a par with Prince, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or John Lennon, to cite a few other tragic ends in music). 

Yet somehow, as I put it to my sweetheart today, this Cornell thing is different for me. He was more of a “quiet giant”. He had suffered from clinical depression for a long time, as I do, but by all accounts seemed to be kicking depression and addiction’s twin asses for some time now. Here’s what I said to my fiancé:

It’s not a big deal, but in my case, it’s like: Jeez, I didn’t realize how much I liked that guy (Cornell) UNTIL he died tragically. A weird feeling. Different than someone like Lennon, Bowie, Cohen or Prince.

Plus, he was my age. 52. (I’m 51, but let’s not split hairs… I don’t have any to spare!) If he hadn’t conquered his demons by now –like his equally awesome Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello apparently has– then that suicide makes a depressive and aging “starving artist” like me pretty frickin’ nervous. 

I read Springsteen’s memoir a few months back, and he too talked about mental health as a daily battle, but a winnable one with good support. Cornell appeared to have that support. I’d like to believe I have it figured out too, that I’m winning the war (despite losing some battles, at multiple stupid  day jobs and one “failed” marriage). But what makes a man like Cornell take that leap into the abyss? As blogger, actor and ubergeek Wil “Star Trek” often says: 
Depression lies

So we keep asking questions, looking past those lies, to the foggy outlines of the truth out ahead of us. The divine Presence has not and will never abandon us. Cornell sang his way toward that, with songs like “Higher Truth” on his terrific 2015 solo album. 

So I keep seeking and questioning  myself, too: 

  • Why do I want what I want? (To write novels and/or screenplays, in my case.) 
  • If it never comes to fruition, am I still a valid human being? (Hint: YESSSSSSSS! Next question please…)
  • What are my own safety checks and support needs?
  • And do I need to check myself before I wreck myself? (For example, watch for substance abuse potholes, liars who tell me I’m a failure, or shame-bound/perfectionist tendencies within myself.)

I have to put this to rest, for now. I’m doing okay. I am writing in the right direction, “singing for my life”, as Christian folkie Bob Bennett once wrote.

Nevertheless, we lost a good one this week. If grief leads us to greater gratitude, then Chris’ death is not altogether tragic. We will never have the whole story. But we will have his songs and performances forever. 

Mystery loves company… take my hand. We’ll get through this.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 28, 2017

We Take It Apart, Then God Rebuilds

.   .   .

From Fr. Richard Rohr:

“God is in some very real way suffering. God is not watching it, but in it! Did your church ever tell you that? How else can we understand the revelation of the cross and that our central Christian image is a naked, bleeding, suffering man? Christians strangely worship a suffering God, largely without realizing it; and Christian mystics even say that there is only one cosmic suffering, and we all share in it, as Paul also seems to intuit (Colossians 1:24).”

  • “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24, NIV)

… … …

My Marking Time Meditation, reflecting on the above:

There is always suffering (or struggle, or work, if we want to be modern or existential about it), and with it there is love, which always leads to progress (if not always to unqualified joy or complete, immediate success).

We (or perhaps sin, or False Self, or Ego) are the cause of that suffering, either our own suffering or that of others–usually both.

God does not cause the suffering, but God does see and feel and even inhabit it. Sometimes God even heals the wounds that suffering has caused.

To counteract suffering, we get grace, gifts (both material and spiritual), and the compassion of a Creator and divine parent. All of these and more are available to every human, regardless of religion, geography, or economics. But it is we who refuse such gifts. Or we buy and sell them, commodifying what was always supposed to be free, denying them to many people, thus prolonging or increasing their suffering. We take the gifts apart, we devalue them, we ignore them, we hoard them till they rot in our silos, we even destroy them (our own, or those of our “enemies”).

Then despite our foolishness, God puts those gifts (both concrete and spiritual), and puts us, back together yet again. And again. An endless cycle, but more like an upward spiraling trajectory. This is the divine dance of history.

Even modern physics and the laws of thermodynamics bear it out: nothing –no matter— can truly be created nor destroyed. Matter is only transformed. We are matter, and we matter to an inherently compassionate and creative Universe (which is God, hiding in plain sight).

Through struggle, through sacrifice, through God’s own suffering, and all upon a foundation of love (either from others or direct from the Source), we are rebuilt. Civilizations are rebuilt. Our houses, our careers, our families, our relationships, our hearts, our very identity –all of these deserve nothing less than to be built and rebuilt upon the firm foundation of God’s love. And when they are, our suffering is lessened, we have more help, and the struggles bear good fruit.

Yet whether we build on rock or on sand, still all of these gifts –indeed all of creation– will be subject to suffering. They will fail, due to our own sin, or to the ravages of time, and will fall apart again. Yes, we are blessed to notice and add to their beauty, or their functionality. But like us, our creations are subject to death, the pendulum swings back the other way, “things fall apart”.

To quote George Harrison: “All things must pass.”

Only love –the God-ness in me, the Person-ness of God– is eternal, unchanging and strong enough to make Something out of the chaos that has always existed.

Love is the Biggest Bang, the sacrifice that leads to a new creation (umm …that new creation would be you, if you want it), the joy disguised as suffering.

Why else would Jesus’ incarnation, death, and bodily resurrection be necessary?

Suffering either means something, or life itself is meaningless.

Me, I choose to let my struggles –and God’s struggle right alongside me– mean something. What’s more, I choose because I was first chosen.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 25, 2017

Nothing Is Wrong (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)


 .                              .                               .

Nothing Is Wrong   (4-25-17)
Nothing is wrong.

I have seen and felt Something that is right. 

Something–

some wave, some rhythm, some rhyme, 

some treasure, 

too sublime to measure–

that is not wrong.

There is a bright and shining Something

smack dab in the middle

of this nothing

(or at least in the same neighborhood).
Not everything is nothing.

Something is always something,

whether or not 

it is a whispered sweet nothing,

whether or not we

see that it is good.
Something is right.

Some thing is true. 

Real. Reasonable. Right.

Not just right but right here.

Right now. Now right. Forever.

A solid something. Fixed.

Alive.
I knew what it was once.

This string around my finger

is here to remind me.


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Hardly Working at Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc. (Postscript to “Every Bad Job Ever Rant”) 

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To be a functioning member 

of the Privileged Working Class,

is to be in a rush to a job

where you mostly sit on your ass.

.
Comfortably afflicted,

changing bulbs that don’t need changing

just because the schedule says so.

There’s no need for rearranging.

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Checking off the little boxes,

putting in for overtime,

going through the daily motions.

Status Quo is not a crime.

.
It’s “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”

–every day (or every night).

Can you really pick your battles?

Then chances are you’re male, and white.

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Class is dismissed as he-said-she-said.

“That’s not my job” is used five times a day.

And it’s hard to tell who’s minding the store:

when the Fatcat’s away, the mice will play.

.
To be in the Privileged Working Class,

is to numb oneself to questions of power.

You pray at a flickering altar of apps

as decades go by in what feels like an hour.

— 

Original poem by Mark Nielsen, writing his way out of (or drilling deeper into?!) a dark hole of career dysfunction and generalized social/existential dread. April 7, 2017.

Have a nice day.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 29, 2016

Check out this cool episode: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-working-songwriter/id1079001185?mt=2&i=376039650, I listen to several podcasts these days. This one, hosted by folk/Americana singer Joe Pug, is for Americana fans in particular… interviews with other writer-singers. (Here, it’s with Hayes Carll.)

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 23, 2016

Trump, Fossil Fuels, and a Cabinet Coup Like Never Before


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“Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere”, by Alex Steffen :

https://medium.com/@AlexSteffen/trump-putin-and-the-pipelines-to-nowhere-742d745ce8fd#.lkrhbihqq

My own analysis of the article, especially the “Cabinet Coup”:

I’ll say it again, friends…

Follow the money.

As in oil, gas and coal money. 

As in Russia being an old-style economy propped up almost solely by petrochemical exports. As in China “developing” and keeping economically competitive by not regulating carbon burning, polluting even the air in their own capital city up to dangerous levels. 

Trump’s cabinet and his companies and his powerful friends –and even their enemies/competitors– all MUST perpetuate the myth of carbon-dependency, lest they all lose billions and trillions of dollars when the *economic* Carbon Bubble eventually pops. 

Do the math. Chao/McConnell (a husband/wife team) –her in Transportation and him manipulating Congress. “Texas” Rick Perry heading up Energy? Exxon CEO and Putin pal Tillerson as SECRETARY OF STATE?!?

Yes, what Trump says or does matters. But power is more dispersed than that in the U.S. government.

Meanwhile the horizon Trump’s investor crew is looking at is just 8 years out or less. They don’t care that an economic crash rivaling 1929 –or worse– is likely within a decade or less. They’ll get in now, make trillions (probably in “infrastructure” development, private security contracts with the government or multinational corporations, stuff like that ), then they’ll get out before the Carbon Bubble pops, leaving poor dumb suckers like me to drown (in debt, or else in the IRREVERSIBLY rising sea levels).

As for mortal wounds to the planet (a million cumulative paper cuts with every fossil fuel ton we burn), and as for billions of deaths at a time in about 80 years (because no president can bend other nations to his or her will, nor prevent private panics, nor tsunamis, nor hurricanes, nor glacial melting)… we have to switch to renewable energy ASAP, before our grandchildren end up in some sort of Mad Max nightmare scenario.

Trump is Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Agro, Big Banking and Mother Russia’s gutsy “All-in” bluff, in a deadly Texas Hold’em game. They’re playing poker with Mother Nature, but using my own tax dollars to play. 

But Mother Nature is The House, and the house always wins. 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 11, 2016

Office Pirates – Fashion, n’ Fear of Faux

An ongoing series… JOIN OR DIE, YE LILY-LIVERED LANDLUBBERS!!!

 

pir-fash-5-1b

If ye’ll allow me t’ borrow from some geniuses (Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David), here’s proof dat de the best pirates be dem dat can laugh in de face of death, bad hair days, an’ other humiliations.

pir-fash-6b-clampo

What? Of course I knows that ye spells usefull wit’ one ‘L’ nowadays. But I’m stealin’ back the king’s Olde English– an’ there ain’t a blackguard nor villain on all five continents what can stop me! (What? Seven continents? Aaaarggghhh! Now don’t be a know-it-all. I’m old an’ wise, even if I is set in me ways…)

pirate-7-post-it-patch

There’s not enough waves nor storm clouds in all th’ Carribbean t’ keeps me from reaching me goals, nor from using at least thirty exclamation points a day!!!!!!!!

So t’ hell wit’ ye, all ye Nancy boys an’ uppity wenches!!!! I only needs one good eye t’ see that ye would fall like a house o’ cards if we was t’ do battle. Therefore turn back, I tell ye!!!!! I have to make it around Cape Horn and on to Exclamation Point by mornin’, or all th’ best booty will be gone!!! Anyone what stands in me way shall be run through, or else be run aground and left fer the buzzards an’ sharks to dispose of.

See ye’ on th’ high seas. Don’t expect to be safe from me, nor my crew, on our sturdy schooner The Paper Tiger.

Nevertheless, I am a fair man, an’ was once a gentleman. So ye may move about, within limits. Just stick to the shoreline, an’ ye’ll be fine.

Sincerely,   (… or p’raps not!!!)

Cap’n Lilac Beard

 

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen’s Dark, Lovely Swan Song


[Leonard Cohen died on 7 November 2016 at the age of 82 at his home in Los Angeles.]

We like it dark, yes, Leonard. God help us…

Leonard/Eliazer Cohen wrote the following song while he was sick this year, knowing this album was his last chance to widen that crack in the darkness, to let the Light in for the rest of us.

(See his song “Anthem”for more on that “crack in everything”. )

I know he will Rest In Peace, because he was already there before he stepped out this week, permanently, for some fresh air. Good timing, sir.

So long, Leonard. You picked a helluva time to leave us.

: ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
“You Want It Darker”
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game

If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame

If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame

You want it darker

We kill the flame
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

A million candles burning for the help that never came

You want it darker
Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord
There’s a lover in the story

But the story’s still the same

There’s a lullaby for suffering

And a paradox to blame

But it’s written in the scriptures

And it’s not some idle claim

You want it darker

We kill the flame
They’re lining up the prisoners

And the guards are taking aim

I struggled with some demons

They were middle class and tame

I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim

You want it darker
Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

A million candles burning for the love that never came

You want it darker

We kill the flame
If you are the dealer, let me out of the game

If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame

If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame

You want it darker
Hineni, hineni

Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord
Hineni

Hineni, hineni

Hineni 

— From the album You Want It Darker, released Oct. 21, 2016

A few stray Wikipedia gleanings, showing why he’s so important and one of my top five favorite writer/musicians:

  • Themes of political and social justice also recur in Cohen’s work, especially in later albums. In “Democracy”, he both acknowledges political problems and celebrates the hopes of reformers: “from the wars against disorder/ from the sirens night and day/ from the fires of the homeless/ from the ashes of the gay/ Democracy is coming to the USA.”[98] 
  • He has made the observation in “Tower of Song” that “the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor/ And there’s a mighty judgment coming.” In the title track of The Future he recasts this prophecy on a pacifist note: “I’ve seen the nations rise and fall/ …/ But love’s the only engine of survival.” 
  • In “Anthem”, he promises that “the killers in high places [who] say their prayers out loud/ [are] gonna hear from me.”
  • Cohen showed an interest in Jesus as a universal figure, saying, “I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.”[119]
Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 8, 2016

Citizen Cub – On Baseball, Politics and American Values

Kris Bryant, after making the last put-out of the World Series. He smiled from the moment the ball was hit to him.

Kris Bryant, after making the last put-out of the World Series. He smiled from the moment the ball was hit to him.

.

Cubs win.

Everyone wants to feel like a winner in this life. Even by association. So yes, this is big.

Cubs win. The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

Say it again. And again tomorrow. The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions!

(I am putting this out there for the record… inscribed here proudly as a permanent, non-Facebookian personal place-holder… on Election Day in the USA… at 9:25am… in case somebody –maybe one of my descendants– is reading this in a post-apocalyptic, nightmarish future world and wondering just when things started getting REALLY weird. Or in case I get Alzheimer’s disease and forget.)

This did not happen in some alternate universe –as I suspected last Thursday morning when I woke up– but in our universe.

All the dark mythology –including goats and black Santo cats and September slides and Miracle Mets and Broglio/Brock trades and Bartman boners and Baker’s b.s. and Durham’s 1984 error and Garvey the Goon’s  gutting (a walk-off homer to win the NLCS,  in that same game in ’84) and all the rest– ALL of that can now take a back seat to a lighter, finally “freed up” New Reality.

Cubs win.

In answer to all the decades of the weirdest “blame game” in all of sports, THIS is the Cubs’ rebuttal –and dang, is it SATISFYING! Second City is finally first. All former scapegoats can now be released, all superstitions put in the trash where they belong.

But this –what you’re reading now– is not just a fanboy shout-out. Yes, it’s about the Cubs, but hopefully a whole lot more.

For me, it’s about History– the “story” of it as we all live it each day (and now a bit more joyfully). Human history occasionally has a decent pay-off and a “happy ending”. A noble struggle is worth it, in this case at least.

If you ever wondered why documentarian Ken Burns once spent ten episodes looking at America through the webbing of a baseball glove (more than for The Civil War, or WWII, or Jazz, or any of his other subjects, I think), it’s because of moments like this. [By the way, next up for Burns: Vietnam, in Sept. 2017. Brace yourself. ] The history of baseball is the history of modern America in a nutshell, if not modern life in the West overall. Race and class and unions and government and broadcasting and advertising and alcohol and drugs and sex and spectacle and heartbreak and entertainment and poverty and wealth and controversy and fear and hope. It’s all there. George W. Bush was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers… what more proof do we need that MLB still matters?

So this victory should feel slightly gratifying not only to my hometown, but hopefully it can buoy the spirits of the entire nation. It’s a whole lot of NICE, in a nasty election year that has left us all feeling more battered, bruised and disillusioned than ever before. [Full disclosure, I’m a Democrat, even verging on socialist, but all bets are off when things get as desperate as they feel in the whole world right now… we’re falling apart, not coming together.]

= == ! == =

The individual player stories here are phenomenal, first of all. The stuff of Hollywood movies:

  • Kyle Schwarber missed the entire season due to injury, then came back to make an impact in the WS, both emotionally and with his bat.
  • Anthony Rizzo, who was drafted by Theo Epstein’s Boston team while still in his teens, who beat Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008, and who met fellow cancer survivor and current teammate John Lester at that time, …before he was even in the major leagues. Rizzo is the spiritual leader of this team, at the ripe old age of …27!
  • Series MVP Ben Zobrist, a local guy from Eureka, IL –who was under the radar with scouts and experts all his life, who considered going to seminary instead – and who has just appeared in his third World Series… and won his second. Always in the right place at the right time, that guy. Let’s keep him around.
  • Jason Heyward, who struggled all season himself, yet he was the one veteran with enough selflessness, respect among his peers, and presence of mind to use the short 17-minute fluke rain delay to call a players’ meeting and get them to regroup. Then they came out of that break with a roar. Heyward deserves some credit for showing leadership and persistence when it counted. He’s under contract for several more seasons, and whether he makes a comeback or not, just that speech (and his great defense and baserunning in the Series) is worth all that money the Cubs paid him. That he’s African American, in the era of #BlackLivesMatter– this is relevant as well. On October 25, 2016, Heyward, along with teammates Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, and Carl Edwards, Jr. became the first African-Americans to play for the Cubs in a World Series game.
  • Kris Bryant… well, we all know a bit about him.
    The moment Bryant--and everyone else-- finally knew things are never as dark as they seem.

    The moment Bryant–and everyone else– finally knew things are never as dark as they seem.

    The play here – a shot taken just before that top photo — tells us plenty about Bryant. Probably the next Ted Williams, that kid. But even Ted never won The Big One. On the other hand, if Bryant becomes the next Barry Bonds (Oh God, I hope not!), we will still have this.

  • The starters: like a Murderers Row of fierce competitors… Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey, …and Jason Hammel, who didn’t even play in the World Series (and became a free agent right afterward), but was better than most teams’ #2 or 3 starters during the season.
  • Not to neglect all the less-discussed rookies and second-year guys, either (who are only slightly overshadowed by Schwarber and Bryant). Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and pitchers Carl Edwards, Jr. and Mike Montgomery are leading the pack. And more to come. The future of the Cub youth movement and minor league development system bodes very well.

= == ! == =

I hope I’m not sounding overblown in suggesting this particular World Series wasn’t just business as usual. This is news. Hard news. Good news.

There is no ISIS, no al Qaeda , no Taliban, no Iran, no Axis of Evil, no Russia, no neo-Nazis or alt-right misogynists, no embassy attack or bankrupt casino, not even a wealthy, cheating Yankee team crassly buying their championship — there is nothing to be spoken bitterly of here, except by the envious, or by natually bitter and overly smug fans of other teams (hello, St. Louis, you listening?).

This is a triumph of training, athleticism, planning, creativity, flexibility, kindness, effective teamwork, and common sense. Finally. It was not perfect. It didn’t have to be. It was simply GOOD ENOUGH.

For millions– even for non-Cub fans who care very little about baseball—THIS YEAR things seemed to work out the way they are supposed to work out, for once. Planning, pain, talent and money go in, and then out comes victory and profit and restored hope at the end of it all. And a little more dignity than before, dignity to be shared and multiplied for everybody, even shared with people who didn’t pay a nickel to see a game, nor experience the decades of agony that their forefathers (and mothers) felt in the first place.

Furthermore, that victory (with dignity, honor and decency) means we don’t HAVE to sell our souls just to win. Not a baseball game. The same is true with a successful marketing campaign, a presidential campaign, or even a war. Those who sell out their fellow man do it because they want to, not because they have no choice. We don’t have to hate. Or rub it in. None of that, either.

Play hard, play fair, no one gets hurt… just like the slogan says. (Dang corporations sometimes stumble on good ideas despite themselves…) Maybe it stings for the Cleveland Indians and their fans, but we all know they’re tough. They’re also Browns’ fans, scraping together a lving in a post-industrial city that once boasted a river actually catching fire. And their team will get its turn, soon enough. Meanwhile, as a city, Cleveland has much bigger problems, causing more real pain, than the wins or losses of any sports team can solve. The Cavs won their first last year, but nothing much changed after that for regular folks in Cleveland, did it? It never does, and it won’t change much for down-on-their-luck Cubs fans, either. But at least we had our day.

Yes, personally I’m down-on-my-luck these days, too. At least in terms of career. But I sincerely believe I’ll be back somewhere in the middle, winning a few small victories of my own, soon enough. I never stopped hoping… not in the Cubs, not in grace (no, not Mark Grace, silly), not in myself, not in the people I personally love and can count on, and not in a benevolent nation, either… no matter who is elected the so-called “Leader of the Free World”.

It has already begun, in fact. Dread is trying to win out, but Hope always survives. We are a civilized nation, in a world that has moved well beyond the Stone Age. The Big Picture is still being painted. So this is my Walt Whitman-esque “prodigious yawp”.

I win.

I’ve lost some battles, and will likely lose some more. I probably started some battles I never even needed to start. So what. Moving on. I’ll buy my enemies a hot dog at a baseball game next year, no matter what their nationality, political party, or what they ever did to me personally in the past.

Beyond baseball, nowadays we have many more scapegoats in America (and the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere) than we do meaningful ways to choose unity again. We’ve given in to our worst, most immature instincts. We’ve tolerated or indulged in a whole lot of nasty, and it’s been toxic. We are extremely disillusioned in most areas of public life, and it’s our own fault. Optimism, which was an American hallmark for hundreds of years, has been on life support since the early days of the Culture Wars (which ramped up just as the Cold War was supposedly winding down). We have let our perceived enemies –enemies within and without– define us, …while the planet crumbles under our feet.

Since we needed a life-preserver this badly, therefore yes, one ballgame IS rather important and helpful –at least for me and millions of others. Not even a majority in America. I’m not that naïve. Nevertheless, this is enough of a sample size that one sporting event matters a great deal (the 5-million-strong Cub rally in Chicago Friday was the #1 biggest single gathering of humans in the U.S., ever!… and 7th all-time on the worldwide list).

It’s helpful to keep believing in something bigger than myself. There’s God –who I do recommend, being Christian myself, …but of course you can take Him/Her/Etc, or leave Them, it’s your choice, this is a democracy after all. That’s the fallacy which conservative Christians and Muslims have bought into, that a theocracy is even possible, let alone a good idea.

Or you can go a bit smaller, and more concretely. Do you still believe in Love? Or in democracy, or  American business (getting hard, I know…), or improved race relations, the youth of tomorrow (I do, if this classy young Cub team is any indication), or authentic compassionate conservatism (as represented by the Cubs’ Republican owners), and/or the power of a community unified by a common cause– even if the estranged and legitimately angry community members agree to peacefully disagree on some of the particular Culture War battleground territories and borders.

I still believe in all of that. Mostly. Enough to get theough the day, anyway. My damaged, flailing faith is slightly restored by this World Series –faith in humanity, in sport, in America, even in God.

And although I know people will quibble with me on whether God should even be mentioned, or cares about the winner of any game… I don’t care what those cynics think anyway: what God does care about is hope, and suffering, and community, and cooperation, and compassion, and generosity, and gratitude. The Cubs represent all that very well. So much fan and citizen faith has been given a huge dose of good, clean, necessary medicine by this team.

Redemption happened, or at least it has begun.

Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was also the most watched single baseball game in the past 25 years. The public has voted: this is big. The NFL may have eclipsed MLB in popularity and profit, Super Sunday will likely continue to be the biggest dog-and-pony show, but MLB is not down and out just yet. A great American institution lives on.

= == ! == =

Former Cub manager Leo Durocher was finally proven wrong:

Nice guys don’t always finish last.

It takes quirky players to play the games, though. Flawed human beings. Yet all the maddening but important “personal character” discussions about athletes (not to mention politicians, bankers, CEOs, national leaders, etc.) can now perhaps have a new high-minded tone to them, if we want to have that new tone. The good guys finally won a BIG one.

When, for example, the retiring Cub catcher David Ross can redeem himself from a costly error earlier in the game –and redeems old war horses everywhere– with a crucial homer in his final MLB game, then anyone who doesn’t recognize that as a universally good moment is just cold and heartless.

Americans discuss, every year, our fascination with overpaid train-wreck athletes who are personally dysfunctional, or spoiled, or cheaters (hello, I’m talking to you, Sammy Sosa, not to mention two of Fox TV network’s skeevy blowhard postgame commentators in this series: Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose).

Yet with a couple of obvious exceptions (like Aroldis Chapman, see below), taken in aggregate, these 2016 Cubs are rife with character. They’re great citizens, apparently decent fair-minded employees, probably good dads and husbands, too. All of that is very meaningful to me. We tend to like our heroes humble, thoughtful and authentic here in the Midwest. We do not suffer fools, or at least not as much as they do on either of the pretentious coasts, or in the backwater towns where long-outdated thinking is still trying to drag too, too many of the next generation back down into some awful un-civilized swamp again.

[Or am I just kidding myself about Chicago being above such shallowness? Come to think of it, Mike Ditka became a caricature of himself eventually, and he still has plenty of fans in the region. And Michael Jordan was always known to be pretty jerky. Michael has lost some lustre, but no one has literally turned on him. So… do I contradict myself? Yes, I suppose so.]

Regarding character, I noted this year that reputed domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman (the mercenary Cub closer, and likely a “rented” free agent, soon to move on to another payday) had written onto his cap the initials of a coked-up and recently deceased former teammate, Jose Fernandez. Fernandez died a few months back, in a boating accident, while under the influence. A tribute by a friend? Ok. But neither guy will ever be celebrated for their moral fiber.

My more discerning (or cynical) attitude is this: the Cubs admittedly did  sell out by acquiring Chapman in the first place. It was a “business decision”. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.

So, no surprise, some schmucks will still go on being schmucks, and even still get paid despite their personal bad behavior. But there don’t seem to be many such shady characters on this Cub team, and hopefully that reality will set a different standard for all teams everywhere, and for player behavior at every age. I hope they haven’t pulled the wool over my eyes. I want to believe these Cubs are actually decent.

Don’t let us down, guys. Don’t become primadonnas. Don’t let the swift-coming paydays deceive you: you still need to keep your eye on the ball, as human beings.

Don’t let the pleasure make you crack under pressure. 

= == ! == =

Speaking more positively, of character, the businessmen and women who built this team have a lot of character and wisdom, too. The Ricketts/Epstein business plan, and the Maddon Bro-gram, actually worked, from 2009 all the way up through today.

Their philosophy: Find and hire people who are good at their job, then get out of their way and let them do it. Right? Completely reasonable, yet such wisdom has been undervalued in baseball and in business for far too long. But not here, not anymore. This is a less dysfunctional organization than it used to be, and the arrow is pointing up, with good evidence that the Cubs’ internal culture has been updated and improved, forever. Despite all the bad past business decisions, bad on-field management decisions for decades; despite all the supposedly good young Cub prospect players that never panned out, even despite Maddon’s own weirdly uncharacteristic and risky choices in the last two games of the Series, THESE Cubs still got over the hump.

Plus when it came down to playing the actual games, the objectively best team won. That does not always happen in this life. Those other Cubs, in other years, were sometimes (though not often) also the statistically  best team– but they could not go all the way. That mysterious Something was missing. According to season record, statistics, most measurable evidence, the present Cubs should have had an easier time throughout this postseason. But, as they say: That’s why they play the games! Stats and strict science do not carry the day. Psychology, history, unpredictability and in-the-moment player and coach behavior are why sports are so exciting in the first place, even to those who never picked up a bat, threw a football or kicked a soccer goal in their lives.

= == ! == =

Cubs win.

Chicago Cubs are the World Series Champions. I will say it again, to keep convincing myself that the world is maybe, possibly, despite much evidence to the contrary, MAYBE getting BETTER instead of WORSE. I will say it again, on the eve of the most controversial political election of my lifetime.

The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

Sure, other things matter more than baseball. But at least a whole lot of us have this World Series to hold onto, for decades to come. American life doesn’t HAVE to be as ridiculous as the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago again– or the 2000 debacle of an election, or the present campaign that ends on Tues. Nov 8, 2016 .

What the Cub win meant to me, in part, is this:

WE CAN DO BETTER.

We have to. We humans, we can overcome our faults, our foes, our past failings (or of those with whom we are associated).

Despite this present team’s actual underwhelming performance, numerous times, throughout the playoffs, …Cubs win.

Despite being down 3-1 in the World Series, which made the staunchest fans doubt them, becuase we’d seen it all fall apart too many times before …Cubs win.

America’s last great Lovable Losers, finally, did not disappoint. Everest has been surmounted.

So instead of crowing, I’m simply grateful. 3333 words worth of grateful! (or so says my computer here… Thanks for staying, anyone who’s still with me…)

The heroes of my youth came through in the clutch. Just in time.

Yet I also think of friends who didn’t live to see this (including my recently departed best friend during adolescence, Chris, who I met playing little league). As I think of my father and my grandparents, at whose knee I learned to suffer over these same Cubs (and over jobs, and illness, and all the tiny dramas of everyday life), I am grateful for the Cub bond I shared with them, too.

Now let’s get back to work on the more important stuff of life, only now with a little spring in our step and a smile on our face.

Cubs win!

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