Sunday, November 13, 2011


I have messages broadcast at me all day. So do you. Most of them I rightly ignore, but it's a struggle to sort through the things to which I need to pay attention versus the ones I can safely shove out of the way. There ought to be a guide to such things. Below is 750 words of me trying to figure that guide out.

When I was a little kid watching cartoons, my mom was in the room cleaning. A commercial came on about something that was "new and improved" and I asked her if it would be better to get the new and improved version. She said, flatly, simply, and while still attending to whatever she was doing, "Every commercial on the television is a lie. You don't need any of it." I think I was four or five at the time and I'm surprised by how much those two sentences resound with me still. That, and I'm impressed by how correct she was.

I think of this often when I am filling the gas tank of my car. I stand at the pump and try to find a direction in which to look that isn't filled with advertising. It's difficult, and even when I do find that direction and look that way, I hear advertising broadcast over the stations speakers. Most of it is for cigarettes, soda, chips, candy, and a host of other things that are not only not necessary but are damaging. Only once, at a station just east of Binghamton on Route 17 did I see an ad saying, "we have fresh produce inside!" I would have bought some but we had brought our own along.

Other messages I'm having more and more trouble with are those spewed by politicians and, since I'm a dyed in the wool Democrat and taking shots at the Republicans is just too easy, I'll mention our President, a man I voted for the first time around. He is going around the country talking about how we have to create jobs, cut the budget, and all the rest, but he has cut education to the bone, left us in two wars, and failed to resist being purchased by corporations. His message is lovely, but it's just a message.

On Thursday, I was talking with a very young woman about the Republican debate. She said, "...but I'm biased." I said, "you're a Democrat." She said, "yes, and I mean, we have the greatest President right now." I asked her if she really thought that Obama was great. She said that he was. I asked what he had done that made him great. She couldn't answer. She instead talked about the ways in which he talks. She thinks he is the greatest President because he has broadcast a great message, the new and improved America.

I should have my mother visit and tell this woman her theory of politicians.

And then there are the personal messages we all receive. Over the last week and a half I keep receiving messages calling me back to the past. I've been thinking about friends from college, my life as a seven-year-old in Syracuse, and a host of mistakes I have made throughout my 43 years, one in particular. In the past, I've heeded those messages as though it were God himself talking in my ear. I went backward, I lost myself in nostalgia and self-doubt (should haves, could haves, might haves).

This morning, even with my head clogged with a nasty, mucas-filled cold, I feel clean of those messages and know exactly what message to listen to. It's the message of this moment, the awareness that what I'm doing right now matters more than what I'll buy tomorrow and who I knew yesterday. It's the message that reminds me of my two children upstairs asleep, waiting to wake up and say good morning to the dog and cats. It's the message that my wife is so lovely she makes my heart hurt as I type this. It's the message that the politics will go on with or without me and that I can take a break from all that.

Today hasn't broken yet. It's still pitch dark out there at this early hour. And yet, already I know the messages I will be listening for: the rising sun, the call of my legs to go for a run, the need I have to hold my wife tight to me in the warmest hug, the kiss of my girls, the feel of my dog's fur under my hand, and the constant pull of words, words, and words. All that crowds out the new and improved products, the empty promises of politicians, and any pull the past once had on me.

Write on.