The Devil Hides Behind the Cross

Devil Cross

Smoke began filling the air as soon as The Cameron Gang exited the bank. Gunshots, splintering wood and shattering glass surrounded them as they dove behind the troughs for cover. The terror filled cries of horses pierced the chaos. The air was acrid, gunpowder gelling with humidity, creating a stench that reminded Johnny of brimstone.

“Guess they knew we were coming,” Ed shouted, snapping Johnny out of his trance.

“They just wanted to give us a proper sendoff,” Johnny shouted back. His cocksure grin grew wider in defiance of a town trying to uphold its law. To protect its money. To protect its own.

He took the saddlebag from his shoulder and tossed it to the shortest member of their group. “Billy, you and Jim get the horses behind the bank while Ed, Bobby and I draw their fire. We’ll meet you back there.”

Billy and Jim scrambled off without a word, crab walking to avoid the bullets. They obeyed his orders without question. Appointing him leader wasn’t something they decided. No one had questioned him going all the way back to the war. No one knew exactly why, or when. One day they were just following him.

Johnny drew a Colt with his left hand to match the one already in his right. The twin six guns were responsible for countless deaths, saving his life with each one. He learned to kill during the war, and lost his humanity. He parted with it willingly. The war brought him out of a lazy stupor that had dominated his life. It didn’t create his instinct to kill, merely nurtured it. Less of a birth mother and more of a wet nurse. It kept him full. But each time at the tit left him wanting more.

His experience as a soldier and an outlaw guided his hands as he fired in the direction with the most guns pointed at him. He managed to kill seven before diving into the protection of the bank, narrowly avoiding another onslaught of bullets.

He lived for these days and one day it would kill him. But today wasn’t that day and he knew it. Without hesitation he shot the banker, the only soul left in the building, as a precaution.

The others had pinned most of the vigilante townsfolk into a stale standoff. Timidity now weighed down the sporadic bullets.

“What now?” Billy said, crouching under one of the shattered windows. The banker’s head wound oozing blood into a puddle surrounding his boots.

“Go out the back. I’ll meet you there, there’s something I have to do first,” Johnny spoke, his mind already off in the distance. His eyes drawn to a building across the street.

As soon as the gang made a break for it, the vigilantes found their courage. The bullets of novice marksmanship serving as the final death rattle in a battle already lost. A battle that was proof that good doesn’t always triumph over evil.

Just as he had predicted, for a moment the amateur lawmen forgot all about him, providing him with the opening he needed. He slithered along the ground outside until he was clear of the bank.

Johnny sauntered into the church, gun smoke wafting off his duster. Sunlight from the open door melded with the smoke and cast his shadow in front of him. He made his way up the pews with an intense casualness ignorant of the chaos outside. He gazed up, contemplating the Christ child splayed out on the cross above him, his cocksure grin once again dancing across his teeth.

He tossed a coin purse onto the pulpit with a devil may care flick of his wrist, his eyes still engaged in a staring contest. His icy gaze turned to the priest crouched in front of the sanctuary’s two shaking parishioners, a man and a woman humbled by their fear.

“God always gets his cut.”

Silence hung heavy in the air as he turned and sauntered back into the gunfight.

Performances on the Plains

Kauffman Center

Last week I had the opportunity to see The Barber of Seville, which was the final show in the 2017-2018 season for the Lyric Opera. I was once again reminded of how vibrant the Kansas City performing arts scene is and how fortunate we are to have access to so much quality. If you aren’t taking in some of these wonderful performances, you are doing yourself a disservice.

About five years ago I started to develop a deeper interest in the performing arts, but I had no idea where to start. So I went to my good friend Greg and asked him to teach me, and we’ve been going to shows together ever since. Over the past several years, I have taken in countless performance, particularly at the KC Rep, Unicorn Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. As with every other form of creative content, I was amazed at how vast and diverse this medium was. I have also gotten to see the amazing level of creative talent we have in this community and the level of talent we are able to bring in.

There is something unique about taking in the performing arts, you are sharing air and space with the actors, which makes you a part of the work itself. No other medium offers that direct of a connection.

This season at KC Rep was one of the best in recent memory, which is saying something considering the have all been great. It kicked off with Between the Lines, which is Broadway bound and has music that can blow the doors right out of the theater and took on the Tony Award winning A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which was based on an award-winning book), a play that examines autism in a unique way, a prospect as difficult as it is rewarding. And in between I had Sex with Strangers, built Fences and a Demon Barber named Sweeney Todd offered me a haircut.

Although I only went to two of the four operas the Lyric offered this year, The Barber of Seville instantly became a favorite. And their 2018-2019 season looks incredible to the point where my friend and I are getting season tickets. This is in part due to their season opener, West Side Story, which will almost certainly sell out. Plus saying that I have “season tickets to the opera” makes me sound much more fancy than I actually am.

And if you are looking for edgy, look no further than the Unicorn, whose tag line is “Bold New Plays.” In recent years I have seen plays about a dystopic future where the Simpsons are worshipped as Gods, to a play challenging the ideas of race and racism in very darkly comedic ways, to modern re-imaginings of classics such as The Seagull. They are also dedicated to making quality theater affordable to everyone by offering special “pay what you can nights” for each show.

These are just the main three venues I frequent, there are countless others around town including the Just Off Broadway theater, Starlight and the annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival which I have seen each of the past 15 years.

If you haven’t yet taken in some of these wonderful performances, then you really haven’t realized why we are called the Paris of the Plains.

 

Knowledge is a Burden

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A question crossed my mind the other week: if I had an opportunity to know everything about everything in the world, would I take it?

Like most people, my first reaction was “Hell fucking yes! Who wouldn’t want that! I’d win every argument! I’d cure cancer! I’d bring about global peace! Or, more likely I’d take over the world!” Then I thought about it. And realized the answer was no, no I absolutely would not.

In an age where we are so overwhelmed with knowledge that it’s impossible to keep up, it would seem at first glance like this would be a good thing. I’m never going to read every book on my list, see every play, movie or show that I want to watch. I’m never going to know as much about history, or get to every museum. Why wouldn’t I want all of that in my head?

Then I thought about the cost. The cost would be the experience. The cost would be the ability to think on my own. The cost would be the ability to feel.

In a way, the cost would be my life.

Sometimes I get so caught up in catching up that I forget that the journey is the important thing. To inherently know everything would be to eliminate experiences like my first opera, or the way it felt to see the world premiere run of Between the Lines and hear what we call “the Mermaid Song” nearly blow the doors off Spencer Theater. Or the first time I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior and felt its truth. The list of valuable experiences like that in my life is truly endless.

Knowing everything takes exploration, curiosity and wonder out of the equation. Which takes away the joy of the journey. In a way that is taking away a piece of knowledge. You learn the facts but miss the lesson about yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I never want to stop learning, or growing, or changing. I want to seek. I want to understand. I want to contemplate.

I’m not satisfied with knowing. I want to engage. I want to embody.

Gobble Gobble

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Happy Gobble Gobble Day! This is one of my favorite holidays, and the last line of defense between me and the obnoxious apocalypse that is Christmas. You will learn all about my intense hatred for that holiday at a later date in what I imagine will be an incredibly descriptive manner. But today is about Gobble Gobble Day. Today is about what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my friends. They are my lifeline, and my lifeblood. To me, they are each family, and I am very grateful to have them in my life.

I am thankful for my health. I am in the process of getting into the ultramarathon condition I was once in, and I have the strong base health to make that a very reachable goal.

I am thankful for my home. I love the location and character of my apartment. I am fortunate to have wonderful neighbors in an eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.

I am thankful for the experiences, good and bad, the challenges and the triumphs, that continue to shape my life. Each of them contains a lesson and a story that helps enrich me as a person.

I am thankful for my renewed passion for my creative pursuits. I had put down the pen for far too long and love beginning to take it seriously again. And for the support I have received from the people I care about as I traverse down this path. As with all things containing the unknown, it is more than a little frightening. Which is also what makes it even more exhilarating.

I wish all of you a wonderful Gobble Gobble day. And hope you have as many things to be thankful for as I do.

Panic at the World Yo

Anxiety

When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This was back in 1995, when no one really knew what the fuck that was. I had already been in therapy at the time, processing some family issues, when I began experiencing what I soon learned where panic attacks.  A dry and clinical list of symptoms cannot describe the sheer terror of an attack. It feels like death itself is about to capture you as prey while you’re paralyzed to stop it. When people try to understand them they try to apply logic where there isn’t any.

At first I was ashamed, I thought the disorder was a sign of weakness. And it was a long time before I learned otherwise. It was even longer before I understood it. I still don’t fully and have learned that’s okay. I certainly don’t let it control me.

My anxiety has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. And I have used the disorder as an opportunity for self-examining of factors that may cause the attacks. I have learned a tremendous amount about self-reflection as a result. But that doesn’t compare at all to what I learned about myself when I opened up about it.

No one I have ever told about my disorder has ever judged me for it (at least no one I care about). It also turns out that it isn’t as uncommon as I thought. Any number of people I know have faced some type of anxiety, depression, or some other affliction that had a stigma about it that they had been ashamed to talk about at some point.

These are people of strength, and character, and perseverance. I have learned from these people and feel more comfortable and confident and at ease as a result of our mutual sharing of stories and experiences.

I’ve learned acceptance, both what it feels like to receive it, and what it feels like to extend it to others. I’ve learned, witnessed and embodied that as a result of many things in my life (and also just generally not being an asshole, or at least not that asshole). But in this arena it’s different.

My sincere hope in life is that I can use my experiences with anxiety to help anyone that is struggling. If someone doesn’t want open up to me, I understand. My hope is that they see that how beneficial my openness has been for my own well being. And that they open up for someone. That they don’t feel guilt and shame or feel they have to go it alone.

Will They Help You Bury a Body?

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One thing that I pride myself on is that I have an amazing support network of friends that care deeply about me, as I do them. My biggest hope is that I am as good of a friend to them as they are to me. And I believe that I am. There is a well-known saying: “Friends are the family that you choose.” I have lived my life believing this to be true, and I take friendships seriously.

My family life has never been the greatest. I won’t be going into any details on that here, except to say that over 85% of families are some level of dysfunctional and mine definitely qualifies. But this post isn’t about them. I only mention it because it is part of my motivation for creating the strong and supportive friendships that make my life as wonderful as it is today. I thought about listing them, but quite frankly there are too many.

My friends come from all types of backgrounds, and the thing they all have in common is their uniqueness. And one of the best things that I have learned is how much they get along and enjoy each other’s company when I blend them together. It is truly a thing of beauty to be a part of.

More than that, my friends are people I know will support me in anything, probably including murder (although I have never tested that theory). I have a comfort level with them that I don’t have anywhere else. These are people I can express my hopes, dreams and successes with. These are people who will help me process my failures and overcome my fears. These are people who will help me slay my demons while helping me find the better angels of my nature. And sometimes they help me embrace the demons too.

And that is what makes them more family to me than family.

My friends are as responsible for helping me find myself as I am. I get to learn not only from my experiences, but also from theirs. My friendships are where I feel most at home. Most like a unique and loved and supported individual. Most like a whole person. Like most people I am closer to some more than others, but I can tell you what I love most about each person I have in my life. And seldom will it be just one thing.

A friend will tell you not to kill someone who has wronged you. A good friend will tell you where to get the gun. A great friend will help you bury the body.

Chasing Another Ultra

Pause My Garmin

I don’t spend all my time reading and watching and listening to shit. I actually do other things. And one of those things is running.  Back in 2006, after ten years of smoking, I gave up the habit (I’ll admit I occasionally indulge) and laced up my running shoes. Now I had been captain of the cross country team in high school, I was sure I this had running thing down. I mean, it’s running. Who forgets how to run? I was excited as I laced up my shows and ran out my front door. I made it one block (if I’m being generous) before my lungs produced picket signs in protest. Then I walked for 30 minutes, realizing the road to health was going to be long in between gasps for air.

But I stuck with it and soon enough I was up to three miles a day. Then five. Soon I was running 25 miles a week. Eventually I wanted more, and I decided to train for the inaugural Rock the Parkway half-marathon. I remember the sense of accomplishment after I finished my first double digit training run. Which I soon learned was nothing compared to the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. The race was rainy and my arms were numb from the cold. I immediately went home and signed up to conquer Hospital Hill.

Then came my first marathon, and it was around that time that I got introduced to the trail running community and it would change my life.

Trail runners are a hard bunch to describe. Fun loving, hard training, beer drinking and tough as nails. All those things to be sure. But if I only had one word, it would be camaraderie. The depths of support and encouragement are impossible to describe if you’re not a part of it. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, or if you’re training for a 5K, 50K or you’re a 100 Mile veteran. When you’re one of us you’re one of us. We support and cheer each other because we are all the same in spirit. Some of my closest friendships are a result of being a member in this community. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to cheer them on through some amazing races. I wouldn’t give them up for all the whiskey in Ireland, although I would gladly drink it with them.

Then the bastards convinced me to train for a 50K. I may never forgive them for that 🙂

I did my first ultramarathon (any distance over a marathon, 26.2 miles) a couple years back. Trail Nerd friends of mine live in Pensacola and I joined them there for the Blackwater 50K, and once again there was no feeling like crossing that finish line. It feels a lot like hunger, and soreness.

Two months later, I did a second one in Little Rock and had a great road trip with friends. Due to injuries, time and budget constraints, I haven’t added a medal to my collection since then. It’s time to change that.

I’m training for the Run Toto Run 50K early next year. It was my first trail race ever (10 Mile) and the summer version was my first 20 miler. It will be good to get back on solid ground by running on familiar terrain.