Tag Archives: David Brooks

Life in a selfie-free zone

“The self is something that can be seen more accurately from a distance than from close up.”–David Brooks

Imagine if Ansel Adams arrived here in a time machine.

He would encounter a world that turned everything he knew about his art inside out. We’ve turned the power of capturing beauty through a lens of exquisite composition and clarity back onto the one thing that seems to matter more: ourselves.

Selfies make me feel old. From the start, they seemed a touch banal. But hey, they are fun. You huddle up and squeeze into the photo and usually look weird, but it’s OK. It’s a moment to remember. I tried a few here and there, and they all looked bad. My son told me I had to step up my selfie game.

Now they have sticks to hold the camera to a better length. The selfie game is serious. Occasionally, I wander around Facebook–a neighborhood I liken to a crime-riddled war zone where the danger of mental beatings lurk around every corner–and I see people are EFFin serious about their selfies. And why not? Everyone is now the star of their own reality show. Jay Z and Jay T aren’t the only ones looking to elevate their “brand.” Screw that, I’m a brand too mutherf….

Only most of us are not. We are human, not brand. We can be truth, not pose. We can live real lives that are messy and real, not staged for social media viral approval. We can touch a human being, not text one.

Here’s the twist: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, yet that secret concoction that makes us us, isn’t often captured in a selfie.

If we understood our created/evolved/miraculous beauty a bit more, our need to have it reinforced, moment-by-moment with poses and quips and selfie art and like counts and a whole bunch of other chores in a calculated hope to affirm the beauty within, wouldn’t be so compulsive.

We live in a time of epidemic self-focus. Only the lens is not focused inward toward capturing a picture of a true self, but in search of a photo to be dispensed outward for approval of a pretend self. Psychologically this leans toward narcissism, which is rampant in our culture these days. But holistically it is more simple than that. We’ve lost our focus because we are viewing our lives backward. We are Kim Kardashian, not Ansel Adams. As such, we are missing most of the beauty that gives life purpose, both out there and our own, because a selfie is no way to view either.

I felt myself turning the camera of my life around recently. I looked for validation from the other. I saw instead a side of me that needs more work. Focus blurred. My son was right, I need more work in my selfie game, so I turned the camera back around and pointed it out. My moments of suffocation let up, and air came back in. Sad air. But air. Air is good.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “The question is: How do you succeed in being introspective without being self-absorbed?”

Turn the lens around and try life for a while in a selfie-free zone.

 

Now everyone is talking about ‘The Nones’

A couple of years ago when I first wrote my book proposal for my spiritual memoir No Religion, Too, I cited a Pew Report that said the fastest growing religious group in America is people who don’t claim a certain religious identity. Dubbed “The Nones,” they had about 16-20 million among their disparate grouping that includes atheists, agnostics, 12-steppers, eclectic spiritualists and anyone who felt stifled by a certain label.

Whenever I spoke about the trend, I had to spell out what I meant when I said, “The Nones.” Everyone thought I meant the esteemed female servants of the Catholic Church dressed in a black habit.

No longer.

Earlier this month the Pew Report updated its figures. There are now 59 million who fall into the classification of The Nones. Now, people are talking about it to me.

What is this huge shift? Christians were quick to clarify that only “nominal” Christians have shifted into these groups, but committed Christian numbers haven’t fallen off. A story in The Washington Post calls it “The End of Casual Christianity,” which, according to many of “committed” Christians I’ve been reading, may not be such a bad thing. Evangelicals have been quick to point out they are holding steady. It’s the major denominations that are leaking people like the San Francisco 49ers bandwagon of late. Besides, the “casual” Christians have long muddied the waters of belief anyway.

If only it were that easy, for both the so-called “committed” and the “casual.” If only we didn’t strive so hard to label and divide people in the first place.

Let’s have a reality check:

The Brand of Christianity is in trouble, not that Jesus himself would likely be too troubled. I’m not sure he’s been all that thrilled with the brand anyway. But if the best Evangelicals can do (the very name is defined by increasing numbers) is holding steady, then The Nones not just a concern for the Catholics and Presbyterians.

If more “committed” Christians actually talked with other people, they’d hear the crescendo of antipathy that has risen. The Brand of Christianity is too closely aligned with conservative politics and anti-positions (gay marriage, abortion, environment, social justice). I know many incredible, devoted, authentic Christians. It pains me how out of touch or unconcerned they are about how non-religious or other-religious people view them.  But they aren’t being viewed. The brand is.

Until authentic Christianity separates itself from the dogma of the brand the people of Christ are failing to live the calling of discipleship and community that Christ himself initiated in John 13.

But, The None’s got a problem too. Namely 59 million people with 59 million concepts of God (or the lack thereof) isn’t a compelling message for those seeking truth. If we all can simply invent our God, then we haven’t moved that far from the first conflict of the scriptures, where man, woman and a snake all tried to be God themselves. Talk to The Nones and soon God sounds like a Genie in the Bottle, a nicely crafted hodge-podge of various faiths and ideas and personal tastes that is supposed to come through when we need Him/Her/It to do its Godly duties.

That isn’t a deity. It’s a Mr. Potato God with a weird nose and a silly hat and some crazy looking fingers that don’t make sense to anyone but its creator.

What good is a God we create anyway?

Conservative social commentator David Brooks has talked about how a Gallup poll found that 12 percent of people in 1950 said they were a “very important person.” Now 80 percent feel that way. It’s Generation Narcisist, according to Brooks.

Well, why the hell not? If you get to define God then you really are damn important.

Only you don’t (not if God is more real than Santa Claus) and most of us are not. Sooner or later reality comes home and for The Nones it could be a real problem. And where do they turn? To the churches that have already failed them once?

Atheists win the day here because if they are convinced there is no God, then they are the only ones who don’t have to worry about the aforementioned problems. Everyone else, would do well to the heed the advice Native American wisdom literature that says, “We need to dream this all again.”

Facebook redefines ‘family’ in unexpected ways

If a guy named Matt Smith meets a guy named Steve Smith it may, at best, raise a nod of acknowledgement. It means nothing.

But somehow, especially for my father, if two guys with a weird name like Bolsinger meet, it’s a family reunion.

My father is the keeper of all things Bolsinger. For more than a decade he kept a blog called The House of Bolsinger documenting Bolsingers from the past and connected them to each other in the present.

Thanks to Facebook, these associations are far easier than ever. Pop has “met” a gang of Bolsingers from all across the country, including the mother of a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher named Mike Bolsinger, who my dad calls “my cousin.”

When Pop heard Mike would be pitching in AT&T Park in my beloved San Francisco, he suggested (that’s putting it mildly) that I go do a story on “your cousin Mike.”

Fair enough. I try to please him when I can. I nabbed a press pass and headed down to the yard.

It sounded silly, especially trying to pitch this to various magazines with a straight face (and explain it to the media people of both the Dodgers and the Giants), but as Ole’ Cousin Mike took the mound on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I sat in the press box and felt this odd sense of pride for a stranger I’d never met.

I had first heard of Mike back in 2007 when he pitched for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  I was covering the Oakland A’s at the time and doing a lot of writing about the minor leagues and the draft. That strange name connection stuck and I’ve “followed” his career arc, very loosely ever since. When he first started in the big leagues, last year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, my brother noticed and sent me a text.

I went on and saw Mike struggling to get out of the fifth, if I recall. I texted the update to my brother.

“Well he’s a Bolsinger like us. Probably has a weanie arm,” he joked.

We are nothing but self-effacing. But still, both of us love baseball.  We were both just a touch pleased to see our odd name on the back of a baseball jersey.

As I sat in the press box, flipping through the press packet, I noticed Mike Bolsinger on the big screen of my favorite ballpark in the entire world. I snapped a photo and smiled. Cool, I thought, knowing full well it had absolutely nothing to do with me as a stranger with the same name took the mound.

I made the most of this day, like catching up to Mike’s manager Don Mattingly who said, “I thought he did really good. Got his breaking ball over and changed up with it. He did everything we asked him to do.”

I kept score the entire game, something I don’t do much anymore, but loved to do as a kid:

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Later I ran over to the Giants locker room and interviewed second baseman Joe Panik. He looked a bit confused when I asked him only one question.

“What did you think of Bolsinger today?”

Panik gave the customary quote of he did well, he made us battle, etc.

“Cool, thanks,” I said and walked away to his surprise.

Despite myself, I felt that familiar sense in my gut of pulling for him to do well, against my favorite team no less, a team whose World Series Championship last year made me so happy, I made it a point to go see the trophy they won.

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After the game I watched as a the gaggle of reporters surrounded Mike in the locker room asking him questions about his start. Mike’s on the fringes of the big leagues. He has had about dozen starts in his career. This experience was still pretty new to him and it showed. Not in an awkward big-headed way, but in the coolest way: He was digging it. And no, I didn’t know him, but I was…happy… for him as I watched.

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After the rest of the reporters left in search of other quotes, I was introduced to Mike and asked him questions no other reporter likely ever will.

“So what were the worst nicknames you were called growing up?”

His eyes rolled knowingly.

We swapped stories about the butchering of our name. He used the exact same words I’ve muttered so many times when he said, “I don’t get it. It’s said like it sounds. I tell people all the time, ‘there are no As, the L is before the S…”

“I know right,” I said. “Look, there’s no balls, no slinging.”

We both laughed and grimaced.

I shared some of my nicknames: Slinker, Bowlbutt, Ballsucker.

He’d heard similar. He said he’d raise a fist for emphasis until the nicknames cooled.

“I got lucky I guess, being a pitcher. I was called Bullseye.”

“Shit,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

I was genuinely jealous.

 

So there we stood in the middle of the Dodgers locker room after one of life’s truly big moments for Mike “Bullseye” Bolsinger and the only thing that brought us together is our strange last name and my father’s affinity for Facebook.

Somehow in this era of Facebook, the definition of “family” means something entirely different from I think ever intended. Most of the time I hate it, which is why I don’t go on it. These posts are placed remotely. I don’t “socialize” through Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening on Facebook. I avoid the ever-present reality show that we make of our lives on Facebook that may have something to do with the rampant narcissism that author David Brooks chronicles in his latest book, The Road to Character.

I can’t tell you how many family spats, dustups, hurt feelings and broken relationships started with the words “friend” or “post” or “like” or “didn’t like” related to Facebook. I’ve blissfully unaware of such nonsense. I’ve made my protest of this version of “social life” known with a T-shirt I wear often:

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My family and friends are the people I touch, the people I take pictures with, the ones who speak to me in person, not this loose cabal of stalkers who relate only via likes and posts.

You get the point right? I’m not a Facebook fan.

But…

But…

But this day in the sun that only came about because of Facebook and my father and my father’s affinity for other Bolsingers, I had to confess, it was pretty EFFin cool. Facebook “family” for a day? Sure. I’ll take it.

Mike made it easier. In all of the five minutes I’ve known him (yes, he’s my new BFF, but he doesn’t know it yet… maybe I’ll send him a “friend request!”) he showed the ability to laugh at himself, showed genuine humility and showed class.

As I listened to the gaggle of reporters asking him about his start, he admitted he was gacked (my word, not his) to face Buster Posey in a crucial situation in the 6th.

“That was fun,” he said.

I’ve interviewed several pro athletes. Few let reporters in on the joy of the game.

It wasn’t BS either. During his next start he gave up a monster home run to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton that actually left Chavez Ravine… left the whole stadium not just the ball park. His reaction?

“I looked back and thought, ‘that was awesome,’ and then got on with the game,” he said.

A game he went on to win, no less, earning himself another start this Sunday, with Vin Scully, my all-time favorite of favorites announcing the name “Bolsinger.”

“Did he pronounce it right?” Mike asked me.

We both agreed he probably did and the legendary Vin Scully saying our name is right up there with pretty great days.

What’s not to like? His Twitter account highlights on my favorite Bible verses, Joshua 1:9:  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” It also has a photo of quote from my own hero, Martin Luther King Jr, taken at his D.C. memorial. I’m surprised a bit by our common interests.

If five minutes shows anything, it showed me Mike’s mother and father did a hell of a job.

“So congratulations on being the most famous Bolsinger now,” I told him. “Make us proud!”

He laughed. “I’ll do my best,” he said.

Even though I despise all things associated with the team of my youth (except Vin Scully and pitcher Mike Bolsinger) I find myself thinking ahead to Sunday and watching the game and listening to Vin say Bolsinger on the mound and knowing I will want him to win. How’s that for Facebook “family?”

It’s weird man, really weird. But in this day and age when Facebook dominates so much of our culture in so many tragic, disconnect, silly, ways, it’s nice to know that it does some good too, by connecting dots no matter how loosely in this great karmic world we call home that would likely have never been connected any other way.