Running With The Devil

[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]

Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.

Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.

Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:

“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”

“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”

He followed that up a few months later with a post on his own blog with more thoughts on the topic and links to some other books addressing the issue. I bought all the books and can’t wait to read them.

Time, and the managing there of

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter which you can and should subscribe to if you know what’s good for you.)

A few months ago on the Grumpy Old Geeks podcast, Brian was talking about his daily routine and while the specifics of it aren’t that important some bits jumped out at me. I’m going to get this wrong but it was something like “2 hours of news followed by 2 hours of email in the morning, break for lunch, bike ride, 4 hours of work work, 1 hour of email, end at 6pm no questions asked. That last bit was what hit me – he said basically “if it’s 5:55pm and what I’m doing will take 10 more minutes to finish then I do 5 minutes of it today, stop at 6pm and then finish that 5 minutes first tomorrow.” The argument being that there’s always 5 more minutes you can jam in, and before you realize it it’s 7pm, or 10pm or 3am. Setting the firm cut off point gave him the ability to have work free evenings.

Today I was listening to Max’s new Untitled Podcast and there was a similar notion being discussed. Max used the term “designing your life” which I thought was interesting, but it was following a conversation about budgets and how no one questions the sensibility of sticking to a financial budget if you want to reach certain goals. Similar logic should apply to time, and a time budget is the way to do that. Max talked about a horrid evil piece of software which I won’t even mention but it runs in the background and give him reports on how he spends his time. “You spent 732 hours in the last month on twitter” etc. That is information that is horrifying to me, but it shouldn’t be – for any of us – because we should be able to know exactly how much time we want to do certain things and how to ensure those things happen.

I want to read for at least an hour a day, but often it hits 11pm and I’m exhausted and I just crash. If I had a time budget dictating that I spend an hour a day reading it would be easier to justify, and I’d be happier, and my overall life would be improved. I’m guilty of working all the time, but I’d like to spend more time not working and just playing with my son. A dictated budget might give me the metal approval to allow that to happen.

I thought it was noteworthy that in Max’s conversation he commented that in some professions there is a time when work is actually done. When you finish X that’s all there is for the day. When I worked as a professional graphic designer in the 90’s that was often the case – I’d have done everything I could and next steps were waiting on something from someone else so I could call it a day. But now, with the web, and social sites, and constant email there is never an end. There is always a flow of new things to do, so unless you consciously decide that you are going to put it down and do something else for X hours a day, you won’t. And before you know it you’ll be dead and will have wasted your life chasing likes on Facebook.

Fuck that.

Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

1000 words on religion

[this post is also available on Medium & Tumblr for ease of sharing]

Yesterday I watched this video of Pastor Eric Dammann of New Jersey’s Bible Baptist Church recount his interaction with a kid named Ben. Go ahead and watch it, it’s short:

It’s disgusting for a whole all-you-can-eat-buffet of reasons but let’s go ahead and address a few of them. The most obvious is that he’s talking about punching a child. But not just talking about it, bragging. He underlines that he “crumpled” the kid. This full grown man, unprovoked, punched a child in the chest and crumpled him. And he’s proud of this. But just before that happens he mentions that this kid Ben was really bright which “didn’t help things” and “made him dangerous”. Reading between the lines anyone can assume Ben was a smart kid who perhaps didn’t take this guys word as law and asked some questions that the good pastor found annoying to have to answer, or not answer as the case my be. Dangerous because he didn’t just submit? Pastor Dammann then essentially lays out that through the use of physical violence he made a child succumb to his religious beliefs. Beliefs we can only assume Ben didn’t buy into prior to this altercation.

To recap: Smart people are dangerous, violence is the solution. This is the message here.

This video has sparked enough outrage that Bible Baptist Church posted a self serving, half ass, revisionist apology on their website which implores the community, and by extension the world, to be as understanding and forgiving as Ben who has already made peace with the pastor for his actions years ago. One has to wonder if this forgiveness came under threat of more violence. Forgive me or else! Of course this story is not making headlines the world over because unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t news. Religious people have been using violence to suppress dissenters for a very long time, and this week has some horrifically ugly examples. 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and another 5 in Paris because the magazine printed cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad. In Nigeria the militant Islamist movement Boko Haram has killed close to 2000 including strapping a bomb to a 10 year old girl and sending her into a market where the bomb was detonated remotely. And yes, killing people is different from punching them, but the motivations are the same. You haven’t blindly accepted this mythology that I believe is real so I’m going to hurt you.

This has been happening as long as religion has existed and no faith is free from blame.

Coincidentally this is exactly the motivation behind the creation of something else happening in the US this week: National Religious Freedom Day. Did you know there was a religious freedom day? Created in 1992 and based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which dates back to 1777. This is important because it clearly states a legal and natural freedom of and from all religions. Here’s a snip:

“…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

If you think sounds familiar you are right, as it was the primary influence for the First Amendment of the US which assures freedom of religion and speech to all people. Here’s that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech and religion are intricately related as we’re seeing in every news report coming out of Paris. People were killed because of what they said about someone else’s religion. And this sparked massive freedom of speech rallies attended by millions – the biggest such rallies in France since liberation from the Nazis. The people are obviously in support of free speech and politicians from the world over rushed to Paris to stand side by side with these people. Of course, many of politicians are barely paying lip service to the ideals represented, and it took mere hours for this to be apparent as a French comedian was arrested for making a joke on Facebook (plus 54 other cases opened for people expressing opinions) and for Turkey to ban the newest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But that’s over there and here we’ve just got pastors punching kids, so big deal, right? Well with a 92% Christian Congress and a Supreme Court ruling that businesses can discriminate based on of religion we’re already seeing where someone’s religious beliefs could prevent people from receiving health care because of their sexual orientation. This isn’t far away hypothetical thought experiments, this is actually happening right now. Religious massacres are low hanging fruit – easy to condemn, but I feel just as strongly that kids shouldn’t fear or risk being punched by an adult for not sharing the same imaginary friends. And it’s important to recognize that there is some structure, and some basis for the idea that we should all be allowed to decide what we do or don’t believe in, and shouldn’t fear institutional backlash from those decisions.

That’s the world I want to live in, that’s the world I’m trying to shape.

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others

Growing up in a fairly religious family the notion that you should always consider other people before yourself was pretty well hammered into me. Of course we all know what most religious people say and what they do are two very different things but that’s a topic for another time. But regardless, as a kid I always had the adults in my life repeating this to me. This manifested itself in different ways in different situations. I remember from a very early age sitting on an airplane listening to the safety instructions and thinking it was rude and selfish that the flight attendants were suggesting that people should put on their oxygen masks before helping anyone else. I’d listen and ask myself what kind of terrible people would help themselves before helping others. 


It took me years to understand the importance of this disconnect. It’s shockingly obvious: You can’t help others if you are dead – then you both die. Putting on your oxygen mask first ensures you live and can then help other people.


Abstract that back a bit, two people, two problems. One person tries to fix the other persons problem and it’s a very real possibility that both people will still have problems. End result, two people, two problems. But if one person fixes their problem right away, then tries to help the other person with their problem at worst you’ll have one person with no problems and one person with one problem, and at best two people with no problems.


At some point I realized this wisdom extends far beyond the tarmac, and well into normal everyday life. You shouldn’t try to fix other people’s problems before fixing your own. And beyond problems into happiness, you can’t expect to make other people happy if you aren’t happy yourself. (Secretly miserable comedians excluded apparently). I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated and for something that is so obvious – put your oxygen mask on first – not a lot of people follow the logic elsewhere.


How often in a disagreement, business or personal, where two parties want different things is compromise proposed as the solution? That’s not actually a solution, it might be an agreement, but at the end of the process neither party gets what they want. It’s not “we’re both kind of happy” it’s “at least the other guy isn’t happy either.” A better solution is to work with people who want the same outcome as you. To spend time with people who are happy because you are happy, not people who want you to be unhappy. Even if on the short term that seems reasonable, big picture – it’s not. Think about it. Long term nothing good can come from investing in people who don’t value your happiness. 


This isn’t just a lesson about who to spend time with, but also about the importance of knowing what actually makes you happy. If you don’t know what you want, then you can’t make it a priority. You can’t find people with similar goals. You can’t be happy to begin with. So, if you don’t know, figure it out. It’s important. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Habit Metrics

I was sitting in the audience at TechCrunch50 in 2008 when FitBit was announced and ordered one immediately. If I had money to invest in things I would have been banging on their door – I got the concept right away and knew it would change everything. I’ve had every single model they’ve released and swear by it – just knowing how active (or not) you are, give you context that might otherwise be lost. And I saw that, one days when I’d start feeling sluggish and worn out I noticed I wasn’t moving around much. If I felt awesome and ready to take on the world, surprise surprise – I’d been moving around a lot. After doing this for a little while I could tell if I walked a certain amount each day my overall attitude and general feeling was way better. I wasn’t using it for fitness as many people do (quite successfully) but just as an extra data point of something that I knew improved things for me. My only complaint with FitBit is their charger dongles which I always lose or forget when traveling which wrecks my stats anytime it happens – otherwise I love it.

And of course, other companies and other devices followed tracking all kinds of different things to give people that kind of feedback. Above X you feel good, below X you feel bad – so here’s an easy way to know where you are so you can step things up if you need to. Hell, we even have one for our dog to know if we’ve walked her enough.

Recently, spawned by a conversation on my mailing list, several people told me they track other things in their lives as well. Not just the  physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. How much time each day or week were they spending with their family, were they spending alone, were they reading, having sex, meditating, traveling, etc.. whatever was important to them, and keeping track of it. To great success I might add. This seemed incredibly obvious to me and I didn’t know why I didn’t consider it earlier. If I know I feel better if I walk 10,000 steps in a day, and I have a device/system to remind me to do that, why couldn’t I think of other things that make me feel better and use a system to remind me of those? I’m not talking about “remember to floss!” kind of things -because while those are great for you (and me) they don’t really impact day to day mental well being.

Status 40

I was sitting on the grey metal flat files in the back room of my art gallery talking to my friend Wil, my feet half slipping off the drawer handles. He’d just gotten printed copies of his book Dancing Barefoot  -I’d helped him with a little bit of the layout and so he’d swung by to give me a copy. It looked great. I held a copy in my hands and smiled. I remembered a year or so earlier a conversation we’d had where he said more than anything he wanted to be a writer, that he was going to be a writer. And now here we were, with an actually real book that he’d written in our hands. It was pretty awesome.

Wil was telling me about an idea he was working on for his next book, what would become Just a Geek though I don’t remember if it had a name at that point, but the way he described the collection of stories reminded me of an idea I’d been chewing on for a while. See, I’d also fancied myself a writer. I’d been writing zines and columns in magazines and things like that for years, so even though I’d never written a real book I felt like I knew what I was doing to some extent. At that time I was approaching my 30th birthday, and my idea tied into that a bit. Growing up, I never thought I’d see 30 years old. Hell, I never thought I’d see 25. I wasn’t very optimistic about my future as a kid. But here I was at the end of my 20’s and looking back on what, at that point, had been a pretty interesting ride so far. And when looking at it, I thought I could identify a handful of moments where something happened – something that in a flash could have gone any number of ways – and because they went the direction they did my entire life was impacted. And if in that one quick moment things had gone a different way, everything in my life could have played out differently. I thought, if I could write about 5 of those stories and put them together info a collection, it might make an interesting book. I wanted to call it “Status: 30”

I told Wil about this idea and he said he liked it and I should do it. Why not right? What did I have to lose?

I felt pretty good about that, I respected Wil and was pretty sure if it was a crap idea he would have been honest about it and told me, and so I decided to do it. I made some rough outlines and told myself when inspiration hits I’ll plow through this and write it all in one sitting. I was pretty sure that would happen relatively soon, I mean it was a good idea and all. Definitely would be done before my 30th birthday a year later.

I turned 39 a few days ago, and recalled that conversation and realized it happened 10 years ago. And I never wrote that book. I never wrote those stories. I’m not even sure I remember which stories they were anymore, or what the thread was that I’d worked out that tied them all together. I think one of them was about a time I was in a car accident. Maybe another was about a falling out I’d had with a business partner in college. It doesn’t matter, the point is I never did it.

And I have no reason for that, other than that I just didn’t do it. Inspiration never hit. Not for that anyway. I’ve of course written other things since then, and just shy of that 10 year mark I published my first real book last year – assuming you don’t count the collections of blogposts that I’d batched and published in a single volume many years previously. I don’t anyway. But that’s beside the point, the point is – if I’d done it, it would have been done. But I didn’t, so it wasn’t.

Like anyone else I can come up with a million excuses not to do things, but I think as I’m about to cross that line into 40 I want to finish more things. I want to ship shit. Honestly, I have no reason not to.

Uphill and overwhelmed

There was a day about a week ago that seriously kicked my ass. I made a todo list in the morning and it was epic. So much, I didn’t even know where to begin. And on top of that every item on it was epic and required something like 20 other steps to even attempt to think about crossing it off. I stared at this list. I thought about it. I paced around the house. I went back to bed and hid under the covers. Hours later I emerged and went a looked at the list again. It was scarier than it had been before, and now I had less time to do all these things. So I made the responsible decision and walked out of the house, down the street, around the corner and kept walking until I got to the coffee shop. I sat there and drank coffee. Thinking about the list. Thinking about how I didn’t know how to do anything on it. Thinking that if I could just check off one thing that would be progress and then I’d be in motion and could keep going but nothing on the list was easy or small or accomplishable. I ate junk food. I made irresponsible and ill advised purchases. These things, the tried and true self medication of overwhelming and crushing defeat did nothing to help me. I didn’t feel better. I felt just as depressed but now with a dash of guilt on top.

I wondered how I ever got in this situation. Which choices had I made in my life that instead of having a normal job with a boss that would just tell me what to do and then I could do it I was here, lost and frustrated. Instead of working on something that was annoyingly below my skill level, but easy and mindless, I was facing all of these things that were obviously way above my ability. Far beyond what I could actually pull off – that I’d somehow fooled everyone into thinking I was much more capable than I actually am. That any moment everyone would realize what a fraud I was.

I went back home, back to bed and climbed back under the covers. The world was too scary to face.

I didn’t finish shit that day. Hell, I didn’t even start anything. Then the family came home – I think they noticed something was off but I didn’t talk about it. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, and I wasn’t even doing a good job at that, because my “you suck” voice kept getting interrupted by my “fuck that ‘you suck’ voice” voice, which usually would be reassuring, but in that case was just confusing. I couldn’t even successfully beat myself up.

I gave up and went to bed early. The next day I woke up and remembered something that had happened, or actually not happened many ears ago. And something not happening might be cause for more grey clouds, this was actually a little bit of a kick in the butt, the kick I needed. I got up and did one thing. And it felt good. I don’t know if I did anything else that day, but I did finish something and that’s what I needed to remind myself that I could finish stuff. It felt good, and that list didn’t seem so scary anymore. There was a time when that entire cycle would have taken me months to get through and sitting here a week later realizing how quickly that whole process happened and resolved itself is in itself helpful. I have a LOT on my plate for the next few months, things I’m exciting about but also nervous about, things I want to do right, but things more importantly I want to do. And even if they are all happening at once and it feels like too much, I feel like I can pull it off. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way.

I can’t wait to see what happens.