This is the latest entry into a collection of Round Tables put together by people who have caught my eye for one reason or another. The collection exists to introduce you to both the owner of the table and those seated at it.
I met Chase on Twitter somehow. That’s how all Twitter relationships begin. I only recently learned that Chase Night is his real name. I cursed my parents just after that realization. Chase is a cybernetic werewolf and professional mythmaker. You can learn all about what that means at his site – Unbridled Existence.
About two weeks ago, I found an actual round table in the apartment complex’s recycling center. Solid wood, but none too pretty. Quite a few scratches. Quite a few more spiders than scratches. Its legs were off, but neatly bundled together beside it. A few weeks earlier I had found four wooden dining chairs in the same place. Was this the missing table? I’ll never know, but either way I brought it home to my mate, Alex. She spent the afternoon gently removing spiders and sanding the whole thing down. Then she painted the table Green and the legs Whitewashed Oak.
The point of this story is that whether Alex had been here or not, I would still have my own Round Table. But it would be ugly as sin and covered in spider egg sacs. And it would be that weird orange-ish wood they loved so very much during the 70s. But with her around, it’s beautiful. Everything is. Without her, I might forget that. And if a hero forgets that everything is beautiful, where will he find the strength to finish his quest? I can’t imagine. The other members of my Round Table might come and go as I learn and grow, but the first seat will always belong to her.
Hermione Granger & Ron Weasley
“You said to us once before,” said Hermione quietly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?”
Like countless other young men of my era with dark, shaggy hair and terrible eyesight born in the sun sign of Leo… I have a bit of a Harry Potter complex. So when I decided I would only allow myself one fictional character at the Table, they were my natural choice. (I couldn’t pick one over the other, so obviously she’s sitting in his lap here.) In fiction, there are heroes who have been chosen. They can’t escape their heroic path. Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Simba. But then there are the other heroes – the kind that fiction relegates to the supporting parts even though they comprise most of the heroes you’ll meet in real life. These are the heroes who don’t have to be, the ones who could refuse the call and go on with their happy lives. Hermione and Ron are the epitome of this kind of hero. They could leave at any time, but they don’t. That’s real heroism.
*I’m lucky to have two real-life friends who are the living embodiment of Hermione and Ron. We’ve yet to be called upon to defend the world from a force of pure evil, but I’m confident we could handle it together.
Henry David Thoreau
“If… the machine of government… is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”
I have to confess that I’ve never been able to read Walden all the way through. (But since Thoreau has never read one of my Scroll’s all the way through either, I don’t feel too badly.) I have, however, marked up my copy of On the Duty of Civil Disobedience beyond recognition, and that’s why Thoreau is on my short list. The art of civil disobedience is something every modern hero must master. We don’t live in a world with dragons or monsters to vanquish. We live in a world with indifferent citizens, greedy corporations, and corrupt governments. Injustice is stitched into the fabric of society now just as it was in the time of Thoreau. He went to jail because he refused to pay taxes to a government that allowed men to own each other as slaves. Are you brave enough to do something similar? You will be after you read Civil Disobedience.
“I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
Every Round Table needs an anti-hero: That guy slouching in late to the meeting with a lipstick stain on his white collar and a whiff of beer on his breath. That guy who acts like he doesn’t give a damn because deep down he gives so many damns that he doesn’t know what to do with them all. It might be hard to find the Hero’s Journey in “On the Road”; it reads like a rambling description of a never-ending, mobile frat party. They drink. They get high. They sleep around. They drive around. Not much else happens on the surface, and yet so much was happening underneath. Some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century were being formed by those wild, aimless experiences. Heroes don’t always come in spotless, shiny suits of armor. Sometimes they come in grass-stained Levis that haven’t been washed in two weeks. They can still impact the world. A hero offers what he can. Even if it’s just his own beautiful confusion.
“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”
I asked John’s ghost to sit at my Round Table so he could just whisper this quote to me over and over as I work. Before I was whatever I am now, I was hell-bent on being a social justice preacher. I was in seminary. I wanted to turn over all the moneychangers’ tables in the temples of the entire world. I became so angry that I had to become an atheist for my own health. But I can fall back into it sometimes; religion is not a pre-requisite for self-righteousness it turns out. I can’t make people see things my way by telling them they have to, which is what a lot of blogs fall into. Art doesn’t work that way. Art might shock you, but it never bullies you. We probably wouldn’t still love John so much if “Imagine” had been called “You Stupid Idiots Are Ruining the World.”
“Cuz I’ve already suffered I want you to know God
I’m ridin on hell’s hot flames comin up from below.”
You might not know this name yet, but you should. Alex Ebert is the front man for the wildly jubilant ten-member band, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. I can’t really describe them to you. You just have to listen. Better yet, go to a show. It’s surreal. It might be the most joyful thing that ever happens to you. There’s a 100% chance of happy tears, often from the band members. When I saw them perform at last year’s ACL Fest, Ebert openly wept as he thanked the audience for being there. But someone who gives and experiences such joy can only appreciate that joy if he’s had a dark past. Part of Edward Sharpe’s appeal comes from Ebert’s own back story. He was in a band called Ima Robot, doing pretty well with it, when he realized his life had no meaning. He was heavy into drugs. So he quit the band and spent a year sequestered in his apartment, putting himself through rehab. When he emerged, he met a fellow singer named Jade Castrinos in a coffee shop. They began making playful music together. They invited their friends. The Magnetic Zeros were born. It’s a true Phoenix from the ashes story, and a hero’s journey if I ever heard one. Knowing it makes every note they play that much sweeter to the ears.
“Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”
There are a lot of reasons for Temple Grandin to be anyone’s hero, but for me, it boils down to meat. I can’t eat vegetables, and I can’t eat fruit. A lot of people assume I’m just picky, but they’ve never seen me try to eat my fruits or veggies. I don’t wish that sight on anyone. Maybe I really am a werewolf. Or maybe I’m vaguely autistic with an inexplicable sensory aversion to the flesh of 99% of plants. I don’t know. I just know that meat isn’t a choice for me. And because of Temple Grandin’s tireless work for the more human treatment of livestock destined for human consumption, I don’t have to feel quite as bad about that. I’m an animal. I eat other animals. Life feeds on death. You can’t hide from that fact. But you shouldn’t revel in it either. It’s a sacred mystery to be treated with respect. While you’ll never hear Temple talk in such flowery, philosophical terms, this truth pervades all of the work that she has done to ensure our food source comes to us with as little fear and pain as possible. The system will never be perfect, but it could always be worse. As an animal-lover and animal-eater, I value Temple for her willingness to fight for the voices of the damned. I sure don’t want to go in there.
There is no quote for Thomas Andrews like the others. This is because he was a quiet and unassuming man, not prone to giving sound bites to the media of his day. He was an extraordinarily intelligent man to be sure. He was a devoted husband and father to one little girl. But he never wrote a book or a song or a poem to draw a quote from. Instead, he built a ship. You may have heard of it. Thomas Andrews designed the Titanic. He, of course, took some flak for this when all was said and done. Bad design, they would say. They being the men who changed the design to better accommodate their first-class passengers, right down to refusing to carry enough lifeboats for every passenger on board lest the first-class passengers complain about their lack of a good view. But Andrews never knew any of this. He was at the bottom of the Atlantic with his ship. He had fought hard for those extra lifeboats to be installed, but when they weren’t, and when the time came to use what precious few they had, he refused to get in one while the man responsible for the travesty quietly slipped into a half-empty boat and rowed away. Life is unfair. Life is ironic. Sometimes you do everything right, only to be called upon to do one more right thing than you would really like to do. This is the mark of any true hero; the dignity, grace, and courage to do “one more right thing” even if it hurts.