Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Release the Inner Rockstar!


I've always believed that every man is a rockstar, fighting to pretend to be something else.  In my case I fight to be normal.  A father and a provider and a functioning, taxpaying citizen.  It's a farce, but at least I have the self-awareness to admit it.  Semi-publicly.

For the past several years I've had an incurable case of instrument ADD.  I keep buying new instruments, mainly stringed, with the full intent on becoming the next Tommy Emmanuel, Vic Wooten, David Grisman, Jake Shimabukuro, or Bela Fleck.  The reality is that I'll never get past the Sloth-Love-Chunk phase of any of these instruments.  But I can totally pretend.

That said, I'm somewhat musical.  I can play a mean piana'.  I dabble in a few other things.  Just enough to fill my minstrel bucket.  I've been musically putting my littles to bed for years now.  I did the storybook thing and it was fun, but singing them to sleep is an experience unlike any other.  I just love it.

I've lately had this bee in my bonnet to make sure these songs and experiences are documented.  So I record them.  Some video.  Some audio.  And lately I found the coolest little app that allows me to record multiple tracks of a song on video.  I've had a lot of fun with it.  And I think my kids will one day cherish them.

I'm no singer.  Period.  I can carry a tune, but the bucket has its work cut out for it.  Yet I am entirely over my apprehension and self doubt.  I'm 40 and grizzled and proud to be me.  So check me out.  I have so many ideas swirling for future songs.  It's just too fun.







Saturday, November 4, 2017

The New Gig


I started a new job last week as a sales associate for a company called MXToolbox.  I’m digging it.  I’ve been talking to a number of friends and family that are asking how the “new gig is going” and I’m learning pretty quickly that everyone has a preconceived notion of what a sales person at a company called “MXToolbox” might be selling.  One dear friend and former colleague thought I was selling actual tool boxes.  A buddy of mine asked if I was selling tools door to door.  He figured I was a SnapOn competitor.  Allow me to clarify for all just exactly what MXToolbox does.

MXToolbox is a suite of email monitoring and diagnostic tools that utilize technologies like SPF, DMARC, and DKIM to identify blacklists (i.e. SORBS) and improve email deliverability and reputation.  Clear as MUD?  I get it.  I’m just now getting to a point where I understand these technical concepts.  Here's an analogy that should add clarity;

You are a bank teller.  You are the first person there in the morning and you need to get into the vault right away.  In order to get there you have to pass a number of security measures.  First, you need a key to the door.  Once you get inside the building you will need to disable the alarm system by keying in a code of some kind.  Once that’s done you’ll need to get to use another key to get to the vault door and FINALLY enter in the combination to get into the vault to access your cash.  You can't just walk into the vault and take the money.  The bank would be vulnerable to all sorts of up-to-no-good folk.

Each of these security measures has two sides.  First, the door locks are expecting very specific keys.  If there are any discrepancies to those keys, the locks won’t respond and you’re stuck outside.  The alarm system is expecting a very specific code.  Anything other than the correct code will set off an alarm and law enforcement will make sure you don’t get to that vault.  And finally, the vault itself is waiting for the exact combination to bypass its ironclad security to get to the cash. 

As it turns out, email has a similar process.  The recipient is expecting very specific security items from the sender.  If they don't line up, your email can get stuck outside.

Let’s say you run a small business.  Lawn Care.  You’ve determined the absolute best way to communicate with your customers and market to your prospects is through email.  In order for you to get messages from your outbox to your target’s inbox, you have to pass a number of security measures to get it there.  First, the recipient’s email provider is going to require a key (a whole bunch of numbers and characters) that verifies you are who you say you are.  It’s checking to make sure you aren’t an imposter.  Then it’s going to check again by comparing your email’s digital signature (more numbers and characters) to make sure it looks the same.  Once it’s determined you are authentic and in alignment, it will allow your email to pass through.  If it fails, the email may never be delivered or end up in your Spam folder, then likely turn up on one of over 100 email blacklists.  That’s bad.  Once you are on a blacklist, it’s hard to get off.

The whole purpose of this is to battle punk-ass companies and nefarious bastards  
that are phishing and spoofing (pretending to be someone they aren’t) and from sending awful emails with instructions on how to add inches to your johnson.  By the way, what's the deal with one of my favorite bands on the planet having to compete with such a negative modern term?!

But what if you aren't one of those evil entities?  You’re legit but your email isn't getting to your customers or it's automatically going to Spam?  What do you do?  You could maybe call an expensive IT consultant to diagnose and fix.  Or you could go to MXToolbox.com.

My company provides tools that will alert you if your email authentication is failing or you have somehow ended up on a blacklist.  It’s that simple.  It monitors your business’ email reputation.  Sometimes it’s just a simple mistake on your end that needs to be tweaked.  To go back to the bank analogy, maybe your key to the door is bent.  Or the button on the alarm keypad is sticking.  MXToolbox diagnostic tools will be able to tell you exactly what the problem is so you can fix it.

And that’s it.  We don’t fix anything.  We just help you figure out what's broken.  Most companies live and die by their email capabilities.  If you can’t get your information to your targets your business will die.

I feel fortunate to have found this very cool company full of innovative SMART people.  I’m surrounded by engineers and developers.  It’s a really neat environment where people focus on who you are and what you can do and couldn’t care less about how you look.  There is no air of superiority anywhere in the building that I have seen so far.  And we have the most nectar breakfast tacos in Austin every Thursday morning and beers at the bar next door every Thursday night.  I’m really happy to be there.

If you are a business owner or if your business has issues with email deliverability and blacklisting, check us out.  More and more companies are really beefing up their email security.  In fact, Homeland Security recently put out a Binding Operational Directive  that requires all government agencies to set email authentication policies.  If you do business with the government at all, you'd better get compliant.  Business should be a-boomin'.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Choosing My Path


Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a problem with authority.  It’s not that I mind rules, which I think are important, with one caveat…I have to buy in to the rule.  I have to believe in it.  A double yellow line might as well be a brick wall dividing lanes in the road.  I’ll never cross them.  But I’ll smuggle food and beverages of all types into a theater.  See, I respect the traffic rule.  I believe in it.  But I think $9 for popcorn that costs me $.50 to pop and smuggle is insulting.  I respect dress codes until they are enforced by authoritative d-bags, then I’ll push the envelope as hard as I can.  I just freaking hate being told what to do.

I grew up in the Latter Day Saint faith.  I don’t consider myself Mormon anymore.  I’ve debated whether or not to share my faith journey on some public level.  I’ve never really been one to publicly riff on my personal beliefs in any detail..  I don’t generally like social media debates.  They tend to be self-serving and rarely to the point.  But for some reason I feel that giving my faith journey life through writing will somehow complete it.  Or at least be an integral part in my continuing life saga.  And I partly want to repay those whose own stories have strengthened me personally.

I don’t remember being able to comfortably testify of the truthfulness of any religious principle.  I’m confident God, or something god-like, exists.  It’s the only thing that currently makes sense in my mind.  But beyond that I just don’t know.  And I really don’t care.  This doesn’t mean I haven’t testified of the truthfulness of LDS doctrine.  I certainly have.  But it always felt like it was a duty and not a self-guided action.  I chose to serve a mission.  I had life experiences that led me there.  I’m forever grateful for the mission experience.  But even there, surrounded by strangers, I never fully knew that what I was testifying of was actually true.  I’m embarrassed by this.  I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the guts to accept my own self-awareness as reality.  And I’m embarrassed that I misled people by promising them fact when I didn’t really know.  But I was young.  My brain hadn’t fully formed yet.  And I was doing the best I could.  I was doing what everyone else around me was doing so passionately.  It was play ball or go home.  I chose to play.

I’ve come to understand that the most talented liars believe their own lies.  They believe they aren’t actually lying because they have forced their minds to be OK with untruth.  It’s some fundamental rationalization that I believe truly imaginative or hyper-focused humans can’t control.  It’s basic instinct.  Emotional survival. 

I started to become cognoscente of my own untruth shortly after my move to Austin.  I really liked the church here.  It felt far more real than any Utah ward environment I’d been in, with the exception of that beloved West Jordan ward.  People thought differently out here and were more accepting of fringe ideas and even faith crises.  I found through conversation that there were others like me that were starting to recognize the motions they were going through.  Robotic tradition.  I remember playing piano in primary and thinking “these kids won't think for themselves because we are implanting their thoughts and beliefs here and now.” 

I didn’t know how to confront it.  Where do I start?  This is scary territory.  The LDS faith is not easily abandoned and leaving has “eternal consequences” not just for you but for your family as well.  I wasn’t comfortable accepting terms like “fell away” when it came to my faith journey.  I wasn’t falling from anything.  I was finally moving forward.  My subconscious mind still hadn’t grown the balls to admit serious, basic doctrinal issues and church history that I secretly hated.  It went to the easy things.  Disgusting inexcusable polygamy.  Shameful barring of the blacks from the priesthood.  Aggressive action against gay marriage.  And finally the use of shame and guilt to manipulate young people into towing the moral line as interpreted by the church.  I took my four issues to the bishop in 2011.

That bishop is an amazing man.  We met frequently.  Weekly in his office.  We read from the scriptures.  We prayed.  I read and prayed on my own as well.  He assigned study topics that we later discussed.  And it was this bishop that helped me see that my core issues weren’t polygamy, priesthood racism, gay marriage, or shame.  My core issues were whether or not there was a GOD.  If Jesus was real.  If Joseph Smith was a hero or a cad.  My mind's ear heard the record scratch and we course corrected toward basic gospel principles.

We moved to the Dallas area in 2013.  What a soulless place that was.  The only bright spots of the move were our neighbors, the schools, and the bishop.  I continued conversations with this bishop almost immediately.  He’d come grab me out of whatever class we were in and we’d chill in his office.  He’d hang his suit coat up and sit in a normal chair.  No behind-the-desk positioning.  Just two dudes talking casually about existential stuff.  I kept praying.  I’d stopped reading scriptures by this point outside of family scripture time.  For 18 months we talked.  Worked through some insanely difficult personal issues and I never once felt judged or patronized by him.  What a great guy.

We moved back to Austin at the end of 2014 and immediately started working with another bishop.  Same issues, mixed in with personal and family difficulties.  I don’t envy that job.  I admire them for taking the job and doing their best.  I was called to teach the 14 and 15-year-old youth.  There were 26 of them in one class.  My “team teacher” hardly ever showed so I handled that mob on my own.  There were some great kids in there.  And there were three or four that will end up in prison because they suck as humans.  I don't care if that's unfair because they're young.  They're horrible people already.  As time passed I found myself less and less comfortable teaching gospel principles.  The pre-existence, resurrection(s), millennium, judgment, and kingdom placement just sounded so foreign and preposterous to me.  I’d been rationalizing teaching the youth from a “curriculum” that wasn’t my own.  I didn’t have to actually testify of anything, right?  I just had to deliver a curriculum to the class.  Should be easy.  Yet after several months I could no longer teach that class in good conscience so I asked to be released.  Concurrently I had experience with people that met the criteria for exaltation, i.e. ordinances, but proved to be wholly disgusting, vile, black-hearted people.  And I finally vocalized my #1 hang-up with Mormonism...the concept of a "checklist God."  I know too many incredible, giving, loving, beautiful people that hold different, myriad beliefs.  I can't imagine an eternity where they are barred from entry to God's presence because they failed to be baptized by the right guy, marry in the right building, and belong to the right church.  Yet people that have filthy, repulsive souls that manage to check those boxes while hiding behind facades of service and commitment get in.  Nope.  Not in my world.  If that's heaven then give me HELL.

I had a couple very close friends that were transitioning or had transitioned out of the church that were recommending resources for people like me.  This was the first time I’d heard of any “essays” or a “CES Letter” or “Mormon Stories.”  But at my core I was still resistant to any kind of authority steering me in any direction that I wasn’t choosing for myself.  My whole life I was told to only read certain things or accept certain ideas.  I wasn’t going to let any other agenda dictate the future of my mind and soul.  So I stuck to the things that I knew.  I tested the claims of the LDS church.  I put Moroni’s Promise to the test (which I’d shared countless times in the mission field) and you know what I got?  Nothing.  SILENCE.  It wasn’t because I didn’t study hard enough.  Or pray long enough.  It was because there was nothing on the other side confirming anything to me.  Period.  And at this point I decided to “leave” the church.

My wife and I talked about it for dozens of hours.  We discussed it with our therapist.  And finally came to a joint conclusion that leaving was the only authentic choice to make.  We gathered the kids and told them about my journey and my decision.  They each reacted differently.  There were tears from some and instant acceptance from others.  But at the end of the conversation, they all threw their arms around me and told me how much they loved me and that I was the BEST DAD EVER.


Navigating the transition has been hard at times and weird always.  All of a sudden there were rules that I’d subscribed to and, on some level, “bought in on” my entire life.  And magically they were no longer there.  I could drink bourbon and beer.  I could wear black undies.  I could shop on Sunday.  And it was all initially weird.  But Sherri was a rockstar and the kids were outstanding.  We navigated it all the best we could and we continue to do so.

I am proud of the way I transitioned.  I used my own brain and my own soul to put church practices to the test and came away confident in my decision.  With the exception of a handful of months, I was fully worthy to go to the temple.  I’m not proud of the time when I wasn’t, but I am proud that I ended in good standing.  My daughter turned eight during the middle of this journey.  I didn’t know how my journey was going to end with the church so, after discussing at length with the bishop and people I trust and admire, I decided to baptize her myself.  A temple recommend was needed to confirm her.  I was temple worthy but didn’t hold a recommend…and didn’t want one.  I wasn’t comfortable interviewing to enter the temple so spiritually conflicted, so I arranged to have her uncle fly in and confirm her.  And I’m proud of that.  I am happy that I didn’t let emotionally difficult scenarios influence my authenticity.  Instead I talked to my daughter as frankly and honestly as possible and she was totally fine.  She was ecstatic to have Uncle Derall come out and confirm her.

People I have loved for years have left the church.  One of my favorite mission companions on the planet was excommunicated for refusing to stop posting his views on same sex policy to social media that conflicted with official church stances.  His was the first Mormon Stories episode I watched.  I slowly started to inform myself with the church essays, CES Letter, and personal accounts of others that have transitioned.  I’m happy I waited.  My spark would have ignited into a brushfire if I’d gone there early on and I wouldn’t have so thoroughly tried.  Now they are simply supporting materials that validate some of my fundamental struggles.  What the church labeled as “anti-Mormon” literature is largely just information and opinion that differs from core teachings and doctrine.  There’s certainly some inflammatory and ugly stuff out there, which I categorically avoid.  But there’s also some incredibly intelligent, well-researched information.

I’m not angry at the church.  Some social and cultural policies drive me bat-shit crazy, but I don’t take it personally.  I’m not picketing conference or tongue-slapping church leadership.  I can genuinely look back on aspects of church membership fondly.  The community, for the most part, has been unreal.  I fully support my children being brought up in the church.  If they choose that path then I will support them and wish them happiness.  I sincerely hope they will examine their beliefs early in life instead of waiting until they are 33 years old and terrified, then choose whatever path works for them.  I still go to primary programs and church functions and have dear friends that are all in.  Two of my closest, most respected and intelligent friends are true believers.  I don’t think anything less of them for buying in and they don’t think less of me for choosing my own way.  Life is a series of decisions.  We all do the best we can with the information and instincts we have.

So what now?  I don’t know.  I don’t really care.  I’m happier for sure.  I’m in no rush to replace a lifelong religion with a new one.  I have work to do on myself.  Physical, emotional, maybe even spiritual.  I believe in The Cosmos.  It reciprocates what you put into it.  I believe in kindness and love and full acceptance of others.  And I have to believe that whatever God exists will appreciate that, smile, and welcome me home.  Or maybe blackness.  Either way I’m good.



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