The Antidote to Big Trouble

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2020 by michaelcogdill

Just saw a brilliant truth in such simple terms.

“Empathy is the antidote to narcissism.”

Those who can feel what others feel, especially in hard times, strengthen those around them. Think of someone who checked on you when you were ill, or simply embraced your grieving. This is the living out of faith. The doing of Love.

The absence of this, though, is something doing us all harm, perhaps now more than ever.  In conversations around major social troubles like cyber bullying, domestic violence and crime, we hear about a lack of self esteem.  A widespread and sinister problem, for sure.  But perhaps it’s a problem that, when turned inside out, becomes the current epidemic of narcissism.

Scientists are grappling with questions:  Do narcissists actually feel they’re grandly special and superior?  Or does their behavior mask feelings of inferiority, insecurity?

Are they eagles in their own minds or roosters just pretending?

No matter, narcissism is more common than ever, and often so well disguised.

This article clarifies the difference between narcissism and healthy self esteem.

Notice in there a distinction I hope will echo way beyond this page.


Self-esteem, defined as global evaluation of the self, is related to narcissism. However, recent data provide evidence that narcissism differs from self-esteem in various domains. Narcissism and high self-esteem both include positive self-evaluations, but the entitlement, exploitation, sense of superiority, and negative evaluation of others that are associated with narcissism are not necessarily observed in individuals with high self-esteem.

Entitlement.  Exploitation.  Sense of superiority.  Negative evaluation of others.

These are acts of weakness.  They carry no esteem.  We don’t like being around such.  But look at a message board, a social media site, and see how long it takes to find someone doing such as these.  It is rampant.  It is saddening.

But as the saying here goes, the antidote to narcissism is empathy.  We kill narcissism by silence and a kindness unreachable by its venom.  We best fight it not by battle, but by giving ourselves and others peace.

Many of you know I’m a devout advocate for domestic peace, seeking to end the suffering of intimate partner violence.  So much domestic abuse finds its warning signs in acts you can read about here.  I started to describe it as postmodern Narcissism — something new.  But no.  It’s not new at all.  It’s as old as what drives such stories as the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Antony and Cleopatra.

 But it’s seeing a new expression — one as easy to find as big braggart, a veiled insult or some other little dig that stirs big trouble.

All of which, and whom, we all must beware.

In Praise of Not Getting Caught Up

Posted in Uncategorized on January 8, 2020 by michaelcogdill

John Wooden said, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

In my business, I’ve been accused of everything from riding a high horse to jockeying a teleprompter to speak cogent English. I’ve been praised at the Emmys and thrashed as fit for the bottom of the cement pond.

But what counts is being of some use. Being able to reach and help the high and the low from a fine center of humility.

In my years as a wayward teen, my mother would counsel me to take some personal inventory. Of the spiritual kind. Back then, it made sense, but I acted as if it didn’t. I knew she wanted me to leave the place better than I found it. That went to my closet, and my very soul, and everybody who came near to my breathing in and out.

She knew I was a man in the making, not quite there yet. Now, she lovingly reminds me I will never fully arrive. That no matter what I learn — from her, my dad, my extended family — I’ll remain an evolution, deep in the dirt, growing, trying to sprout some usefulness into the life of someone else in this wilderness life. She’s proud of me nonetheless.

And it is a wilderness, this life we share. Imperfect and wild with peril. My faith reminds me of this, as it reminds me that Love — even amid amid wickedness and brokenness — truly never fails. It is a Love not found up high on the moon, where no one can breathe, nor in the cold depths of a critic’s well. Love tends to call us to the center of things. To the fertile ground of neither high nor low.

Praise? Criticism? Neither matters as we, among the broken, somehow better the broken among us.

True OR False?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Wilson? Wilson, Are You Enough?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2019 by michaelcogdill

I got to thinking about that long, lonesome solitude of the film Castaway.  The isolation.  The hopelessness.  The sure death of Narcissism.

The character played by Tom Hanks survives 4 years with a washed-up volleyball as his only friend.  The face of it literally drawn in his own blood.  Wilson.  Named after the brand.

He talked to Wilson, often.  Season through season, he spoke as if a volleyball can hear.  He eventually grieves Wilson, hard.

Wilson, on the other hand, lay silent, as volleyballs will, even those drawn in blood.

Wilson never paid him a compliment.

Wilson never encouraged with a word.

Wilson had no Facebook account.  No Instagram.

Wilson could not emote with an emoji that  made the marooned man feel even a tiny bit better about himself, or his fate.

Chuck Noland, the character Tom Hanks plays, eventually turns gaunt, grows a fire-hazard beard, lives on speared fish and without a solitary morsel of spoken or written human validation.  A world away from what we see voraciously sought today.  Noland does live with a picture of his girlfriend —  the love of his life  — and the remembrance of her voice.  Her affection.  Her caring and devotion, all in his memory.

And a volleyball.

Not one person in those four years tells him he’s handsome or hot or smart.  Brilliant or strong or “THE  MAN.”

He more than survives without what psychoanalysts would call Narcissistic fuel, or even normal affection from a loved one.  He has himself — and I believe the divinity within us  all — as sole company.  That, and the echo of the lady in the picture.

The lack of more did not destroy him.

We are born to live in community.  We are wired for engagement, intimacy with others we love.  But the lust for a sense of our own importance, a yen for constant attention has become so strong, so rampant and common, the experts largely no longer deem Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be an actual  disorder.

And this begs something of us all.

How much affection is enough?  How much validation do we need, verses want?

And the bigger question — is getting enough from the close love of our life really enough?  It should be.  It must be.  Given.  Received.

Everyone digs likes, hearts, thumbs-up emojis.  But to ponder living without them, marooned into years of life with only ourselves and a personified rubber ball, is to test the very integrity of our humble selves.  It’ll measure the depth of our inner well- being.

I believe it might measure whether we have the character to love and be loved by one.  One who loves us for us.  Period.

Wilson, you were conversant enough for Noland for years on that island.  You had to be.  He didn’t go crazy and start organizing sand crabs into a baseball league.   He simply dwelt in silence, apart from his own voice, outer  and inner.

And the memory of hers.

He lived in the echo of the woman he loved, and who loved him.   Even absent hope of seeing her again, she was — enough.

For 4 years, in fiction, he did this.

In our reality, how well can we?


My “Joe” — By Several Other Names

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2019 by michaelcogdill

A children’s  book about death feels a bit like a birthday party in the proctologist’s office.

But I wrote such a thing.  I didn’t need to dig it out of my heart.  It just rose up.

Where Did Joe Go is far less about death and way more about immortality.  Joe the horse dies, sure.  There, I said it.  Everything and everyone will someday.

But that’s far from the point.

By “The End” Joe lives in the hearts of all who loved him.   Death is no match for love. When we’re remembered and loved, we never go fully away.  In spacious hearts that make room for us, we live, always.

And that  means every one of us has a “Joe.”  More than one.  These are some of mine.  There are many more.

My father, George Cogdill, who so loved my mother and me, so loved a good hemorrhoid joke, and who was so kind.

Daddy, you are my Joe.  In my heart you live, on a riding lawn mower, with your dentures flung out, just for grins.  Your steel hand to my back.  Your velvet wisdom still my peace.

My grandmother, Dovie Ella Keyes, who so loved us all, who would laugh at — and with — my daddy, and who could take up an ax and hold her own with any man at a wood pile.

Granny, you are my Joe.  In my soul you thrive, hoeing your postage stamp of a strawberry patch, and giggling beside the ocean when it knocked me down and rolled me the first time.  I was four, strangling.  I can laugh about it now.  Your gentle womanhood keeps re-creating me as a man.

Savannah and Maggie, you are Joes, the pair of you, golden retrievers.  I need say nothing of why you set off love.  You were goldens, on the best of days, and the worst, there you were, happy, devoutly making me so.  You both died unafraid of dying.  You taught me how to live — full to overflow in the present moment.  You still teach me the present is precious, and our great promise.

Where Did Joe Go?  Where all our beloveds go.  Into the rooms and onto the lawns of hearts where love is a living heirloom.  No mere thing, passed down.  Instead, a pulsing memory, a laugh, so much of life strung together and aglow.  Party lights in the dusk of our best days, gone by, yet here.

They are always here, our Joes.  And all of us always children, somehow.

A favorite picture book, written within us.

Our beloveds.   Our story.   Ever alive.

Where Did Joe Go, an heirloom-quality children’s book written by 29-time Emmy winner, Michael Cogdill.  Illustrated by legendary modern artist — and former child prodigy — George Pocheptsov.  Debut — a matter of the heart, Valentine’s Day, 2020 



A Man of a Kind

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2019 by michaelcogdill

My father bent the rules of manhood, upward, from the dark. In the dark.

A little boy ought not be a stranger to enough to eat. Food and affection were rare to his boyhood.

And this made him grateful.

A man ought not get branded by the hot tongues of men with empty hearts. His coworkers made fun of his special shoes. The shoes did little to ease the hurt of his surgery-damaged feet. Full grown bullies hurt, to the quick, the little boy in him.

And this taught him to forgive.

Daddy became a drunk for reasons he would never fully say. I’m glad he took some those to his grave. More so that he took a gracious, humble and loving sobriety into that casket, too.

For this made him understand that a man’s hurts might help him recognize another man hurting.

Even in silence, I believe he said to many a wounded stranger, “Hey, me, too. It’s no eternity, that hurt. Don’t feed it, and it’ll die.”

My father was an art of a kind. Chiaroscuro is the fancy, impossible term for contrast of light and dark in a painting. Nah, that word’s not for him. Not such a real man in his real life. For my dad, the word is grace. Daring grace. The hammer and hot crowbar kind. The leverage that bends a man upward.

He was the scrolled iron work of a poor boy scalded by awful shame, tempered in the fire of his own courage not to wallow in shame. It takes a strong hand to work iron. My daddy surrendered to his inner Hand. It shaped the man, most honorable and true.

It bent him into his beauty.

Daddy loved to work. He loved my mother. He loved me.

He taught me my dark days held only the setting for light.

That man of a kind, all too rare, sleeps in his mountain grave tonight. But no. He’ll live tomorrow in me, in my every step. A prince of the Depression echoing in my every breath — “You belong. Look around. You thankful? Get off your haunches and out the door.”

“Be a man. You know the kind.”

To Feel, or Not to Feel? That is Not the Question

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Someone I know and respect wants me to live more like the tin man.

He thinks I’ll be better off not just wearing an armor but being one. No heart? No worries. A heart is just chambers that hold old baggage, right?

He teaches people to shed their baggage — and all its old underwear of old feelings, and make a habit of not copping a feel of those feelings ever again. They just get in our way, he would say. They bind us up and tie us down on that mythic yellow brick road to riches and happiness, and fulfillment.

Detatch. Disconnect. Your life will soar!

On the one hand, I agree with him. A heart run rampant will run us way down into a mess. Taking things personally, getting our feelings hurt all over the place, is misery. Harvesting grievances and staying mired in old hurts is a fresh hell.

On the other hand, the tin man of Oz longed for the Eden of a heart. He wanted the paradise of feeling love and all that comes with it. When the mighty Oz proved himself just a little myth, the tin man discovered he’d had a heart all along, he just hadn’t set it loose to run.

Beginning to use his heart for what it’s for became his own happy ending.  AND a fresh start.

We don’t get to choose whether to feel or not. The question is — will we admit that to ourselves so we can feel, and do, well?

Will we discover the heart’s enormous power to forgive and let go the dark for us?

To my friend, I present those questions with an urging: shed the armor, and engage the whole heart. This is about what some current wise and intelligent people call vulnerability. A fairly big word. Strong as steel. One urging us not to live in the tin-can denial of our past, or how it feels. A word urging us to feel the happiness and liberty and meaning we can feel right now.

I’m going to mix in a metaphor here for a minute. That very admission shows I know better. But you’ll see why. You might just feel the reason. Good reason.

Emotions — and the events that cause them — can be a kitchen fire in your heart. Somebody set your heart’s stove on fire with shame or anger or dreadful abuse. Some moral crime against your heart is flared way on up.

You’re on fire, but almost nobody knows.

What is a boy or girl to do with a heart all lit up with kitchen fires of feelings that burn — and hurt — like hell?

I’ll tell you what. Lean into the fire. Admit it’s there. Your heart’s aflame, and not in a good way. Instead of the good kinda hot, that old shame, that disgrace lit by someone else who did or said that terrible thing that is not your fault is burning your heart to ashes. It is not heartwarming. It’s a FIRE.

Deal with it. Put it out!! Dare feel the heat and sling waters of forgiving who set it.

The fire will die and the heart will live.

Anger, hurt, sadness — they all simmer in the kitchen of everybody’s heart. Sometimes a heart needs help to get the fire out. I see it in the traumas I report in my career.

There is no shame in calling for HELP!

I’ll tell you what won’t help. Going out to sit on the front porch, in a suit of armor, pretending the kitchen’s not on fire.

A psychotherapist I know and respect calls that a no-brainier denial, and a dangerous kind. The kind that can burn down the whole house, heart and all.

I do not recommend this means of burning emotional baggage. Or its dirty underwear of old things that hurt.

A wise soul said the only way out of grief is through it. There is no going around grief or shame or humiliation or sadness or any of the tinderboxes that threaten to reduce us ashes of denial.

But when go fully through what feels bad — confessing that its there, sharing its heat with those who care for us (and I dare say love us) — something nearly miraculous happens. We begin to feel what is good. Happiness, joy — these come in. When the bad gets dealt with — the fire put out and the ashes let go — something good gets on that stove. The heart just gets warm. We — and others — can live in there. And live well.

When William Faulkner picked up the Nobel Prize, he vowed humankind will not just endure, humankind will prevail. This from the brilliant American writer who said all his work was about the human heart in conflict with itself.

Such a human heart is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? To feel the good with the bad, and let the good prevail?

Or to borrow from the Apostle Paul in that famous First Corinthians (you need not be a Christian to get this one) — “Love never fails.” It is patient. It is kind. It is what a heart is for.

My friend of the tin-man ways is a good man, well-meaning, seeking the ease and betterment of others. He is a man able to feel, deeply. I am witness. I believe he would feel better about things if he would just drop the armor I refuse to wear.

He’s got to be chaffing in that thing.

A Proper Life in an Ugly Little Word

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2019 by michaelcogdill

I don’t like the word participant.

Look at it.  All those t’s and i’s, spiked up.  It even looks like a bed of nails.  And when I say it out loud, I sound like one of those cartoon teachers — the ones with a voice and a hair bun tight as a Kardashian dress line.

But here, I must use it.  There’s no other word that works quite so well to say this:

In your life, become a participant, not just an occupant.

The woman who taught me how is long gone to her grave.  But her hand stays warm to my back.  So does the occasional verbal back of her hand, a tad further south.

When I was more interested in skateboards and snotty nosed girls than Proust or Oscar Wilde, Julia Fitchett-Cooke pulled me across a neighbor’s lawn and into her kitchen.  She pulled me into her mind and and into her lonesomeness, too, and we both turned less lonesome.

Julie never had kids, so I became one of the few she treated as offspring.  She lived determined that we would spring high.  She would not settle for kitchen waifs staring at their navels or shoe tops, mumbling and shuffling, stupefied through the world.  We who were blessed with her as a second mother got mothered like underage U.S.  Marines.   I’ll never quite forget the day she pushed Black’s Law Dictionary across that  kitchen counter.  “Read it,” she demanded.  She meant it.  I did it.

Thanks to Julie, I participated.  I learned to dare do more than occupy space and waste God-given precious time.  Julie knew hers would be short.  Diabetes and heart disease loomed.   She kept the throttle down.

Her achievements read a bit like the resume of Martha Gellhorn.   Julie became the first woman to race the Chimney Rock Hill Climb.  Her MG roared up that mountain. Smoked the nattering men who denied her in dust and glory.  She finished Stetson Law School in less than 3 years, having gotten in without an undergrad degree.  I’m convinced Julie could talk eloquent sense into a tombstone and convince a canoe it could become Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She convinced more than one small town boy to become far more than a small minded child masquerading as a man.  I am one of them.  A grateful one.  I owe her.

Just yesterday, someone said something to me, urgently, that echoed straight from the mothering heart of that powerful  woman.  It was a mother lode of wisdom in words I will refrain from here.  They’re profane and pure at once, and I will heed them, as if they were channeled from the beyond.

They loosely translate as follows.

Don’t just occupy your life.  Do it.  Participate.  Get off that bed of nails that is a life of earnest little cautions and run that dream to the outer edges.  Work.  Learn.  Prepare.  Do all this.  But do it now — step at a time, in the now, and the now to come.  Over and over.

“Be a participant,” Julie would say.   “And find me a better word for it.  One poetical and fun.  Make me laugh, and make me proud.”

Yes, ma’am.  Right away, ma’am.  With a mischief grin.  My salute.

Now, where’s that dictionary?


The High Calling of Magic Words

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2019 by michaelcogdill

My television career has carried me into the wheelhouses of death.  And right there, in one of them, I found life.

A life that needs a hearing, right now.

During an interview about organ donation, I watched a man die, before my eyes.

In his silence, he keeps teaching me how to speak.

Ashley Jeffcoat graciously volunteered to tell the audience why it’s important to sign an organ donor card.  He needed heart transplant.  There on the couch of a little furniture store Ashley ran with his wife, Pat, he kindly told me of the reasons he had to live.

His wife, his family, their new granddaughter, so many friends he loved.  Riches, every one.

Then, without a hint of warning, Ashley’s heart gave out.  In a blink, on that sofa, he turned gray. With us one minute, then gone.

Our CPR, the paramedics’ heroics  — none of it could give Ashley one more breath.  His last day, and hour, had come.

But notice Ashley has become immortal, right here among us.

Immortal, in what he dared to say.

Ashley Jeffcoat died lending his last breath to something far greater than himself.  That breath carried affection for the loves of his life, and complete strangers.  He gave the interview to help strangers who might find life in a single organ donor card.

Ashley dared talk love, not knowing it would be his last chance.  He dared have a true man’s way with words of true love.

We captured Ashley’s final breaths — those sacred words — on a piece of videotape.  Yes, tape.  It was that  long ago.  Yet look how he matters still.  Even now, I write of him.  You read about him.

And if we coated his words in platinum they would carry no more value.   They’re plated in courage instead.  Ashley dared say what was on his failing heart.  To this  moment, his very doing so says plenty to you and me.

Especially to men, he has something to say.  And right here, so do I.

Old pain is a humidity, hot and wet and rusting.  I watched it corrode its way into my father’s mind.  He held his pain deep within, thinking it weakness to let it out.  To let someone hear, even my precious mom, would weaken him, he thought.  He thought the shaming of his poor, hungry-going boyhood belonged inside of him.  It did not.  Not until it saturated him and corroded him to the very edge of alcohol-soaked death did he finally let it all go.  It wasn’t a handsome sight.  But letting it go made him into one handsome guy,  inside and out.  It made him like Ashley Jeffcoat.  A man of courage.  One who knew the power of talking love.

Gentlemen, don’t wait.  Be like them.

Ashley Jeffcoat — still alive in the spirit of his daring words that made him a strong, loving man.  The kind of man my father became through the remainder of his sober life.

My dad, George Lloyd Cogdill, became one of the most  courageously grateful, hard-loving men I will ever know.   The former abusive alcoholic told my mother how he loved her.  He showed up in her life every day.   He showed her how glad he was for another day with her.  She was like water to his desert of shame.  Once he let the shame go, the water flowed.  And on it flows, onto this page, even now.

Gentlemen, and especially the not so gentle, tell her.  Show her.  You love her?  Don’t let the words smother in your mouth.  Take up a pen to show her.  With a fingertip to the drape of her neck, show her the tender ways  of a true man.  One who is unafraid.

Your sons and daughters, your friends, the stranger with sadness in his eyes as he works on your car — they call to you.  Drop the armor of macho.  Your true manhood and strength are calling to get out to run.  Let them.

Ashley Jeffcoat is in his grave, and so is my dad.   Yet here they stand, hands to our  backs, gentlemen.  A whisper in our ears from high and divine places we can’t see yet.  They dare us to say magic words, often.  We all know what they are.  The tender gracious words that can terrify grown men so much, we nearly need change our pants.

“You look pretty.   Beautiful.  I love you in that.  I love who you are.  I am so proud of you.  Come here, baby.  Son, come walk with me.  Honey, let’s sit and talk a while.  I believe in you.  I’ve got you.  My pride.  My joy.  Did I mention I love you?  I will show you…”

These, and so many more.   Magic, all of them.

They scare so many of us half to death.  But then, they get said.

Then, something opens.

The fullness of ourselves as men.

Men blessed with another breath.  Another shot at being fully alive.

Oh and ladies, if you think this applies to you, too, can I get a shout out?  A shout, and a share?

Brene Brown on Vulnerability




How Not to be Afraid of the Dark

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2019 by michaelcogdill

Something occurred to me about being a writer, and a shaggy mortal who can worry too much, like the rest of you.

I’ve written a children’s book about losing our way and finding the best of ourselves in tenderness toward the lonesome. I wrote another children’s book about making those we love — and lose — immortal by remembering and loving them well. No matter what.

I’ve written a grown up novel thrashed with family violence, child death, suicide, wretched fundamentalism and, in the end, the restoration that comes from radical love.

There’s darkness in every one of those books.

And only because there is, can a reader catch the light of them.

They draw life from the dark. They remind us a resurrection requires a tomb.

And all this reminds me never to fear writing what makes us human, even the suffering. Perhaps especially the suffering. It reminds me the night is no match for the moon. The sun still shows.

I needed to hear this as a foolish boy afraid of vampires and disembodied hands under the bed. But I’m reminded, too, I have never feared the dark while looking at the heavens.

So I write here to get us all carried away from worry and being afraid. I write to romance the truth that our fear and suffering are but a tin roof tomb, not built to last. It can feel so sturdy, splintered and hard.

But it will fall.

In my profession, I need reminding often. I owe the reminder to all of you who consume news each day.

Journalists report on lost children, lost hope, deep dark. Terrible things happen to humankind each day. Maybe years of anchoring and reporting news inspired me to write three books with a touch of darkness to each. Maybe the light in each one comes from reporting on neighbors helping neighbors through tornadoes, mass shootings, mass grief.

Even right here, I choose to see so much suffering eased by the touch of a loving hand. Such hands are lights all their own. They make the news as well.

Still afraid of the dark?

No judgment. I understand. It’s why I end here with the end. The final line of my novel, She-Rain.

It is a southern tale full of coffins and cuss, lost loves and laughter at hells on earth. It is dark with human suffering, but comes down to Psalm 139. Proof God comes way down, too, knowing right where we are.

“Even the dark isn’t darkness to Thee. The night is bright as the day.”