Sunday, July 05, 2015

Quote of the Week

H. D.,

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Video

I can't do a thing today
I can't see anyway
I haven't eaten all day
In love is so tough on my emotion

I can't listen to what you say
I can't understand you anyway
I haven't spoken all day
In love is so tough on my emotion

Feeling good, feeling bad
Feeling happy, feeling sad
I'm so happy, happy, sad
In love is so tough on my emotion

I don't need your feelings
I do not need you

Thursday, July 02, 2015

When Demanding Your Freedom Backfires

I don't think I'd be able to write a column like this a few years ago. My annoyance and sarcasm would have destroyed whatever good intentions I might have had in crafting this essay. I would have opened myself up to substantial criticism, which would have made me feel even more defensive, and less tolerant. Those days are gone, fortunately, for everyone involved.

During my recent and mercifully brief hospital stay, I made friends with a fellow patient. He identified as transgender and preferred to use male pronouns. Fine by me. Only a month ago I returned from a workshop that talked specifically about gender-neutral pronouns. I wrote my own preferred set down on my nametag with a black sharpie marker, as did all the other participants. That act was part of an exercise and talk by a speaker.

I learned a lot of interesting, eye-opening information at that conference, but this education and training was presented in a spirit of calm and love, not defensiveness. Without sounding condescending, age probably makes a great deal of difference in situations like these. The transman I spoke to was only eighteen and barely out of high school. He was clearly still processing who he was, which is why he was so insistent that everyone use the correct pronoun in his presence, even though pronouns are an ingrained part of our speech that we learn at a very young age.

I'm glad that at that age, eighteen, people are now able to make the connection. I'm glad they know who they are and know what transgender even is. That would never have been the case in my own Gen X existence fifteen years before, which is really not that long ago. I didn't know what transgender or transsexualism was until I was twenty-four years old. And I didn't really understand it until about five years ago.

As is often the case for people who have been consistently misunderstood and marginalized by society, he grew instantly angry if his wrong pronoun was used, though sometimes this happened quite accidentally. If I'd been constantly reminded that my real gender was not the gender I'd been labeled by everyone else over the course of one lifetime, I'm sure I might get a little defensive at times myself, though if I could have dispensed my own advice, it would be that this anger was little more than wasted energy.

I cut this person a degree of slack. His gender identity is clearly very important to him, but if the passage of time has taught me anything, it's that priorities eventually change. I may confess to being bisexual and genderqueer, even if they make me uncomfortable to think about from time to time, but neither are they the center of my universe as they once were. They may always be a sensitive topic, but my approach is more of immediate shame than it is anger. Everyone responds in different ways.

The problem, among many, is that attitudes like the ones displayed by this transman can come across to some as selfish and entitled. And what I saw in this fellow patient was sometimes focused purely on the ego, not on consensus-building with allies or constructive dialogue. He was not willing to meet his audience halfway. In a much larger sense, it is where this stereotypical perception of humorless killjoy feminist begins. To echo what I said earlier, though I am far from old, I recognize that part of the issue here is age and maturity.

But neither do I want to come across as some great all-knowing, sentient being. I make my own mistakes from time to time, as do all of us. Observing him, I realize I am not a Millennial, time has passed in my own life, and that I have made a tremendous amount of progress towards self-acceptance. What I'm seeing in front of me in the person of him is likely insecurity and angst, two qualities I possessed in ample quantities when I was in college.

I bother to share this anecdote to warn all of us, regardless of gender identity, how we can wrongly come across in our desire to be taken seriously and to be validated as to who we are. This man will likely be very different when he is my age, fifteen years from today. Discussions about gender and the appropriate terminology are relatively new. In another decade, I will bet you that we'll be talking about something different. I noted in a recent post how obsessed we were in the 1990's regarding young girls with eating disorders, and though those problems still exist, they're not given the same stress today.

Encountering people like the transman mentioned above makes me feel resentful, which, as an ally, I don't want. But it seems that in this society we increasingly institute social reform 150% or not at all, which creates backlash despite our best, most altruistic intentions. It might take a momentary period of saturation to make the changes we need, but I need a break from trans issues for a while. I will return to them eventually, but not for a while.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Unexpected Detours (Updated)

I ended up in the hospital for three days and was discharged yesterday afternoon. I know the last month has been full of light posting, but I ask you to bear with me for now. Let me catch my stride again.

So the final score at the end of one year of play is Surgery 3, Kevin 0. Kevin hopes for the end of surgery season. My mother will be flying in from the Deep South on Saturday and staying long enough to assist with my care. When I have time and energy, I will blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Video

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

If I could be king or a ruler of nations
Wear jewels and diamonds profound
I'd rather know that I had salvation
Then to know my reward was Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

When I live my life that I've lived so reckless and evil
Drinking and running around
All the things that I do, for the will of the devil
I was giving my soul to Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 8

Part 7 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 8.

A work of fiction.

I met my second wife in the drunk tank. When I got pulled over, I knew I was a goner. I didn't even try to pretend otherwise. I knew I couldn't walk a straight line and went straight for the breathalyzer. Over the limit and into the back set of the cop car. I wondered how much it was going to cost me this time.

She'd found a clueless cop on the wrong side of town and evaded his pursuit with success. She'd turned the wrong way down a one-way street and found the flashing blue lights waiting for her.
She played the part of the clueless, stupid woman. She had out-of-state plates, so the alibi checked out.

I'm just from out of town, officer. I haven't had much to drink.

How tall were the drinks you drank? He asked this, clearly suspicious, not sure whether or not to believe her. She indicated with thumb and forefinger. She was sent on her way with a warning.

I wished for that moment that I'd been a woman. A man would have never be able to pull off a thing like that. Even with the inequality between men and women, sometimes being seen as a stupid lady had its perks, albeit demeaning ones.

We struck up a shy conversation before bail was posted for both of us, several hours later. She wrote down her phone number on the back of a discarded business card. I didn't know it then, but I'd just found a new drinking buddy.

It was like the Sixties film Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as the co-dependent alcoholic couple.

I was the king of co-dependent alcoholic couples. I pursued them, one by one, because it was fun in the beginning. The impulsive courtship, the ability to push the envelope. It was fun, in a perverse sort of way. I was out of control and didn't care.

But these are memories. Every morning I wake up here, I think I'm somewhere else I've lived in my life. Sometimes I think I'm in my childhood bedroom. Sometimes I think I'm living in a new city with an obsessive roommmate in a dark downstairs apartment. Sometimes it's the house of a girlfriend. Sometimes I'm crashing on someone's couch in college.

Then I reassociate to my current existence, this horribly uncomfortable bed, this wooden-frame bed with cinder block walls. Vital signs come next. One of the orderlies is gung-ho about it. He knocks on your door with military precision at 6:30 am every morning. Rap-rap-rap-rap. Wake up, gentlemen! The women live in one section, the men another.    

I rub the sleep from my eyes and try to avoid thoughts that are neither pure, nor wholesome. The only good thing about the whole setup is that once they've taken your pulse and blood pressure, you can eat breakfast. Awful though it is, it is still life-sustaining and dubiously nutritious

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Confederate Flag Controversy

The last state in the Old Confederacy to display the Confederate Battle Flag is South Carolina. As an Alabama native, I recall when our own dubious flag was finally furled for good and removed from the state capital dome. I seem to recall that this occurred in the early 90's, though it could have been in the late 80's. The act was seen as necessary, a sign of continued progress between whites and blacks.

And while I find everything deplorable about slavery, I am a Southerner through and through. Allegiances are strange things. Sherman's destructive march from Atlanta to the sea, the final nail in the coffin that ended the war, was total war before there was a term to coin it. It was war on civilians, though it could be said that it brought the war to a close sooner.

The Civil War destroyed the Southern economy, leaving it poverty-stricken. Arguable, it should have been based more on factories from the beginning, rather than its reliance upon agrarian plantations and an aristocratic planter elite mentality. Railroads were destroyed by invading Yankee armies, warehouses set ablaze, crops seized from the field. Following the war, the states of the former Confederacy were treated like a conquered land by its former adversaries.

It was the synopsis of the noted historian C. Vann Woodward that the South has a unique place in history, as literally having to live as defeated nation. He added further that the United States of America had much to learn from that example. I still believe the ripple effects from that old conflict are in place. And while it is true that Confederate Battle Flags were raised anew to protest integration a hundred years after the conflict, the roots go deeper than that.

Southerners are a proud people who refused to submit to the whims of the conqueror. One sees evidence of this across the globe in every civil war, from Africa to Asia. When we speak about the racism of the Confederate flag, we are not talking rot. Racism has a huge part and to not admit it would be sinful. But there is a kind of defiance present among Southern whites, a refusal to go gently into that good night.

William Faulker, Mississippi native and novelist, said it best and it has been quoted the most.

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

Despite the evils of the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, what we see here is a degree of valor and pride from white southerners. It may have always been an unrealistic, romanticized degree of valor and pride we view here, but even today one sees it. It exists, still. Even I once played as a boy with Rebel and Yankee soldier toys, though slaves and plantations were somehow never sold separately (or at all).

Some issues strike you so deep in the heart that they defy strict logic. I will tell you that I find it impossible to express anything other than contempt for the Northern soldier. His bravery and valor were likely the very same as those who opposed them in the field of battle. I care little for his political convictions or his sentiments, but he killed my ancestors, destroyed what economic base the South had by the end of the war, and was not above vandalizing and looting to accomplish his purpose, though I suppose the same is true for both sides and in all wars, which is why I oppose them with such great fervor.

Every Civil War has its trajectory, its epicenter, regardless of where it was fought. We could, for example, be talking about Iraq or Vietnam in this context. And yet they also have their commonalities, too, their bloodshed, and their million cruelties. Those wounds do not close quickly. Indeed, it has been a century and a half after the end of hostilities, and the wounds I and others display have yet to scab over and heal.

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was one of the South's finest commanders. Despite his numerous personal eccentricities and a religious streak strong enough that some of his own troops thought him Messianic, he had an uncanny sense of always putting his troops in the most advantageous position, and resorting to daring when needed. A battle had raged. The Union had taken over the Virginia town of Fredericksburg, then vacated it after a humiliating defeat.

Stonewall Jackson was outraged. His entire body shook in anger as he looked around him at what had been done to the city itself. He saw the pianos and the works of art and the crystal chandeliers smashed and ruined on the streets. He saw elegant furniture that had been wantonly vandalized and the remains of elegant, leather-bound books that had been burned for kindling. But it was the churches – the churches – that infuriated him most. Houses of God were pocked with bullet holes and charred by cannon shot. This was a crime against God – a despicable blasphemy – and it very nearly made him weep.

Dr. McGuire, who was seldom far from Jackson’s side, shook his head in revulsion. “What can we do about this kind of barbaric behavior?”

Jackson’s voice trembled. “Kill ‘em,” he said. “Kill 'em all."

Atrocities are commonplace during times of war. And no side ever has the moral high ground. The most severe blight on the Confederacy might be the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, where men were starved to death, reduced to skin and bones. But we can go tit for tat here if we wish and still be no further along. The brave men who died, were wounded, and lost limbs in combat should be our primary focus.

I can understand South Carolina's stance. South Carolina has always been a firebrand of revolution. They tried to defy President Andrew Jackson in 1832-33 as a pretext for secession, then were the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. It fought the first battle of The Civil War at Fort Sumpter, a Southern victory. Now it is the latest to defiantly and bitterly cling to a lost cause.

That said, I understand the seductive power of lost causes, even in unexpected places. They are beholden to denial and defiance. And they change with time. What strikes me as especially strange happened during a trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, some years back. A person displayed a Confederate Battle Flag from his residence. I was incredulous. "This state didn't even secede! It was a proud free state!"

So clearly the Confederate Battle Flag means more than old fashioned racism. It may be more in line with Tea Partiers, John Birch Society members, and others on the far-right. And it is from this lens that we may truly view the flag, this piece of cloth that means much to many. I do not pretend to think that Southern pride comes with the Stars and Bars attached, but I do know that it has been adopted, or perhaps even co-opted by others who do not live in the Deep South, who have never even set foot in Dixie. 

Can we be satisfied among us to acknowledge the tragedy of 1861-1865? Would it do us good to think of boys who never had a chance to become men? Can we take into account the slaves on plantations who died in the fields of overwork or ran away to seek their freedom, only to lose their lives in the process? In the midst of a grand tragedy with no clear winner or loser, only losers, one might argue that we've missed the point. The Civil War was not America at its best, contrary to some. Instead, it was America at its worst. The Confederate Flag is no symbol of pride. It is a symbol, like all flags, of irony and pain.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
The Band

Virgil Kane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
'Till Stoneman's cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65

We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, "Na, na, la, na, na, la"

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
"Virgil, quick, come see,
There goes Robert E. Lee!"

Now, I don't mind chopping wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest

But they should never
Have taken the very best
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat