Sunday, June 26, 2016

Quote of Week

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.-Oscar Wilde

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Video

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I'm getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I've lived all over this town

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain't got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don't even know my real name

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything's ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around
This ain't no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain't got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody see you up there

I got some groceries, some peanut butter,
To last a couple of days
But I ain't got no speakers, ain't got no headphones,
Ain't got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can't write a letter, can't send no postcard,
I ain't got time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock,
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we're tapping phone lines,
I know that that ain't allowed

We dress like students, we dress like housewives,
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle, so many times now,
I don't know what I look like!

You make me shiver, I feel so tender,
We make a pretty good team
Don't get exhausted, I'll do some driving,
You ought to get you some sleep

Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won't help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace,

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Forgiving Sexual Assault Without Condoning It

The latest season of Netflix's Orange is the New Black, as usual, brings up several controversial issues and numerous topical points. For those unaware, OITNB is a popular streaming service television show set inside a minimum-security women's prison. Orange is the New Black features a large ensemble cast, encouraging viewers to pick their own favorite characters, following their development from episode to episode. Picking one single aspect of the plot to analyze is difficult, as many beg to be examined more closely.

The character of Tiffany "Pennastucky" Doggett (Taryn Manning) is a caricature of white trash culture. Earlier episodes have focused on issues like her remarkably poor dental hygiene and her status as a shill for ravenous pro-life organizations. For a time, it is her responsibility to drive the prison van, which allows for outside errands beyond the gates to be run. She is closely supervised by a male prison guard, but given some degree of freedom with the responsibility. It is on one of these excursions out that the guard pulls the van over at a remote location and rapes Pennsatucky.

In dealing with the aftermath, she confides what has happened to a friend, a fellow inmate. As has been retold in a series of flashbacks, Pennsatucky has had a sad history of acquiescing to abusive men. For a time she merely shrugs off what has happened as typical. Her confidant, Carrie "Big Boo" Black (Lea DeLaria), takes a very different approach. She is outraged by what has occurred and intends to avenge the crime, Big Boo concocts a plan. Drugging the guard's coffee with a powerful sedative, she renders him unconscious for a time. The plan involves sodomizing the guard with a mop handle in retribution, but when faced with the opportunity, Pennsatucky is too squeamish to comply.

Having had time to think the matter through, Pennsatucky decides, with time, to forgive the guard who raped her. Admitting she has read a few pertinent passages in the Bible, she believes that it does her better to put the assault past her. She states that her desire to forgive is more for herself than for her attacker.  Following her decision, Pennsatucky speaks directly to the guard who raped her. She informs him that she has forgiven him, but the two of them recognize that things between them will never be the same. Both of them were once attracted to each other, but they recognize that such contact is against the rules. They were foolish to let things progress, as the system is designed to keep them apart. Further resolution will be left to next season.

Big Boo reacts to Pennsatucky's perspective in disgust, and it does little to paper over the differences in opinion and action that have driven them apart. She continues to takes a strong stance against sexual assault in any form, laying down the zero-tolerance policy of a zealot. Pennsatucky is largely intimidated by the intensity of the entire experience, from start to finish, and her conflicting feelings. Two different points of view lead to a schism in both women's friendship. By the conclusion of the most recent slate of episodes, season four, the damage has yet to be repaired.

Some of the harshest criticism I have ever received resulted from my attempts to address this issue. In a post I wrote a few years ago, I argued that, like Pennsatucky, it might be helpful for victims of sexual assault to forgive their assailants. Some people take Pennsatucky's perspective, some people take Big Boo's. I find it impossible to say right or wrong to either. I think it probably depends on the person. Forgiveness should only be undertaken with the consent of the victim and should never be coerced or forced.

I understand now why this stance was greeted by the same kind of indignation and anger of Big Boo, and now I have a better comprehension as to why. It's the sort of rage that comes from seeing rapists and those who assault women repeatedly beat the rap or receive slap on the wrist sentences. The problem is far from over.

On the subject of religious conviction, Christians are supposed to practice radical forgiveness. The Gospel of Matthew makes that very plain.

"You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!

Words cannot express how difficult, how very challenging that is. Secular people don't always recognize how difficult it is to hold oneself to high standards like these. Notice that it is not written that one should refuse to seek justice or that one should blame oneself. Sexual violation is against the law for a reason. Hating and exacting revenge are satisfying emotions, which is why we often cling to them following a severe hurt. That's what makes forgiveness a radical act. It negates the very parts of ourselves that clamor to seek justice in any form, especially violently.

The desired goal of victims, as I see it, is to seek a strong resolution and to get past the trauma they have experienced. No stint, no sentence, no statute of limitations can be attached to healing. I myself find it tragic to see the toll damage sexual assault and physical abuse exacts upon victims. I have made my own mistakes in interpretation and I won't repeat them, I will continue to encourage those harmed by sexual violence to consider forgiveness only as a means of greater health and well being.

If those damaged by acts of violence can get past their trauma in this way, then this might facilitate greater health. The way to avenge acts as barbaric as these is to work past them. Prosecution and court proceedings can add an additional layer of trauma and anguish to victims already unsteady and destabilized. None of this is easy.

Naturally, improvement comes with time, and probably also with pain. I have learned that few gains in life come without some discomfort. We must continue to encourage men not to commit acts of sexual assault. Once that is accomplished, women won't have to worry about protecting themselves, keeping pepper spray in their purses, or taking self-defense classes. I myself apologize for not seeing the complexities of this issue some time before. I don't excuse myself for my earlier ignorance, but now I understand why I stirred up the hostility I did.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Periodically it becomes time for me to undergo an extensive tuneup. The severe chronic illnesses I deal with must be treated with strong medications. These treatments are inexact at times and it takes a while to adjust as best one can. Some treat symptoms flawlessly, others produce other sensations that are strange and sometimes unwanted. My cocktail of medications used to treat bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder have undergone a rather radical reinvention, if you will. The body changes, and as it does, its needs change also.

I spent years on Seroquel, but it has provided more problems than it is worth. Going into all of them here would only exhaust my patience and yours. I've now switched to Geodon, and this weekend was full of spur-of-the-moment ER visits best forgotten. There was a time where I wanted to hash out every last detail, every drop of blood, every cry of pain, and now I'm weary of the constant recounting. They are helpful when they remind people what it's like to be more or less able-bodied. I've never been one for militant observance of all the ways in which life challenges me.

I will be 36 in October, and I feel myself entering a period where I am quieter. Youth has plenty of time for rowdiness in all of its forms. Something now whispers to me, "calm, calm," and so I am embracing calm. Embrace calm with me. What does it mean to take a moment to let everything change around you, monitoring the pace, minding the differences?

The height of summer is upon us and I felt it today, walking the streets. I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year, partially because my body temperature runs high and I love feeling cold and secure. Paradoxically, everyone else seems to love hot, love wearing less, love being out and about. I wonder how they experience the season for themselves. I notice the kids out for school and the foot traffic on the sideways.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to write something else again. Maybe sooner rather than later, maybe not. It all depends. Same me, different me. I took a risk with the most recent essay I wrote and got some really vicious criticism that bordered on personal attack. It's tough not to take that sort of stuff seriously. I was making a harsh point, sure, but to belittle my livelihood is taking it a little far. It made me question from the person who said it whether or not they were now friend or foe. Sometimes you can see something from someone that makes you really want to step away.

Had it been a random reader, that's not as much of a big deal. I've received some vicious trolling, as has anyone who puts a personal piece of writing up in front of an audience. As much I try to love people as a person of faith, sometimes you need to love a person from a place of distance. It's a difficult lesson to learn. Enjoy your summer, readers.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Quote of the Week

Freedom is never given; it is won.- A. Phillip Randolph

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The "Epidemic" of Single Parenthood

I've recently returned from a week-long trip to the Pacific Northwest. I was pleased to have the opportunity to see a different part of the country I had never before visited. In the time I was there, I observed the many distinctions between the West Coast and the East Coast, asking natives and current residents alike their impressions of the area. Most were glad to answer my questions, but many displayed a lack of introspection regarding their home that I found curious.

I’ve lived in DC for eight years and have become something of a mini-Chamber of Commerce for the benefit of tourists and newcomers. It struck me as strange that many did not seem to care one way or another about the particulars and the superficial statistics. Native Southerners like myself have a way of playing to the crowd, like a skilled impressionist. The level of disengagement was notable, and I found it challenged my understanding. Was this due to modesty or were such issues thought to be unimportant?

Aside from the obvious differences in general attitude always cited, I viewed an area of the country largely dominated by whites, with a smattering of Asians drawn in by their proximity to the Pacific Rim. Underneath the Portland transplants and the hipper-than-thou milieu of the city is a somewhat washed out, working-class attitude even naked bike riders can't quite conceal. Strip away trendy donut shops and highly competitive brunch restaurants, and one sees something of the essential character of the region.

I could never be confused as a conservative in any form, and never a social conservative. I have no unwavering allegiance to the cult of the sanctity of marriage, nor how God ordains that such an arrangement ought to be composed of exclusively one man and one woman. Moreover, this post is not an attempt to raise a purely racial argument aimed squarely at the black community. What I saw in eight days of constant motion made little to no exception for race or class.

Instead, I saw instance after instance of mothers raising children alone. Most of them I noted only in brief. While stationed there for the duration of my trip, I did have the great fortune to keep company with two single mothers. One was in her mid-thirties, separated from the biological father, and raising three children on her own. The second was in her mid-forties and divorced, having waited as long as possible to have even one child. The subject did not change very often to the absent father in both instances, and if it did, it didn't linger very long beyond the perfunctory. I gathered the topic was still a very sensitive one and I did not press it.

Back home in DC, I live in an affluent blue enclave, full of yuppie parents and double strollers. Privilege and wealth are in prominent display. Here it is manifest in two-parent households, usually opposite-sex in makeup, though not always. Children are expected to be high-achievers in every station in life, eventual candidates for expensive, exclusive private schools. They are fed on food and drinks from the local Whole Foods. I'm sure for some that the same is true in Portland, for example, but priorities and goals are often very different from coast to coast.

Never was this more in evidence than a trip that took me 2,500 miles northwest and six hours by airplane. It may have taken a change of surroundings to amplify and illuminate the unreality of my home, the bubble I can sometimes convince myself exists everywhere. Single motherhood was in plain view everywhere my travels took me, reminding me that it is an inordinately difficult job and all too commonplace. Being privy to instance after instance of it made me pause to count my blessings

I am quite fortunate to have been raised by two parents who, forty-one years later, are still together. My mother and father have only been married exactly once, betrothed to themselves and no one else. Many of my classmates and friends growing up in the Eighties were children of divorce, part of that moral panic that may have been overstated but was nevertheless more prominent than it needed to be. Midway through their childhood or adolescence, they were often forced into compromise measures. Yours, mine, and ours families are not always a comfortable fit. Anyone with a half-sibling and a step-parent can tell you that.

I do think that two-parent families are the most stable, most solid pairings. Should one parent grow exhausted with routine duties, another can step in to take over. That, for no other reason, is cause enough to opt for raising a child with a partner. Having said that, I do recognize that the situation is not that simplistic, nor as easily fixed. Absentee fathers are prominent, and, in my opinion, we've been far too culturally lenient, demanding financial payments and custody arrangements from one half of the equation, not time spent in the company of offspring. Children don't need fathers like piggy banks or sporadic trips to Disneyland, they need the moderating influence of active parenting.

I'll tell a brief anecdote. About ten years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman who was much older than me. She had two kids from a previous marriage, both boys. The youngest kid was a bit rebellious, something of a behavior problem. Though I pushed away from him, uncomfortable with the attention he lavished upon me, the idol-worship he made plain, and the void I filled, I could tell he craved my company.

One night I arrived home late from work and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Having read somewhere that letting manual toothbrushes drain upside down was more sanitary, I'd turned my brush bristles in that direction, facing towards the basin. Returning late from work, I discovered that someone else had turned his bristles downwards towards the basin as well, right next to mine. I have to admit I shed a few overwhelmed tears once I observed his behavior, as I was nowhere near ready to be anyone’s surrogate father.

This might come across only as a sweet story. For me, it was evidence that my very presence was more prominent and influential than I had even dreamed. But it also reveals more about the compelling need for fathers, or at least the need for more than one single parent. Married or partnered same-sex parents can replicate the same loving household dynamics. Provided the relationship between partners is stable, regardless of sexual orientation, I have no reservations. Children demand better.

I recognize that some may choose to criticize me for these remarks, to seek to spot a few holes in my argument. Single parents might believe that they have an adequate grasp of their duties without needing to rely on anyone else. I know of single parents who do an excellent job rearing children on their own. I don’t seek to criticize their hard work. It is also true that I have no children of my own, nor intend to have any myself.

But even casual observation, on one level, is sufficient enough. Spend enough time around airports, on board public transportation rails, or shifting uncomfortably on a bus and one can view ample evidence of good parenting and bad parenting. To be fair, one can also observe single parents, often single mothers, at the end of their rope, struggling massively with misbehaving and unruly children. Single parents of any gender may assert that conditions on the ground are fine the way they are. This may well be true. I seek not to challenge their intentions.

My experiences may not fit the norm. Sometimes bad behavior is not relegated only to children. I have known single mothers who have spit in their faces of their children when they wouldn't mind and cursed at them violently when they wouldn't get up in the morning. And I have called them friends and acquaintances. I don’t condone their behavior, but neither did I cast them aside. One of them had a child at seventeen who she came to resent, but tearfully confessed to me the nature of this offense. At what point does parenting become abusive or, at best, incorrect? It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations, and it’s equally easy to take a zero tolerance attitude when a child is not our very own.

I have also known single parents who agonize about striking a balance the best way, between raising children and dating, darting back and forth from A to B in the deepest of ambivalence. In my case, I observed her berating her children verbally when they wouldn't spring to action immediately. I was indebted to her as her partner, and I resisted reporting her behavior. Unlike some, she was well-connected legally and I knew nothing would be done. In addition, I wasn't sure it was my place to say right or wrong. It's easy to call out behaviors that some may say border upon child abuse, but often difficult to make them stick. One parent’s perceived discipline is another parent’s abuse. That was a difficult lesson to learn.

Divorce rates have actually decreased with time, but so have the rates of marriage. More people are living together for years at a time, many with no intention to say their vows. The question at hand should then be phrased a little differently. No one seems to understand if or why people marry for all the wrong reasons. And even then, marriage success is no guarantee. Problems with rearing children, particularly children with special needs, have proved the undoing of even the most stable marriages. What we are observing is, in part, fate, luck, devotion, and unrequited toil. But again, we can’t overlook the need for a two-person household. For some, it’s a paradoxical situation.

We're told to believe that things were more solid and stable in the past. This is not always the case. My father's parents stayed together, but theirs was an immensely difficult union, an arrangement put together by family members for the sake of the children. Few people were divorced in the Fifties, and each had a child from an earlier marriage. Mutual guilt has rarely motivated people to make sound decisions. My father has a step-sister from his father's first marriage who he has never even met. She has never made any overtures to connect with him, and, sixty years later, he doesn't expect it. My grandparents conformed to an ideal that was socially acceptable, but a bad fit for both.

A relationship that was the product of his mother's first marriage produced a half-sister, who hated her step-father. She and my father were estranged for years, and never reconnected before her untimely death by way of a premature heart attack. My aunt married five times before her death. The first was an effort to get out of her step-father's house at all cost. One disastrous marriage involved an ex-convict who proved to be an abusive sociopath. These are difficult issues to consider, as they strike at the heart of our personal development and understandings of self.

I may not have said my vows, but I have made substantial mistakes in relationships. When children become part of the equation, the stakes are propitiously raised. Parenting can be like a highly dramatic, incredibly competitive hand of poker, with all of the chips on the table, with a risk for great gain and great loss. Often, sufficient parenting is revealed years after the fact, not in the present tense. Children are not raised in isolation. They are raised by all of us, and it may indeed take a whole village.

Laid-back or Type A, granola or traditional, parenting is a reflection of who we are and how we ourselves were raised. My parents grew up in families where problems were swept under the rug and never confronted. They vowed that they would not take the same approach when it came their time to be parents. I appreciate the courageous stance they took, but have come to realize how many families simply do not follow this same basic model.

And that unfortuate lacking is clear in our governance, the patchwork of laws which are intended to maintain decency and morality. It is easier in the short term to not call things out, but it also encourages a kind of evasiveness that is not predicated upon honesty or trust. Having tried the old standards of mutual love and best intentions, I wonder what fruit truthfulness and integrity would bear. We may need to rethink our approach while recognizing the complications. We can't hide from ourselves any longer.