Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Poet McTeagle

The humor in this sketch is meant to criticize academics and literati who elevate the prosaic and the talentless for their own deluded reasons. The poet McTeagle goes about his life inquiring for money and going about his business in a very routine way, but some see his unspectacular "poetry" as works of art.

Factor in a grotesque critique of the Scots and herein lies the comedy. I've always enjoyed this one, especially after having watched or observed the latest art piece or film that the critics love but that I fail to understand. The elements of rape for comedic effect probably would not be included now, but the sketch itself is now over forty years old.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Time Is Sometimes the Only Resolution

Over the weekend, the subject of violence against transgender folks was raised within my Meeting. This was as a result of the recent unfortunate incident that occurred here in Washington, DC. On the Meeting listserve, several commenters, myself included, sought to educate those unaware with all the particulars. I was once again reminded of how generational differences sometimes complicate interactions. As a few of us tried our best to conduct an impromptu seminar on Trans 101, I recognized the benefits and the drawbacks of speaking in a space where almost everyone understands the same basic terminology. Factor in completely blameless ignorance with the passage of time, and you may understand why this unselfish act became something of a major chore.

I chose to use the word “queer” as meaning, essentially, “not straight”. Some read the word as a term of hate, not a reclaimed epithet. Subsequent research made me aware that the word has only been used in its most recent context since 1990. Twenty years seems like forever to some eyes, and only yesterday to others. Correct information trickles down slowly from activists to everyone else, it seems. Most knew something about the struggle of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, but transgender was a mystery. I did my best to overlook the “good liberal” back patting that inevitably breaks out at times like these, where everyone seems to feel a compulsion to point out their own connection to the source, proving just how open, accepting, and tolerant they are. I could have called people out for using the word “transgendered”, but it seemed petty to do so, and I could tell they appreciated the additional insight that would have otherwise not been present.

One of my best friends is something of a kindred spirit. It doesn’t matter that her hair has started to turn grey. In some ways, she is very much a woman of her age and in other ways, she retains a youthful spirit. Once I was scathingly criticizing some group or person, I forget which or whom, and she calmly asked me to reexamine my thinking. With time, she has been able to feel concern and pity for people, not an automatic desire to go for the kill. I told her that I observed where she was coming from and knew I needed to think more like she does. It is true that time allows us to look at other people more objectively. It would do us well to not rush to judgment or to castigate others, even those who are smug about the knowledge they impart in a public forum.

A generation or so removed from the action, one cannot relate easily to what is going on in front of them. There’s a sort of intellectual and emotional detachment present. Some people respond to this view condescendingly, as though they are the adults, observing the interplay of mere children. Some use this insight granted by age to sense precisely how every person has developed their personal views and opinions. For example, while a child, I could not understand the behavior of my classmates nearly as well as the teacher could. We may sympathize with the young child who bullies his classmates more so than the man in his mid-twenties who regularly starts fights at bars. With time, one hopes, we will feel compassion when all we felt before was indignation. We’ve all been wounded by someone with an ax to grind and a chip on his or her shoulder. One wishes with time that the ax will be tossed aside, as will the chip.

In the meantime, it’s always worth silent contemplation to wonder periodically whether our ultimate regard is for ourselves or for the people for whom we claim to be allies. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of wanting the adulation of others by means of impressive sounding causes and the details to follow. I’m sure there were some at my Meeting who believed I spoke about transgender issues purely so that others might think what a wonderful person I am. My intent was mostly to impart what I have learned, and to note that there was a time where I knew little to nothing myself, and carried some prejudicial attitudes and emotional biases with me. Someone could have easily torn into me either in person or online. But would I have learned better that way, or would I have taken the rebuke personally and ceased at that moment to be an ally?

I’m a male ally, but one who seems to have stuck around the longest. Periodically, another surfaces. Often he is full of anger and bitterness. The reasons vary, but the reaction is familiar. Should I write a post on explicitly male or masculine issues, three or four temporarily stop lurking. They may even contribute a post, but soon they return to the shadows. Does our age betray us? Or is it the anger that comes from misunderstanding, the fury that must be exorcised? If we look back at what we have written in twenty years, what will we think about ourselves? Is time the only real means to forgiveness?

Monday, August 29, 2011


Muppet lips
never knew how
to properly kiss

a matter of proportion
more than ignorance

You always were much
with your hair down

ten years younger

more comfortable
with your eyes rolled back
in your head

concluding remarks

the same gesture
each time
as if emerging
from underwater

the time you ambushed me
on the street

taking me by surprise
the passerby scoffed

sneak attack
our slogan

but need is not
necessarily harmful

desire strikes
at random

the latest fixation
the latest four hour Google search
the latest autodidact’s pursuit


and your singular focus
moved elsewhere

-29 August 2011

Health Update

A recent visitor to this site (troll) accused me of being sick too often. I think she meant to imply that I was a hypochondriac of a sort. I wish that was the case. Hypochondria is easy to treat.

Right now, I am feeling about eighteen shades of awful, having made the decision to taper down off of testosterone. The process will take six weeks from start to finish, as I gradually decrease the amount of hormone in each weekly injection. The fatigue, disorientation, and confusion mimic prior times I had to come off of antidepressants. It also explains the wordfinding difficulties I've been experiencing. For someone who is used to being articulate, it's difficult to need lots of time to think of words that usually roll off of my tongue.

The theory in this process is the specialist and me wondering whether Testosterone Replacement Therapy created more problems than it solved. I find it hard to believe that an Andrologist didn't know that withdrawal symptoms were likely. Until this is over, posting is going to be difficult. I'm surprised I'm able to type coherently right now, but I'm stubborn enough to want to get at least something done. To me, nothing is worse than lying in bed feeling completely useless.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lessons from Trauma Therapy

I recognize I’ve been talking frequently about trauma these days. Part of treatment involves me recognizing precisely how many events that were painful in my life that have been suppressed for years. Now they’re beginning to be remembered, one by one. Some of these are more intense than others. They all have a common thread, but some were pushed into my subconscious because of a learned, protective behavior. Having been through the worst, my brain takes no chances with even banal memories. Should I feel the tiniest bit raw and exposed, they are concealed or otherwise pushed back.

The source of the pain and the trauma that I’ve spoken about most was more retributive, I believe, than a genuine source of sexual attraction. In only one other time in my childhood and early teenage years did I come in contact with an older male who I believe genuinely desired me. That is, that I remember up to the present day. I was fourteen and gawky, insecure and not especially sure of self-worth and physical attractiveness. At the time I was an athlete, a football player. My father very much wanted me to follow in his footsteps, even seeking to assuage my discomfort by paying to have me attend a private gym. Along with the fees came daily guidance from a personal trainer, and a tradition had been long established wherein children and adolescents involved in every conceivable sport were encouraged to train there.

I think because of this fact alone, one such trainer sought employment there. If it had happened now, I think I’d be able to spot it a million miles away. I’ve had men for sexual partners and I’ve engaged in such flirtations myself. He was immediately interested in me and kept a constant banter going on between the two of us. Most men in such situations are rarely inclined towards much in the way of conversation, beyond the perfunctory. I just assumed he must find me strangely fascinating for some reason. Why else would he keep it going at it day after day? Nothing he said, subject wise, was particularly offensive, but I found his attention odd and not especially comfortable.

I remember asking my father about the behavior of the trainer, but I wasn’t old enough to properly articulate his conduct. My father stated that the person must be deeply interested in me. Ironically, Dad was right, but not as he assumed. Working class men with mustaches have always unsettled me from then going forward. Factor in a drawly Southern accent and the creepy factor only increases. I’m aware that I’m automatically making a judgment about a whole group of people, and I’m not being fair about it. By the end of therapy, I hope to be able to forgive and move on, but for now, I can’t escape a visceral, purely emotional response.

I’m not sure what happened, but the man was there one day and gone the next. Problems in the South are usually resolved in private, unless they are too excessive to be kept from the police and the press. Though I have no way of knowing this for certain, I think he was probably asked to leave. I may not have been the only adolescent boy to been the target of his affections. He may have crossed the line verbally, or his very public conduct towards relatively young boys may have been finally tolerated only so long. No one ever mentioned him again, but curiously none of the other trainers who worked there, including the owner, had ever thought to bring him up in conversation.

We know that such conduct has no regard for class, race, sexual orientation, and many other factors. But yet again, my mind made and has made broad associations based on an unpleasant experience. There was a time where I assumed that there was something inherently sinful or even evil present among the working class people I came in contact with on a frequent basis. This is not to say that I believed the inclination was true for all, but that it thrived there and not in the sterile suburbs I called home. I never romanticized my own middle class upbringing, of course. The older boy who caused me the worst trauma was also raised in similar circumstances.

With time, I’m beginning to put all of this together. I hadn’t thought of this anecdote in years. Even then, I remember how my brain deliberately sought to willfully forget his behavior. I had no say in the matter. The decision was made for me. The memory was quickly filed elsewhere and did not come up very much in daily thoughts. Today, if a man comes on to me too strongly, I’ll resort to the very same survival technique. I will feel extreme discomfort, I will seek to escape, and the memory itself will not be retained beyond the immediate. Part of my treatment involves bringing these images back and putting them together in their proper context, along with braving the light of day.

Quote of the Week

"One is ashamed to say how little is needed for all men to be delivered from those calamities which now oppress them; it is only needful not to lie."- Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Video

I'm gonna make a mistake
I'm gonna do it on purpose
I'm gonna waste my time

'Cause I'm full as a tick
And I'm scratching at thg surface
And what I find is mine

And when the day is done
And I look back
And the fact is I had fun
Fumbling around

All the advice I shunned
And I ran where they told me not to run
But I sure had fun

So I'm gonna f**k it up again
I'm gonna do another detour
Unpave my path

And if you wanna make sense
Whatcha looking at me for?
I'm no good at math

And when I find my way back
The fact is I just may stay
Or I may not

I've acquired quite a taste
For a well-made mistake

I wanna make a mistake
Why can't I make a mistake?

I'm always doing what I think I should
Almost always doing everybody good

Do I wanna do right?
Of course
But do I really wanna feel I'm forced to answer you?
Hell no

I've acquired quite a taste for
A well-made mistake
I wanna make a mistake
Why can't I make a mistake?

I'm always doing what I think I should
Almost always doing everybody good

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Few Thoughts on The Help

The film The Help has generated lots of publicity recently. I have not seen it, nor do I have much inclination to do so based on the way I've seen it portrayed in reviews. The sensitive topic of black maids harkens back to the pre-Civil Rights days that both of my parents remember. Here, it is smoothed away to a fanciful rendering of a saccharine truth. The major complaint has been that the African-American hired help must rely on a white woman to be treated as though they exist on the same level.

Along with this tired trope are several others which are offensive, but mostly long past their shelf life. I've been compelled to write because I can provide a perspective which I believe to be unique amidst every critique I have read. This premise is not an unfamiliar one to me. In those days, which in this context means the 1950's, being a maid was about the only work a Negro woman could find. In the Deep South, segregation was still the law of the land. My parents recall a series of maids, none of whom worked for the family for very long. Even the poorest white person could afford to pay a black maid, who were often used for inexpensive childcare.

Despite the inequality, both races did interact, and interact frequently. My Grandmother, for example, grew up largely without a mother. A black maid taught her how to cook. Both of my parents were supervised by black maids starting at the youngest of ages. The maids hired by both sets of grandparents were not treated badly, though I'm sure they were underpaid for their labor. They were second-class citizens according to the laws of the day, of course, which doesn’t excuse this belief. Nor were they members of the family, but they were nonetheless treated with basic dignity. And they shifted considerably. There wasn’t one trusted maid present for years and years. The reality was nothing like Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind. As an aside, McDaniel's most famous quote is quite applicable here. "I'd rather make $700 a week playing a maid than earn $7 a day being a maid."

An older man who has sadly passed away recently told me a different story. He and his wife decided that separate but equal would not be observed in their house. He would often recount how nervous the young woman was in their company, extremely uncomfortable with the arrangement. They invited her to have dinner with them at their kitchen table, not to eat a meal apart from them in a different part of the house. I know that problems still exist between white and black, but I'm glad that they rarely take the form of this anymore. What The Help neglects to consider is that it's possible to tell stories like these without the use of heavy gloss or by filtering it through the eyes of someone else. The painful truths present in bunches where I grew up, that being Birmingham, Alabama, have been avoided by way of collective amnesia. The horrors and shame dare not be mentioned. Those who were there remember, yet no one brings it up. Efforts to soften and revise history like these must not be allowed, but what really happened must also be shown in multiple dimensions.

Some voracious criticism has sought to attack the affectionate feelings between white and black. Such a debasing practice could never have been pleasant, they say. On one level, yes, but not necessarily to that degree. My father tells a story about coming home from college. He lived in a dry county where alcohol could not be legally purchased, which is the still the case in many Bible Belt states. One of his high school friends claimed to know the location of a bootlegger. They wanted to drink and were prepared to resort to illegal means to do so.

So several people piled into a car and eventually found the bootlegger’s house which was way on the outskirts of town. After being deemed “safe”, and allowed to enter the front door, they were escorted back to the kitchen, which apparently was where business took place. As it turns out, the woman in charge had been one of my father’s maids growing up.

She recognized him and called him over for a hug.

My father asked how she was doing. She got a triumphant look on her face and said, “I haven’t cleaned a floor in ten years!”

Trauma to any degree can easily be repressed. I've noticed that myself, as I myself am in therapy to address my own painful past. When it becomes collective, rather than merely individual, a vacuum results. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes, so often legends, myths, and half-truth fill that space. There is an effective way for us to stare down the legacy of a shameful past, and in ways that do not make us recoil from the agony. We should not be faulted for our impulses, but instead held to a higher standard. Our great strength can be measured in how we address the pain and suffering to find a suitable resolution.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Of course, it's quite interesting work, getting hold of lumps of coal all day. It's quite interesting. You see, God blew all the trees down. He didn't just say let's have some coal as he could have done. He had all the right contacts. No, he got this great wind going, you see, and blew down all the trees, then after a period of three million years, he changed it to coal so that it wasn't noticeable to the average passer-by.

It was all part of the scheme but people did not see it that way. People under the tree did not say "Hurrah! Coal in three million years!"

Instead, they tended to exclaim, "Oh dear, trees falling on us. That's the last thing we want." And it was often the last thing they got.- Peter Cook

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Earthquake Narrative: Washington, DC

Having never experienced an earthquake before yesterday afternoon, I don’t have a lot of creative metaphors to share. That's usually what one turns to in order to describe an unusual event for the audience. The most immediate one I can think of is that the tremor itself felt like being on a broken rollercoaster. I had all of a second to brace myself. People around me took one hard step to the left and crouched down. I did the same. The wisdom or folly of this act I did not have time to contemplate. For all of four to five seconds, the world slowed down and the intensity of the earthquake rendered all human decisions insignificant.

I imagine that it must feel the same while in the direct presence of God. But to return to my narrative, I was outside at the time, waiting for a bus to arrive. Ten other people were standing nearby, all doing the very same thing. Directly in front of me was a yellow brick high-rise apartment complex of perhaps ten stories, and slightly to my right, a school for young children. During the experience, my eye kept being drawn to the apartments, fearing flying debris from a collapsing structure. That was my first thought as to what had occurred, but after the rumbling stopped, the apartment remained unscathed. I peered down the street to my left, expecting rubble to have piled up. Nothing there, either.

For ten to fifteen seconds or more everyone looked dazed and uncertain what to think. Something in the back of my mind managed to put two and two together. “I bet it was an earthquake”, I said, to the person next to me. Expecting some sort of confirmation, I received nothing. At that time I was in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, one full of recent immigrants to the area. It is entirely likely that my remarks were not fully understood. Either that, or it was unlikely two very different cultures even regularly spoke to each other much. I expected someone to validate my thoughts, to say “You know, you could be right.” But I received no feedback, only stares.

A bell at the school across the street began to ring, signifying that it was being evacuated. Slowly, quietly, a group of children filed out. One girl had apparently been a little shaken up, and was being propped up under each arm by a teacher. She was escorted a small distance away from the rest of the students, located alongside the railing of a black iron fence. She didn’t seem to be in pain, just dazed. Truthfully, we were all a little dazed from the experience. At that moment, someone with access to the news confirmed to all that we had, indeed, experienced an earthquake. I took my cell phone out and started dialing, trying to see if everyone I knew was okay. The network was nonfunctional. I wasn’t very surprised. I figured the quake had knocked out cell towers.

By then, I began to wonder what the rest of the city looked like. Before I could wonder too long, the bus arrived, I entered, and took my seat. The mind sometimes strays in strange directions after a major event. I began to wonder about whether we were experiencing the beginning of the End Times. I wasn't even raised to believe in them, but there have been so many predictions recently, some serious, some clearly in jest. I have to say that it's also been at the back of my mind. The worse things get, the more I wish for something to save us from ourselves.

The Book of Revelation talks about the arrival of earthquakes precluding the End of the World. Seismic activity like this and on this scale is unheard of on the East Coast. I quickly squelched this line of thought, but it is curious how we reach for answers when none have yet been provided. Humanity has managed to approximate closely the conditions and experiences of nature's wrath, but we are still subservient to it.

DC residents are not unfriendly, but usually stay in their own heads, on their own way to somewhere else. After a crisis, there is a compelling need to process and to form community. It was quite unusual yesterday to be approached randomly for a conversation by a stranger on multiple occasions. One woman, a young mother with a baby in a stroller, asked me whether it was safer to be outside during an earthquake or inside. At that stage, we were all concerned about the threat of aftershocks.

A group of teenagers in a car called out, asking me whether I’d felt the earthquake. I indicated that I had and provided a brief description. They seemed disappointed, apparently having been in the car at the time and missed it. Based on what I’d recently been through, it seemed silly that anyone would voluntarily want to experience what I had. I could still remember the sickening, nauseating sensation of being out of control, and the fear that if the shaking continued longer, I would lose my balance and fall.

I spent the next several hours at a restaurant nearby to wait it out. When aftershocks seemed to be few and far between, I left for the apartment. Most everything was okay, but the earthquake knocked over a sewing kit, a few books, and every single shampoo bottle in the shower. The bathroom seemed to have fared the worst of every room, just in general. I was very lucky. The city was very lucky. For all the talk of East Coast panic, I think we handled it properly. It was an unfamiliar situation and we had no prior system in place. We had no prior knowledge upon which to base our judgments. And I, for one, am in no hurry to go through another.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Say Yes

Here is my first performance video in a while. I might otherwise be dissatisfied with my vocal performance, except that the original artist was not known for having a strong voice. It seems to work in this context. Elliot Smith has a fragile and very high tenor, which is barely in my range.

Otherwise, I wish I could say that I do not relate to the fears of abandonment and low self-esteem present here. But I do. At least they are not as pronounced as they used to be.

I'm in love with the world
through the eyes of a girl
who's still around the morning after

We broke up a month ago
and I grew up I didn't know
I'd be around the morning after

It's always been wait and see
a happy day and then you pay
and feel like shit the morning after

but now I feel changed around and
instead falling down
I'm standing up the morning after

situations get fucked up and
turned around sooner or later
and I could be another fool
or an exception to the rule

You tell me the morning after

Crooked spin can't come to rest
I'm damaged bad at best

She'll decide what she wants
I'll probably be the last to know
no one says until it shows

and you see how it is
You tell me the morning after

they want you or they don't
say yes

I'm in love with the world
through the eyes of a girl

who's still around the morning after

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lincoln 2.0? Not Yet

In the heady days of early 2009, comparisons were made between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. While both shared the gift of rhetorical brilliance, the two were mentioned in the same breath because neither had previously achieved much in the way of a substantial political resume. Lincoln had only served one term in the House. Obama had only served one term in the Senate. Neither man achieved his office as a front-runner. I even remember visiting the location of a Presidential ball to be held in a museum a month or two before Obama was formally sworn in. It had rather haughtily been titled “Lincoln 2.0” Now, few would use such a turn of phrase.

The comparisons were flimsy then and they are much less plentiful today. One could conceivably call Barack Obama a wartime President, but Iraq and Afghanistan are nothing compared to a bloody, divisive Civil War that tore the country in two. Lincoln backed up his words with action, though he also made mistakes while in office. For example, it took nearly half the conflict to find a suitable general. Then, the war consumed the American consciousness. Nothing held the public attention more. Now, war is a tertiary issue far overshadowed by economic woes. Obama has much to learn from Lincoln, not from his “Team of Rivals” concept, but from his dexterity as a politician. Lincoln may have been understated in his approach, but everyone always knew who was really in charge. There’s a difference between being gracious and being detached from the process.

Obama was criticized some months ago for being the Deist President. Or, in other words, he set everything in motion and let the rest of the political establishment govern itself. In an ideal world, professionals would be proactive enough to perform their stated job titles. But I still believe that a strong executive needs to set a course and must intercede regularly when necessary. Otherwise, what gets accomplished is minimal and characterized by fractious squabbling. Even leaders need guidance. It is a truism of humanity that effective leaders are few in number and always have been so. Lincoln’s genius was for not just keeping his cool, but for understanding that every person in a position of authority must be periodically approached and sometimes even confronted. Lincoln may have been a diplomat, but on substantive matters, he was not a compromiser.

The parallels to the current day now are quite different. Though still the odds-on favorite for four more years, an increasingly vulnerable Obama seems incapable of shaping his fate. The longer that financial woes and dismal job numbers persist, the further his stock declines in value. Winning a second term office was also much in doubt, for a time, as regards Lincoln. As for the latter, he was beset by a faction of the Democratic Party who was weary of war and wished to negotiate peace terms with the Confederacy. Had not the Union won a crushing, decisive victory at the Battle of Atlanta and had not the port city of Mobile, Alabama, been captured Abraham Lincoln may never have made it to a second term in office. President Obama will need to point to more than the killing of Osama Bin Laden to make a case to the American people.

Obama might also need to take a page out of Lincoln’s playbook, namely Honest Abe’s patronage system. Initially, Lincoln had believed that dispensing political appointments to supporters was undemocratic, but he learned quickly that its function was absolutely essential to keeping intact a base of support. So by the time he became President, Lincoln became not just a superb mentor but also skilled in knowing what political assignments to grant to whom. That all of these appointments happened to be Republican was no surprise. President Obama still seems to hope that we live in a post-partisan world beyond these trifling distinctions. Any successful Chief Executive must learn to balance the factionalism and rivalry that are the hallmark of every political machine. Coalitions do not build themselves.

Should President Obama win a second term, he will need to learn to reshape his entire perspective. Civility and proper conduct means little for those who do not believe in them. Seeming above the fray is sometimes a good strategy, but it doesn’t need to be a long-term state of being. There is a way to rule as the adult in the room and still recognize that adults need supervision, too. A strong Executive Branch can be problematic, but it need not be. Every single one of our very best Presidents has understood the need to take charge, but to also not run roughshod over the responsibilities of others in the process. Should Obama recognize this, prepare yourself once again for Lincoln 2.0.

Article first published as Lincoln 2.0? Not Yet on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quote of the Week

Abraham Lincoln was known for many things, but dancing was not one of them. He approached Mary Todd, the woman who would eventually become his wife, at a party.

"Miss Mary," he said, " I would like to dance with you in the worst way."

No false advertising there.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Daring to Confront the Hard Truths

In Birmingham, Alabama, a Roman Catholic priest has apparently strayed from his vows. In a story that has slowly developed over the past few days, the father seems to have been carrying on a relationship with the wife of another man. Apparently this relationship continued even after the priest was warned formally to cease and desist by his superiors. He declined to do so, and was recently severely beaten by what is likely to have been the woman’s husband. The sordid aspect of the case may obscure several larger issues. The Catholic Church, or for that matter, any church or faith group is often loathe to make needed internal reforms.

I have always believed that any religious gathering that insists upon clergy celibacy is operating on an assumption of wishful thinking. I recognize that Paul of Tarsus chose to stay a virgin for the whole of his life, but the liberal Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong has provocatively suggested that Paul may have been a closeted homosexual. One has no way of knowing this for sure, but it is a compelling argument to be made. The focus on remaining a virgin at all costs is a discipline of inward purity, but discipline aside, inward urges and human desires supersede even that. The same chastity vows that right-wing young adult Christians routinely espouse are evidence of this effort in self-denial.

For a time, I attended a church where virginity and abstaining from sexual conduct of any form were desired states. Naturally, I overstepped those boundaries without much in the way of guilt or remorse. I was caught sexually experimenting with my girlfriend of the time. What I did not receive, thankfully, was fury and anger. Instead I received a calm lecture explaining that I had been wrong and to not sin again.

I’m not sure what it is about religious gatherings and the greater organizations to which they belong. They seem to be compelled to sweep as much as they can under the rug. Quakers, of which I am a member, function on a curious premise. We have long fuses with people and notoriously short fuses around politics. This may be because it’s easy to argue about something that is abstract and safe. When real people with whom we have real interactions are involved, we often take the path of least resistance. But ultimately, someone’s got to step and draw the line. People have postulated for years why this is, and I have a theory or two.

One of them is the dread fear of litigation. Bad press in any form should be avoided. This goes for government agencies, public school systems, and organized religion. It is true that we live in a society where we’d rather pay someone to help us resolve disputes with someone else than step in and do healing and reconciliation ourselves. Or, if we choose another path altogether, duke it out with our adversary with dueling pistols, fists raises, or sword in hand. That an extensive profession exists to assist us with properly airing our grievances and separating winners from losers explains how far we’ve progressed. Sometimes I question if there really is such a thing as a necessary evil, world-weary pragmatism aside.

Trust and care is what we’re seeking. We have always been in search of these. But the larger we grow as a people, the farther that divide grows. We live in a hierarchical world where everything and everyone has a place and a basic function. This way, we can separate what matters from what is unimportant. When it concerns a vocation, that's one thing. But when those attitudes color the very human contact we need, it is something else entirely.

The other day, for example, I ran into someone from my Quaker Meeting, purely by chance. I was in a part of town I ordinarily would not have been at that time. She was quite pleased to see me and both of us enjoyed the five minute conversation that ensued. The first words out of her mouth were “I never run into anyone in DC!” And this is indeed true. Even in a relatively moderate sized city, we are all too busy running to very specific places on specific paths, such that the only people we really see are those with whom we work closely.

To return to the story of the adulterous priest, he may well have been beaten within an inch of his life even if he had been allowed to have relationships with women. It’s easy to jump to conclusions. The comments left underneath news articles reporting this event are full of posters seeking to derail the subject. They want to talk about the way that pedophile priests are shielded from prosecution. It’s a worthy topic, but has nothing to do with this specific event. It’s less problematic to speak about an issue in which one can be validated by others. My father, for example, was proof positive that it is easier to argue about irrelevant topics first, in place of the greater issues that are at the real heart of the matter.

But to speak to the heart of infidelity, in any context, that’s an issue more inclined to introspection than knee-jerk moralizing. We owe it to ourselves to place the focus where it needs to be, especially if that places us in uncomfortable states. These would have us do the difficult work of looking within ourselves first. Nothing can ever really proceed if brave inward listening is not part of the greater plan. We should not obscure truth by hairsplitting or by speaking only to that which promises little to no pain or even less emotional involvement. We are not robots. We are thinking, feeling, intuitive beings. We now need to act like it.

Article first published as Daring to Confront the Hard Truths on Blogcritics.

Saturday Video

Uptown got it's hustlers
The bowery got it's bums
42nd Street got Big Jim Walker
He's a pool-shootin' son of a gun

Yeah, he big and dumb as a man can come
But he stronger than a country hoss
And when the bad folks all get together at night
You know they all call big Jim "Boss", just because
And they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well outta South Alabama came a country boy
He say I'm lookin' for a man named Jim
I am a pool-shootin' boy
My name Willie McCoy

But down home they call me Slim
Yeah I'm lookin' for the king of 42nd Street
He drivin' a drop top Cadillac
Last week he took all my money

And it may sound funny
But I come to get my money back
And everybody say Jack don't you know

And you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin' in off the street
And when the cuttin' were done
The only part that wasn't bloody

Was the soles of the big man's feet
Yeah he were cut in in bout a hundred places
And he were shot in a couple more

And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When big Jim hit the floor now they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind

You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at

And it's not hustlin' people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue

Yeah you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind

You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Friday, August 19, 2011

I Wouldn't, Buy, Sell, Borrow, or Trade

Motion Pictures by Cabaretic

Motion pictures
on my TV screen,
A home away from home,
livin' in between
But I hear some people
have got their dream.
I've got mine.

I hear the mountains
are doin' fine,
Mornin' glory
is on the vine,
And the dew is fallin',
the ducks are callin'.
Yes, I've got mine.

Well, all those people,
they think
they got it made
But I wouldn't buy,
sell, borrow or trade
Anything I have
to be like one of them.
I'd rather
start all over again.

Well, all those headlines,
they just bore me now
I'm deep inside myself,
but I'll get out somehow,
And I'll stand before you,
and I'll bring
a smile to your eyes.
Motion pictures,
motion pictures.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Past Time for Real Reform in College Football

The recent scandal at the University of Miami in some ways does not surprise me. Miami was, for years, considered one of the dirtiest programs in all of college football. The phrase “thugs in uniform” was often assigned. Through its glory days in the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Hurricanes were the championship team everyone loved to hate. I was far from shocked to read about the case of a booster who claims he provided the team extensive "extra favors". If true, some have even asserted that these infractions are so massive and damaging that the team may receive the death penalty, or the inability to field a team for a full season.

I shake my head at this development, because it shows the lengths to which the sport has degenerated over the years. Granted, players have been paid under the table for years. Precisely who got caught and who did not is currently a job responsibility of coaching staffs and others on salary specifically hired to keep these sort of thing from becoming public knowledge. Babysitting service is one of their many hats worn. Some have gone public five to ten years after the fact, well after the long arm of the NCAA can mete out punishment. Sometimes rogue boosters talk out of bitterness, which is the source of this Miami mess. Whether the story is completely true or not, I know enough to believe that many of these allegations are entirely factual.

I will freely admit that I take the game too seriously. I may well be part of the problem, not the solution. The culture in which I grew up placed its hopes and dreams upon a group of 18-22 year olds in shoulder pads and helmets. To this day, nothing quite describes the way I feel as the players storm through the tunnel on their way to the playing field, the blaring fight song introducing the formal beginning of the game. I grew up bleeding Crimson (Tide), an Alabama fan from the womb, seemingly. When I look beyond, I think about my priorities and development at the same age as the players, and recognize how far I was from being capable of making good decisions. When boosters dangle sex, drugs, and money in front of players, I honestly can’t blame them for accepting the offer. Many have devoted their lives to playing the game and have no fall back of which to speak.

Though usually not discussed, there are distressing aspects of class and race present. Most of Alabama’s players are black, usually hailing from backgrounds that could never be described as affluent. The very best players among these seek to stand out on the playing field in such a way that they eventually enter the elite ranks of the NFL. Many are called, but few are chosen. One can choose to interpret this racial component as one will, but even now, the best way out of bad situations for a person of color is still to pursue a career in sports or entertainment. Some players have been known to leave college without a degree specifically to send money home. It isn’t all about narcissism, but the amount of attention, hype, and expectation focused upon a group of overgrown boys fresh out of high school makes me wonder how anyone can manage the pressure.

We are all rogue boosters of a sort. We may not be directly involved in the process, but we do not speak out against the problem. When the face value of tickets doubles in ten years, we fork out whatever it takes to buy season tickets. When even being able to receive tickets first requires thousands of dollars in donations to the university, we dig down deep and write a check. When we acquiesce to a double standard by which athletes can be treated like royalty, and average students have to do their own study without tutors, we are complicit in the system. When we forget that, at bottom, what we observe every Saturday in the fall is nothing more than a game, we do no one any favors.

Collegiate athletics is awash in revenue, but football has become its most reliable source. It may be too late to undo the precedent that has already been set. What we have before us now is an odd amalgamation. On one level, it is a semi-pro league, more like minor league professional football, but yet it is treated with all the same fanaticism and obsession of every NFL game. I am more and more inclined to believe that players need to be paid, since it seems futile to stop something that has been around for years. When universities and colleges make the decision to spend whatever it takes to hire the best coaches, knowing that successful teams produce consistent streams of revenue, we cannot ignore where they place their priorities.

Many arguments on this subject are predicated on a concept of fairness. Fairness ceased to exist decades ago. When college athletes were made to believe that they were important, special, and celebrities of a sort, equality went out the windows. What we have now among athletes is a kind of honor code arrangement that they will not stray. With much profit to be made, personal integrity only goes so far. I defend athletes because should they not manage to cover their tracks, the entire program suffers as a result. Not all offenses are the same and the university can be penalized in any circumstance, for any reason. I do not despise the NCAA, but I often feel like its policies and threats of punishment are based on assumptions that do not play out in reality.

Changes must be made. Sanity must be restored. We must concede that the sport itself rests upon multiple ironies and double standards. Whatever decisions are made will not provide a neat, tidy, concise resolution. Whenever money is involved, what is decreed will be messy. The past cannot be undone, but responsible actions can prevent growing corruption. The scab has been ripped off and everyone is sickened at the sight. What we cannot do is ignore the problem and hope that it goes away. The roots of this took hold long ago. We may not have created this monster, but we must intercede.

The Ego Game

All through the day
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
All through the night
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

Now they're frightened of leaving it
Everyone's weaving it
Coming on strong all the time
All through the day, I me mine

I me me mine, I me me mine
I me me mine, I me me mine

All I can hear
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
Even those tears
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

No one's frightened of playing it
Everyone's saying it
Flowing more freely than wine
All through the day, I me mine

I me me mine, I me me mine
I me me mine, I me me mine

All I can hear
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
Even those tears
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

No one's frightened of playing it
Everyone's saying it
Flowing more freely than wine
All through your life, I me mine

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Simplicity Even in Complicated Decisions

In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. So the gift of speaking in other languages is a sign for unbelievers, not for believers. The gift of speaking what God has revealed is a sign for believers, not for unbelievers.


Over the weekend, several members of my Monthly Meeting met to discuss an important matter. The Peace and Social (Justice) Concerns committee had been left recently without any members. It was believed that in the seat of government, to not have a counter-weight to the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and the Oval Office was beyond reproach. I agree that in the abstract, having a presence would be ideal. However, I and others felt that it was time to reevaluate the role of the committee in the daily life of the Meeting. A Meeting for Discernment called for this precise purpose yielded some interesting commentary, but few concrete answers.

In times past, Peace and Social Concerns had been a haven for sometimes inflexible ideologues. Those who held strong political opinions naturally gravitated to the committee, each of whom had their own rather massive ax to grind. I often wonder if this was to the group’s detriment. As pacifists, Friends can feel isolated and out-of-step with the rest of the world. Critiquing the dangerous aspects of the Military-Industrial Complex feels cleansing sometimes, but the means by which we lash out can be just as violent. That was, in particular, an issue on the minds of a few as we sat in silence, contemplating the queries set before us.

Afterward, the Meeting over, a Friend correctly noted that we focused more on the micro details and less on the big picture. Washington culture is partially to blame. The occupations of many members and regular attenders require the skill to solve very specific, esoteric problems. Many are experts in his or her field, which is invariably highly specialized. This is one of the drawbacks of having an intensely cerebral Meeting. Friends sometimes confuse intellect, which comes from the self, with Spirit. The Meeting also reflects a strong secular character, which in this case is often the sign of people who ascribe their success to personal achievement, not so much to God’s role in their lives. I have often grown frustrated with people who could have what they crave so intently, but fail to see it. It is, as the metaphor goes, like standing in the middle of a raging river, while dying of thirst. All anyone needs to do is reach out.

During the Meeting for Discernment, we highlighted the basic problem with some success and much creativity, but few solutions were proposed. I did not doubt the presence of the Spirit in all that was said, but it felt misdirected to me, channeled in unhelpful directions. Approximately one Friend agreed to be part of the committee, should it not be laid down, but he is of the same persuasion as most others who have previously served. One can only work with what one has, but inner work is often more imperative than outer work. Many Friends work for Peace and Social Justice in their outer worlds, be it an occupation, volunteer activity, or both. But much of addressing what Peace really is, in particular, requires that we ask ourselves some tough queries.

On the subject of committee service, I must admit I only have one other model in front of me. While a member of a much smaller Monthly Meeting, the same ten people shared responsibilities because they had no other choice. Had they not agreed to take part, nothing would have ever gotten done. I was invited to participate in the process, and would have gladly had I not left to move up here. It always seemed to me that everyone went about their service cheerfully with no complaints. In an example of how the grass is always greener, they often lamented that if only they had more members, so much more could be accomplished. I have learned since then that the more people involved in the process, the less actually ends up getting done. This isn’t always the case, but it does nonetheless make matters unnecessarily complicated.

While a member of Birmingham Friends, the Meeting functioned in an organic, uncluttered sort of way. Only rudimentary scheduling needed to be done beforehand. Meeting with a Concern for Business lasted all of an hour and never exceeded it. Though we’d never use the word ritual, what I’ve experienced since being in DC is a kind of strict formalism in the way that the Meeting functions. One needs to learn the terms, work the system, and memorize the roles of pertinent players. It’s a very bureaucratic setup, and it makes sense in the context of the structure of the world around it. However, it often complicates what could be much more Simple. Despite the open-ended nature of the queries for contemplation, an intellectual exercise is what Meeting for Discernment became. Relying on the Spirit is fine, but giving people a broader platform with insufficient guidance seemed to be problematic here.

Returning to Peace and Social Concerns, perhaps the committee needs to be dissolved for a while. Older members have stated that it has been laid down before in recent memory. This entire process reminds me that sometimes less is more. Out of so many beautiful words and phrases I've encountered recently, the Testimony of Simplicity seems apt. Though I enjoy the terminology, history, and application of Quaker Process, there may be instances where it does not have to be relied upon as a singular means of discernment. Say what you will about giving everyone an equal voice, sometimes three voices are sufficient, and thirty are absolutely excessive. Yet, I know we are learning from each other, and at minimum I know more about those who sat around the circle with me. That information may be the most helpful of all.