Thursday, October 31, 2013


Love is real
Real is love

Love is feeling
Feeling love

Love is wanting
To be loved

Love is touch
Touch is love

Love is reaching
Reaching love

Love is asking
To be loved

Love is you
You and me

Love is knowing
We can be

Love is free
Free is love

Love is living
Living love

Love is needing
To be loved

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

If Life Were a Rejection Letter

I'm a bit pressed for time today, but I did want to share something with you. The brilliant premise of this article is to imagine if rejection letters were received for all of life's missteps, beginning at childhood and ending in old age. The entire piece can be found in the October 2013 issue of The Sun Magazine. The author is Brenda Miller.


Dear Ninth-Grade Girl:

We regret to inform you that no suitable match has been found to accompany you to the school dance. The volume of requests we receive makes individual feedback impossible, but please know that you were given careful consideration. Do feel free to attend on your own, perhaps with another rejectee, and stand awkwardly in a corner with a glass of warm punch in your sweaty hand. Watching others have a good time is excellent preparation for the roles you will play in the future.


The Boys' Council of Patrick Henry Junior High

Dear Potential Mom:

Thank you for providing a host home for each of us during the few weeks we stayed in residence. It was lovely but, in the end, didn't quite work out. Though we tried to be unobtrusive in our exit, the narrowness of your Fallopian tubes made some damage unavoidable. Sorry about that. You know you were too young to have children anyway, right? And you know it wasn't your fault, not really. (Though you could have been a tad more careful in your carnal acts. But no matter. Water under the bridge.)

We enjoyed our brief stay in your body and wish you the best of luck in conceiving children in the future.

With gratitude,

Ira and Isabelle

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


As I observe this image, taken today, I notice significant changes in my body. I was placed on testosterone a little over three years ago. It caused my face to grow wider and my head to increase in size. For the first two years, I was well enough to go to the gym on a regular basis. Because of constant exercise and a weight routine, I added significant muscle mass. The most prominent change is that I gained 45 pounds within months, most of which was lean muscle.

The changes are permanent. Now, I can understand why some athletes will use testosterone illegally in order to gain an advantage over the competition. As I view this new image of myself, what stares back at me often isn't analogous with how I see my body image in my head. I worry that I come across as fat. And while I won't lie and say I haven't put on a few pounds here and there that are not muscle, the truth is that my frame and shoulders can easily accommodate this increased girth. This is the form my body is supposed to take. And still I want to be thinner.

You'd think I'd be pleased with the changes, and to some extent I am. But how I appear to the world has rarely been my desired state. During periods of mania or the introduction of some new medication, I've lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time. Those have been the times I've been most pleased with how I look, and it should be noted that in both scenarios, my medical health was not where it needed to be. That is absolute madness and yet so many Americans will entertain craziness for the sake of self-esteem.

A feminist audience probably understands this conundrum well. Even so, this is not only a female problem. Early in his career, the British comic actor Peter Sellers was overweight. He decided to lose as much weight as possible to further his stature, and did so by abusing uppers and poppers (amyl nitrite). The role of leading man required a slim and trim physique. Before, Sellers had been pigeonholed as only a character actor. With time, his drug habit weakened his heart substantially. Sellers nearly died of a heart attack in middle age, then eventually passed away at a relatively young age because of his addictions.

While I won't pretend to know what it's like to be a woman, I have nonetheless been a first-hand witness to many persistent issues of body acceptance. Girlfriends and platonic friends have both confided in me, and I have done my best to understand. My new therapist is Indian, and by that I mean she is from the country India. She says that body image in her home country is simply not stressed and obsessed the way it is in Western society. Though I'm always careful not to idolize cultures not like my own without first knowing all the facts, I wish we could embrace that belief.

Body image makes hypocrites of us all. If I see an attractive stranger while out and about, his or her weight is not usually the first thing I notice. I'm capable of seeing beauty in many forms, and yet, herein lies the paradox. I can extend the same courtesy to others, but I can't do it for myself. I might delight in the curvaceous and voluptuous form of a stranger, but I can't view my own body in the same way. At times, I wish I had the ability to temporarily step outside myself.

If I took the form of another person's body for a short time, would, at the conclusion, would I view myself as more appealing? Maybe we're all a little body dysmorphic. And if I did recognize that I'm not the ogre I think I am, would that finally convince me that I'm okay the way I am? I have enough problems with health as is than to devote extra time beating up on myself for not fitting some ideal standard. The major problem with me is that I love attention and I love being validated as attractive. I crave that sensation as much as any drug. I'd be willing to bet that massive quantities of some brain chemical are released in the process, making praise and flattery chemically addicting.

And yet, I know I'm likely not that unusual. Over time, I've learned that men beat themselves up the same way as women for not fitting a standard, even straight men. Still, I know women have it much worse. Perhaps if we all could shed our conditioning, regardless of sex and gender, our cravings might take different forms. There will always be things to worry about, but weight and body image wouldn't be one of them.

Comes a Time

Comes a time
when you're driftin'
Comes a time
when you settle down

Comes a light
feelin's liftin'
Lift that baby
right up off the ground.

Oh, this old world
keeps spinning round
It's a wonder tall trees
ain't layin' down
There comes a time.

You and I we were captured
We took our souls
and we flew away

We were right
we were giving
That's how we kept
what we gave away.

Oh, this old world
keeps spinning round
It's a wonder tall trees
ain't layin' down
There comes a time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Holy Ghost on the Eve of Halloween

On Thursday, we will celebrate another Halloween. Children are no doubt hard at work already making plans to accrue as much candy as humanly possible. When I was that age, all the boys in the neighborhood planned for this holiday like the Allied forces prior to the amphibious assault upon Normandy. Sugary treats and childhood fantasies are only one aspect of a surprisingly reverent holiday. Its peculiar nature calls for further analysis.

Growing up, I was raised to believe in the existence of the Trinity. Though it was never properly explained to me, I went through the motions, believing that enough repetition in ritual would lead to the insight I was seeking. The Methodist church in which I came of age reinforced this notion by the singing of the Doxology, every Sunday. I still hear the big, booming, resonant organ. At times it nearly drowned out the parishioners doing their best to sing along with the musical accompaniment.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Quakers place particular emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, or its shorthand form, "Spirit." Vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship is supposed to be Spirit-led. Corporately and individually, we are all to to use Spirit as our guide in every decision. The concept of the Holy Ghost, however, is a matter I have been contemplating for a long time. Ghosts on television programs and movies are most often harbingers of bad news. On Halloween, ghosts are people wearing white sheets, most of their features concealed by fabric and face paint.

I return to the notion of Holy Ghost. It depends, I suppose, on how one defines the concept. If by "ghost" we mean a Divine presence that exists on a plane beyond rational analysis, that is one thing. The word "specter" or "apparition" connotes, in the minds of many, goblins, evil forces, and witchcraft. Some Evangelical Christian families in my hometown refused to celebrate Halloween, believing it to be little more than a blasphemous pagan holiday.

A Puritanical strain informs many religions and Christian denominations. If you root around long enough in anyone's religious history, there are always archaic aspects long since renounced. For us, a Quaker tradition exists of not using pagan names for days of the week and months of the year. Or, to put it another way, Sunday is First Day. October is Tenth Month. The more theologically conservative branches of Quakerism continue to keep that tradition up and running. The more liberal branches have largely discarded it.

Perhaps our definition of Holy Ghost is due for an upgrade. I think that for some who are made visibly uncomfortable by too much Christian terminology, saying "Spirit" instead of "Holy Spirit" minimizes God-talk. Even as someone who is entirely okay with sounding and seeming religious, the term "Holy Ghost" is both archaic and easily misunderstood. But it need not be.

From my own research, I've learned that Holy Ghost comes from the Old English gast, which means “spirit." It seems that the word's origins were neither pejorative, nor scary. Instead, it was meant to connote something very powerful and otherworldly. The Gospel of John, an influential book to Early Friends, reveals the Scriptural origins of the concept.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative--that is, the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you, "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.
The Holy Ghost is referred to as a comforter in numerous instances within the Bible. In accordance with Christian teachings, Jesus did not depart this Earth leaving us alone and defenseless. The still, small voice of God remains. Locating the Holy Ghost or Spirit within oneself is the foremost challenge for all who seek it. I have found in my own experience that the first step is the hardest, and that subsequent steps are much more manageable. Spiritual maturation is much the same as maturation in one's daily life and dealings.

In the meantime, does it change our comprehension of Halloween to view the supernatural as reverent, rather than ghoulish? We seem to have conceded that macabre and sinister, even with tongue firmly planted in cheek, are the only forms Ghost can take. If we instead saw the forces that we parody as holy, rather than a huge joke, or an excuse to experience fear in a controlled environment, would that give us an understanding beyond the superficial? There's no reason we shouldn't take the opportunity to have fun, but God is everywhere, even where some would deny him his rightful place.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quote of the Week

“I used to think it a pity that her mother rather than she had not thought of birth control.”

-Muriel Spark

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Video

If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by

Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye

Walk on by
Walk on by
Walk on by

I just can't get over losing you
And so if I seem broken in two
Walk on by, walk on by

Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye

Walk on by
And walk on
Walk on by

Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Say It's Your Birthday

33 years old today. I remember turning 19 and being excited because I could finally purchase cigarettes legally. And then I remember being excited when turning 21 because I could finally drink legally. Now I do neither and birthday are much more anticlimactic. But, for what it's worth...

EDIT: I am taking today to submit to literary journals. After a while, it feels like applying for a job.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wedding Bell Blues

Sometimes it's fun to play with gender.

Bill, I love you so
I always will
I look at you and see
the passion eyes of May

Oh but am I ever gonna see
my wedding day?
Oh I was on your side, Bill
when you were losin'

I'd never scheme or lie, Bill
There's been no foolin'
but kisses and love won't carry me
till you marry me, Bill

Bill, I love you so
I always will
and in your voice I hear
a choir of carousels

Oh but am I ever gonna hear
my wedding bells?
I was the one came runnin'
when you were lonely

I haven't lived one day
not loving you only
but kisses and love won't carry me
till you marry me, Bill

Bill, I love you so
I always will
and though devotion rules my heart
I take no bows

Oh, but Bill you know
I wanna take my wedding vows
Come on Bill
Come on Bill
I got the wedding bell blues

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Country Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

I have a slightly audacious proposal to lay before you. In it, I contend that the very same factions that nearly rent this country asunder before it even had the chance to get going--they are alive and well today. At the beginning of our Republic, our country was deeply divided between those who favored a strong centralized government or those who preferred that most enumerated powers ought to rest with the states. The former were called Federalists, the latter were called Republicans. The terms are not important, but their political attitudes are very much so.

Today, the continuing discussion over Obamacare is the latest permutation of this volcano. It may not have yet erupted in spectacular fashion, but neither has it lay dormant, either. Many of the arguments being thrown around in recent days and weeks have their nexus only a few years after the American Revolution. The Article of Confederation, our country’s first constitution, was deliberately weak and toothless. Most sovereignty lay in the hands of individual state governments. Ensuring that taxes were paid and armies raised to put down rebellions was next to impossible. This is why something else had to be devised.

The Tea Party would have us return to those days, before we had enough good sense to know that our current system was entirely untenable. Fortunately for the rest of us, a Federalist system was put into place that sought to establish one of the most tenuous of all political compromises. A centralized government located in Washington, DC, would be granted significant powers. Granting a concession to those who opposed the Constitution and lobbied against its ratification, the Bill of Rights that followed was careful to seek to extend a seat at the table to everyone. States’ rights were protected in the form of the Tenth Amendment.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This amendment sounds even-handed enough, but because it clocks in at in less than thirty words, an immense amount of grey area remains. Since then, as is the case with evolving precedent, we’ve been defining and redefining what that balance ought to be and what the amendment really says. The Tenth Amendment is frequently given primacy by modern-day conservatives. Liberals acknowledge that states do have particular rights granted to them. Indeed, they ought to be entitled to a degree of self-determination. However, they view, with great suspicion, efforts by some to use the Bill of Rights to further their own extreme causes and justify their strident words, and for good reason.

I recall Bob Dole, an establishment Republican if ever there was one, reverently noting how close the Tenth Amendment was to his heart. This was in 1996, during a Presidential debate with Bill Clinton. Trying to ascertain sincerity in a politician is probably not worth the effort, but lip service aside, Dole nevertheless came across as a believer in a purist view of governing and government that has likely never been adopted. By this comparison I mean to say that the Tea Party isn’t a new creation, but it has taken traditional Republican thinking, party line, and tropes well-beyond what many conservatives ever dreamed.

As a country, we cannot exist forever with a chasm this great separating us. Or, as Lincoln put it, on the eve of the Civil War, “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” We must decide the best course of action for this increasingly gridlocked nation. Should we hand more authority to Washington, or place our trust in state legislators and governors?

In my own life, I have become extremely skeptical of decentralized power. To me, it always manages to come across as disorganized and inefficient. Living for years in a solidly red state, I watched bumbling idiots make state policy and then somehow try to enforce it. Even with its flaws, Uncle Sam was far more effective and well-regarded. On one hand, Washington politicians are treated like vermin, but on the other hand, they do usually get the job done in the end.

Here’s an example. My tax refund from the Federal Government arrived within a month of filing, and often within weeks. My state return from Alabama arrived...eventually. Medicare, a Federal Government creation, is almost always taken by medical practitioners in my home state. Medicaid, however, is always underfunded and infrequently taken as anything more than secondary coverage.

Contrary to what some Republican politicians believe, I was never eligible for Medicaid. This was because of very restrictive state eligibility laws that only extended health insurance to children under the age of 17, or to married/partnered couples with at least one child. That was not me.

States don’t want to accept their fault and culpability. They’d have to concede that they were mistaken and that they are supporting positions that are immoral and unethical. It’s a question of severely misplaced priorities. The highest paid state employee is a football coach, albeit an extremely successful one. Though the football program does bring in millions of dollars a year in revenue for the University (and likely the state as well), it would seem to be more important to preserve the health of poor Alabamians rather than maintain the dominance of the sports program.

I’m not picking on the Deep South. Few state legislators and governors inspire my devotion or respect, regardless of their physical location. Everyone wants to have it their way. The Confederacy that some of the Tea Partiers appear to lionize was constantly hamstrung because state governors ignored or challenged the requests of the national capital in Richmond. The state of Georgia, for example, refused to surrender its troops and munitions for anyone, even though soldiers and war materials were always in short supply. Georgia wanted to keep its troops within its own borders, to fend off the threat of invasion from Union armies. And it certainly wasn’t going to share its wealth with the rest of the Confederate States.

What we have here is a childish, sandbox, temper tantrum mentality. I want what I want, even if it comes at your expense. You can’t make me. I don’t want to be responsible or fair. It’s up to all Americans to determine where we go from here. When government is always one step away from being shuttered or we are dangerously close to our national debt going into default, one side has to be right. Both of us cannot be right. We can continue to give states the ability of greater self-governance, or we can cast our lot with Washington. I think you know where I stand on that issue.

Her Majesty

Her majesty's a pretty nice girl
but she doesn't have a lot to say

Her majesty's a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day

I wanna tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a belly full of wine

Her majesty's a pretty nice girl
Someday I'm gonna make her mine

Oh yeah
Someday I'm going to make her mine

Monday, October 21, 2013

An Exploration of All Boundaries Great and Small

Before I begin, I want to say that I always feel squeamish raising topics like this. I do not want to come across as a complainer seeking only sympathy and validation. I have known too many people who trouble the waters for their own ends. Let it be said here that I'm not seeking to be right, either, but I am trying to tell my side of the story. This is a courtesy that was not granted to me, one which I am seeking to reconcile with both my regular readers and an online audience.

A mentally ill person from my Meeting has had a consistent habit of invading my personal space and my privacy. Initially, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he has consistently violated my boundaries. He regularly gets up in my face to argue about some quibbling point of theology that I've raised during Worship. I frequently give vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship, and do not mind whatever message I gave to be a topic of conversation. Yet, I must say that I do not know how to respond and to listen to his passionate, but mostly incomprehensible banter.

I do not intend, nor do I tolerate being hit between the eyes by someone who feels that I am somehow mistaken and in need of being taken down a peg. Or at least that's how I interpret his approach. I have had my own struggles with mental illness, of course, but I have not accosted someone with whom I Worship. I have not implied that someone's religious interpretation and Spiritual condition is wrong. Trying to be a good Quaker and a good Christian, I wait patiently for him to make an argument that doesn't zigzag all over creation, but rarely do I ever receive it. More recently, when all else failed, I've sought to avoid him, but it hasn't worked.  

Wishing only to be left along, I made a formal complaint. With many Quaker Meetings, disagreements between individual Friends are handled by the Healing and Reconciliation committee. Yesterday, before Meeting for Worship commenced, five of us met for breakfast. The man and myself, in addition to three committee members, were present. I didn't intend to make some sort of resounding slam dunk in my own defense, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was right. This was not a trial.

But I did want to underscore where I came from and how his behavior made me feel. As it turns out, I was placed on the defensive from the outset. Committee members even draped arms around the man, their body language revealing that, in their eyes, he was the wronged party. That did upset me quite a lot.

I had earlier written to the man's long-time partner with my concern, because it was my informed judgment that his partner was incapable of understanding me from a purely cognitive standpoint. During the morning meeting, this decision of mine, written in the form of an e-mail, was turned against me. My words were proclaimed to be insulting, and while I can understand why some might reach that conclusion without all the facts being present, my intention was only to questioning the lucidity of the offending party.

Were we wasting our time? My worry in the beginning is that he was simply too impaired to be able to iron out our differences. And, be it known, the man's husband was surprisingly understanding and supportive about my action, though he did rightly direct me to the appropriate channels. He acted the most rational and reasonable of everyone involved, which is a kind of special irony that became more and more prominent as the meeting progressed.

Because I have written about this in other venues quite extensively, there is no need to bring the matter up in detail. Suffice it to say that because of childhood abuse, I am often fearful of other men. Any man who gets up in my face with some nonsensical grievance becomes, in my hyper-vigilant mind, a threat. I concede my boundaries are likely higher than others, but it is difficult to undo my defenses. I do not get triggered easily, but when I do, my thoughts and conduct rush immediately to irrational places. When this feeling of abject panic lifts, I am often embarrassed with my behavior and frustrated with where it has taken me.

This is to say, I think I understand his way of reacting to many people who attend the Meeting, at least on one level. I don't want to focus too much time and effort here. Suffice it to say, I didn't feel that committee members fully understood how much emotional anguish I experience when someone ambushes me, especially another man. Returning to the meeting, the Friend in question appeared to be on his best behavior and most of his conversation made sense. I can understand why someone might see his perceived lucidity as an opportunity to discount my grievances. Maybe he decided to take his medication that day. Maybe he wasn't flying high on caffeine, which was what his partner suggested might have been the problem from the beginning.

Houses of worship often end up being hierarchical, even when they're not intended to be. Quakerism is supposed to avoid hierarchy at all cost, but it often shows up when one considers the idea of seniority. Those who have been around longer often believe that their voices should hold additional heft. Friends call those who have seasoned views "weighty". I would sincerely hope that age and proper discernment would make weighty Friends of each of us. Age is a number and God calls everyone of us, regardless of how old we are and whatever disabilities we have, to service on his behalf.

It's easy to adopt tunnel vision, especially when a he said/he said situation arises, one with two differing perspectives. It's difficult to know who to believe, so as a result, many come down on one side or the other. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. I suspect that some members of the committee might have felt that I needed to learn a lesson. To some, I am probably still a young upstart with heretical ideas for making changes. I am not ashamed of this identity, feeling it to be a Divine leading of a sort.

I write about many of the problems and challenges I encounter, which has caused friction and concern with some. They think I'm airing dirty laundry, or they do not understand generational differences. I straddle the gap between Gen X and Gen Y, both of which are far more open with personal details than their more reticent baby boomer parents. Many don't want to be called out or held accountable for their deeds and words. This goes well beyond blabbing away on the Internet.

What I have found in sharing stories is a kind of universality. The issues raised do not pertain only to my Meeting, rather they are commonplace everywhere. Personal narrative is one of the most powerful means of expression ever devised. Others can easily see themselves in the stories of those who, in the end, really aren't that different from them. Though I disagree with the way our talk proceeded, I have a greater comprehension now of the man who earlier caused me such discomfort. For Meetings like my own, we might do well to have frequent grievances with others, as that might be the only we can truly know each other as we are.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quote of the Week

"A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one."

-Alexander Hamilton

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Video

Down the road
I go.

There's mud in the water,
Roach in the cellar,
Bugs in the sugar,
Mortgage on the home,
Mortgage on the home.

There's garbage on the sidewalk,
Highways in the back yard,
Police on the corner,
Mortgage on the car,

Mortgage on the car.

They're selling independence,
Actors in the White House,
Acid indigestion,
Mortgage on my life,
Mortgage on my life.

Ramble tamble tamble
Ramble tamble tamble
Ramble tamble tamble

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vignette II

A work in progress.

When Ecstasy was big, back in the late 90’s, he dealt it to an impressive clientele of bored teenagers and sleepy slackers. I remember the colors and the inscription upon each pill, designating strength and potency. One by one, people would make the climb to the elevated front porch whose height disguised this clandestine errand. 

Often, the first thing customers saw upon arrival was the latest love offering by three hunter cats. We learned to avoid being grossed out by the corpses of headless, bloody chipmunks, which was usually what greeted us on the welcome mat every day after school was over. It looked like a rodent guillotine had been hard at work.  

I can see him now. Such a pretty boy, but blessed with little more than physical beauty. He always carried with him a large ziploc bag, bulging with antidepressants. From my own experience, I knew them to be mostly Prozac, but never revealed to anyone what they were and that I knew the exact dosage. Those who wanted to avoid the depressing, claustrophobic come down from E could ease the pain that way, or at least that was what many believed. I never rolled, knowing that I was short on brain chemicals already. I needed all I could get and could ill afford to sacrifice it for the sake of one hyperactive evening.

In memories, I see him squeezed into one corner of the front porch. He always took the rocking chair, and nervously kept time and rhythm. Back and forth. Back and forth. Look, he wasn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box, granted, but he meant well. Drug dealers can be ruthless venture capitalists, or none-too-bright kids making easy money. He was the latter.

As I said, I’m more familiar with the dopey variety. His name was Ben, I think. He always came over to see his ex-girlfriend, who still thought fondly of him. Romantic feelings between the two had never ceased and, as is true for old lovers, they retained a kind of sentimental fondness for each other. I always found it sweet, hoping that someday I’d have a string of prior lovers who called or e-mailed every now and again to let me know that they were thinking of me.

He never stayed for very long, because business was good. He had long ago dropped out of school and dealing full-time kept him busy. At the time, he had rationalized leaving school because of the money he made and how lucrative the trade was. It sounded almost responsible, until one examined it more closely and realized it was supremely risky. In our alternate universe, we acted like drugs were legal, which was the only way to manage the underlying tensions that rarely broke to the surface but were always present.

If we thought it should be legal, then it was legal. None of us had been caught. Ben was the only one really in trouble of being detected, or incriminating the rest of us. I may have known those who were intimately involved in the black market, but I always made sure to give myself plausibility denial. I was sneaky, and far too paranoid to be drawn into anyone’s trap. The ones who convinced themselves that they were above the law and could never get caught took foolish risks. With a father in law enforcement, I knew the system much too well, and predicted the demise of many.

Run Run Run

Teenage Mary said to Uncle Dave
I sold my soul, must be saved
Gonna take a walk down to Union Square
You never know who you're gonna find there

You gotta run, run, run, run, run
Take a drag or two
Run, run, run, run, run
Gypsy Death and you
Tell you whatcha do

Marguerita Passion had to get her fix
She wasn't well, she was getting sick
Went to sell her soul, she wasn't high
Didn't know, thinks she could buy it

And she would run, run, run, run, run
Take a drag or two
Run, run, run, run, run
Gypsy Death and you
Tell you whatcha do

Seasick Sarah had a golden nose
Hobnail boots wrapped around her toes
When she turned blue, all the angels screamed
They didn't know, they couldn't make the scene

She had to run, run, run, run, run
Take a drag or two
Run, run, run, run, run
Gypsy Death and you
Tell you whatcha do

Beardless Harry, what a waste
Couldn't even get a small-town taste
Rode the trolleys down to forty-seven
Figured he was good to get himself to heaven
'Cause he had to run, run, run, run, run Take a drag or two

Run, run, run, run, run
Gypsy Death and you
Tell you whatcha do

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Rebecca liked to play with fire for fun. She loved risky behavior. I knew this because she kept every rejection letter or piece of bad news taped to the side of the walls of her apartment. She’d been admitted to the School of Fine Arts in high school, a highly competitive state-funded academy for the creative, artistic, and intelligent. During her time as a student, she’d found a skeleton key that opened every classroom door and most of the offices. Late at night, she explored the facilities purely out of curiosity and the thrill of doing something against the rules. Eventually, she got caught and was summarily expelled.

The notice of expulsion had been placed roughly at eye level, a little towards the left of the door. Rebecca was fond of telling the story of how it happened. She was wild and impulsive, even a little dangerous, but these qualities made me want her even more. I had never seen much appeal for bad girls until then, usually saving my attention for broken birds in desperate need of a self-esteem booster shot. Rebecca was different. She knew precisely who she was and what it is that she wanted.

Who she wanted was me. Rebecca would have asked me out but she was already with someone else. She told me she wished she could have the both of us simultaneously, and made those feelings very evident. With her consent, I felt her up outside the Humanities Building while her boyfriend was taking a test. She reserved certain areas as off-limits, though in truth I got to explore all but a few choice parts of her body. Once again, she found taking chances like these appealing and intoxicating.

I saw a few distant faces walking around the track, yards and yards away, but could make out no identities. To our left was the student parking lot, but the cars had no occupants. I was feeling a little exposed with the huge risk we were taking, but wasn't about to stop. We were outside, leaning against the green-painted brick of the building. The both of us enjoyed being this sexually reckless. None of us felt any need to apply the brake.

Thirty minutes later, he emerged from inside, turned hard to the right, and was two seconds away from blowing our cover. Though my face revealed the shock of nearly being discovered, her facial expression never changed. It didn't seem to phase her one bit. She'd gotten what she wanted. He was confused and couldn't tell what we had been doing. She was not ashamed of what had happened, not one bit. As she stood upright to walk with him, she winked at me.

See you next time, the gesture said.

I found her in my dorm room two nights later. She had picked the lock somehow. She sat cross-legged on my bed, awaiting my arrival.

I want to sleep with you, but I don’t want to sleep with you.

As much as I might have wanted to take her to bed, she specified that sex was off-limits. Instead, she wanted to spend the night curled up next to me. I was so smitten with her that any kind of intimacy granted to me was an opportunity I did not want to squander. I woke up next to her at eight, where she kissed me on the lips.

I have to go.

That was the last time I saw her. I found out later that she had gotten accepted into some elite law school up in New England. I didn’t know about her departure until she was already gone. The other day, I typed her name into the Facebook search box and found her picture. In it, she is posed with her now-husband happily beaming at the camera, though I notice she’s gained a tremendous amount of weight. I’d be lying if her increased girth didn’t please me a little in a spiteful sort of way.

Reply to a Reader

Today I'm going to do something very different. I should begin by stating that I'm a sensitive person, easily hurt by angry remarks from mostly anonymous readers. Rarely do I ever read anyone's critique of my writing, but I found a compelling comment that has inspired me to write a rebuttal. Below are extended remarks from Monday's post. I'll register my thoughts and perspective a paragraph at a time.

I have pondered for some time that one of my main criticisms of religion is the focusing on improving other people. It is so much easier to seek to improve other people. For instance, if one needs to improve the health of one's own lifestyle, one might need to make what feels like personal sacrifice. One might have to exercise, when they wish to rest, eat vegetables when they wish to eat fried snacks. But, when one seeks to improve the lifestyle of another, they can do it with very little personal effort or sacrifice, just lecturing or advising someone, or sharing some information. It is like a drug, the feeling that you are making such great improvements, when there is no effort expended.

Many people balk at the idea of being instructed by someone else to make changes in their lives, for any reason. And, indeed, as it is written, it is easier to remove the speck from someone else's eye than to remove the plank from our own eye. Along those same lines, I'm sure we've all noted that it's far easier to give advice than to take advice. I think religions and faith groups have a duty to keep people grounded and pointed in the right direction, but over time, many have opted for restrictive dogma, rather than instructive wisdom. Effective religious instruction, in my mind, is a two-way exchange. It's not a one-way commandment that makes demands and does not respect individual freedom. 

Your story tells of the costs of improving others, the conflict. You said that they "misunderstood", but what if they didn't? What if they did understand your intentions, but it was not your intentions, but your actions that they objected to?
I have faced this issue, receiving "helpful" advice, when I had not asked for advice. I have concluded that sometimes, the only solution is to simply remove overly "helpful" people from my life. It seems that one of the members of your group felt the same way, so I can sympathize with that person. I feel that the appropriate time to offer advice to people is when they ask for it.

Here, I need to provide more context. Five years ago, I entered a house of worship that was very stuck in its ways. For years, it had maintained a dubious history of frequent strife and routine schism. Worship often resembled a social club for devout liberals and activists and a way-station for refugees from repressive religions. That is not the form Worship is to take. Getting the attention of the entire Meeting was needed, but because of the scope of the task, many people had avoided really probing and seeking to find the heart of the matter.

Ideally, it is our duty (and by that I mean everyone) to keep each other faithful. Quakers have many virtues, but one of our weaknesses is a fear of confrontation. It is true that confrontation can be punitive, but Friends try hard not to seek to emulate that example. But, to put it another way, not all confrontation is toxic, and it is entirely necessary when it comes down to Meeting discipline. With no accountability, problems never are resolved and unhelpful behavior is not corrected. In fact, they get far worse with no checks in place to make sure people are reminded to look for God first, not for themselves. 

Unrequested charity, including liberally handouts of "free" advice, is the flip side of respect. When you assume that someone needs your instruction, your advice, you communicate a message that you are superior to them, that they are in need, and you are so much not in need that you have excess capability to heap on them.

While I see where the speaker is coming from, I wouldn't go that far. It is our duty to call out others with love, when their leadings cease to be Spirit-led and end up becoming self-led. I will say that some vocal ministry, unfortunately, does come across as lecturing and scolding. This is not appropriate conduct during Worship, but in a desire to steer others towards God, sometime people overreach. Quakers look within themselves before imparting wisdom. One of the more redeeming qualities of the faith is that we are supposed to speak to our condition, and if it makes an impact on someone else's Divine leadings, than all the better. We're not an Evangelical faith that provides charity only if someone first jumps through our hoops.   

When you respect someone, you assume their ideas are equal in value to yours, that their way of dealing with things is just as good as yours, that they need no advice from you on how to live their lives, that they are the experts in how to lead their lives. And, this is the simple truth. No matter how much you think you know about another person's life, each person is truly the expert on their own life.

This, too, is true, on its face. That being said, respect is not uniformly applied. It comes with a desire to listen intently for what Quakers call the still small voice. Vocal ministry that is little more than a political soapbox statement or a synopsis of an interesting story on NPR is not the form spoken messages are supposed to take. It was for this reason, in part, that I raised my voice consistently during Worship.  
There will always be more that you do not know about. There is always the possibility that your advice, while it may work well for you, might not be the best choice for another person, because every person, and every person's circumstance, is different.
When you "give" unsolicited advice, you "take" respect from someone. Often, what people want most is your respect, so they can react very strongly when you take that away from them.

In the context of religious Worship, respect takes many forms. Ideally, we try seek value in everyone's contribution to Worship. A message that does not speak to me may speak powerfully to someone else. When I was a member of a different faith which had a called minister and a lengthy sermon every week, some of them spoke to my condition and some did not. Without meaning to, my earlier attempts to challenge the Meeting resembled the conduct of our founder, George Fox. Fox interrupted many an Anglican sermon by loudly registering his complaints. Naturally, he found himself in trouble quite frequently, often jailed for being a general nuisance.

I'm glad someone took the time to respond to me in such detail. Hopefully, I can be better able to explain the differences between the Quaker approach and the attitudes of other Christian groups. The comment above actually reminds me quite a lot of a friend of mine who was raised Southern Baptist. She calls herself Quaker-ish, not quite ready to call herself a full Quaker, or to formally join the Meeting. My hope, of course, is that she finally crosses that threshold, though I certainly would not pressure her to make the leap of faith before she is ready. 

I know that past religious experiences hold a power over many and can be very hurtful. I've seen more problems from religion done wrongly than from individual people who betrayed another person's trust and left behind a wound that has yet to close. This shows plainly how much emphasis and meaning we assign to religion, even thought we may deny it.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Pink it's my new obsession
Pink it's not even a question,
Pink on the lips of your lover, 'cause
Pink is the love you discover

Pink as the bing on your cherry
Pink 'cause you are so very
Pink it's the color of passion
'Cause today it just goes with the fashion

Pink it was love at first sight
Pink when I turn out the light, and
Pink gets me high as a kite
And I think everything is going to be all right
No matter what we do tonight

You could be my flamingo
'Coz pink is the new kinda lingo
Pink like a deco umbrella
It's kink - but you don't ever tell her

Pink it was love at first sight, and
Pink when I turn out the light
Pink gets me high as a kite
And I think everything is going to be all right
No matter what we do tonight

I want to be your lover
I want to wrap you in rubber
As pink as the sheets that we lay on
Pink it's my favorite crayon, yeah

Pink it was love at first sight
Pink when I turn out the light
Pink it's like red but not quite
And I think everything is going to be all right
No matter what we do tonight

Monday, October 14, 2013

Guide to Worship

Most likely only other Quakers are going to get this, but I think the illustration is very accurate and helpful. Click the graphic to enlarge.

Lessons Learned from Unexpected Visitors

Because my Meeting is located in the middle of a city, we sometimes attract unexpected visitors to Meeting for Worship. Some years ago, a cheerful, kind, but mostly incomprehensible homeless man made us a regular destination on his Sunday mornings. A Friend was designated to sit by him the whole of Worship and gently implore him to sit after he'd said the requisite three minutes of nonsensical gibberish. Lest one think otherwise, he had quite a rapport with many of us and we were quite fond of him.

Between Christmas and New Year's, he was beaten to death outside of the Watergate Hotel. The reasons why were never mentioned, but I imagine he must have been an easy target for the amoral and violent among us. The notice of his demise in The Washington Post included lots of praise for our departed friend, some of it from the Meeting. It was only then that we recognized that he'd bounced back between two houses of worship, drawing as much praise from the other church as from us.

I must admit that I felt guilty for not being more tolerant during his time on Earth. I often found his messages tedious, but my main complaint is that his messages kept me from centering down the way I would have liked. One way to look at the lessons provided by his presence among us is in how it challenged me. Since then, I have tried to look for the Divine attributes of every vocal ministry and the Divinity of every person. The easiest approach might have been harsh denunciation, but we sought to look for the good first before we settled for the bad.

A related situation that occurred yesterday during Worship was quite different. Early on, a man standing at the back of the room began speaking loudly. Though his speech was slurred and his talk meandered, he managed to give a rambling tirade about the evils of Obamacare and homosexual women (his words, not mine). A disruption like this happens once every now and again. There is a system in place for dealing with it, one I am pleased to say that worked flawlessly in this instance. Three Friends rose and, without aggression or anger, gently escorted the speaker out of the Meetinghouse.

Afterwards, those of us who remained inside tried to make sense of what had just happened. As happens with highly educated people in times of crisis, we sought to intellectually unpack what we had just heard and experienced. The vocal ministry that followed sought to make sense of the aftermath from the best possible light. One Friend rose to express concern for his health, hoping that the same Obamacare he had been vociferously denouncing might help him with his illness. Another postulated that the speaker was the miner's canary, articulating the voices of those who opposed change and reform.

As for the second observation, I'm not sure I would place such stock in someone so seriously mentally ill. At best, he was only able to parrot a few boilerplate phrases one might hear in the media or on the street corner. Though I do agree with the reforms underway and the process of changing mores now present, I'm not sure I would use the harangue of a person not in his right mind as validation for what I wanted to believe as truth.

A homeless man on a rant, however hurtful, may mean little to nothing. Over time, I've looked over my writings from times where I was having a manic episode. Though I was convinced of their superior, flawless quality upon composition, to the sober eye, they make little to no sense. If he had full control of his faculties, his conduct would have been considered disrespectful. I dread the possibility of attending Worship while in a manic episode, knowing I would have to put the pieces back together myself. Healing and Reconciliation would not be easy. Building back trust with others would be difficult.

A phrase I have used over and over again to describe Quaker unprogrammed Worship is that it is an exercise in religious anarchy. With no ritual and no outward sacraments, everyone in attendance during Worship is responsible for filling in the gaps themselves. No hymnal guides us, nor any responsive reading. This is why it is easy for those seeking a soapbox to disrupt Worship. For the uninformed or unrestrained, the inviting silence may be too much of a temptation.

Three or four years ago, I believed my leadings directed me to call out the Meeting during Worship. By its conclusion, one person during Worship described me as a Baptist minister admonishing his flock. The energy I expended, in addition to the act itself, is nothing I would do again unless I felt it to be completely imperative. At the time, I felt that the Meeting had to be confronted with its shortcomings, if it ever wanted to grow and reach its full potential. In time, the stress began to wear me down.

The responses I received in this grand experiment were often hurtful. One Friend rose to tell me, in a roundabout way, that I had a lot of nerve to say what I did. She has never returned. Others misunderstood my intentions, reacting more out of anger than love. I might have been seeking to provoke, in that Jesus sort of way, but I never intended to hurt anyone. I can be a thin-skinned person myself, but I know that certain people see a potential rejection of themselves in every possible dialogue.

For all I know, provocation might have been the approach the homeless person was seeking. I'm not sure what about mental illness often creates a need and a compulsion for people to speak truth to power. Even in my worst times, face to face dealings were sufficient, and I never gave impromptu sermons on public transportation. I would like to perceive of others like him in a different way that isn't mostly about me. Rather than see the homeless person in question as the bellwether of our opposition, I would like to posit that he might well have been a partially deformed image of ourselves.

We may have viewed him as our opposition, but he followed our model, though he may have been ignorant of the particulars. As Shakespeare wrote, centuries ago, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." This phrase has often been interpreted to mean that fate is not what drives men and women to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition. When even the most strident voices are taken as instruction, not censure, we may very well be making progress ourselves, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quote of the Week

"When I understand liability as a trade-off for my strengths, something new and liberating arises within me. I no longer want to have my liability “fixed”—by learning how to dance solo, for example, when no one wants to dance with me—for to do that would be to compromise or even destroy my gift."

- Parker Palmer

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Video

It don't come easy,
You know it don't come easy.
It don't come easy,
You know it don't come easy.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.
You don't have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won't last,
It will soon be your tomorrow.

I don't ask for much, I only want trust,
And you know it don't come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it just ain't easy.

Open up your heart, let's come together,
Use a little love
And we will make it work out better.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.
You don't have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you're big enough to take it.

I don't ask for much, I only want trust,
And you know it don't come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it don't come easy.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lookin' Out My Back Door

Just got home from Illinois
locked the front door, oh boy!
Got to sit down
take a rest on the porch.

Imagination sets in
pretty soon I'm singin'

Doo doo doo
lookin' out my back door.

There's a giant doing cartwheels
a statue wearin' high heels.
Look at all the happy creatures
dancing on the lawn.

A dinosaur Victrola
list'ning to Buck Owens.

Doo doo doo
lookin' out my back door.

Tambourines and elephants
are playing in the band.

Won't you take a ride
on the flyin' spoon?

Doo, doo doo.
Wond'rous apparition
provided by magician.

Doo doo doo
lookin' out my back door.

Tambourines and elephants
are playing in the band.

Won't you take a ride
on the flyin' spoon?
Doo, doo doo.

Bother me tomorrow,
today, I'll buy no sorrows.

Doo doo doo
lookin' out my back door.

Forward troubles Illinois,
lock the front door, oh boy!
Look at all the happy creatures
dancing on the lawn.

Bother me tomorrow,
today, I'll buy no sorrow.

Doo doo doo
lookin' out my back door.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lipstick Feminism and the Good Girl Stereotype

An acquaintance of mine is the epitome of the good girl stereotype. A consummate people pleaser, she is quietly deferential to whomever she engages in conversation. Her opinions are always carefully weighed before she proposes them. She makes sure to never interrupt. Our conversations always come across as a question and answer session, wherein I am the interviewer and she is the enthusiastic participant. Careful not to offend, I have never seen her look frustrated, flush with impatience, or show any evidence of a temper.    

In pictures, I've often seen her framed against the backdrop of someone else's wedding reception. Living vicariously through someone else's big day, she beams at the lucky couple, clearly wishing that the experience might someday be her own. In her work and her daily life, she believes that every conflict with another person can be solved with enough face-to-face diplomacy. As is true for some who work in helping professions, she trusts in the system and its ability to solve every problem. I often think of this approach as naive, but she does not. She cannot be swayed to change her perspective for any reason.

I sometimes wonder who she really is underneath it all. I've surmised and postulated privately that she is overcompensating for some perceived personal lacking, but I know I could be wrong. Her attitude is entirely foreign to me. I grew up in a family full of strong opinions, in which it was implicitly encouraged to express oneself openly without fear of censure. Normal, for us, was to show our flaws alongside our strengths. But I've learned enough about human behavior over time to be able to peer outside of my own mindset. I now recognize that "normal" is a completely subjective concept.

It wasn't until I starting reading feminist criticism that I recognized there might be some serious flaws to her approach. If we were speaking only about so-called lipstick feminism and with it forms of outward dress and a deliberately feminine presentation, then that may well be one thing. Behavior that harmlessly conforms to a set standard versus the thought process that powers these decisions is something very different altogether. I think freedom of choice should be granted, within reason. At times a perceived lacking in our own minds reveals more about us than someone else, though sometimes our critique is entirely justified.

In a strictly feminist context, good girls, as defined, perpetually measure themselves against a particularly impossible standard. In their dealings with others, they are careful to never hurt feelings or bruise egos for any reason. I recall a time in my adolescence where I kept regular company with my conservative Christian classmates. The women with whom I frequently interacted were trying to be perfect; perfect for them often meant putting aside their own honest opinions to not hurt mine. Later, I learned that women of a very different mindset were trying to be perfect in their own ways, negating the cultural norms they now sought to consciously and deliberately cast aside.

The analogies I have drawn are not perfect. Even in the conservative Fifties, certain women pushed back against a restrictive cultural standard that preferred they be seen but not heard. Earlier than that, women writers and artists found a platform for their creative output, even as they fought against stereotype and censure. The good girl archetype was never a wholly uniform identity, though it was pervasive enough to consistently worry those who were told they could never quite measure up. Even today, male or female, we fret about not measuring up to a series of cultural benchmarks. Advertisers know how to sell their wares by exploiting our insecurities.      

Establishing a balance, regardless of what form it takes, is difficult. I am constantly aware of making sure I don't paint myself into a corner. Should I go with myself or instead go with a standard I value? I may consciously advance a particular platform, but take great pains to measure it against my own personal experiences. I've found, over time, that if I don't outrun my guide, I won't get myself into trouble. We have a tendency to overreach at times, even if we only intend to emphasize our convictions. If we say what we know and speak to our inward motives, it is difficult for us to go wrong.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Taking a Sick Day

If you'll bear with me, I'm not feeling strong enough to post today. This mystery ailment has been problematic for most of this week and the end of last week. I'm in search of answers.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Best Days

Bow bells say goodbye to the last train
Over the river they all go again
Out into leafy nowhere
Hope someone's waiting out there for them

Cabbie has his mind on a fare to the sun
He works nights but it's not much fun
Picks up the London yo-yo's, all on their own down Soho
Take me home

Other people wouldn't like to hear you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives
Other people turn around and laugh at you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives

Trellick Tower's been calling
I know she'll leave me in the morning

In hotel cells listening to dial tones
Remote controls and cable moans
In his drink he's talking
Gets disconnected sleepwalking back home

Other people wouldn't like to hear you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives
Other people turn around and laugh at you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives

Other people wouldn't like to hear you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives
Other people turn around and laugh at you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives

Other people break into a cold sweat
If you said that these are the best days of their lives
Other people turn around and laugh at you
If you said that these are the best days of our lives

Monday, October 07, 2013

Eulogy for a Friend

I’m fairly certain that most of us have had, at some point in our lives, a friend who was very needy and desirous of our company. In this circumstance, I'm speaking about such a person in my own life. His name is Brian. Though there are many things I will never understand about him, I do understand Brian well enough. I recognize why he has seen me as a best friend, even when I could not provide him with the attention and validation he always wanted from me.

He asked quite a lot and I found I had to be careful to mind my own emotional stamina and boundaries. Being his friend could be very draining, though I always tried to make sure he knew I cared about him.

Brian is the sort of person whose life never really gained traction. In his defense, he was born into a set of very challenging circumstances. His father was an alcoholic with a short temper, a puerile sense of humor, and an abusive tongue. Copying his father, Brian's older brother mocked and belittled Brian on a regular basis, starting from childhood. Brian is a good-natured, well-intentioned oaf of a man who was always his own worst enemy--erratic, self-destructive, and entirely unapologetic about any of it.

We met at the end of middle school. I was a shy, withdrawn kid who excelled in sports, even though I despised almost everything about them. As I've written about many times before, because of my athletic skills, I was a starter on the football team. Brian was a bench-warmer who always looked up to me. There was a touch of hero worship about how he reacted towards me.

I found this unsettling then and to this day I still find it hard to know how to manage being placed up on high. I was a long way from voluntarily taking on leadership roles and knowing how to appreciate accolades and compliments. In short, I had lots of growing up to do. And so did he.

In high school, Brian drifted into the company of others who enjoyed hippie jam bands and leftist politics. This was the same general mix of people who, more recently, formed the membership of the Occupy DC campers I encountered on my visits downtown a while back. Brian tried to soak in the nomenclature, but his grasp of terminology was often lacking, which made him seem like a silly dilettante. I pitied him, but also knew to keep my distance from most of his other friends and acquaintances, whose interest in Brian was superficial at best.

By the time we entered college, Brian was using drugs heavily. Our paths crossed infrequently back then, but when they did, we’d catch up with each other in the kitchen of an old wooden house a couple blocks from campus. That was where I hung out on weekends and during most of the lazy summer break. He supplied the LSD and a few other drugs that the more adventurous students used with frequency. The medium sized city we both inhabited experienced shortages of street drugs on a regular basis, but Brian always seemed to know where to find them.

A handful of my friends sold drugs in college, mostly pot, to avoid having to hold down a real job. I knew what Brian was up to due to the reputation he was fast building, but he and I never talked about it. There wasn’t much to discuss. This is where we began to grow apart. It hurt me to see him turned into the butt of many jokes, jokes always told when his back was turned. His reputation around the university was that of a wild man, who everyone seems to know of, but few wish to have around them.

For reasons unknown, he took off for Huntsville, an hour and a half north of Birmingham. The tech culture there is more favorable for those inclined to it. The U.S. Space Program employs many people with skills in several key areas, especially for those with enough engineering sense to build rockets and keep space shuttles from falling apart upon landing. I really thought he would be happy there, but he only stayed a year and then dropped out completely.

From then on, Brian was mostly a distant memory. I no longer lived where I’d grown up. He stayed around and I left the South, as I knew I must to really be happy. I formed new relationships, new friendships, and consigned him mainly to my past. He was a reminder of a much more aimless and anxious period of my life. For years I’d lived inside a THC cloud of smoke, believing it to be the creative lubricant I had always needed. I realized eventually that the medications I took to stay healthy would never function well if I added marijuana to the cocktail.

Though diagnosed with his own severe case of manic depression, Brian never made the same leap from boyhood to manhood that I did. Most of us reach a point in which we acknowledge that we have entered the adult stage of our lives and act accordingly. I now live in a part of the District of Columbia that is located next to a major university. I see regular evidence of where I used to be in the faces and behavior of the college kids I see chatting on the bus. I used to be there, but I am not there now.

Brian was diagnosed with a form of fatal, non-operative brain cancer a couple years ago. At first, he was told he would die within 12-18 months, but he somehow managed to push through the first extreme bout of chemotherapy and radiation. “Tiger blood!”, he said at the time. I winced at the Charlie Sheen allusion, whose foolish, dude bro behavior Brian had taken literally as a kind of battle cry. That was Brian.

He was convinced he was going to beat the cancer, against all odds, and for a while, it appeared that he might well succeed. Unfortunately, the tumor lodged between his skull and right eye socket decided it would eventually finish him off. Now he sleeps most of the time, too weak to engage with Facebook or e-mail. His mother encourages me to text him with frequency because he likes hearing from me. She reads them to her son because he can’t see very well anymore. The tumor pushes on his optic nerve, meaning that he’s had impaired vision for the last three years and is approaching total blindness.

I know I’ve been very needy myself in friendship from time to time. It took me a while to beat down my own anxieties and took even longer finding the right medications. Though intellectually far ahead of my peers, for a long while I trailed them in learned social skills and interpersonal demeanor. Brian never seemed to mind my limitations and was quite happy to accept me on my own terms. It is for this reason, among others, that I keep up as much as I can with him, until the intensity begins to wear me down.

Not to sound like a coward, but it’s difficult seeing someone you know well wasting away to nothing. I got a chance to say goodbye in June, when it was still possible for him to stand upright and have a conversation. Now, the end is much closer, though the doctors have stopped making predictions about when he will finally pass away. I visualize his funeral and wonder if I am strong enough to fly down for it.

This life really shortchanged Brian. Maybe the next one will be better. He grew up behind the eight-ball from the beginning, as the saying goes. That he was able to do as much as he did in his life is amazing. Others born into similar straits might be in jail now, or have succumbed to an overdose. It makes me recognize once again how much we are all indebted to the circumstances of our birth, and the privilege we have to be born into families where we were wanted and treated with love. Those are the true blessings.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Quote of the Week

"Americans will always do the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives."-

Quote often assigned to Winston Churchill. Likely spoken by Israeli politican Abba Eban.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Saturday Video

I'll be there in the mornin'
can't you see I'm tellin' stories
my sweet angel's everlasting true love ways
I'll wait I sow the seed
I set the scene and
I watch the world go by

See me go thru' changes
revelations to blank pages
I'll find a brighter guide to see me thru'
and leaves fall to the ground
turn to brown through the day just like you

Live for the day
I see your heart is empty I've got plenty
Joe come ride with me
I see your head is meant to be cemented
it's true
when the stories that you tell come back to haunt you

Come see me in the morning
can't you see I'm tellin' stories
my sweet angel's everlasting true love ways
while others turn to others
introduce you and walk right on thru'

it's just about knowing where you come from
being you and singing Love songs
can begin to fill your day
I could lead you to the top don't stop
I could lead you there still

Live for the day
I see your heart is empty I've got plenty
Joe come ride with me
I see your head is meant to be cemented
it's true
when the stories that you tell come back to haunt you

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Cyrus/O'Connor Celebrity Feud Reveal True Colors

I usually steer clear of celebrity cat fights, but the current Sinéad O'Connor/Miley Cyrus contest is too irresistible to avoid. It provides yet another example of why those in the public eye have no business using the extra heft of their stature for political statements. Well-reasoned judgments are always in short supply, but celebrities seeking a bully pulpit often reveal their real motivations. What they see as substantive activism is little more than self-indulgent posturing and ego.

The recent open letter from O'Connor to Cyrus, earlier this week, demonstrates the former's famous tin ear. This is the same person who single-handedly destroyed her career by ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. The cult classic 1990's Irish BBC comedy Father Ted lampooned O'Connor as a self-important, sanctimonious blowhard. Heavy-handed approaches have been consistent through her entire life in public view, though I excuse some of them because of her bipolar disorder.

My main criticism of O'Connor might be her inability to see beyond herself. Her slightly rambling, occasionally profane open letter reads, in part:

None of the men ogling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled. Many's the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn't mean they give a fuck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don't give much of a fuck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don't give much of a fuck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped … and that includes you yourself.
Yes, I'm suggesting you don't care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don't encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it's associated media.

I do not approve of Miley Cyrus' approach, either. Cyrus cruelly mocked O'Connor by reposting a series of tweets in which the Irish singer was clearly writing in a state of acute depression. Sensitive to the criticism she has been receiving after adopting a new, raunchier persona, I can understand Cyrus' desire to go for the jugular. Miley seems intent on shredding every part of her previously wholesome image. My own question is whether or not her new, sexier look is based on self-discovery or is entirely driven by a desire to raise her profile.

But unlike Sinéad, I don't fear that Miley needs to be protected from herself. A self-professed feminist like O'Connor should know better than to use Patriarchal language like that. Women have been "protected" by men for eons, and usually that means denying women freedom of choice based upon some perceived moral standard of decency. In her prime, I'm sure Sinéad would have protested heartily if anyone told her what to do. Now, years later, she's shown a surprising conservative streak that often arrives with age. I wonder if she's even aware of it.

Both recording artists have come across as self-absorbed and childish. But unlike Miley, O'Connor does not have the eternal defense of youthful indiscretion. She really ought to know better by now and is, at best, bereft of any self-awareness. Her past behavior always revealed a superficial understanding of feminism and other causes. But if any lesson can really be learned from this exchange, it is this: activism requires much more than a simplistic understanding of good versus evil. It cannot be encapsulated within any binary, nor within any dichotomy.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

New York, New York


New York, New York, a set on Flickr.

Late September.

Interview with Myself

This is a fictional interview with a transwoman. I'm trying on a new form to improve my craft.

Q: Can you tell me something unconventional about yourself? Something that others might find shocking?

A: I suppose it depends on how easy it is for a person to feel shocked. In the beginning, I routinely stole women's clothing from public washing machines and dryers. In the days before the anonymity of internet shopping, I felt that petty theft was justified. After a time, I became skilled at knowing what size was mine simply at a glance. Before then, I'd often come away with clothing that didn't fit.

Q: What about stealing appealed to you, beyond the obvious?

A: The adrenalin rush, mostly. Like any impulsive act, the risks are high, but so is the payoff. It's like gambling at a casino and risking every last cent with the next hand dealt to you. You could easily lose everything, but if luck shines on you, the final payout will be astronomical.

These days, it's fashionable to talk about concepts like gender non-conforming and every term that falls under the transgender umbrella. This was not always the case. Since I've been open about myself, I've had the chance to speak to many others who identify as such. And what I've learned from my own informal study is that there are usually one of two ways people react to who they are.

Either one internalizes the idea of being different and sees himself or herself as a misunderstood outsider, or one compartmentalizes the trans part of who they are, fully divorcing the rest of themselves from it. I've always believed that thinking of oneself as being a misunderstood misfit is self-defeating and really not helpful.

Q: What life experiences led you to that conclusion?

A: I think it was observing friends and relationship partners who were stuck in their own ill-suited bodies, if you will. There's nothing worse than observing the behavior of someone who doesn't learn from his or her mistakes. I resisted transition for a while, but eventually I did something about it. The sort of romantic pessimism I've viewed in others is slightly ridiculous, but mostly unfortunate. It's wasted energy.

Q: How do people escape that trap, that way of thinking?

A: I think it takes courage, first and foremost. Recognizing who I am and making strides towards self-discovery gave me the courage to move forward. Since I underwent surgery and sought to pass as a woman, I've had a lot to learn. In fact, it seems as though I'm back in college taking classes.

Sometimes I feel resentful at how difficult it is to undo the way I was socialized, but to be self-actualized beings we must do our homework. This is just a different form of that radical self-awareness, even though I concede it is difficult for me, probably more challenging than is true for other people.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Don't pull the wool over your eyes. Listen to your fears, because you will never conquer them otherwise.