Monday, December 29, 2014

Dedicated to My Father

It's gonna take a lotta love
To change the way things are.
It's gonna take a lotta love
Or we won't get too far.

So if you look in my direction
And we don't see eye to eye,
My heart needs protection
And so do I.

It's gonna take a lotta love
To get us thru the night.
It's gonna take a lotta love
To make things work out right.

So if you are out there waitin'
I hope you show up soon,
'Cause my head needs relatin'
Not solitude.

Gotta lotta love
Gotta lotta love.

It's gonna take a lotta love
To change the way things are.
It's gonna take a lotta love
Or we won't get too far.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Prophet in His Hometown Reflects

Then they scoffed, "He's just the carpenter's son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers--James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?"

Each of us aspire to be important to someone. This can mean being the best father or mother to one's children, or the best librarian to care for patrons. For me, aspirations and goals are close to the same thing. I want to be a well-regarded writer of essays and short fiction. I want to be a male feminist who consistently challenges himself to learn more, to know more. I want to learn more about the guitar and become a better musician.

In my Quaker world, my aspirations have begun to flower. For one thing, there aren't very many of us out there. On the East Coast, where I live now, there are probably somewhere around 100,000 Friends. I will never meet all of them, regrettably, but paths have crossed, usually at conferences. I have shared space with many others who share my faith and my passions.

Young adults are a minority within the Religious Society of Friends. As you might imagine, it doesn't take long to make acquaintance with the same few hundred socially active young people. We are the most committed and most serious about our faith, the sort that stick out notably on First Days (Sundays) at our home Meetings. Speaking for myself, my reasonably young age has only accentuated my distinctions. Word of mouth speaks with greater influence than any column I write.

The East Coast corridor of liberal Friends stretches from roughly North Carolina to Philadelphia and up into New England. Ever since I left Alabama, I've jumped into the middle of the historic avenues of influence and, dare I say it, power. The past six years of hard work have given me a name and a reputation, one I didn't recognize fully until I came back home.

Everyone seems to think of me as the local boy done good. Three men had prominent man crushes on me, which is flattering and uncomfortable at the same time. The one closest to my age asked me for my opinion on a particular matter. I was glad to oblige him, though I don't consider myself the sole authority by any stretch of the means. A little hero worship isn't a bad thing and I'll allow myself to appreciate it.

Ever since I left, my writings, podcast interviews, blogging, and publication in Quaker periodicals have given me a following. Unlike Jesus, a return to my hometown showed how far I've come, not a summary rejection. I planted myself in the middle of a city where many aspire to great influence, in many avenues, and won a share of it myself. This did not come easily.

Some may know my name, but never know my face. I'm perfectly content with this. Part of being a Quaker is a strong discouragement of hierarchy. Individual accomplishments are to be downplayed, and to be sure, I never find myself drawn to false humility. Strict humility, however, means perpetual anonymity, and my own leadings are too strong for that. I'm a leader with ability. In a different age, I would have requested and been granted a formal designation of recorded minister, a belief that my vocal ministry and life's example were clear gifts from God.

As I said, I will allow myself a particular length of time to appreciate a few starry-eyed Quakers. I tend to impress others with a unique combination of vulnerability and thoughtful insight. There's no turning back now, and I wouldn't want that for myself. There are greater goals and aspirations for me now. Everything is set in motion. God pushes me to greater service for his sake and his plan, whatever it may be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Teen Rebellion Revisited

For the past couple of days, I've been sleeping in the same bedroom I did as a teenager. Since then, it has sat largely vacant as child after child grew old enough to leave the nest, to move away forever. I remember its original configuration with omnipresent CD player and two large speakers, which were the center of my very existence back then. The adjacent bathroom featured some of my worst moments, the end products of my first few encounters with hard liquor. The wallpaper is the same as it was then, adamantly masculine with aggressive blue and white stripes.

Twenty (gulp) years ago, I was sneakily rebellious, the first kid to apologize to indignant parents incensed about the smell of marijuana in their homes. I was a good-natured charmer who knew all the right things to say, even if they weren't truly sincere. In the vicinity of a now-closed movie theater, I came across two members of my 11th grade biology class, both girls. I was smoking a cigarette, and though they were brave enough to ask me for one, one of the pair noted how surprised she was that I smoked.

I'm afraid it was far worse than that. I drove home from wild parties far too intoxicated to have any business behind the wheel. The police busted one of them because a neighbor had complained about the noise. The cops didn't intend to arrest anyone, just to tell the party-goers to turn down the music. Instead, the arrival of law enforcement caused mass panic. One guy tried to jump over a barbed wire fence and didn't quite make it, cutting a large hole in one jeans-covered pant leg and lacerating a thigh badly enough that it required stitches.

The feminist writer Jessica Valenti once described herself in a younger age as a party girl. If that is the case, then I most assuredly was a party boy. Friday and Saturday nights were packed full of rock concerts at an open-air amphitheater ten miles away. Parties followed next. I saw some of the best alternative rock groups of the 1990's in person and can wax nostalgic about those experiences if I wish. Some of the girls got a head start with drinking, conning and flirting shamelessly with older men to buy them beer, even resorting to bribery when necessary. Supplying minors with alcohol was against the law, but that only made them more determined.

One of my sisters exceeded me in her risk-taking behavior and usage of illegal substances. I never tried to top or better her because she was very unskilled in covering her tracks, meaning my father always found out everything eventually. She had older friends already in college who would pick her up late at night when my parents had gone to bed. Sneaking out through a bedroom window, she got away with it for a while, but her repeated absences at school became too numerous to go unnoticed.

I've never told her that I know about her decision to pose nude for a website. The act itself doesn't really surprise me, but this secret is going to die with me. She had good sense enough to use a pseudonym during the shoot but I would rather she cover every square inch of her body in ink than leave physical evidence like this that will never go away. I support her right to do what she did, certainly, and the rights of all who voluntarily contribute their naked selves for the gratification of others.

I know she must have gotten a few hundred bucks for the effort. All I can say is that I hope her intention was not a result of extreme financial need and that she doesn't regret the decision in the future. As I recall, she posed nude for art classes while in college, but that has a somewhat classier ring to it. What I will say, by way of conclusion, that it does make one pause when a close family member is involved in pornography.

Thus ends another autobiographical tale of debauchery and dashed dreams. Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Quote of the Week

"Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide–open–heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years...Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart."- George Matthew Adams

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Marching on Washington Ain't the Answer

This particular speaker, the Harlem-based preacher James David Manning, has been known for his hateful invective and belief in conspiracy theories. Here, I think he has a particular point. I don't agree with it, but it is worthy of contemplation.

Saturday Christmas Video

God rest ye merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.

Remember Christ our savior,
Was born on Christmas Day.

To save us all from Satan's power,
When we were gone astray.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

God rest ye merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.

Remember Christ our savior,
Was born on Christmas Day.

To save us all from Satan's power,
When we were gone astray.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I will be back home in Alabama starting early Monday morning until December 30. Posting will be sporadic at best, since I intend to spend a good bit of time with family.

But in the meantime, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Nick Drake, Remembered for a While

The just-released don't-call-it-a-biography will please both the casual fan and obsessive completist of Nick Drake's music. For starts, it is in large part the work of Nick's sister, Gabrielle, who wanted to personally correct the misconceptions, myths, and legends that have been told about her brother since his tragic death in 1974. When facts and details are sparse, the human mind produces a convincing facsimile of truth.

Nick Drake: Remembered for a While is beautifully designed, particularly showcasing Drake's handwritten lyrics. But in the midst of beauty comes numerous anecdotes from those who knew him when he was alive. It seems that most people, aside from family, found him distant and secretive. He curiously had no documented love life, few (if any) partners, and gives the impression at times of almost being asexual. Though at times his lyrics entertain the idea of romance and love, he does not elaborate. Outside commentators have suggested Drake might have been gay and closeted. Though this is possible, it is impossible to prove convincingly.    
Some know of Nick Drake the depressive more than the folk musician, and, to be sure, that information is provided as well. The most harrowing passage comes transcribed directly from the journals that Nick's father kept to document his son's daily struggles. Some were better than others, but it is clear that for the last two unhappy years of his life he was a semi-recluse. During this last period, he produced a total of four new songs, but was in no condition to record upon arrival at the studio. He rarely left his childhood home and the company of his parents, passing away at only 26 due to what the family insists was an accidental, or at least incautious overdose of antidepressant medication.

During his lifetime, as has often been noted, Nick Drake's pathological shyness meant that he played few live shows. A list provided early in the book documents the handful of gigs he performed, which are more than one might initially think, but far fewer than needed for greater success. But he did play enough gigs to attract the attention of Joe Boyd, the American emigre and up-and-coming record producer.

Boyd had produced the first single and a live recording of a group then called The Pink Floyd. He now sought to commit Nick's music to tape. The British music press gave Drake's first album, Five Leaves Left, scant notice, as they would for the whole of the short time he was actively recording.

Past thinkers have tried to posthumously diagnose Drake from a psychiatric standpoint. The book never makes a formal medical judgment. We know that Nick Drake was a depressive personality who, at least part of the time, took medication to treat it. At the end of his life, he toyed with the idea of electroshock therapy but never committed to it. Psychiatry was not nearly as evolved forty years ago, but in fairness he never took medication long enough for it to reach its optimum effectiveness, a far-too-common complaint with those who suffer with mental illness.

As intended, this book is the authorized companion to the music of Nick Drake. Fans should dig out their copies of his albums to play along with their reading. The book somewhat cautiously reveals the most sensitive information, not willing to resort to sensationalizing. But what awaits us is the most intimate and complete rendering of yet another musician who died at too young an age.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Doctor My Eyes

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes, tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes, tell me what you see
I hear their cries, just say if it's too late for me

Doctor, my eyes, cannot see the sky
Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Suffer Unto Us

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

The majesty and eloquence of the King James Bible does this passage well.

Laws and statutes, lawyers and judges, each of these have granted leniency for minors. This is thought to give childhood offenders the chance to redeem themselves before they reach adulthood. It is my opinion that we ought to consider extending the same fair consideration to those of legal age. While I believe in the rule of law and do not consider my own judgment necessarily superior to those of the professionals, I think that many harsh policies which sound good upon proposal often ultimately backfire. Such was the fate of three-strikes-and-you're-out.

In many states, paradoxically those who have declined additional federal funding, Medicaid requirements extend coverage to children, but not to childless adults. I'm sure it gives some politician or bureaucrat great pleasure to trim newly turned 18-year-olds from the rolls, saving money in the process.  By implication, rules and regulations value young lives more than older ones. Television commercials beg us to think of the children, showing poverty-stricken, fly-infested, and emaciated children from the Third World.

The novelty of some foreign land on a different continent can't open checkbooks soon enough. The poverty of African-Americans across town, however, are not treated with the same way. We don't need interpreters or television commentators to explain to us what we see on the wrong side of the tracks, on the other side of town.  ­­­­­­

Why do we value the lives of children in ways that we do not adults? It is true that children are generally impressionable, vulnerable, and easy to deceive. Criminals are supposedly the most evil and corrupted among us, but many of them retain a soft spot for kids.

As I've noted a time or two before, the reason that Medicaid in the District of Columbia, where I call home, offers full dental coverage is due to the tragic death of a child whose severely abscessed tooth led to his death. His parents let the abscess progress to a fatal state because they lacked the money to pay for the procedure. If this had happened to an adult instead, I wonder if the status quo would still be in place.

The 1931 German movie M tells a story of a child serial killer. When the police prove clueless and ineffective, organized crime takes over. A serial killer who preys on children is simply bad for business. In one memorable scene, the actor, a young Peter Lorre, is tried before a jury of his peers, that being his fellow criminals. One hopes that our society does not degenerate enough that the police are ineffective and incompetent. Justice in America, not the Weimar Republic, is, in some ways, the very opposite. It is too aggressive and too punitive.

We ought to treat everyone as though they could quite possibly possess the trusting innocence and purity of a child. Jesus told us that we won't attain the Kingdom of God unless we enter his spiritual kingdom on those terms. His implication was not that we be childish, but that we instead be childlike, pushing our skepticism and doubting aside. A strictly logical and cynical person might find this concept threatening and not especially empowering, but letting go has its place.

Many Quakers have felt led to prison ministry, which is hard work. It is true that prisons hold remorseless sociopaths, but they also hold those who are victims of circumstance. Our national discourse has talked about the vast numbers of black men who are currently incarcerated. It's easy to throw up walls, literally and figuratively. If our very salvation depends upon trust and cooperation, we have sadly gone astray. I'm not inclined to froth at the mouth, nor to use forceful, coarse language to illustrate my points, instead to angle for truths even a child could understand.

The initial outrage is over. Everyone must now work together. Having now identified the problem, we must enter into solemn, sacred covenant with each other. The American people need to sign a peace treaty, a legally binding document that will allow us greater comprehension and communication with each other. It should not be a half-measure, a compromise, or a document written out of barely restrained resentment. It should be genuine and crafted with genuine thought and consideration.

Pity is a human emotion that has its place, but what needs changing has no need to tug at heartstrings. Melodrama, too, should consign itself to plays and films, not wholesale manipulation. We are saved by Grace. There is nothing we can do to win treasure in Heaven. It is instead a free gift, freely given by someone who sees us as his children.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quote of the Week

"All those writers who write about their own childhood! Gentle God, if I wrote about mine you wouldn't sit in the same room with me."-Dorothy Parker

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Video

The new Nick Drake "companion to the music" (don't call it a biography) is excellent. It is recommended highly even to casual fans of Drake's work. The beautifully compiled book is titled simply Nick Drake: Remembered for a While. Consider it for Christmas presents.

A city freeze get on your knees
Pray for warmth and green paper
A city drought, you’re down and out
See your trousers don’t taper

Saddle up kick your feet
Ride the range of a London street
Travel to a local plane
Turn around and come back again

And at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown

For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down

Stay indoors beneath the floors
Talk with neighbours only
The games you play make people say
You’re either weird or lonely

A city star won’t shine too far
On account of the way you are
And the beads around your face
Make you sure to fit back in place

And at the beat of a city drum
See how your friends come in twos,
Or threes or more
For the sound of a busy place
Is fine for a pretty face
Who knows what a face is for

The city clown will soon fall down
Without a face to hide in
And he will lose if he won’t choose
The one he may confide in

Sonny boy with smokes for sale
Went to ground with a face so pale
And never heard about the change
Showed his hand and fell out of range

In the light of a city square
Find out that face that’s fair
Keep it by your side
When the light of the city falls
You fly to the city walls
Take off with your bride

But at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown

For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Here I am again, a caller on a sports radio show. Listen for me beginning at the 5:20 mark.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sail Away

I could live inside a tepee
I could die
in Penthouse thirty-five

You could lose me on the freeway
But I would still
make it back alive.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise
As long as we can sail away.

See the losers in the best bars
Meet the winners in the dives
Where the people are the real stars
All the rest of their lives.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise
As long as we can sail away.

There's a road
stretched out between us
Like a ribbon on the high plain
Down from Phoenix through Salinas
'Round the bend and back again.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Mind of the South

Now that I have relocated nearly 750 miles northeast from the South, I have moved from a solidly Republican region to a solidly Democratic one. I'm happy where I live, but I am more refugee than immigrant. Immigrants assimilate with great purpose to a new culture, but refugees retain a strong identification with home. I lament the inability to find overcooked, oversalted vegetables seasoned with pork or the proper form of cornmeal by which to make cornbread.

When traveling home or waiting in airports, I automatically gravitate to others from my state of birth. I deliberately seek out those with Alabama t-shirts on, engaging in enthusiastic small talk, most often about football or sports. Part of this comes from growing up in a small state with a population of only 4.8 million people. The city I live in now has more inhabitants than the entire state of my birth.

One topic is noticeably absent: politics. A sharp and immediate difference separates me from most Alabamians, and for that matter, most Southerners. I'm a liberal Democrat. They're usually conservative Republicans. For this reason, I simply don't go there. The conventional wisdom is that our country is as ideologically divided as it ever has been. I'm not convinced.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Michael Tomsky writes, with no small derision, about a new solid South.

It’s lost. It’s gone. A different country. And maybe someday it really should be. I’ll save that for another column. Until that day comes, the Democratic Party shouldn’t bother trying. If they get no votes from the region, they will in turn owe it nothing, and in time the South, which is the biggest welfare moocher in the world in terms of the largess it gets from the more advanced and innovative states, will be on its own, which is what Southerners always say they want anyway.

Once part of the New Deal Coalition, the politics of the South have changed from solidly (albeit conservative) Democrat to solidly Republican. This trend is not new and has been underway for at least the last fifty years.Things really began to change in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Barry Goldwater, but the region's overwhelming support for George Wallace's independent campaign in 1968 was the true onus. The 1990's saw massive party switching from conservative Democrats in the Senate and House to the conservative Republicans they are today.

Earlier in this year we glanced across the pond at Scotland, a region of the UK that has long had an ambivalent relationship with the rest of Great Britain. By a relatively close margin, it declined to secede. Should Southern secession be put to a vote, rather than a bloody armed conflict, it would be curious to know the results. Southerners, including yours truly, bear a chip on their shoulders a mile wide, believing themselves to be the red headed stepchild, always fearful and suspicious that they are being negatively judged and dismissed by other Americans.

Tomsky is right that the South simultaneously mooches off of the rest of the country while claiming disingenuously that its own affairs and self-governance are not respected. But it is also true that the region contains some of the most deplorable poverty and lack of opportunity in the United States. I left, refugee or not, because it was my observation that the demands and petty superstitions of the rural south consistently dragged down its urban counterparts.

The main point is this: Trying to win Southern seats is not worth the ideological cost for Democrats. As Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen recently told my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Democratic Party cannot (and I’d say should not) try to calibrate its positions to placate Southern mores: “It’s come to pass, and really a lot of white Southerners vote on gays and guns and God, and we’re not going to ever be too good on gays and guns and God.”

Politics in the capital city of Montgomery show this fight between more progressive city dwellers and the attitudes of those in rural areas that I can only describe as backwards and resistant to improve conditions for all Alabamians. I waited years for my state, and the South in general, to change its nationwide reputation and make things better for its citizens. After a time, I threw up my hands and headed North, as many Southern liberals do.

I speak with sadness, not derision. Tomsky's column begins with the failed campaign of now-former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

That is what Louisiana, and almost the entire South, has become. The victims of the particular form of euthanasia it enforces with such glee are tolerance, compassion, civic decency, trans-racial community, the crucial secular values on which this country was founded… I could keep this list going. But I think you get the idea. Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)

Southerners know how to circle the wagons. They are well-practiced at that and at adapting a kind of siege mentality. Words like these are written for the outliers and outsiders looking in like me. The target of this column will build up walls at an even faster clip. This is why I don't think of the South as a lost cause for the Democratic Party. The failing of Tomsky's argument is that it sees the South as a single entity, with no significantly core distinctions and differences.

South Carolina-bred author and journalist W.J. Cash wrote a notable book about Southern culture and history called The Mind of the South. Writing in 1941, Cash's hypothesis was that Southern identity was uniform and dismissive of alternate points of view.

Proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal, swift to act, often too swift, but signally effective, sometimes terrible, in its action -- such was the South at its best. And such at its best it remains today, despite the great falling away in some of its virtues.
Violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas, an incapacity for analysis, an inclination to act from feeling rather than from thought, an exaggerated individualism and too narrow concept of social responsibility, attachment to fictions and false values, above all too great attachment to racial values and a tendency to justify cruelty and injustice in the name of those values, sentimentality and a lack of realism -- these have been its characteristic vices in the past. And, despite changes for the better, they remain its characteristic vices today.

It's been over seventy years since the book's initial publication, and one can say much the same thing today. Cash's words may be themselves an oversimplification in terms, but they retain enough truth to speak to us today. I don't pretend to know how to fix the problem, but current political realities may not always be daunting, not always leading liberals and progressives to throw in the towel. I'm glad it's not my fight, but it needs to be someone's.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Street Harassment as a Class Issue

A brand new grocery store has been recently built a block from my apartment. To clear my head in between work assignments, I visit several times a week. Unwittingly, I've attracted the attention of three or four women who work there. They are very flirtatious and loquacious in my presence. I'm not used to this treatment. It is flattering, yes, but a little embarrassing at the same time.

Recent feminist discussion has addressed, once more, the issue of unwanted catcalls and other invasive behavior that falls under the category of street harassment. What I've experienced myself is different, but has some similarities. It feels good to be complimented, but a little unnerving when it is so overt and not subtle. The analogy I am seeking to draw here isn't entirely congruent, I recognize, but the two of them share a few things in common.

As a man, I know that I probably don't have to fear pursuit or obsessive attention from a woman. What I have been experiencing is a kind of good-natured, somewhat ribald teasing. I could let it go to my head if I wanted, especially because I've never seen myself as especially good looking. They wait for me now, ready to pounce and to initiate conversation the moment I enter the self-checkout line. If I were less socially phobic, I might be able to even enjoy it, since this appears to be utterly harmless.

What I experience over the course of five minutes is experienced, at least partially, by many women every day. As a male ally, I've observed behavior like this at times when out in public, out in the streets, or on the bus. But street harassment is different. In those situations, I've felt completely impotent and powerless. Is it my role to intervene, perhaps risking a physical altercation in the process? I can't fight every battle and my religious beliefs discourage violence in any form, for any reason. The best I can do is let my life shine as an example of proper conduct and privately instruct other men who behave in inappropriate ways.

The rules and codes of conduct for male feminists are frequently, frustratingly absent. Feminists, either male or female, are often misunderstood, many times a projection of fears that reveal more about personal bias than actual doctrinal misunderstanding. But again, what can men do to eliminate cat calls, wolf whistles, and inappropriate remarks?

None of my male relatives engaged in such behavior. I take an outsider role from the outset. My father viewed it merely from a male perspective as a male-only matter, but was nevertheless critical of these acts. For him, such behavior was low-class and inexcusably coarse. Over the passage of time, men have formulated acceptable codes of conduct within themselves, and many men were brought up to believe as I was. Street harassment in any form is seen as inappropriate by many men, but our mistake is not moving from disgust to intervention.

One incident of street harassment is too many. I wonder sometimes if feminist thinkers and writers have looked deeply enough into Patriarchy, and viewed it on the merits of its complexity and nuances. At times, I feel like a self-designated expert on men behaving badly. If we talk about street harassment, we'll need to discuss the men who maintain the practice and where they learned the behavior.

I began with a story of receiving attention that, while not unwanted, certainly took me out of my comfort zone. Before I read the personal anecdotes of women, I assumed this sort of behavior was consigned only to construction workers. But on second thought, I do recall that a former girlfriend lived in a rough part of town. She enjoyed my company when taking a walk. That way, random men passing by in cars would leave her alone. She saw this as inevitable, not as a personal affront.

This issue is often tied closely to class and socio-economic status. I was taught that this was behavior performed by other men who were borderline criminal. Other men might think these thoughts but not verbalize them, or at least not verbalize them in this way. That was part of being a respectable citizen, not a deadbeat.

In the same way, shouted words and an energetic argument is one way of vocalizing conflict. The appearance of a handgun is another. And until we are really willing to dig deeply into class distinctions and cultures not our own, not to avert our eyes and mutter things under our breath, nothing will change.  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Quote of the Week

Ordinarily I would not post a quote by this speaker, but it was too good to leave out.

"It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."- Ronald Reagan

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saturday Video

I ain't happy but, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine, in a bag
I'm useless, but not for long
The future is coming on

I am happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine, in a bag
I'm useless, but not for long
The future is coming on
Is coming on
Is coming on
Is coming on

Edited for brevity.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Big Empty

Driving faster in my car
Falling farther from just what we are
Smoke a cigarette and lie some more
These conversations kill
Falling faster in my car

Time to take her home,
Her dizzy head is conscious laden.
Time to take a ride it leaves today
No conversation

Time to take her home her dizzy head is
Conscious laden
Time to wait too long, to wait too long,
To wait too long.

Too much walking shoes worn thin
Too much trippin' and my soul's worn thin
Time to catch her ride it leaves today,
Her name is what it means

Too much walking shoes worn thin
Time to take her home,
Her dizzy head is conscious laden.
Time to take a ride it leaves today
No conversation

Time to take her home her dizzy head is
Conscious laden
Time to wait too long, to wait too long,
To wait too long.

Conversations kill
Conversations kill
Conversations kill

Time to take her home,
Her dizzy head is conscious laden.
Time to take a ride it leaves today
No conversation

Time to take her home her dizzy head is
Conscious laden
Time to wait too long, to wait too long,
To wait too long.

Conversations kill
Conversations kill
Conversations kill

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ferguson and the Legacy of Bombingham

The last year or so I have watched incidents of racially-based police brutality and violence and have not added my own voice and my own perspective. The reason for this is simple. I'm weary of conflicts predicated on black versus white. Ferguson and the others to come may be novel concepts to much of America, but to me, it's only the beginning of another round of hostilities.

I won't stand in the way of progress, nor will I criticize those who march and take active roles addressing senseless violence against black men. You might say I have no heart for the fighting, because the events of most of my life have been an exasperating series of Fergusons or Trayvon Martins. I've felt unduly persecuted by residents of the rest of the country, a chip on my shoulder, and have noted with a kind of previously secret righteousness that none of these offenses and abuses have occurred in the Deep South.

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that has greatly rehabilitated its image in fifty years, but only to an extent. The city's tragic history of race relations needs no further mention. Suffice it to say that the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which we remember to the current day, was only one of fifty in a twenty-year stretch.

In the aftermath, politicians both black and white manipulated public sentiment in Pavlovian fashion, waving the bloody shirt in front of two distinct communities with pronounced biases and mistrust of the other. Resentment is what exists now, the sort of resentment that will only prevent subsequent healing and ensure that reforms proceed at a snail's pace.

The city, like so many others, re-segregated following Civil Rights. White wealth has enriched many communities while the city of Birmingham, now majority African-American, continues to decline. While there has been a mild Renaissance in recent years, revitalizing Birmingham will take time and money, both in copious quantity.

Whites are weary of the same refrain, the same grainy black and white videos queued up again. In my own life, I admit that I've heard a few offensive epithets thrown around, but I've mostly encountered people who have learned their lesson in the most painful way possible.

But achievement aside, learning a lesson does not imply that subsequent growth and active discourse is forthcoming. People sometimes freeze in their tracks, believing themselves to be persecuted and forever the focal point of the blame. I am sure this is a view held by many whites to this day. We will only invoke a racist past as much as absolutely necessary, burying as many painful truths as possible.

The Modern Sign Company was a sign shop owned by Merle Snow and located at the corner of 3rd Avenue North and 16th Street North in Birmingham. It is only a few blocks away from the 16th Street Baptist Church and was a haven of violent extremists, namely the Ku Klux Klan. One will find no plaque present there, nor busloads of tourists commemorating a historical event, though it is most assuredly a significant location to be preserved for posterity.
During the 1950's and 60's the shop produced countless Confederate flags which were a popular symbol of resistance to Federal court rulings in favor of racial integration. Snow allowed members of the Ku Klux Klan and the National States' Rights Party to use the shop's equipment at cost to produce picket signs, bumper stickers and placards. The shop became a meeting place and was sometimes used to establish alibis for Klan operatives suspected of violent crimes. Investigators suspect that the bomb used in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church two blocks away on September 15, 1963 was assembled at the shop.
In 1974, the black comedian Richard Pryor released a Grammy-winning comedy album entitled That Nigger's Crazy. Forty years later, we've been dealing with the same problem.
Cops put a hurtin’ on your ass, man. You know, they really degrade you. White folks don’t believe that shit, they don’t believe cops degrade. 'Ah, come on, those beatings, those people are resisting arrest. I'm tired of this harassment of police officers.’ That’s 'cause the police live in your neighborhood, see, and you be knowin' 'em as Officer Timpson.
’Hello, Officer Timpson, going bowling tonight? Yes, nice new Pinto you have.' Niggers don’t know them like that. See, white folks get a ticket, they pull over, 'Hey, Officer, yes, glad to be of help, cheerio!'
A nigger got to be talkin’ 'bout, ’I am reaching into my pocket for my license! ’Cause I don't wanna be no motherfucking accident!’ Police degrade. I don’t know, you know, it’s — often you wonder why a nigger don’t go completely mad. No, you do.
You get your shit together, you work all week, right? And then you get dressed and you make — maybe say you can’t make $125 a week, you get $80, if you’re lucky. Right? And you go out, get clean and be driving with this old lady going out to a club, and the police pull over.
'Get out of the car! There was a robbery! A nigger looked just like you! Put your hands up, take your pants down, spread your cheeks!' Now, what nigger feel like having fun after that? ’Let’s just go home, baby.’ You go home and beat your kids and shit. You goin’ take that shit out on somebody.
How we address this issue as a nation is absolutely crucial. Some would brush it under the rug, their own way of managing bad news. Others would proceed forward, but cautiously and without addressing the complete problem. Our fault as Americans was believing that past actions were sufficient and the problem had been solved. Hurricane Katrina revealed the persistence and prevalence of black poverty. Ferguson revealed the racism of the criminal justice system and officers of the supposed peace.

We cannot play duck and cover with the truth. I've looked at well-meaning protesters on television and in person and have felt a deep sadness that they are missing the full picture. We are not all Trayvon Martin, which is the entire point. White allies need to refocus. They are not playing with a full deck and until they are, there simply won't be any real resolution.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Radio Interview

My five minutes of fame on sports talk radio.

I am roughly 18 minutes into the broadcast. Follow the link.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

For the Rest of the Week

For the rest of the week, posting may be sparse. I have three separate doctor's appointments scheduled this week, in addition to publication deadlines. I've written three brand new short stories in the past two or three months. The last time I was so prolific was undergrad writing workshop, and that was only because I had to crank out a new story every week or two.

Let Me Roll It To You

You gave me something, I understand,
You gave me loving in the palm of my hand
I can't tell you how I feel
My heart is like a wheel

Let me roll it
Let me roll it to you
Let me roll it
Let me toll it to you

I want to tell you
And now's the time
I want to tell you that
You're going to be mine

I can't tell you how I feel
My heart is like a wheel.

Let me roll it
Let me roll it to you
Let me roll it
Let me roll it to you

Monday, December 01, 2014

You Can't White Knuckle Relationship Success

In most of my writing, I make a point to leave partners and significant others out of them. This is partially an act of benevolence, but mostly a need to keep at least a few secrets to myself. Even an ambitious and driven person such as myself should remember to always leave an escape route. Showing rather than telling is the first maxim of creative writing, at least as I was taught.

Last week, I wrote about a young woman who sought a boyfriend. Her one judging criteria was that he self-identify as feminist. It won me some sharp criticism, in particular one memorable comment that accused me of seeking to put a twenty-one-year old in her place. I recall that at 21 I wanted to be taken seriously, so I merely extended the same courtesy to her.

Her primary litmus test for relationship suitability was a man who was a feminist, and by that she mostly meant that she wanted a man who respected women. While I respect her desires, and agree with them, I'm afraid the reality goes beyond any single movement and a set of legalistic beliefs. She was lamentably ensnared by a forgery, a man who claimed to be and sounded like what she wanted but who disregarded sexual consent behind closed doors. Her conclusion was that no man could truly be a feminist.

Egalitarian partnerships and marriages are prized and desired by many, myself included. I've heard from several women, at least the ones who partner with men, that they want a boyfriend to understand a little bit about women's rights without fearing emasculation or ridicule. It's a worthy request, but if a man isn't at least halfway down the path before her arrival, I fear she is wasting her time.

If a woman feels that she needs to constantly emphasize and reinforce proper behavior and basic human courtesy, the cause is likely lost from the very beginning. There will be no equality. Successful relationships are built not just on an equal distribution of power, but an equal distribution of love and genuine, lasting concern for the other. Selfishness has no place. In my own life, if I've felt a strong connection with a partner, I rarely needed to be reminded of the proper way of conducting myself. Though I would never be optimistic enough to think that love conquers all, but it does separate the suitable from the pretenders.

Each of us can exist on our own best behavior for a little while. Many relationships begin promisingly enough, but problems can develop and worsen with time. When we first meet someone, we often begin by trying to impress them. A friend of mine described successful relationships as tough mountain hikes that give way to beautiful vistas worthy of contemplation. Once primary goals are accomplished comes cohabitation, the ultimate test for lasting stability. Either we are easy to live with, or not.

How we are brought up is important to how we behave around others, at least to an extent. My parents' forty-year-long marriage has been egalitarian in some respects, and highly one-sided in others. Regardless of her strong identification with women's liberation in a younger self, when it came down to actual parenting, my mother only partially accomplished her goal of total self-sufficiency.

When it came time to mete out discipline, Mom and Dad were a unified unit. My two sisters and I were raised strictly and, I think, successfully. Mom had primary domain over the girls and my father took that role with me. But the manner in which the both of them shared overlapping parental responsibilities I can say now with adult insight was executed almost flawlessly.

However, when it came time for crisis management techniques, so to speak, my father was thrust into a very traditional role because he had no other choice. Mom threw her hands up in the air, begging my father to resolve the problem, often stuck in bed, too emotionally wrecked to participate. I could have resented her for dereliction of duty, but I saw my mother's frailties for what they were, a sign of illness. Those were her worries alone. I doubt any of us blamed my mother for her sometimes frayed nerves and bouts with depression, least not me.

As a child, I had no real concept, nor any understanding what my parents should have done in any given situation. I either accepted the decisions made or rejected them. My mother did the best she could and I have never judged her harshly. I maintain that my mother is a tremendously strong woman regardless of whichever definition one uses, regardless of the circumstances. She cannot be faulted for seeking to be the perfect mother, even though this self-assigned burden taxed her severely. Should she from time to time violate her own standard, even without intending it, no one took it harder than she did.

Strong women come in many forms. The women in my life have not been deferential and compliant to anyone's standard, nor a need to conform to whatever a woman is supposed to be. One of my sisters has recently dealt with a collection of traumatizing experiences that have left behind many scars that remain fresh to the current day. She was married for a time to a physically and emotionally abusive man. He hid his behavior well in the beginning, but soon she had to accept that the man she fell in love with was not the same person when the two of them were alone.

Jung theorized that a man seeking a heterosexual relationship was, in essence, capturing aspects of his mother in those to whom he was primarily attracted. If this is true, it would explain much about my own choices, and, if the genders and sexual orientations are properly assigned, everyone else's, too. Past girlfriends have been emotionally intense and artistic, but with a secret vulnerable side that always took me a while to discover for myself.

We return to the question by which I opened this post. What determines an egalitarian relationship? The more I think about it, I believe it's based on intent rather than follow through. Rest assured, I've made mistakes in bushels. Relationship partners have made mistakes. But forgiveness was a constant. There was enough affection and devotion between us that made up for anything that went wrong. For me, the moment the laughing, the playfulness, and the mutual silliness that falls under the category of affection went away, the end was nigh.      

Women often feel they need to closely regulate their life decisions down to the micrometer. In particular, this often shows up during pregnancy and, following that, being a mother. My mother ate protein-rich food during her pregnancy, wanting me to be as healthy as possible. Then when I turned out to have chronic health conditions, she blamed herself for what she had consumed, even though there is no scientific basis that tuna fish causes fetal damage.

The perfect woman, or those who aspire to be the perfect woman have to check many boxes, and my sympathies are with those who believe they must be everything to everyone.

It took my mother to reach her early sixties and retirement to finally live for herself. She looks relaxed and liberated now, a woman liberated at last, having reached or discarded the goals she set for herself decades earlier. Even though it makes no logical sense, I see women streaming past me every day on the bus and the rail with pursed lips and a countenance of extreme purpose. They are on their own crusade.