Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010



I guess you're leaving soon
I can't go on without you
It's useless to try

To love you is so good
To keep you would be so wonderful
Here is my heart that I give
It's all that I have

Please change your mind
Before my sunshine is gone
Do you think you could try?
Do you think you could try?
Do you think you could try?

Do you understand how I feel?
(See it through)
And I will prove it is real
(Until I can prove it to you)
Don't fill my world with rain
You know your tears would only bring pain in my heart

I guess you're leaving

One More For Good Measure

Each of the characters in this song are real people I encounter, or have encountered before in my life. You may know them, but you probably don't. :-)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Depression Update

A few weeks back I mentioned that I had entered a period of depression. With an increased dosage of Lithium, it subsided temporarily. Unfortunately, it has now returned again. Sometimes depressed episodes come in waves. As I think I said before, it would be wonderful if I or any psychiatrist knew precisely what causes an episode to begin or conclude. My consternation is extreme, increased exponentially by just how impotent I am to heal myself.

What I've been recently is thoroughly irritated. My patience is worn threadbare and I find myself growing easily irritated at little things. Screaming profanity at my computer when I have problems with writing something is usually the first sign I have arrived at this stage. It tends to severely frighten those around me a little, since my personality is usually nothing like this. I never wish to upset anyone, but that discomfort's got to go somewhere, I suppose.

I'll keep everyone updated, should things worsen or improve, but right now I'm tremendously discouraged.

Another New Song

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Enabling Believers or Respecting Freedom of Choice?

While a member of another faith group, an old joke was invoked every time turnout on any given Sunday was less than expected:

Q: Why don't ______________ go to church during the summertime?
A: They don't have to.

This same conundrum, modified slightly, could easily apply to many liberal Unprogrammed Friends, regardless of the season or the time of year. I make light of this not to raise the specter of collective guilt, but rather to highlight one of the many challenges currently facing me. At my monthly meeting, I am the unofficial official co-clerk in charge of Young Adult ministries. The Clerk and I have tried a variety of very novel, very different approaches to keep Young Adult Friends motivated to participate and to, above all, turn out consistently. Regardless of what is attempted, attendance is almost always sporadic at best. No matter how interested someone appears at first, it is statistically very likely he or she will rarely stick around.

If I had to provide a rough estimate, I'd say out of ten people whose hand I shake at the rise of meeting or during coffee afterward, eight are likely to attend only one function and never return. Of that same group, many will wish to be placed on the group listserve and never attend a single Young Adult gathering, nor attend another worship service. An additional challenge that presents me is how many Young Adult Friends perceive of the group as a bit of a dating service. This is hardly unusual to any religious/spiritual gathering, but when that becomes the sole motivation for anyone to show up with any consistency, then it can be safely labeled a problem. I have torn my hair out struggling with this situation and have recently conceded that all I can do is all I can do.

A friend of a Friend, in great contrast, has not had any of these same problems with her Young Adult group. A critical mass sprung up quickly, almost of its own accord, though the organizers certainly put (and still devote) a lot of hard work into keeping it going. Astonishingly, in the church itself, Young Adults make up fully a third of those in attendance. They have even eagerly taken many leadership positions within it. Granted, she is not a Quaker.

Instead, she is a United Methodist. I find this particularly interesting because I myself was raised United Methodist. Although I would have considered the ideology of the two Methodist churches I attended to be somewhere between centrist and liberal, there was, political allegiance aside, nonetheless an expectation that going to church every Sunday was expected. Perhaps this explains the consternation with my current situation. Plainly put, if I don't go to meeting on Sunday, I feel as though I've really missed out on something I've really needed and could not obtain through any other avenue. Would I call that guilt? Partially, but pure guilt alone has, to me, always connoted something I feel I need to do that I will severely dislike when I do it.

Friends may relate highly to Wallace Stevens in "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman".

A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

I certainly know what not to do. Some months back, I gave a very poorly received message on this topic during Meeting for Worship. Despite my desire to light a fire underneath what I considered to be recalcitrant Friends, I was thought to be heartlessly hectoring those gathered while waggling my finger. I will never forget how a woman stood up after I had finished talking, plainly furious at me, implying that while she was deeply insulted, she at least admired my courage to be this offensive. She has never returned. It does not give me any pleasure to have made such a negative impression on anyone that they no longer wish to attend meeting. I felt more frustrated than before I rose to speak, observing that the end result backfired so impressively. All I had sought to do was open a dialogue. Apparently, the dialogue cannot be opened in this fashion.

Yet, most discouraging of all is the overall assumption of so many. I think sometimes that liberal Unprogrammed Friends may have been raised to believe that worship was not an obligation, but rather an occasional event that could easily be superseded if something more interesting or pressing came up instead. How does one even begin to reverse that attitude? As it stands, that belief fosters an attitude that worship is there only when I need it, or even, I only reach out to God when I really need him. If we were speaking about a sports team, one would be called a fairweather fan. In bad times, all religious gatherings are filled to capacity, only to dissipate when good times returns. However, when this attitudes borders on epidemic and is always present regardless of the state of the times, it needs to be addressed.

And here I am, left with that eternal quandary once again. How much of a personal decision to be a sporadic attender can be safely chalked up to free will and with it that oft-cited assumption that we're all, each of us, on a highly individual spiritual path? If I believed people didn't need an intense connection with a higher power and with that a way to have community with others similarly inclined, I would feel less troubled. As it stands, I'm not terribly upset these days when an event planned months in advance is sparsely attended. What does upset me is when I contemplate the attitude that makes my job a challenge, regardless of what I do. I have no answers and no pronouncements, only the realization that I seem to be swimming upstream. I am not discouraged and I enjoy what I do, but I don't know how to begin to take on the systemic issues that demand a solution.

Something New

This is an original song of mine, which I am going to try to successfully embed here. It was recorded entirely on a computer.

Busy Day Video

Jackie wants a black eye
Some proof that she's been hit
And John wants the answers
But the questions just don't quit

And we're sitting in the rain
And we're feeling like the weather.
You could say that we're alone
But we're lonely together

We're all in it together now
As we all fall apart
And we're swapping little pieces
Of our broken little hearts.

Jackie is jumping in the quicksand
But it isn't what you think.
She's safe because she knows
The more you fight, the more you sink

And John is following the black cloud
To keep him from the sun.
So he bends over now
Something has finally begun.

And we're all in it together now
As we all fall apart
And we're swapping little pieces
Of our broken little hearts.

And we've been hurting so long
That our pleasure is our pain.
Are we madly in love
Or are we madly insane?

When yesterday's love defines you
And today that love is gone
Tomorrow keeps you guessing
The roller coaster is rolling on.

And we're all in it together now
As we all fall apart
And we're swapping little pieces
Of our broken little hearts.

And we're all in it together now
As we all fall apart
And we're swapping little pieces
Of our broken little hearts.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some May Leave and Some Aren't Going Anywhere

Translated from the Dr. Dog, with lyrical digressions and revisions by the author.

Well, it's hard enough to get fed
When you're on

And it's always time to pay rent
When you're home

Is this the worst trip
You have ever been on?

Well, you're looking for the light switch
Click, it's on

Now you're staring at the T.V.
And telephone

Is this the worst trip
You have ever been on?

Well, I thought you'd kind of like it
It's awfully dark and quiet here

Some may leave
and some aren't going, anyway

Well, you're driving to the workplace
hung over and stoned

You know the radio's the worst thing
Early in the morning

Is this the worst trip
You have ever been on?

Well, I thought you'd kind of like it
It's awfully dark and quiet here

Some may leave and
some aren't going anywhere

Monday, July 26, 2010

Conscience Clauses, Civil Disobedience, and Uncivil Discourse

In this country, a long tradition exists of individuals who have refused to perform a particular duty or task, citing their religious beliefs as justification. The very definition of Civil Disobedience, of course, depends on the person, the situation, and how it is applied. The latest incident has opened up a discussion which has never really subsided, only dipped underneath the radar from time to time. In this circumstance, a Texas bus driver, who is also an ordained conservative Christian minister, claims that he was fired for not taking a women to Planned Parenthood. His decision is in the same vein as those of pharmacists who, stating moral reasons, will not dispense the morning-after pill to women who request it.

Though I myself am staunchly pro-choice, I've felt a need to examine the particulars of this case. As reprehensible as I find many of the tactics utilized by those on the other side of the divide, I've decided to analyze events and notable people of a different age to determine if some middle ground can be reached.

In the Eighteenth Century, The Quaker John Woolman spoke out against the degrading evil of slavery. Before he began his work, there was no uniform opposition to the peculiar institution among Friends. However, Woolman's ministry, writing, and ethical conduct changed the minds of many. His hard work has not gone unnoticed, nor has his philosophy of life.

In 1754 Woolman wrote Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes. He subsequently refused to draw up wills transferring slaves. Working on a non-confrontational, personal level, he individually convinced many Quaker slaveholders to free their slaves. He attempted personally to avoid using the products of slavery; for example, he wore undyed clothing because slaves were used in the making of dyes.

In Woolman's travels, whenever he received hospitality from a slaveholder, he insisted on paying the slaves for their work in attending him. He would also refuse to be served with silver cups, plates, and utensils, on grounds that slaves were forced to dig such precious minerals and gems for the rich. On one occasion in his early adulthood, he did convey the ownership of a slave in someone's will, but was later so filled with remorse over the act that he went back, found the individual so injured, and made monetary reparations sufficient to sustain that person in freedom for some years. He observed that some owners used the labor of their slaves to enjoy lives of ease, and found much more fault with this practice than with those owners who treated their slaves gently, or even worked alongside them.

Woolman was able to see nuances within the practice itself, while still viewing it as savage, cruel, and in dire need of being abolished altogether. It would appear that he placed more emphasis on social justice than in harsh condemnation. This is in great contrast to today's culture war, the abortion debate being only one theater; any who stand in opposition to how "we" believe are often reviled in language that could only be described as demonic. Returning to the past once more, some historians have argued that, shortly after Woolman's death in 1772, slavery was assumed by many to be a dying practice on its way out. Indeed, many slaveholders of the time stated that they would have manumitted those who they held in bondage simply as a matter of course.

Arguably, what changed their way of thinking were two key events. One was the establishment of the abolitionist press, of which later Quakers had a notable hand, and the bombastic rhetoric of William Lloyd Garrison. In the first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, published in 1831, Garrison famously wrote,

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

The second event to turn the tide was the threat of slave insurrection, a kind of massive paranoia that sprang up following Nat Turner's revolt that same year. By the time the butchery concluded, 55 white men, women, and children lay dead. Yet, something not often mentioned in discussions of the uprising was Turner's strong religious convictions.

Turner had "natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension, surpassed by few." He learned to read and write at a young age. He grew up deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible. He frequently experienced visions which he interpreted as messages from God. These visions greatly influenced his life; for instance, when Turner was 23 years old, he ran away from his owner, but returned a month later after having such a vision. Turner often conducted Baptist services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him "The Prophet". Turner also had influence over white people, and in the case of Ethelred T. Brantley, Turner said that he was able to convince Brantley to "cease from his wickedness".

By early 1828, Turner was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty. "While working in his owner's fields on May 12, Turner "heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first." Turner was convinced that God had given him the task of "slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons." Turner "communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence" – his fellow slaves Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.

Beginning in February 1831, Turner came to believe that certain atmospheric conditions were to be interpreted as a sign that he should begin preparing for a rebellion against the slave owners.

Nat Turner's reputation has evolved considerably since then. Many scholars view him in a favorable light, but regardless of one's opinion of the man, he was a homegrown terrorist using religion to justify violent acts. I can think of more than a few abortion clinic bombers who fit the same profile. As a pacifist, I do not approve of violence for any reason and for any cause, regardless of whether it suits my ideological beliefs or not. It bothers me when anyone who kills someone else for a moral cause, regardless of the context, becomes transformed into a hero. This is as true for Nat Turner as it is for John Brown. Our silent complicity condones indefensible cruelty. Whether we be anti-slavery or pro-life, we all too often let the fringes speak for us, if not in our own time, certainly with the passage of time. It upsets me how easy it is for us to rehabilitate the reputations of people who caused so much harm and pain, transforming them into noble figures who were misunderstood in their day.

The Texas bus driver may have cited conscience in refusing to drive a woman to Planned Parenthood, but I look beyond it. The crux of the matter, to me, is not what he did, but how it has been perceived and reported. This event is already being used as the latest salvo in a war with no endpoint in sight. I don't believe that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood, but I am profoundly troubled by what I see for the future. The fastest, easiest way to encourage a dialogue filled with crude, destructive hatred is to state an opinion either for or against legalized abortion.

Some months ago, I recorded an iReport for CNN shortly after Ted Kennedy's death, and several people who left comments used my video remarks in support of the late Senator as an opportunity to introduce their virulent opposition to abortion rights. We've become so polarized that people will interject their own passionate beliefs on this matter regardless of they are pertinent to the topic or not. I hate to think about where we're headed next.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote of the Week

“Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”- William James

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday Video

Come on, people
Come on, children
Come on down to the Glory River

Gonna wash you up
And wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down
Gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people
Come on, children
There's a king at the Glory River

And the precious king
He loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinkin' sun
Sang "We Shall Overcome"

I got fury in my soul
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind

I can't study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country, now

Come on, people
Come on, children
Come on down to the Glory River

Gonna wash you up
And wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down
Gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people
Sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gonna take that dream and ride that dove

We could build the dream with love, I know
We could build the dream with love
We could build the dream with love, I know
We could build the dream with love

I got fury in my soul
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind
I can't study war no more

Save the people
Save the children
Save the country, now

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fade Away

I didn't get a chance to record too many performance videos during the week, so I figured I'd do another today. Those who remember the original will discover that this is my own unique take on it. My left thumb (crucial for barring) is acting up today, so I pretty much had to put down something quickly before it gave out again.

They stumbled into their lives
In a vague way became man and wife
One got the other
They deserved one another

They settled in a brand new town
With people from the same background
They kept themselves busy
Long hours left them dizzy

Now when

He's in
She's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away

He's not making plans
'Cos now they understand

All you ever do is fade away

He noticed he had visible lines
She worried about her behind

Their birth had been the death of them
It didn't really bother them
Now when

She's in
He's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away

She's not making plans
'Cos now she understands
All you ever do is fade away

When he's in
She's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away

A Wonderful Way to Start the Day

I have some very good news to share with everyone. My post of Tuesday was a review of Michael Kimmel's book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. This morning while checking my e-mail, I discovered that Dr. Kimmel e-mailed me personally to thank me for what I had written. My jaw dropped.

These days, I usually cross-post what I write to five and six different places, which I've discovered is a good way to increase exposure and readership. Confirmation like this is a shot in the arm, and a lift to my spirits. It shows how much I have learned in a relatively short period of time. I've never taken a single gender studies, women's studies, or related course in my life, but yet something spoke to me when I first encountered Feminism. The magnetic pull felt a bit mystical, as though this was something I'd always been meant to do. I'd always had an interest in sociology and psychology, but this particular formulation appealed strongly to me.

In the meantime, I'll be reading, listening, and seeking intersections. The art of translation is, to me, the most crucial. Intent without transposing sometimes falls flat.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Return of Performance Videos!

Dear Readers,

Here's the reason why posting has been light and limited recently. I was without access to the internet here at home for most of a week. What ensued was very much a comedy of errors. Early last week it was discovered that the intermittent internet coverage I had been experiencing was the result of squirrels who had shredded the wires to the outside cable box. When a repair crew came around to fix that issue, they inadvertently cut the main wires to the entire complex, rendering absolutely everyone who lives here without cable television and internet service. The problem was finally repaired properly yesterday afternoon.

What follows is a favorite song of mine, though I'd encourage those inclined to analyze the lyrics to look well beyond the literal meaning. It has been an anthem of sorts recently.

"I don't want to say too much, don't want to spoil it...If you get it, great. If you don't, that's fine too. But you should probably read more."

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
And pick up on one and leave the other behind?
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one and let the other one ride?
There's so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide?

Sometimes there's one with big blue eyes, cute as a bunny
With hair down to here, and plenty of money
And just when you think she's that one in the world
Your heart gets stolen by some mousy little girl

And then you know you'd better make up your mind
And pick up on one and leave the other behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Sometimes you really dig a girl the moment you kiss her
And then you get distracted by her older sister
When in walks her father and takes you in line
And says, "You better go home, son, and make up your mind"

And then you bet you'd better finally decide
And say yes to one and let the other one ride
There's so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guyland: A Review

After much delay, I have finally decided to read Michael Kimmel's book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. My reluctance to pick it up before now was predicated on the fact that masculinity and I are not yet completely at peace with one another. We have a tortured, confused relationship, a contradictory allegiance that on one hand sometimes makes me want to defend the honor of highly irresponsible, often vile men when they are being rightly criticized in Feminist spaces, and one where I find this same conduct deeply reprehensible. My opinions on the subject are strong and pungent, and not apathetic in the least.

As I've made my way through the book, I find myself wishing my own father would read it. Maybe he'd understand the hell that I went through earlier in life. Maybe he'd understand the behavior of my male peers as well, who in all fairness went through their own private, albeit never verbalized time in Hades. He might even be capable of recognizing why I kept my distance from them. Perhaps it'd even give him permission to explore certain parts of his own masculinity currently roped off as forbidden. I know for a fact that he wouldn't, of course, but still I wish.

The book has been a painful read. Much of what Kimmel speaks about cuts right to the bone. I find myself frequently wincing internally as I read, and after particularly intense paragraphs I find I have to set it down and process. The sections which speak about the ways young men have learned to mask their very human emotional responses by adopting defensive poses like cockiness, bravado, and swagger are the most distressing. To me, nothing is as discomforting as seeing another man struggle to conceal his anxieties and his deep seeded fears, regardless of what he's dealing with or how he chooses to do it. My own upbringing is to blame.

Frequent readers may recognize that I talk about my father quite a bit. The reason for this is that I associate him in my mind with a particular version of masculinity that I understood far too well and wanted no part of whatsoever. I was expected to unquestioningly embrace it, to put it on and wear it like a second skin, without the need to examine it first; one was never instructed to check it for rips and tears, to discern whether it was sensible or airtight. I unequivocally refused. My father never understood why, even, ironically enough, as he blocked out his own discomfort while clothing himself in a one-size-fits all garment that, contrary to the advertising, suits absolutely no one.

The motif of father, in all sorts of contexts has surfaced a good bit during therapy, so I find it weighing on my mind a good bit. I doubt this is an uncommon experience for many people. My father played a huge role in my life, but I never realized how much until I began to examine long repressed parts of myself. His influence as teacher of how to be a man was pervasive and set the tone for how I felt about myself going forward. In particular, I've been recently contemplating and reclaiming feelings and emotions which were taboo to display openly and publicly. I probably saw Dad cry all of one time in my entire life. It was an eerie experience, and one that left me feeling tremendously out of sorts for a while afterward.

I myself was forcibly conditioned to not shed tears for any reason and for a long time I never did. Thankfully, I have found myself able to cry more easily, and I have eagerly embraced the new freedom to let out my feelings through extremely efficient means. I was always a sensitive kid, and I think of all the energy I expended, all the creative ways I formulated to keeping myself from tearing up. Dialing down one's compassion, in ways just like this are what young men do to seem hyper-masculine and tough. The tragedy of such actions is not lost on me. If they could only channel and direct this energy in ways that build up, rather than obscure or tear down, then many of the problems this attitude creates would not exist. The problems with humanity that I have observed are not that we are unmotivated and driven to succeed, but that we pick the wrong things to edify.

My reading of the text does provide an unexpected result: sympathy. I find myself feeling pity for these young men, which is a huge step for me. They have been thoroughly warped by a culture which does not adequately educate them about how to be self-aware and introspective. If the men who I associate as obnoxious, embarrassing, and borderline criminal are seeking anything in all their cocksure strutting and boorish behavior, they are desperately chasing after a stable means of feeling connected as a part of something larger than themselves. Though they cannot or will not vocalize it, they seek a source of true wisdom and an ability to have faith in something solid all the way through.

A solution is possible, of course. In Quaker terms, we'd call it being "tender". Tenderness is the ability and willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of greater healing, not just within the self, but within the whole. While these young men might individually pursue this if given the chance, collectively they'd rather follow the pack out of the fear of sticking out or seeming less-than-manly in the eyes of other men. Masculinity as currently defined is about blending in to avoid being put in one's place by someone else. It reminds me a bit about the famous description of the British class system. Every man knows his place, and there is always someone there to remind him of it, should he forget.

The largest challenge of all is conquering the very real fear of men who are simply afraid to "go there", paranoid they might emote even the faintest whiff of being unmanly. Tragically, many men drift for years, without a rudder or a compass, adopting one artificial posture after another. Acting otherwise is often associated with effeminacy, anathema to Guy Code, as Kimmel puts it.

Upon reading this book, I've begun to strip away the layers of hostility and bitter condemnation I've built up over the years. It is a complete reversal of sorts for me to see the sort of trolls who send grammatically challenged hate mail or post deliberately provocative invective in comment threads as damaged, confused, and lost. Anyone who presents himself as angry and obnoxious does not exactly inspire easy sympathy in others. I still find it a severe challenge to restructure my own attitudes, based as they are in old hurts and old wounds yet to close. But my faith tells me that if I don't, then true forgiveness can never be achieved, within myself and within the larger world. No one promised that the task was supposed to be easy.

It would take no effort at all for me to fall back into my old ways, eager and willing to lash out at the men we call dude bros, frat boys, lads, or yobs. I have mentioned before that anger comes from a place of pain. From whence this does this feeling of brokenness stems? Here might be one answer. Masculinity is a fragile thing, a flimsy construct that slides by on a steady stream of glossy lies. Its adherents are themselves the walking wounded.

That this entire systemic framework can be brought to its knees by the mere thought of real equality should give us all great comfort. Indeed, this is what keeps me motivated to add my voice to the other eloquent voices whose ultimate goal is the same as my own. And when that moment comes, as I know it will, the true believers in a saccharine unreality will have to go somewhere. They'll have to learn the truth, which, as we are taught, will set us all free. So let us keep speaking truth, sisters and brothers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Need-Based Need

"You must be
terribly lonely."

a projection,

the truth.

I never asked
to have half

of the reasons why

isolation must be the
minority way

similar toxins

Did we pick the same
wound or the same salve?

We descend into them
to heal the surface,
but not the root.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Movin' On Up

The past several days I've been musing on the chosen strategies employed by the privileged and the well-educated to solve societal problems. In particular, I've been contemplating the idea of poverty. As is typical for me, I've been seeking to find intersections and similarities between seemingly divergent topics, all in the hopes of eliminating confusion among everyone. Sometimes we disagree because we inadvertently work at cross-purposes to each other. The anecdote to follow illustrates how social class muddies the waters quite considerably, and how in the process we often find ourselves talking past one another. I've found this exercise personally helpful in many instances, and I tell it now in the hopes that readers might feel the same.

Here, a story from my own life. It illustrates how the same seemingly straightforward matter can be perceived in completely different ways.

My father grew up very poor. Both of his parents were undereducated, possessing perhaps an eighth grade education between the two of them. Like most residents of the small Southern town of his birth, they worked their entire lives in a textile mill. The house where my father grew up was small, especially for modern standards. In my mind's eye, I can see it now from visits there during my childhood. Two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and a small screened in porch. That was about it. The residence sat in the center of a few acres of land, well out in the country. By the time I was born, others had bought up acreage around my grandfather's plot and constructed homes, but when my father was growing up, most of what surrounded him was woods. I'm sure that must have made him feel even more isolated.

Dad saw no virtue in having not much money or in living simply. So far as he was concerned, living simply was a symbol of poverty. Instead, he wanted to be like the wealthy kids who lived in town. He was ashamed of his own parents, particularly in their general ignorance about the greater world and in their country ways. He was so ashamed, in fact, that he never invited friends or girlfriends to the house. Though I've never asked him specifically how he managed it, I suppose he fabricated a story that implied he was solidly middle class. And, moreover, he wanted to the look the part. In his childhood, he had to make do with hand-me-down clothing or garments purchased at thrift stores. As a result, while in high school, he took a job at a grocery store, where he worked hard and saved every penny he earned. With his savings he purchased expensive clothes. Aspiring, as he did, to have money someday, this must have been a serious step towards attempting to fit in and being taken seriously.

My story is quite a bit different. When I was in high school, I could have been perfectly content to shop at a thrift store for all of my clothes. Though I never would never have put it in those terms at the time, this was my way of appealing to social justice. And, though I would have certainly never put it in those terms at the time, it was also my observance of simplicity. Dad never understood. To him, shopping at a thrift store was something one did out of necessity when money was scarce. So, despite my protests, I was marched down to a department store, whereupon a full year's worth of moderately priced, but still brand new clothes were purchased for me.

I'm not sure he ever quite got that to me, wearing the clothes found in such places implied (to me, at least) that I was the sort of person likely to join a fraternity at a state school a few year's hence. But I do recognize now that he meant well. He just didn't want me to seem as though I was poor and uneducated. His upbringing produced a decided chip on the shoulder, one that motivated him to succeed, which was itself an attempt to be perceived as more than just some country bumpkin from the middle of nowhere. He wanted me to be seen as authoritative and integral to the discussion, not some small town rube spouting down home colloquialisms.

I think it's a symptom of our own privilege that we have the ability to point back to past ways and consider them better than modern times. To me, my father's perspective serves as a needed contrast. He enjoys air conditioning and makes no bones about it, since he grew up without it. He dislikes black and white movies, regardless of how artfully rendered they may be, because it reminds him of how he had to make do with a tiny black and white television, when others had the money to afford color sets. He feels no compulsion to farm or to put much effort into a garden, since that was precisely how his family augmented their own diet, being that they had no other choice.

He shops at Walmart without guilt because he remembers what it's like to have to buy on a tight budget and, if confronted about unfair labor practices in Third World country, he just shrugs his shoulders, replying that at least they have higher paying jobs now. His own parents, my Grandparents, were originally poor yeoman farmers, but some wealthy plutocrat, probably from the North, came down and started a mill. The jobs provided were, at least to the poor whites who took them, much superior than having to worry about crop failures or spending hours a day doing backbreaking labor. Subsistence farming is not easy, particularly in the rocky soil of the hill country, which is hardly the most fertile. It didn't take much coaxing to put down a plow or to have a stable, albeit meager paycheck that didn't depend on intangibles upon which they had no control.

Returning to my father's story, like many who grew up without, money provides status. It is a confirmation of social mobility, one accomplished with a tremendous amount of hard work. In many ways, I'm proud of him for reaching his goal. He is the walking personification of the American Dream. Yet, he and I will never see eye to eye about my desire to seek fairness and equality by refusing to participate in consumer culture. He views nothing intrinsically wrong with buying things, per se, provided he can afford them. As far as he's concerned, he's worked hard for what he has, and every purchase gives him a sense of satisfaction that he's made it. He's moved on up to the East Side and finally got a piece of the pie.

And so the question remains, how do we reconcile our belief that we ought to make do with as little as we can with the reality that others would gladly change places with us in a heartbeat? I find it bordering on colonialism, perhaps even the White Man's Burden itself to imply that I've got the answer. If economic equality is what we seek, we're going to have to take into account class and class distinctions, also. It's important that we consider other metrics and other broad avenues of discrimination, but one simply cannot overlook class, which might very well be the broadest delineation of all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Quote of the Week

"You just keep thinking, Butch. That's what your good at."- Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Saturday Video

Friday, July 16, 2010

From the Archives

I'm going to be busy during the day, so please accept this video from the archives instead. It is one of my most favorite songs of all time.

one, two, three
If you close the door
the night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
and say hello to never

All the people are dancing
and they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

If you close the door
the night could last forever
Leave the wine-glass out
and drink a toast to never

Oh, someday I know
someone will look into my eyes
And say hello
you're my very special one

But if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again

Dark party bars, shiny Cadillac cars
and the people on subways and trains
Looking gray in the rain, as they stand disarrayed
oh, but people look well in the dark

And if you close the door
the night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
and say hello to never

All the people are dancing
and they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me

Cause if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again
I'd never have to see the day again, once more
I'd never have to see the day again

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Addressing the Poisonous Root of Bitterness

I have written openly about my Christ-centered faith on numerous occasions. I rediscovered it relatively recently after rejecting it out of hand earlier in life. The best way to describe the experience is that, for whatever reason or another, it found me, rather than the other way around. A belief in a higher power keeps me mentally supple and not fixated on the superficial. My faith points me to the way to live in peace among other people, and also within myself. So, when I observe yet again how easy it is for the mere mention of Jesus or God to provoke a nasty, negative response in many, I feel tremendously sad.

Organized religion has, I acknowledge, created tremendous damage for many. On the other hand, however, it seems as though certain people hold fast to a stage of processing pain and loss that stays resolutely stuck in scathing rejection. Even worse, they never seem to move beyond it. One wonders why the progression of time would not give a person the ability to reach a sense of resolution within themselves, responding to all notions of religion with which they passionately disagree with a mere shrug of the shoulders. Those who consider themselves staunchly opposed to religion or even spirituality certainly do spend a good bit of time with it on the brain. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

A right-wing strain of Christianity advances the notion that Christianity is under attack from secular fundamentalists, and I simply don't see it this way at all. There are any number of well-documented instances that could have easily led anyone question or reject their faith wholesale. The continuing saga of sexual abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic Church is one of these. Growing up in a faith, regardless of what it was, that severely limited or restricted personal freedom for the sake of authoritarian control has also led to quite understandable feelings of bitterness and anger among those who have left it behind. As liberals, we value our own right to individual expression, and for good reason. But not everyone who wishes to trash religion has had these experiences. It deeply troubles me to observe how Christianity and Christians are painted with the broadest and most caustic of brushes. In response, I spend much of my energy drawing contrasts between the liberal faith I believe in and the opposite extreme which I reject as fervently as they do.

In these stressful times, I feel as though I'm on the stand, the chief witness for the defense in a particularly intense, contested court case. As I sit, I am given the third degree by a hostile, combative prosecuting attorney. The lawyer tries every trick in the book to get me to incriminate myself or to concede that what I believe is suspect or irrational. The prosecutor pulls out random verses from Scripture that could, at face value, seem contradictory without ample interpretation and context. The intent of this exercise is to try to invalidate the entire Bible by casting doubt on the entire book itself, making the assumption that if one verse rings false in some way, then the full text has no veracity and authority whatsoever. In deeper irony than that, I'm reminded of all the times where the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus either to make him incriminate himself or to cast doubt upon the validity of his teachings.

They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn't we?"

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, "Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I'll tell you." They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.
This passage has had many interpretations over the years. It has been used, variously, to justify not paying taxes that benefit war, to articulate a need to keep church and state fully separate, as a command to pay taxes that support war, a commandment to not pay taxes that support war, a warning that involving oneself too actively in the inner workings of the state is dangerous, and an encouragement to devote oneself more fully to God. It is also worth pointing out that some believe Jesus' answer was just a cleverly vague answer to a question which would have incriminated him regardless of whether he answered yes or no. Depending on how you see it, Jesus is either a pacifist war resister, a Libertarian, a card-carrying ACLU member, or a believer in law and order.

It is often difficult to pigeonhole precisely who Jesus was or was not. He was an anomaly in his own time. When any group or any person claims to know for certain that their interpretation of his teachings ought to be perceived as the only valid one, I for one don't buy it. Many act as though a carpenter from Nazareth is a successful business model or a commodity with exclusive licensing rights. Jesus™ is not for sale, but this doesn't stop some people from thinking that they are the sole proprietary owner and that all rights are reserved to them. To them, no use of the original text/leader is allowed without the expressed written consent of their particular group or faction. I can understand why conduct like that could harden hearts and scare people away in droves. But as for me, if I share my faith with others, and perhaps even a Bible verse or two, the intent is not to win converts, but to provide food for thought. In my own way, I might be capable of sharing wisdom with other people in the form of a source they might not have otherwise ever considered. There's a lot of good stuff in that old book.

I chose to include the Biblical passage above to underscore how so many peoples' spleen and bile is being channeled in an entirely wrong direction. Jesus is not the enemy and never will be. If he were alive now, I firmly believe, he would not be a member of any existing movement, faith group, or organization. Based on how I read his ministry, he would be much more inclined to be out on the ground among those who needed his guidance and assistance most. Jesus would not seek to shore up his power base by advancing any perversion of his own philosophy and teachings, no matter how benign. I let no one off the hook by saying this, since we all get it wrong sometimes to one degree or another. But if we can acknowledge our imperfections and start again from a place of tenderness and compassion, then we are doing all God asks of us.

My primary concern is that in this day and age, it seems like people want to build their own Two Minutes' Hate. I suppose it speaks to our own inward dissatisfaction that we want to vent our frustration by convenient means. It doesn't matter if you're a Tea Party member or an infamous internet troll. In this situation, if people must be upset then I hope they'd instead consider being mad at the humans who have tainted and otherwise manipulated a message of love and compassion for their own ends. If we must think in terms of enemies and allies, one hopes that we'd be capable of knowing how to separate the two. Any system devised by human hands is capable of being easily corruptible and in so doing drifting away from its core message. Perhaps our first step ought to be recognizing that we've set the bar as highly for other people as we have for ourselves. And in response, we can embrace an attitude of cynicism, thinking the task too arduous and the terrain too rugged, or we can recognize that mistakes are inevitable, while knowing that course corrections will be necessary from time to time.

When systemic injustices are perpetuated, not swiftly corrected (or corrected at all), condoned, allowed to ferment, and intensified when other unchallenged injustices are layered on top, then problems become massive. And that which is destructive to faith groups is also destructive to we ourselves. We can cover up problems we've encountered or delay dealing with them for a long time, even years. It should be common sense to know that personal issues can only be repressed up to a point until they begin to eat us alive. A much better solution, in my opinion, would be to bring them forth into the Light whereby we can initiate the work necessary for healing to begin. If we do not, we'll be looking for one scapegoat after another, with no end in sight.

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

For those uncomfortable with the God talk, holy could mean "that which makes you whole." My hope is that the message is clear enough. The poisonous root of bitterness troubles many, but we have a remedy close at hand. I pray we set aside the poisonous aspects of ourselves, which are more damaging to us than they are to any target we may seek out. Holding grudges for any reason consumes energy which could be used for better things. We may reject the status quo with impulsive cockiness and provocative behavior, but we're really acting just like everyone else. Capitalism, in particular, has discovered how to cater to this compulsion. We have a million avenues available for us to be angry, but real rebellion is finding peace of mind and with it serenity. The most virulent toxin ever created is produced within ourselves, not projected onto someone or something else.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Best Days

*Please pardon the wild hair.

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 break into a cold sweat
If you said
That these are the best days
Of their lives

And other people turn around and laugh at you
If you said
That these are the best days
Of our lives
Of our lives

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On a Busy Day, A Poetic Offering

ain’t something
to pretend to be
unless you are.

and I am.

It ain’t no
Fashion Statement
if in fact,
the afflicted aren’t
Enthralled with its novelty

and I for one
am no fan of identities
with price tags
and sell by dates

If you really are
you might start out
wishing that part of you

had a shelf life
shorter than milk

to be poured away
when it
became too hazardous

to consume.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Damage Has Consequences

I am and have always been a vocal proponent of therapy, medication, and introspection. All three in tandem have proven to be invaluable to my own understanding of self, as well as an effective treatment plan. I am not the only person who has reaped great benefit from them, too. Recent developments, however, have given me a greater understanding of the limitations of each of these methods of attaining mental health. By this I mean that a friend recently pointed out once again my infamous difficulty in setting adequate boundaries for myself and alongside it, unintentionally exhausting people with my need to constantly reach out.

I can point the finger of blame squarely at childhood trauma for both, but regardless of the cause, I am left with the aftermath. Though I may not have caused either of these things, I have had nonetheless to contend with the negative consequences. For a long while, this was a reliable source of anger, renewed afresh when I’d receive the latest, politely worded plea for space which confirmed that I was calling, texting, or e-mailing too frequently, despite my best intentions to the contrary. I don't want to think of any process towards greater health as an exercise in futility, but being reminded again of the depths of the challenge reminds me how much farther I have to go.

The violence so dominant in this society could find any number of apologists if personal willpower and motivation alone would undo the damage done. Someone could say, for example, The battered girlfriend can always heal herself psychologically with enough exertion and devotion to getting better. Physical therapy can do wonders for people with physical injuries, and mental therapy can accomplish the same, they'd say. However, this is a fatuous comparison that insists a victim ought to be the sole person who is obligated to pick up the pieces. In this scenario, not only should this not have to be her responsibility, sometimes violence is so destructive that one never fully recovers from it. If our capacity to destroy was equal to our capacity to heal, then the argument might hold water. Alas, it is not.

The physical scars may heal, leaving behind a few slight traces, but things will never truly be the same again. This is not meant to discourage those in search of help and healing, but rather a reminder that our bodies and our minds are not indestructible. For example, I was in a car accident in my late teens whereby the deflation of an airbag dislocated my left thumb. I may have built the strength of the joint back over time, but it has never been the same since. Its range of motion is only half what it used to be, and it bends stiffly and woodenly towards my palm. Even surgery won't restore it to complete functionality.

What I do in therapy every session is engage in a process of desensitizing myself to situations where I encounter men while out and about otherwise living my life. As one might imagine, I have plenty of opportunities to feel uncomfortable all the time. Bit by bit, one exhausting baby step after another, I press on. If I were not committed to this as I am, my numerous fears and reservations would have me isolate myself as a means of protection, such as I have done for years. It’s not fair on two levels, particularly to men who never did anything themselves to make me fearful of them. When I am unable to rationally distinguish between friend or foe, I shortchange more than just myself.

One of the reasons I became a pacifist and Quaker was my realization that violence and brutality do not stop at the fringes of a battle in some foreign land. It is a cliche by now to state that all too many inner city neighborhoods have become war zones, and we need only look at our neighbor to the south, Mexico, to see a periodic series of bloody skirmishes raging for control of the drug trade. Some in our society work jobs which place them in constant contact with violence. This is reflected in the militaristic nature of the very names themselves: police officer, firefighter, paramedic. People are said to battle anything from the temptation to overeat to some serious disease like cancer. Those who unfortunately succumb to said disease after a lengthy illness are said to have "lost their battle".

In Feminist circles, we are cautious not to overuse the phrase “rape”, in the hopes of preserving the awful power that word connotes. Sometimes I wonder if we’re fighting a losing battle (see, here I go again!) because once the term was far more pejorative and offensive than it is now. For example, the mid-sixties art film, The Knack... and How to Get It features an extended sequence wherein a young woman deliberately overuses that particular word for pure shock value alone. By its conclusion she uses it as a rough synonym to the act of sexual intercourse itself, so as to bolster the self-esteem of a shy man she fancies, one who never had much luck with woman. To use the word as a method of flirtation still has the power to shock, but with the passage of time, the playful, cheeky quality of this application no longer applies. Rape is not a laughing matter, even one intended to be subversive.

As mammals with inordinately large brains, we sometimes overlook the primal and primeval aspects of ourselves, stuck as we are in our own cerebral cortex. But when we are engaged in violent acts or rather spurned to them, we are little more than animals reacting impulsively. One of the blessings of being so self-aware is that we are capable of so much creativity and with a prodigious ability to invent things for the benefit of all, but the drawback is that we are acutely aware of loss, regardless of how it arrives. We have the terrifying capacity to step back from what we have destroyed and to take stock of it all. With that knowledge, we have the ability to know intrinsically how to keep ourselves healthy and functional. Though we may not literally have taken up arms and engaged an adversary in combat, each tragedy we observe makes an indelible mark. There is no antidote, nor any cure for any of this. The human body, to say nothing of the human psyche is not mean to be put through the wringer.

There's No Reflection Here at All

At the bottom there's a stir
And now the surface is a blur

Tell the truth like it's a joke
And don't fix the part that isn't broke

I know I'm just a memory
And I know that's how it's got to be

So tell the mirror on the wall
"Mirror, mirror on the wall;
There's no reflection here at all"

Mirror, mirror on the wall
There's no reflection here at all.

I'm so tired that I can't sleep
The secrets that my secrets keep
Down the stairway to the church

Blackbirds hanging in the lurch
I don't want to see my name in stone

I tied a ribbon round a bone
Took a ride in a yellow car
And bought myself an old guitar

Things ain't what they used to be
I've gotta devil after me

Tell the mirror on the wall
Mirror mirror on the wall

There's no reflection here at all
Mirror, mirror on the wall

There's no reflection here at all.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
There's no reflection here at all.

You're looking high, you're looking low
You've got something on your mind

Did someone give you bad directions?
Were you in the wrong place at the wrong time?
They found a body in the river

They found a note left in the sand
"Leave my worries to the water
And leave my body to the land"

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quote of the Week

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're writing this down.”- Diane Keaton in Love and Death.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Personal Note

Dear Readers,

I've never tried hide the fact that I suffer from bipolar disorder. In fact, I've been very open about it in the hopes that others suffering silently with the disease might be inclined to seek treatment. The stigma of mental illness, though lessened significantly compared to that of an earlier age, is still unfortunately present among far too many. This is why I made up my mind some years ago to not hide my condition and to use my gifts as a writer to best articulate the daily struggles of life with a chronic illness. So, once more, I write in this space and by this method I hope to inform and perhaps even to educate, using myself as a model.

One never knows when and why another episode will strike. I have been lucky to have gone two years without a period of either mania or depression, but apparently my luck has now run out. Earlier in the week, I began to notice the beginning symptoms of depression. For right now, the downturn has been treated with moderate success by increasing the dosage of a medication (Lithium) that I was already taking. Hopefully this will be sufficient to put me back to a stable state, or, at minimum, keep the depression from worsening, but there are few sure things in treating any disorder of the brain. The brain is a very complex, perplexing organ, one poorly understood by medicine, even now in the Twenty-First Century.

Depression slowly robs your body of its motivation and drive. If intense enough, it removes even your will to live. When I've been the most depressed, simply rising from my bed to make my way to the shower has been a struggle. The illness drains your body of strength, cruelly, sadistically, a little bit at a time. Fortunately, I am nowhere near that point now, else I'd be unable to write this out to you. Indeed, I may not reach a severe state this time around, but once you've had several of them in the course of one lifetime, there is a very real tendency to think, Oh-God-here-we-go-again.

Over the years, I've tried to understand why I have been tormented this way, and why this is apparently my fate. The best I can come up with now, nearly fifteen years into learning to live with bipolar, is that there simply aren't any answers. This doesn't satisfy my curiosity or my desire to know something, anything, but unlike in other stages of my life, I know I am not being punished for something I've done wrong. I believe in a loving God and I don't believe in mysterious forces that crave punitive means of retribution. Sometimes it is easy to be resentful of those who do not have these same limitations, or have never had to suffer as I have. Often I wonder what each of these episodes has to teach me, or if there is nothing to be gained or lost, merely endured.

Men are not supposed to be sickly and physically weak. And yet, as I look back on my life, I recognize that I have struggled with one major illness after another. There is no need to state all of them here, but I recognize that during the course of my childhood, into adolescence, and then into adulthood, I dealt with a variety of afflictions, most of which were purely genetic and inherited. Life has rarely been easy for me, and I state this not with self-pity, but in all honesty. I recognize that, for me at least, suffering produces wisdom and has a way of making one understand what truly matters, but neither would I ever go through what I have gone through for the sake of achieving the meaning of life itself. I may be stronger for what I have seen and experienced when stability is present, but I am rendered once again a shadow of myself when the illness strikes and strikes hard. Again, I hope this is not my fate, but one must prepare for the worst.

I will continue writing and posting here so long as I am able. As a stubborn person, I have no desire to sacrifice doing what I love based on the incessant demands of an old adversary. Yet, if I feel myself slipping into a major episode, putting new content up here will become more and more difficult. I'll certainly let everyone know well before that happens. Perhaps I have nothing to worry about, and if that's the case, and my condition is allayed by the measures already enacted, I will rejoice. You will be the first to know. But in the meantime, I felt a need to set this out there in case I am not myself in the near future.

Saturday Video

Friday, July 09, 2010

At The Zoo

Dedicated with love to all of the people I encounter in my life, even when we (loudly) disagree.

Someone told me
It's all happening at the zoo.

I do believe it,
I do believe it's true.

It's a light and tumble journey
From the East Side to the park;
Just a fine and fancy ramble
To the zoo.

But you can take the crosstown bus
If it's raining or it's cold,
And the animals will love it
If you do.

Somethin' tells me
It's all happening at the zoo.

I do believe it
I do believe it's true.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They're dumb.

Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.

What a gas! You gotta come and see
At the zoo

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Plain on the Outside, Fancy Underneath

On Tuesday afternoon, while returning from an errand, I stopped briefly at Union Station here in DC to get some lunch. Union Station has long been a busy depot by which rail and bus traffic arrives and departs, and it also serves as a rail and bus stop for area public transportation. With the passage of time, part of the inside of the terminal has been transformed into a shopping mall of sorts, which frequently satiates the boredom of tourists and passengers. Predictably, it also houses a Victoria’s Secret.

While walking by on my way from somewhere else, I noticed, much to my amazement, two plain dress women inside, apparently shopping for fancy underthings. They were plain Mennonites, which was confirmed by the bonnets they wore on their heads and their single-shade pocketless dresses. It was my understanding that, due to their religious beliefs, anything ornate or showy was not allowed, yet both of these women clutched in their hands what looked like several pairs of underwear and lingerie, evidently desiring to purchase them. Intrigued, I consulted a fellow Friend (Quaker) who keeps plain dress herself, in the hopes of getting some answers.

Her guess was that the women weren’t really supposed to be buying fancy undergarments. She informed me how in some Amish communities, even little things like hem length and width are dictated by community rules. This was interesting to me on many levels, especially when I recognized that a great diversity of views exist regarding plain dress. We seem to think that all plain people dress the same, and this simply isn’t the case. Each community dictates its own specific rules regarding manner of dress. My friend's community of plain people has a very different set of guidelines than other communities in the area.

But back to underwear. The Friend’s opinion was that it’s hard to enforce rules for clothing that can’t be seen, particularly intimate apparel. This is probably much of the appeal. Amish and plain Mennonites have their lives governed by a lot of rules, women even more so. That this might be their way to push back in rebellion against legalistic restrictions towards group conformity I found fascinating to contemplate. Perhaps it’s also a way to assert one’s individuality and in so doing buy something private, just for the self. The Friend added that she has read stories of women living in Afghanistan buying fancy shoes because everything else is supposed to be covered, feet being the one place on the body where they feel they can truly express themselves.

In some ways, though we consider ourselves individuals with individual rights, we’re also told precise ways to conform. Women certainly have their lives governed by lots of rules, a reality which manifests itself all over the place. Most women in this society may not have to obsess about the length of a hem, but they’ll certainly obsess about beauty products and the demands of seeming flawless. I daresay many reading this post probably own fancy undergarments, at least by plain standards.

Now for something completely different. If you, readers, could come up with your own form of rebellion against the exacting rules that take so much energy and time out of your life, what would it be? What would it look like?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I, Me, Me, Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

After a Time, All Losses are the Same

This past holiday weekend I visited two Civil War battlefields: Antietam and Gettysburg. While part of my motivation to go was purely the tourist's curiosity, I also went to remind myself of the multitude of ironies present in armed conflict. It does me well to contemplate what I believe to be the overall futility of warfare, regardless of the context. I certainly found plenty of both. I chose to go in part to celebrate Independence Day in a completely different sort of context. While I do appreciate the sacrifices made to establish a new nation and with it a groundbreaking experiment in Democracy, my pacifist beliefs often leave me deeply conflicted. To move nearly one hundred years forward in time from the Revolutionary War to the conflict that tore a hole in our nation's fabric seemed much more suited for the occasion.

To begin, when one first begins to survey the battlefield at Antietam, one comes across a Dunker church that was heavily damaged by artillery in the first day of the battle. The Dunkers were a sect of the German Baptist Brethren, so named because they practiced baptism by way of full immersion. They were also pacifists, an irony lost on no one, then as well as now. German Brethren also believed in the value of simplicity, which was confirmed when I walked inside the small structure, noticing the plain wooden pews constructed from rough planks and the complete lack of ornamentation present. What I saw wasn't all that different from a Friends meeting house of the period; I tried to imagine what it would have been like during worship with everyone present.

War is a strange thing. At both Gettysburg and Antietam, two to three days of heavy fighting transformed what had been a quiet, bucolic collection of farms to a muddy mess of bodies, shells, and destruction. A very brief, but very vicious period of trauma commenced, but then quickly concluded. The troops on both sides left, the dead were buried, local residents returned to rebuild, and over time the natural beauty of the place returned. I've always thought of this as particularly poignant. It seems obscene to me that humans would dare defile anything so pretty to air their petty grievances and bring them to some bloody closure. Yet, with enough time even our own selfish designs are replaced by those of Mother Nature's. We may think we assert control and dominance over all that we touch and see, this is proven to be wishful thinking to the highest degree. God's ways are not our own, as much as we might think to the contrary.

When one surveys the course of the battle, one finds that despite efforts to the contrary, winners and losers were often determined not by successful planning and execution, but by capitalizing on blunders made by the other side, or simply making less of them than one's enemy. Nothing could be more human, and by that I mean mortal. The technology of the time regarding instruments of death was the most advanced ever created, but human understanding of it was not. Few knew precisely what fresh hell would be wrought by rifles, cannon shot, and gunpowder. Few recognized how protracted a struggle would be this war and how much blood would be senselessly shed. Both sides went into battle believing in the moral rightness of its cause and how quickly the war would conclude. All were tragically mistaken.

One particular fact stuck out quite dramatically to me. At nearly thirty, I would have been one of the oldest on the battlefield. Most of the brutal fighting was done by men much younger than myself. When I think of how I perceive of men in their late teens and early twenties now, I find the revelation ever more revealing. When I was that age, I remember how much I had to learn about life and how this blameless deficiency influenced the decisions I made and my thought process. Perhaps this helps explain the undercurrents and momentum shifts that drive a battle. And, to this end, war is merely a kind of sport with deadly weapons. Though our lifespan stretches far beyond youth, if we follow sports, we focus so much attention upon those of a relatively narrow age range. When one takes into account the whole of one lifetime, athletes can perform at the heights of their talent a very limited number of years. This is true for the soldiers who toil in the trenches, experiencing horrors I for one cannot even begin to contemplate.

As a Friend mentioned to me, The Civil War rent apart not just a nation, but also Quakers as a whole. Our anti-war beliefs divided families, created its own variety of deep conflict, and scattered our numbers. Some went to battle anyway and found themselves unwelcome at their home meetings upon return. Some Friends were forced to relocate, heading farther into the Appalachian Mountains. There they settled among hill people who never embraced the plantation system and were too poor to own slaves, as a result feeling no allegiance to the Confederate cause. Some moved even farther west, eventually settling in Indiana. A group which embraced pacifism and spoke against the evils of bondage made understandably few in-roads in the Deep South, which is why membership in that part of the country is still relatively minimal. In many ways, we have still yet to recover.

It is good to be reminded of all of this from time to time. And on that subject, I have always admired Abraham Lincoln for the context of his Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln's response to what was only a few weeks away from the cessation of hostilities and a Union victory was not of jubilant celebration, but instead of sorrow. In a speech that read more like a sermon than an address, the President noted,

Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.
To Lincoln, God can not be manipulated by human will to favor to one side or the other. He then invokes the Gospel of Matthew (I have used a more modern translation), by stating,

How horrible it will be for the world because it causes people to lose their faith. Situations that cause people to lose their faith will arise. How horrible it will be for the person who causes someone to lose his faith!

In this passage, Jesus is talking about the importance of preventing believers, particularly young believers from losing faith. There will always be evil in the world, but this doesn't mean that we should have the license to use this evil to divide each other for the sake of our own impure intentions. Young believers, be they young in age or young in allegiance are trusting of those who have been around longer. Thus, they are easy to manipulate for sordid ends. As I read this passage, I think about the politicians, the generals, and the ideologues who sold this war and convinced others to enlist into combat. We are to be like children in our ability to not harden our hearts and listen to the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit, but those who take advantage of this are harshly condemned.

"These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be drowned in the sea with a large stone hung around his neck."

For this reason, I oppose war. As much as we try to insulate ourselves from the harrowing realities of the battlefield, it never stops there. Or, as Catherine Davis so eloquently put it,

After a time, all losses are the same.
One more thing lost is one thing less to lose;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Though we shall probe, time and again, our shame,
Who lack the wit to keep or to refuse,
After a time, all losses are the same.

No wit, no luck can beat a losing game;
Good fortune is a reassuring ruse:
And we all go stripped the way we came.

Rage as we will for what we think to claim,
Nothing so much as this bare thought subdues:
After a time, all losses are the same.

The sense of treachery—the want, the blame—
Goes in the end, whether or not we choose,
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

So we, who would go raging, will go tame
When what we have can no longer use:
After a time, all losses are the same;

And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Antietam Battlefield Pictures

Here concludes the battlefield pictures. Antietam has a much different feel to it than Gettysburg. I have no opinions, nor words of wisdom to impart, so I suppose I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Gettysburg Battlefield Photos

That such a gruesome battle could have been fought in such a gorgeous stretch of farmland is one of the many ironies of war. Three days of vicious combat reduced the land to an ugly mess, but in an reminder that Mother Nature trumps human actions, the site has reverted back its original beauty.

Quote of the Week

“Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised”- Leo Tolstoy