Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Video

He's got a perfect face
Turn away before you go and turn me on
I cannot look away
I'm stunned it's that
Je ne sais quoi uh huh

He talks to me in my sleep
Does he write my songs for me?
Should I try to play just like him?
Kick it out, could you show me your riffs?

You always measure me by him
Don't get me wrong
I'm not opposed to something big
I'm so sick of tests

Go ahead and flunk my ass
You don't own the situation, honey
You don't own the stage

We're here to join the conversation
and we're here to raise the stakes

Now do you hear that sound as the Model breaks?
Take the stage!
Let the image of him fade away
Go back and tear the pictures from the page

It's time for a new rock n' roll age
History will have to find a different face
and if you're ready for more
I just might be what you're looking for
You don't own the situation, honey

You don't own the stage
We're here to join the conversation
and we're here to raise the stakes
Now do you hear that sound as
the Model breaks

Take the stage!

Friday, December 30, 2011


I was twenty.  She was thirty.

Ten year’s difference.  I knew it to be a big deal, but I couldn’t quite make sense of it.  I kept turning it over and over in my mind.  These days, I’d never be with anyone a full decade younger than me.   
Where did we meet people in those days?  It must have been in a chat room.  For a few years, there was no shortage of the lonely, the socially awkward, and the looking.

You didn’t really have to look.  You just started talking and things quickly made their way from there.  The Internet made physical appearance a non-issue and personality the most important factor.  We moved fast in those days, probably too fast.    

I won’t feign ignorance.  I made the trip down I-65 to Mobile knowing full well what I was to receive.  Should I speak of sexual past, several of these dalliances exist, of which I now have mixed feelings.  In those days, I would let my emotions overtake me, even when they defied reason and rationality.  Sometimes I'd have just enough money to manage.  But I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t glad for the release.    

She was very openly bisexual.  Within the space of a few minutes she told me.  Prior to the trip, I nervously confessed the same to her.  Then, I was much more naïve.  Now, I can form conclusions I was simply too young and too inexperienced to have reached.  She dressed very masculine, even down to her underwear.  I found the effect appealing and rebellious, honest to a fault, as I was myself.  That these choices reflected large defining aspects like sexual orientation did not occur to me at the time.

Rather than being repulsed or perhaps even somewhat threatened by the same-sex relationships I was only beginning to develop, she was accepting.  Not just accepting, but also aroused by the very thought.

Tell me about them!  This she implored, eagerly.  I obliged, adding extra details I would not think to incorporate in my own thoughts, even in my own private recollections. 

This was…different. 

We seemed to have attracted each other based on similarities we needn’t even articulate.  A vocabulary of terminology would have been helpful, but what I felt instinctively was informative enough.  Following that, a majority of my lovers were bisexual.  For a time I quite preferred it that way.  I enjoyed not having to explain a thing or feeling worried that I would be misunderstood.    

However, in this regard, the age difference and the substantial distance brought an end to us.  Her friends were mostly uncomprehending and hostile about why she’d want someone as young as me.  Though I’d like to believe I acted more mature for my age, I also recognize that I had only recently left behind my boyhood.  She, by contrast, came across much younger than her age would suggest, which would at least partially explain my appeal. 

My recollections now mostly center on a trip we took together.  We left for a state park in the eastern Panhandle of Florida, not far from Pensacola.  After arriving, we camped close to an estuary, out on a sand bar.  The rest of the day was spent inside a tent.  There’s something about the intimacy of coitus that encourages copious, heartfelt dialogue. 

Though I may still have shame and anxiety, spending a weekend with her went a long way towards acceptance.  Here was someone who desired me as I was, someone who did not judge or jump to conclusions.  The older I get, the more I think of her.

More 90's Nostalgia

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Moderation in an immoderate age

I received some humbling news from an editor today.  Feeling confused, I had solicited her honest opinion.  A few previously submitted columns of mine had not been accepted for publication.  I had confidence in their quality but knew I must have been doing something wrong.  I wasn’t sure whether the fault was in their format or their content, so I was seeking clarity accordingly.  What I was told was to avoid preaching to the choir.

"Everyone already agrees with you," she said.
She continued.  “Try to persuade the other side through reason and evidence, not yelling and tearing down.”    

I believe I may have been in activist mode for too long.  Over time, I might have inadvertently transformed myself into a polemicist. Being an attack dog is a strong leading, especially if you feel oppressed and mischaracterized in any way by the outside world.  It’s a default setting of sorts for my Feminist discourse, Quaker discourse, and Christian discourse.

Writing first with the belief that I would surely be misunderstood, I’ve felt that the best defense was a powerful offense. Sometimes I’ve yelled and sometimes I’ve torn down, mostly before anyone else could think to do the same to me.      

Activism says:  Be outraged!  Things are wrong with the world!  People need to know about these travesties!  Where is justice and basic fairness?  What is happening here is wrong!  How could a person say that!

We live in a time where our defenses are up, guarding against someone’s inevitable frontal assault.  The nature of journalism invites criticism, even solidly negative criticism.  We who write for a living or for a certain amount of income often need to be reminded to toughen our hides. We don’t have to be doormats. We don't have to put up with injustice. We're not obligated to be always accommodating no matter what.  But we don’t have to always bare our teeth, either. 

I’m writing for my own benefit here, as well.  When we do draw fire, it may not always be best to consistently, reflexively reach out for protection.  Allies are important, but addressing an argument impartially needs no Amen Corner.  The facts alone should stand by themselves.  That we would call for reinforcements only emphasizes how threatened we feel.  I’m not saying that attacks don’t happen or that criticism is only a state of mind, merely that we have more control over our responses than we may even believe. 

Sometimes we feel that increasing the volume is a sufficient method of returning fire.  They yell, we yell.  They yell back, we yell back.  The yelling thus becomes a controversy and an avenue for drama.  It makes for great ratings, but by the end, most people grow thoroughly sick of the upheaval and exhausted by the effort.  We regroup and silently prepare for the next one.      

Don’t get me wrong.  There are avenues for writing and expression where righteous indignation is strongly desired.  Still, an enlightened perspective without the incorporation of activist bombast often characterizes the content of many quality publications.  Sober reflection is valued more than indignant firepower.  I think there’s more than ample room for both.

Too much scorched earth policy isn’t just psychologically taxing; it may even take money out of our pockets.  Writing to suit a publication’s specific needs needn’t be an intellectual exercise, it may also be instructive.  Moderation in an immoderate age might well keep us all sane.          

Is Occupy Redundant?

The Occupy movement has been a boon to talking heads, professional pontificators, journalists, and activists. Covering the proceedings has kept many busy and created much work in sour economic times.  Now, however, the demonstrations have, in the minds of many, moved from novelty to annoyance to a bore.  With the exception of a few cities, most camps have been broken up and forced to disperse.  The lack of public outrage to this show of force shows the true feelings of most Americans, even those with Occupy sympathies.  A fight for the hearts and minds has not succeeded.

I know that many people still actively engaged in Occupy will debate me here point for point.  Many readers may take offense to my conclusions.  Some have stated that the media consistently distorted (and still distorts) the message of the movement, showing its goals to be too vague and unsubstantial.  Others have believed that the mainstream players, at least, have emphasized and exaggerated only its worst qualities.  In the beginning, I was a strong supporter of Occupy but I have not seen the forward momentum and growth needed for continued relevancy. What some believed was the cusp of a momentous, growing revolution has simply not materialized.  The story of its promise is more compelling than its actual stature.

The city government of Washington, DC, has been one of the most tolerant thus far.  However, Mayor Vincent Gray has been quoted as saying that the city was losing patience with the protesters.  This is reflected in a recent letter drafted by a DC law enforcement union, the Fraternal Order of Police.  
The union representing D.C. police claims crime in the District is up, in part because officers are being pulled from neighborhood patrols and reassigned to monitor the Occupy D.C. protests. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of D.C.'s Fraternal Order of Police wrote a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray stating violent crime is up by 17% and overall crime is up by 14% since protesters moved into the city 3 months ago.
True or not, the letter reflects a strong displeasure with the movement.  Growing dissatisfaction in many corners may spell the eventual end.  As has been the case in other cities, protesters would resist, dozens would be arrested, but both parks would nonetheless be cleared.  The news would dutifully record what had happened.  Those who like their information live and immediate could follow on Twitter and live streaming video.  After the shouting was over, substantial calls for righteous indignation would be found in short supply.  Those calling for blood would find, yet again, their energies highly ineffective.

Regardless of how posterity may view it, we in the present day might draw some lessons.  Some weeks back I took it upon myself to read the McPherson Square Occupy DC list of grievances in full.  It was eloquent and inclusive, but far too complicated and lengthy.  Effort had clearly been made to take in account everyone's perspective, but the document ran to nearly two pages.  Protests work best when built around one or two easily digestible, comprehensible messages.  Save treatises for graduate school or a book.

The strictly enforced leaderless focus, the linchpin of many gatherings, also troubled me.  I believe that separate, specific leaders are highly necessary.  The problems of hierarchy will not necessarily transfer should those with the ability to guide and motivate take their rightful places.  I have only seen such a decentralized model work well in very small groups, those far smaller than the ones numbering a few hundred up to a thousand.  They who sought to organize may have learned a variety of lessons from their admirable effort.  In their lives going forward, the experience may be quite useful both for themselves and for others.          

If this strange chapter in our history is to close, one wonders how history would record it.  Would it be seen as a period piece, a time capsule, very much a product of its time?  Or, if not, would it be the beginning of something more, its failure only temporary in the grand scheme of things?  Occupy will only be a failure if we do not learn from its shortcomings.  21st Century public outrage may need to take a very different form next time.  These recent experiments in direct democracy may someday be the impetus for more, but until then, I'll think of Occupy as a noble attempt.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Helter Skelter

This is something vaguely sinister about this song.  It makes sense, on one level, why Charles Manson would take the title as his definition of a coming war.  Beatles music, until then, had never been this deliberately ugly.  In this setting, I've adopted a simple acoustic rendering, which softens the blow.  Still, the words are fairly threatening.

When I get to the bottom I
go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
'Till I get to the bottom and I see you again.

Do, don't you want me to love you?
I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you
Tell me, tell me, tell me,

come on, tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer.

Helter skelter, helter skelter
Helter skelter.

Will you, won't you want me to make you?
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you

Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer.

Helter skelter, helter skelter

When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide

Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again.

Well do you, don't you want me to love you?
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you

Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer.

Helter skelter, helter skelter
Helter skelter.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Faith and the New Year

I wrote this originally for my Meeting, but felt that it had application beyond Quaker eyes. 

Hello Friends,

Christmas over, we now prepare for the arrival of another year. New Year's resolutions of any stature are routinely made, then broken. Sometimes they take the form of an intended regular exercise routine. Sometimes they are a vow to avoid unhealthy excess, like junk food or needless consumerism. Some concerns center on the question of faith and belief. The last of these rely highly on the usage and development of spiritual muscles. Like many other areas in our lives, spiritual muscles must be built with up with practice, repetition, and observance.

I am fairly certain I've used the lyrics of a specific song in this forum once before. I do remember that the context was a little different. In any case, I can't recall for certain, so forgive me for any overlap. I may have even mentioned a line or two during a vocal ministry. No matter. The name of the song is "Sympathy", performed ably by the indie rock group Sleater-Kinney.

"Sympathy" stands alone in the Washington State group's canon. Topics usually focused on leftist politics and Feminism. As you will see, this one could not be more different.

The song seeks to document a very emotionally intense situation, this being the premature birth and fight for life of the songwriter's son. I doubt, based on its lyrics alone, that the idea of belief wasn't important to her. Rather, she was far more comfortable writing about activism and all its permutations. "Sympathy" stands out for this reason, possessing as it does a kind of bittersweet beauty. It is the story of someone whose life is, at least for the immediate short term, dramatically changed by a traumatic situation. The potential for disaster is grave enough that the panicked mother reaches out for God. And as she does, she speaks for all of us. I think it would be safe to say that we have all formed these thoughts in a crisis.

I know I come to you only when in need
I’m not the best believer, not the most deserving
but all I have, all I am, all I can…for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I have thought identically on more than one occasion. Here, a mother, fearful for the survival of her child turns automatically to prayer. For all of our own skepticism, for all the reasons to otherwise hold doubts, we might very well respond the same way. Some will say that we are only embracing a less evolved part of our brains. This might be so on some level, but I think the need for God would not persist as it does if this were the case. The limitations of human comprehension are vast.

Precious baby, is your life hanging by a thread?
A thread I’m standing on, praying on today
all I have, all I am, all I can...for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I don’t like the doctor with the deep long face
only wants to give us the very worst case
I’d rather shout out and shake him and do anything for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

when the moment strikes
it takes you by surprise and
leaves you naked in the face of death and life
there is no righteousness in your darkest moment
we’re all equal in the face of what we’re most afraid of

These, the most profound lyrics of all. There is no righteousness in your darkest moment. We're all equal in the face of what we're most afraid of. The song's lyricist believes that our times of trial and pain do not deserve commemoration. She refuses to romanticize them as brave or as moments of valor. To her, they are only confirmation of our fragile, brittle humanity. We are all unified on some level by that which terrifies us. These two lines have application well beyond its immediate context. For instance, they could be applied to war, to politics, to environmental issues. They would work for any number of other aspects of human life.

and I’m so sorry
for those who didn’t make it
for the mommies who are left
with their hearts breaking

I search for meaning in sores
the sentences they might form
it’s the grammar of skin
peel it back, let me in

look for hope in the dark
the shadow cast by your heart
it’s the grammar of faith
no more rules, no restraint

Without the comfort of comprehensible information and no certainty upon which to rely, we look for meaning in other avenues. We scour for meaning in that which lies in front of us. We analyze sores, skin, body parts. The grammar of faith, as we understand it, is not a system of rules and regulations. The grammar of faith is a mystery.

How angry I would be if
you’d taken him away
I wish I was wiser
but instead I’ll be grateful, I’ll say

thanks for the love, for the joy,
for the smile on his face

’cause I would beg you on bended knees for him
I would beg you on bended knee

It is easy to turn to anger, should the unthinkable strike. Many of us would turn to anger if our partners, our children, our loved ones were taken from us. The songwriter recognizes that she would also have held the same automatic response. The crisis over, she might not be as wise as she could be, but she does recognize that she is very lucky.

Her child survived an awful, emotionally wrenching ordeal. And yet, the trial could not be more commonplace. Regardless of where we look, this same motif shows up time and time again. And we consistently find that struggle a fascination, be it in books, movies, songs, or other artistic works.

As I conclude, I leave you with a bit of reflection. I wish I was wiser, but instead I'll be grateful.

In the Light,


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Quote of the Week

"I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."- Charles Dickens

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Video

I think this video goes beyond heavy-handed to make its point, but it still has its virtues.  The song was recorded in the highly political John & Yoko period that produced works of great beauty and of hamfisted sanctimony.  As a pacifist manifesto, it serves its purpose.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
War is over
For weak and for strong
If you want it

For rich and the poor ones
War is over
The road is so long

And so happy Christmas
War is over
For black and for white
If you want it

For yellow and red ones
War is over
Let's stop all the fight

And so this is Christmas
War is over
And what have we done
If you want it

Another year over
War is over
And a new one just begun

And so happy Christmas
War is over
I hope you have fun
If you want it

The near and the dear ones
War is over
The old and the young

War is over if you want it
War is over now

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The end of T

Approximately one year after starting a course of treatment, I have stopped injecting testosterone weekly. The illness for which I began hormone therapy, hypogonadism, has finally been properly resolved. Hypogonadism means abnormally low levels of testosterone in the body. My condition is now understood in greater detail. Normal production of testosterone has been stimulated within the system itself. Hormone therapy likely made a permanent effect on one physical aspect of my life, but I feel somewhat underwhelmed by what it produced on a larger scale.

The observable, measurable results, I must tell you, have been surprisingly small. I have gained a few pounds, this by putting on more muscle mass, but those are the few outward signs. Inwardly, I have to say I don’t feel any more or any less masculine. The lessons I have learned are that hormones alone do not dictate gender. Powerful as they are, they cannot enhance or transform by their very being. In reality, the organ most responsible for how I identify is the brain. Here’s what I’ve gathered. The reason why I am genderqueer results from the way I was formed in the womb--this combined with how my brain developed. 

This realization is puzzling in many regards. I never honestly expected massive changes from heightened levels of testosterone. But I did think that a few interesting end products might have given me greater insight. Even with an extremely high level of T in my body, I still felt a strong female identification. When my testosterone level was elevated, my estrogen level usually followed suit. Much as was true with its counterpart, elevated estrogen made no real difference either way.

What my body seemed to crave from a biological standpoint was balance. Anything higher than an optimum concentration, then I experienced multiple side effects. I seek balance myself, as much as I can hope to attain. The thought of speaking in this circumstance for every gender non-conforming person seems untenable and unfair. What I will say is that large swaths of sex and gender both probably still exist beyond our basic understanding to date. The application of hormones is one piece of a complex puzzle. It is an inexact resolution, at best. Who knows what the progression of science and medicine will provide in a later time? 

But in the meantime, I at least have expanded my basic knowledge. Everyone who fits outside the gender box treads their own path of self-discovery. And I at least have some cursory idea of what one aspect of transitioning looks like and feels like. Never have I ever thought that the process was easy for anyone. I myself myself have fought with fatigue and a greatly decreased appetite. I've watched my libido swing wildly up and down as body systems struggled for equilibrium. Expanding the basic empathy of others is always positive and produces great gain. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and I hope also, by this post, to teach.

I'm Not Here Today

Time for revelry, good cheer, making figgy pudding, and all that stuff.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bradley Manning's transgender defense

In the latest developments of the Wikileaks case, Private Bradley Manning's espionage trial continues. I find it peculiar that his defense has chosen to use Gender Identity Disorder in the hopes of preventing a conviction. A picture of the Army private dressed in women’s clothing has been introduced during court proceedings. The basic framing of this motion I object to most. As transgender identity gains greater acceptance, few reasons remain to designate gender non-conforming behavior as a disorder.

Disorder implies in the minds of many that it is a kind of illness, or even a kind of mental illness. Manning's lawyers do nothing to dispel this line of thought. Gender dysphoria, in my case, has been present for years. By this I mean I've sometimes felt male and in many ways I have been more comfortable expressing myself as female. With time, I've become much more comfortable existing somewhere between the confines of absolute, rigidly defined gender. I've even come to believe that absolute gender is a societal construct, not a biological reality.

Taking into account the opinion and examples of other people who identify as genderqueer, I've recognized I am not alone. By genderqueer I mean that I find I cannot identify solely as male, nor as female. My conception of gendered self falls outside the two-sex binary. As a result, loneliness and isolation have been consistent worries. The way I felt about myself remained a lasting, constant nag in the back of the mind. I still feel that way today. But neither did those feelings prevent me from working or from living my life. The Manning defense equates transgender with some debilitating disease or chronic condition. Even in my time of greatest questioning and doubt, I was still a functioning person.

I believe that, in this circumstance, the accused did go through significant mental strain around the time he chose to leak classified documents.  In periods of crisis, conflicts within ourselves are more prominent and cannot be easily suppressed.  However, the defense’s argument is a see-through distortion, hoping to deceive those who are ignorant of gender nonconformity. Transgender people have a tough enough time winning acceptance. Acceptance starts within the self, but then must exist within the greater world.  A defense like this is cynically manipulative, even opportunistic.

Cheapening the experiences of those who are transgender does not educate, rather it calcifies and reinforces incorrect assumptions. If Bradley Manning is transgender, he does have my sympathies. However, I should state that those of one biologically assigned sex who dress in the clothing of another are not necessarily transgender. Some would qualify as transvestites.  Manning did contact a counselor to discuss undergoing transition, but considering options does not necessarily mean a desire to undergo an expensive, lengthy process. I do not believe Gender Identity Disorder, if there is even such a thing, to be a medical problem. Rather I view it as a manifestation of a broad, misunderstood gender spectrum of presentation.

Using a disputed diagnosis to avoid jail time obscures the truth. Whistle blowers like Manning who face significant time in jail, should they be convicted, are always few in number and I support his deeds. However, this latest decision appears to be a legal move made purely of desperation. Lest someone get the wrong idea, gender dysphoria is itself a process. With it comes a complex set of feelings and self-judgments.

Nearly everyone who identifies outside one gender norm experiences it. Every person’s process is very different. Eventual resolution usually takes years and sometimes can take multiple years. Some for whom the gender binary is constraining and unhelpful feel the need for surgery, hormone therapy, and a complete transformation.

Others, like me, have discovered that a greater, radical self-acceptance is needed most. I do not feel that I am wholly at odds with my biologically assigned sex, however, I cannot fit comfortably into it. Too much overlap exists for that. Over time, I have talked at length with others who are not heterosexual, and many others who identify as neither fully male, nor fully female. Regardless of whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender I have noticed a particularly interesting sort of fluidity.

Each LGBT individual comes to his or her (or an appropriate non-gendered pronoun) own conclusion as to where one fits along the gender continuum. We are alone together, in some ways. Almost everyone acknowledges a blend of identities. Almost no one seems to be exactly like anyone else.

That journey towards greater realization can be a distressing one, at least in the beginning, but we all must make it. If it were up to me, there would be no need to cater to ignorance for the sake of winning freedom. We are granted the opportunity more and more to speak to repressed realities. Should Manning’s defense succeed, it will in effect mean that being transgender is a sort of disqualifying mental illness and thus a disability. This is a construct of belief that in addition to being totally incorrect, plagues far too many already.

We need to recognize that not stigmatizing those who are transgender is the first step towards wholesale comprehension. With comprehension comes tolerance. Such people are already well-versed and skilled in how to think badly of themselves, or to think of themselves as inherently damaged. We can do much better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Will

I intended to add at least three or four vocal tracks to this recording.  Then, after playing it back, I found it was perfectly fine with two.

I will
Lay me down
In a bunker

I won’t let this happen to my children
Meet the real world coming out of your shell
With white elephants
Sitting ducks

I will
Rise up

Little babies’ eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes
Little babies’ eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes
Little babies’ eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes
Little babies’ eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes

Monday, December 19, 2011

Addressing Meeting Discipline

It is often said that Friends have short fuses around politics and long fuses around people. Should something highly ideological and politically loaded be mentioned during Meeting for Worship, intense passions have at times led to tense moments. On the other hand, should a member of the Meeting behave inappropriately and in a consistent fashion, they are often given the benefit of the doubt. Many Friends came from religious traditions where discipline was punitive; this may be why an over-correction is in place. However, there does come a time when setting consequences is not only necessary, it is essential.

To briefly state the reason why I write, a member of my Meeting has, of late, shown a regrettable behavior pattern.  He has been verbally abusive to others. The Friend in question is a prickly person even in the best of times. I regret to say that this past First Day is not the first time he has directly insulted me. Many other Friends have received the same treatment.  At no point has he ever felt a need to apologize. However, his behavior did momentarily improve for a time, but only after I called him out on his attitude towards me. It took an open letter to the entire Meeting to achieve that desired result, but my decision did prove very effective.

I recognize that he is severely mentally ill and I am not unsympathetic towards that fact. But regardless of his disability, his behavior crossed the line a long time ago. One never knows whether such people are capable of controlling themselves, or are choosing not to do so. My personal opinion, based on my previous plea for disciplinary action, is that no one is keeping him accountable for his abusive tongue.  I'm not sure whether a system is in place for situations like these, but if there is not, one needs to be developed.

There is no reason to go into specifics. At any rate, this is probably not the proper venue for them.  After Worship yesterday, suffice to say that he twisted the meaning of my vocal ministry, perhaps deliberately. He then sought to accost me for my supposed rhetorical inconsistencies, this in front of dozens of witnesses. Attendance was high due to a Meeting-wide project that is a long standing holiday tradition.

The Friend regularly resorts to straw man arguments, these intended to put a person immediately on the defensive. Startled by the harshness of his tone, I yelled back for a few seconds and then decided to immediately leave the Meetinghouse.  Because his conduct has only gotten worse recently, I was angrier than I would have been otherwise. To calm myself, I took a long walk as I processed what had just happened.

I’m not sure whether he intends to merely provoke or to win an argument.  As I noted, I’m not sure about his cognitive functionality. If I had to posit a guess though, I think he’s far more in control of himself than many believe. Before I say this, my intention is never to infantilize anyone, especially the severely mentally ill.  But I will say that recently he has of late been acting like a bratty little boy. What I don’t understand, in particular, is why I have consistently been his chosen target. If I felt I was capable of receiving a coherent answer, I would ask him myself.  By now, I know I would not receive it and could quite possibly only spark another pointless, high volume argument. 

My Meeting tends to soft-pedal these sorts of issues, and I think that the decision does more harm than good.  Prior consistent offenders have been taken out for coffee, not severely cautioned. I should add that not a single one of these problematic Friends was ever required to recant publicly, which I think would have gone a long way towards restoring Meeting health. A heartfelt apology goes a very long way. Those who lack basic impulse control and choose not to pursue self-restraint for any reason must have boundaries clearly defined for them. In this, my example, I have a pretty good reason of why this Friend is acting out, one that for privacy’s sake I will keep to myself.  Still, knowledge of a problem is not the same as implementing solutions.

An article I read before writing this post summarizes my thoughts quite succiently.
The outcry against discipline in the modern church is, "We are not supposed to judge another." Such an assertion can only be made by people who have an inadequate knowledge of Scripture concerning the matter. The fact of the matter is that if guilt is clearly established (as is always essential), then the person has judged himself.
A persistently contentious matter today concerns the presence of Elders. The word itself seems to invoke an unsmiling scold intent on policing the Meeting with a heavy hand. This more modern definition entirely misses the mark. Quakers are not the only people of faith for whom disciplining its own is a problem. We often view the past as cruel and unforgiving and see no value in it. In seeking not to return to a less evolved time, we have removed discipline from its rightful place. Discipline should always be conducted in a spirit of love, not hatred.

As I conclude, I recognize that as one person, I am limited in the decision-making process. It is entirely possible that it will take more blatant outbursts before he is ever effectively told to stop. Living together in Beloved Community among Friends with strong opinions already thoroughly strains those bonds. Though it may be distasteful, we must resort to corrective actions when no other option remains. Should the offending Friend see the light and reverse course, we should be the first to extend open arms, this in a spirit of forgiveness.

EDIT:  A Friend informs me that the correct term is "Overseer", not "Elder".  Many Quakers no longer use the phrase because it is closely associated in the modern mind with slavery.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ward stories

I don’t usually write about a particular time in my life for a reason. Open as I am, some memories are too much like shards of glass. Broken glass describes how I felt about my life at that time, a metaphor that invokes fragility, or an easy way to cut oneself. Unlike some I knew, the cuts made to my body were psychological, not physical. I did not feel any sense of control, nor any modicum of power should I choose to damage myself. Instead, I felt helpless in those trying times. They are, gratefully, part of my past, not my present.

I’ve chosen to write on this topic to discuss the interaction between men and women as I observed it. Feminism, as I’ve understood it, often exists where both sexes meet, or to be more exact, in the interplay of the gender spectrum. In a more-or-less controlled environment like a psychiatric ward in a hospital, new and different combinations are produced. I observed a little of everything over time. I would be lying if I said I didn’t observe sexist attitudes and callous misogyny among some, but I also witnessed gender equality in surprising places.

We were patients. We were all generally miserable, hoping that this hospitalization was the last one. We felt an allegiance in pain, a comradeship where most other separating qualifiers were not as important. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender—none of these mattered much in the fellowship of emotional distress. Group therapy encouraged vulnerability, and the stories shared were humanizing. They were also frequently horrifying, but sometimes horror is the first step towards health. Regardless of how we defined ourselves, it was easy to view the parallels from person to person.

It wasn't all good feeling and group growth. From time to time there were always men who made frequent, sexist comments to female patients. They usually just wanted attention, even negative attention. I always found that these sorts of men comprised only a small fraction of patients. They were the sort that usually had few real friends. Loners in life and in the ward, their over-the-top antics usually isolated them from others. Their childishness made them easy to control and also easy to ignore. I have long wondered if I could have learned anything else especially helpful from the behavior of these men, who I saw as pathetic more than threatening.

The fellowship of emotional distress produced not-entirely-unwelcome distractions, too. I always fell hard for the sullen girls, the sardonic, sarcastic ones. They were the types most likely to wear black alternative band t-shirts, their hair dyed some shade of macabre. They were also usually the cutters, bearing scars across all parts of their body, especially their wrists. These women were part of a whole typology of ward patients, a whole sub-genre, bearing its own similarities. I knew the authors of the books they read, the song lyrics they quoted as gospel, their consistent views on life and love. Though they would not open up enough for me to truly understand them, I knew well the front they presented to the world.

Everyone, male or female, had ward crushes. Though romantic and sexual relationships between patients were explicitly forbidden in every hospital where I was a patient, attraction still developed. It was an effect a little like being a counselor at a camp. Apparently, or so I’ve been told, everyone on staff in camp sleeps together. The constant, close proximity was like kindling for fire. If feelings were mutual, it was torturous preserving the façade of platonic interest. The temptation to push the envelope revealed just how powerful sexual desire really is.

Only once did I deliberately and blatantly break the rules. I was sixteen, lonely, and feeling impulsive. The woman in whom I was interested had a boyfriend already, or this is what other patients had said. But it must not have been that serious, because the attention I received was constant. Waiting for the attention of the nurses and staff to be distracted by something else, I entered her room. She welcomed me, but urged me to be quick about it. Suffice it to say that I knew I only had a minute or two before I’d be caught. I achieved what I was after and then fled down the hallway back to my room. It was a heavy risk to take, but I felt like it merited the potential discipline.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl she was not. She was no one's fantasy, least of all mine. The reality was too raw to be smoothed out. We were both equally brooding, equally conflicted, unshowered, heavily sleep deprived. If you've ever seriously contemplated your own mortality, it's easy to grab for a momentary thrill. A verboten kiss on an uncomfortable hospital bed puts a spin into a worried mind. For that moment, the future may well not exist. Prior entanglements simply did not apply.

I could add many more anecdotes to those I’ve told already. The ward could feel like a parallel universe. It’s easy to form kinship around a chronic illness. What patients do not have in common is much less important than what they do. Some may claim that what is felt is a false kind of intimacy, one held by people who are pushed together for the ease of treatment, each in the middle of a crisis situation. If this unity is little more than a basic biological response, then perhaps it is, but it is also an egalitarian expression of common sympathy. Sometimes the best in people, not the worst, shows itself in times of trial.

$240 Worth of Pudding

Something silly.

Oh yeah...

Quote of Week

"All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why."- James Thurber

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Video

This would classify as schmaltz, but I guess that's my mood today. "Pennies from Heaven" became a jazz standard in 1936. As an aside, I much enjoyed talking with the son of one of the songwriters some years ago. I was told many stories about Bing Crosby, for whom this song was originally penned. Few of them were especially complementary.

Every time it rains,
it rains pennies from heaven

Don'tcha know each cloud
contains pennies from heaven?
You'll find your fortune
fallin' all over town

Be sure that your umbrella
Is upside down

Trade them for a package
of sunshine and flowers

If you want the things you love,
you must have showers
So when you hear it thunder
Don't run under a tree

There'll be pennies from heaven
for you and me

Every time it rains, it rains
Pennies from heaven
Don'tcha know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven?

You'll find you fortune fallin'
All over town
Be sure that your umbrella
Is upside down

Trade them for a package
of sunshine and flowers
If you want the things
you love you must have showers

So when you hear it thunder
Don't run under a tree
There'll be pennies from heaven
for you and for me

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writers I Have Known

There have been times in my life where I have wondered if anyone fits the dictionary definition of stability. Admittedly, I have asked these questions when witnessing the self-destruction of yet another artist. When I've known them personally, the shock takes on even more sorrow and melancholy. Based on multiple conversations with others over the years, I know the stories I am about to share occur over and over again.

My own worst days are now gratefully beyond me. One of the more difficult life lessons I've learned came by directly observing a couple of my professors. They were as instructive as teachers as they were disconcerting as human beings. In my early twenties, I came to understand, perhaps earlier than some, that some people never mature. Or, it could be said that some areas of their lives are gaping wounds, while other aspects are more or less sufficiently evolved. The best I can reckon is that some don't actively work on themselves in order to make improvement. Call it immaturity of a lack of self-realization, the effect is still the same.

My mentor in college was a published poet. Prior to college, poetry was a discipline I had only occasionally explored. I was inquisitive, eager to learn more, and by nature of my respect for him, I took several of his poetry writing workshops. He was well-known for being utterly devoted to his students. It wasn't unusual for him to work overtime with a student to personally and thoroughly revise poems, line by line. Eventually, I'd sit down with him twice a week to work on the same piece. In a few short months, my output greatly improved in technique and everyone in class noted my progress from poem to poem.

These were in the good days. The cracks were just beginning to show, but I didn't realize at the time how serious the situation really was. A protracted tenure fight just beginning to rage quickly took on a very ugly dimension. Overnight, seemingly, the happy-go-lucky person I once knew became perpetually bitter and angry. I'd ask if there was anything going on, or whether or not I could help, but he'd never say a thing beyond a polite, but firm denial. By the end, it seems he was a little more than a pale shadow of his former self.

This was years after I graduated, but a friend in the department filled me in on the blow-by-blow. His final class as a faculty member was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Aware by then that he had not made tenure, every gathering of students was either an extended rant against the English Department or abject incoherence. I was told that he was often so drunk that a graduate assistant had to finish up the hour. When our heroes disappoint us, we can be devastated or recognize that we all share flaws and a common mortality. I was a little of each.

Another teacher was equally well-known for her inappropriate classroom remarks and complete lack of healthy boundaries. During the first class, she asked if anyone was on a particular anti-depressant. She was seeking feedback, she said, because she had recently been placed on it. Her honesty was so matter-of-fact and unashamed that some people didn't catch on to what it revealed about her mental health. Our first assignment, I recall, was to write about something that scared us. Those were the guidelines, as defined by the syllabus. As rendered, the papers submitted and topics chosen took on a quality of group therapy. I was not exactly sure that this was a good way to structure a workshop.

Eventually, enough people complained and she was no longer allowed to teach. Aware of her reputation, other colleges and universities in the area showed no interest in hiring her. A recovered alcoholic, she became a virtual recluse, rarely leaving the house. Her writing output, which had once consisted of a series of several regionally popular novels, slacked off to almost nothing. With time, her addictions overpowered her as they had before. She developed a heavy dependency on pain pills, an affliction still prominent the last I had heard.

I cite both of these examples, in part, to measure how far I've come. And, I write to state the difficult reality. Artistic, creative people often badly manage the very sensitivity that serves them well and drives their work. Even with all of the mitigating circumstances of my life, I have pushed through the worst of them. Unlike many, I have not let my demons overtake me.

Fears and anxieties have momentarily gotten the best of me sometimes, but they have not dominated my life. People have viewed me in the midst of a panic or two, true. But I have pushed through my pain, not run for a chemical tranquilizer, nor justified my own dysfunctional behavior. In time, these folks will see me in greater contrast, in higher focus. I have faith in my ability to improve my quality of life.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Putting on the Breaks

I have quickly learned that around this time of year, everything beings to grind down. One editor has already told me that he is now on vacation. Another is probably preparing as well. Such is the life of the freelance writer. Those of you who are my readers and engaged in similar pursuits have likely realized this for yourselves as well.

Perhaps I need to take a break myself, for once. I remember, back in the days where I was new to blogging, a nurturing spirit gave me a piece of advice. It was this. "It's okay if I don't write today". Should you find it helpful to your situation, I impart to you the very same words.

I'll be departing next week for the traditional Christmas family gathering. Yesterday, I went to a holiday potluck dinner and much enjoyed myself. The writer's life is often solitary. It is an altogether healthy thing to give voice to the ideas churning inside one's head. And in addition to having these thoughts validated, others can do the very same thing. Or, in other words, one might explain this as the reason why a good conversation can be healing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Coming out in middle school

A school district in Utah is defending its decision to report a middle school student's sexual orientation to his parents. The student deliberately self-disclosed his homosexuality during a written activity. He had been open about being gay in other ways, as well. His parents were eventually informed, according to the school district, because of efforts in place to reducing bullying. LGBT groups have gone on record to state that, despite the good intentions of this action, removing anyone's right to out himself or herself is not appropriate. While I favor the view of the latter, I do also understand the motives of the school district.

All of this would have never even been an issue a few short years ago. Though I am now in my early thirties, my experiences were extremely different. It seems almost inconceivable to me that anyone would willingly come out before the end of high school. Where I grew up, at fourteen, LGBT kids might acknowledge the fact within themselves, but never dare to so publicly announce it. In the South, queer culture existed quietly alongside the dominant heterosexual one, always present, but never directly expressed. It would have been seen as a violation of existing social coterie to be that brazenly honest with oneself. Gay people were never to speak or to call attention to themselves as they were.

Among my peers, many had their suspicions early on about a few of their classmates. Sometimes gossip was borne out by fact, when the parties in question came out of the closet. Although inevitable for most, this final step proceeded years later. The more permissive attitudes and freedom present in college usually granted queer kids the confidence to be fully honest with themselves. Those old barriers like constant parental surveillance no longer in place, most opened the closet door wide and left it behind forever. I suppose I always assumed that it was supposed to work this way.

This is why I still have a hard time understanding how anyone would dare to be openly gay in Middle School. Bullying is most intense then, of course, regardless of sexual orientation. And in prior generations, the stigma itself was so intense that coming out was a decision delayed as long as possible.

"Taking away the choice for a LGBT student to come out on their own terms opens the door to significant risks, including harassment at school and family rejection," she said.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, said family rejection is a real risk, and some young gay teens have found themselves homeless as a result.

The school "could very well have worsened that situation considerably," he said.

Among a few trusted friends, this at the end of high school, I confessed my bisexuality. But I wasn't anywhere close to emotionally ready to begin to explore that part of myself. In fact, I didn't really explore homosexual relationships and sexuality until my freshman year of college. My parents were left deliberately not informed because I knew they wouldn't approve. Both were openly hostile to the very thought, worried I'd get AIDS or some other gay disease.

My mother had gay friends, but couldn't handle the thought of having a gay child. When I confronted her with who I was she told me that I was only "that way" because I "couldn't get women". These her exact words. It was a ridiculous statement to make since I'd had a few girlfriends by then. But I knew I wasn't speaking to someone in a rational state of mind. Her anxieties and worries had overtaken her judgment, which showed me the source of her intolerance. Fear. I tried to be understanding, but the sting of her words was much too painful.

My father was not much better. He was short-tempered, invalidating, and completely unsympathetic. I was told a story, instead. A very conservative friend of his apparently had a son who was gay. The son had been given, to spare the father's shame, no choice but to move far away. Apparently, the son chose not to do this, instead "flaunting" his "lifestyle choice" in plain view. Accepting and tolerant an anecdote this was not. These statements had almost everything to do with my parents, and nothing to do with me. It was their fears and neuroses that were on display. My side of the story never even merited contemplation.

If I wanted to be treated with basic kindness I knew I'd need to go elsewhere. Though I did not articulate it then, what I wanted was their approval, then a few words of advice. I had to walk a very lonely path myself and searched far and wide seeking guidance. Sometimes I found it, but often I had to learn my lessons alone.

I could have stayed closeted, but I made a conscious decision not to be. The fourteen-year-old Utah student here is extremely lucky. He lives in a time where homophobic bullying is being taken much more seriously. A school district, to say nothing of a society that treats LGBT students as invisible makes no steps to protect them from harm. The news report doesn't indicate one way or another, but I hope his parents have accepted their son as he is. The most important people in his life, their rejection or acceptance will dramatically influence how he sees himself for years and years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Pink Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright wrote several songs about the uneasy relationship between musician and groupie. One gets the feeling that he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. In lyrical form he is tentative, conflicted, even repulsed by the new sexual freedom. He doesn't seem to enjoy it much, in any case.

To process his reservations, he wrote songs like "Stay", which follows below.

Stay and help me to end the day.
And if you don’t mind,
We’ll break a bottle of wine.

Stick around and maybe we’ll put one down,
Because I wanna find what lies behind those eyes.

Midnight blue burning gold.
A yellow moon is growing cold.

I rise, looking through my morning eyes,
Surprised to find you by my side.
Rack my brain to try to remember your name
To find the words to tell you goodbye.

Morning dues.
Newborn day.
A yellow moon turned to gray.

Midnight blue, burning gold.
Midnight blue is growing cold.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Health Update

Haven't posted one of these in a while, have I?

Today I visited the Primary Care Physician. I've had multiple colds in a short period of time and sought to understand precisely why. What I have is actually a lung infection that has likely lain dormant for months. It has never been adequately treated, nor completely out of my system, which would explain why it hung around for so long. Fortunately, a course of strong antibiotics should get rid of the infection within a week or so.

I also have a condition called Cheliosis. This is a vitamin/nutritional deficiency. What I thought were cold sores were cracks at the sides of my lips, due to malnutrition, essentially. My body doesn't have enough riboflavin or iron in its system right now. I'm supposed to start taking a multivitamin and to force myself to eat more balanced meals.

With time, Testosterone Replacement Therapy and the Aromatase Inhibitor caused my appetite to plunge. Or, at least that's the only likely cause of which I can think. I've found in the last several months that I just wasn't hungry, or that when I did eat, I ate mostly carbohydrates and sugars. Sometimes in seeking to fix one problem, another is created in its place.

Short Story Continuation

For a time, I thought all of these disparate short story pieces should be eventually conjoined together. Now I believe they stand out by themselves best, individually, as vignettes. I haven't quite decided yet. The best strategy may be to compile them together thematically, or even to be so bold as to write a screenplay someday.

Today's post explores a major area of my life I don't easily confront. I fought with myself in the course of writing, conscious that I shouldn't self-censor to the detriment of the piece. Someday, I hope I can talk about such things without discomfort.


As I enter, I notice the progression of grey throughout your hair and mine. Mine is only beginning, confined mostly to my temples for the duration. Yours is much more plentiful now. After embracing you, I gather that you still subtly apply patchouli. The chest hair that billows out of your shirt has begun to turn as well. You’ve gained back the forty pounds you’d recently lost when last we met, three years ago. Food always was your torment. Sometimes you'd pour dish soap on food you'd thrown in the trash hours before, so that you wouldn't fish it out and eat it during the night.

You eye me up and down, rapidly and greedily. It embarrasses me now. Once I would have invited your glances. Now you look like a tired old man with a never-ending stack of essays to grade. The last few years have proclaimed your age in front of the world. There was always a kind of defeated, lonely look to you, which I always assigned to your alcoholic mother and overbearing army corporal father. I see how you will be soon, a nice, slightly haunted old man who tips well at local restaurants.

In many ways, I will forever be in your debt. You taught me how to be queer, or at least how to understand it. I rushed into your arms in full freak out mode, eighteen years old and scared absolutely senseless. You were sympathetic, of course. But you didn’t vouch for the fact that I would seduce you. Safe enough, I thought. For a time, you resisted, but neither did you exactly discourage. It wasn’t long before we were lovers. This narrative progression, I gather, is not especially novel or even that out of the ordinary. I just called it the beginning.

Everyone for whom heterosexuality is not an option, or like me, a confusing counterweight, goes through a similar process. First one learns the language, the vernacular, the terminology. Then one applies it to an active life. I was another one of your students, learning from our interplay as much as the unwritten code that opened up before me, bit by bit. Loving mystery, I applied myself well and excelled in symbolic comprehension. Publically, I was fascinated. Privately, I was incredibly tormented.

Regularly locking myself in my room at night, I processed a day spent with you. And I asked myself the same questions. Those who always told me that being attracted to other men was perfectly normal always set off a fresh bout of angst. In all that I saw and felt, nothing felt the slightest bit normal or average. Yet, if I doubted the validity of what I felt, you were always around to prove it. In your arms, I felt momentarily serene. Today, I remember some of that feeling, the hollow, residual sensations we reserve for old lovers.

You understood me. Every Sunday you asked the priest for absolution from sin for homosexuality. The request was always denied. He said the same thing, week in and week out. Don’t act on it. For a time you’d followed his advice. Until well into your twenties you’d remained celibate, chaste, and pure. The phrase you used to describe yourself in those, your salad days was asexual. I tried to explain that asexuality wasn’t necessarily a developmental step. I’m still not certain you understood entirely.

After reversing course, you met someone. The two of you had three wonderful years together until the diagnosis. In those days, AIDS was a death sentence. In an instant you were thrust into the role of caretaker. For five years afterwards, you watched the disease progress, took temperatures, observed night sweats, scheduled doctor’s visits, and then buried him with no one’s assistance but your own. In the course of a long evening, you told me this story, wholly without emotion. There had been pain once, but your voice never showed it. You spoke as though this were a story long told, long memorized.

For a while afterward, I always needed confirmation. Even now, my mind goes strange places. I sometimes doubt what I felt for you, then. If I could deny it, then I could deny who I am, what I am, what this was. The sensation was primal, passionate, and completely affectionate. But unlike how you felt about me, I was never in love with you. I would never allow myself to go that far. You provided me every opportunity to do it, always bringing up the sizable gap in our ages. If you were pushing your heart away, even gently, then I supposed I was allowed to do the very same.

Back in town for a day or so, I thought I might find you at your normal hangout. It shouldn’t matter that you were actively ogling me with unchaste eyes the whole time I was there. We had enough of a history to justify that. I was mostly afraid, like always, that others would pick up on it. Count me as one of those who enjoyed the security and relative anonymity of the clubs and the bars. I knew my place. I knew where I fit into the prevailing culture. Closeted. Even if people disapproved, they still covered for me. They knew why I was there and I never made any pretense otherwise.

We said our goodbyes and you returned to your familiar corner. Blue book essays neatly piled six and seven deep, in coordinated piles stacked on the tabletop. This was your system and I think you alone were the only person to make sense of it. The pedagogical aspect of your life was never especially interesting to me, so I never made inquiries. And you never felt it worthy of a discussion. I only observed the visible products and the observable results. Now, I am only awkward in your presence, the way I imagine all of us feel around an ex.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Real Palestine

Last week, GOP Presidential front runner Newt Gingrich raised eyebrows by claiming that the Palestinians were, in his words, an “invented” people. When given an opportunity to qualify or walk back the statement during the most recent Republican debate, Gingrich stood his ground. It is possible to follow the former Speaker’s logic, on some level. However, the remark is also another in a long chain of unapologetic, inflammatory comments Gingrich has made over time. What we see is mostly Newt being Newt. One might as well get used to it.

Other Presidential hopefuls were given an opportunity by the moderator to respond to the comment. Most of them were highly critical of the latest candidate to hold first place, but only Ron Paul told the full truth about Gingrich’s comment. Paul noted that while the former Speaker’s pronouncement might have been factually correct, at least technically, it was a construction of language only designed to make trouble. Beyond forceful and predictable Pro-Israel pandering, it does beg to reopen the debate and challenge our notions of history.

It has often been believed that the Palestinians of today were the Philistines of the Bible. The Arabic language does not contain a hard “P” sound. Instead, the word as properly rendered would sound more like “Ph”, as in Phonetic. Reaching for explanations beyond the most basic can grow extremely heated in a fraction of a second. Indeed, it is difficult to separate facts from strongly held ideological views, both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, and both based routinely in hatred. Gingrich surely must have known the danger present in igniting this powder keg once again. But, as is typical, he was more concerned with stirring up controversy than being sensible and reasonable.

Some sources state that Arab settlers, seeking legitimacy, took on the phrase of an ancient, memorable tribe. In some ways, it was a curious selection. Though many of us rarely read the Bible anymore, we are still familiar with the story of David and Goliath. In the account, found in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, Goliath is a Philistine and David, his seemingly overmatched challenger, is Hebrew.

Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. "Why are you all coming out to fight?" he called. "I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!"

It is, as we know, the eventual King David who defeats the nine-foot-tall Goliath by way of a slingshot and stones. Palestinians in the 21st Century may resemble David in stature far more than their presumptive ancestor. At the time of the Middle Ages, Philistinism also became a pejorative. The phrase refers to an anti-intellectual, prudish, or otherwise aesthetically resistant person who is smugly indifferent, even openly hostile to cultural pursuits. A particular vein of conservative thought often speaks to this state of willing ignorance, one that often leaves strong political statements unchallenged.

In Western culture, the whole of Judeo-Christian civilization could be viewed as invented. The original text and resulting traditions were adopted quite deliberately by a Roman Emperor who sought to harness Christianity for his own selfish desires. Had he not, then the religion and its observance may have remained small and never left the Middle East. Before Constantine the Great, Christians were heavily persecuted, sometimes infamously thrown to lions. Due to the grand scale and great influence of the Empire, the religion was spread by missionaries to Western Europe, then eventually the New World.

One might say that, much like Israelis and Palestinians both, Christianity is a kind of deliberate transplant. It is strange to consider how profoundly massive our roots are in a small corner of the Earth. Our cultural identity, along with a large source of crude oil are centered there. Conservatives like to play up their cred by expressing their unyielding loyalty to the state of Israel, but if they truly understood, they might think before speaking. I doubt most people, including some of our elected leaders, really understand the Middle East and all its nuances.

Furthermore, Palestinians often are descended from Israelis by blood. In some ways, a particularly persistent Civil War is being waged. Palestinians have been a people without a homeland for a long time, even with their vast amount of diversity in cultural and genetic identification. If they are somehow a construct of politics and imagination, they are far from the only people for whom this is the case. Americans are arranged similarly, since most are transplants from elsewhere. Everywhere that mass migration has taken place, for any reason, one could utter the charge of “invented”. The comparison invites definitions of authenticity that are entirely subjective.

Newt Gingrich hasn’t changed one iota. He’ll still play up hair-splitting points that keep him in the headlines. Many of his supporters will see these characterizations as some kind of courageous fact, when they are half-truths at best. Gingrich is willing to bend the truth, showing himself to be the opposite of mealy-mouthed flip-floppers like Mitt Romney. But what Gingrich backers fail to understand is that, unlike what their hero practices, speaking the complete truth really does take guts. Confronting a world with complex issues that do not invite simple solutions cannot be reconciled by bomb-throwing, either in rhetoric or in military policy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Quote of the Week

An old Quaker had retired for the night. He heard a noise downstairs. Rising, he took his hunting shotgun from the wall, and tiptoed very quietly down the steps. Sure enough, there was a burglar looting the family silverware.

In quiet tones, the Quaker addressed the burglar: "My friend, I would not harm thee for the world, but thee is standing where I am about to shoot."- An old joke.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tuscaloosa Pictures


19 November 2011. Alabama vs. Georgia Southern.

New Pictures

My recently married sister and her husband.

Me, November 2011.

Saturday Video

This song is a favorite of mine. In particular, I love the drum break into the chorus. Though I cannot play a full set well at all, I play air drums along with the recording, every time.

Well, I'm standing here, freezing,
inside your golden garden
I've got my ladder, leaned up against your wall

Tonight's the night we planned
to run away together
Come on Dolly Mae, there's no time to stall
But now you're telling me...

I think we better wait till tomorrow
Yeah, yeah, yeah
(I think we better wait till tomorrow)

Girl, what 'chu talkin' 'bout ?
(I think we better wait till tomorrow)
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Got to make sure it's right,
so until tomorrow, goodnight.

Oh, what a drag.

Oh, Dolly Mae, how can you hang
me up this way ?
Oh, on the phone you said you wanted
to run off with me today

Now I'm standing here like some
turned down serenading fool
Hearing strange words stutter
from the mixed mind of you

And you keep tellin' me that ah...

I think we better wait till tomorrow
What are you talkin' 'bout ?
(I think we better wait till tomorrow)

No, can't wait that long
(I think we better wait till tomorrow)
Oh, no
Got to make sure it's right,
until tomorrow, goodnight, oh.

Let's see if I can talk to
this girl a little bit here...

Ow! Dolly Mae, girl, you must be insane
So unsure of yourself leaning
from your unsure window pane

Do I see a silhouette of somebody
pointing something from a tree?
Click bang, what a hang,
your daddy just shot poor me

And I hear you say, as I fade away...

We don't have to wait till tomorrow
We don't have to wait till tomorrow
What you say?
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)

It must not have been right, so forever,
goodnight, listen at 'cha.
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)

Ah! Do I have to wait? Don't have to wait
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
It's a drag on my part

We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Don't have to wait, uh, hmm ! Ah, no !
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Don't have to wait, don't have to wait, yeah !

(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Don't have to wait, don't have to wait
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Oh, oh

I won't be around tomorrow, yeah!
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Don't have to wait
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)

Goodbye, bye bye!
(We don't have to wait till tomorrow)
Oh, what a mix up
Oh, you gotta be crazy, hey, ow!
Don't have to wait till tomorrow.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Two of Us

Timing is of the utmost importance in this song. Should you listen to it, you'll hear that the timing goes a little astray in the last half. The rhythm guitar track decided to get distorted, meaning that I had to record another to fill out the song.

I decided to leave the imperfections in, because I thought I'd try to replicate what a live recording might sound like. Live in the Studio isn't always an oxymoron. Still, the harmonies are strong.

Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone's hard earned pay,
You and me Sunday driving,
Not arriving on our way back home.

We're on our way home,
We're on our way home,
We're going home.

Two of us sending postcards
Writing letters on my wall.
You and me burning matches,
Lifting latches on our way back home.

We're on our way home,
We're on our way home,
We're going home.

You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats
Standing solo in the sun.
You and me chasing paper,
Getting nowhere on our way back home.

We're on our way home,
We're on our way home,
We're on our way home.

You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone's hard earned pay.
You and me Sunday driving
Not arriving on our way back home.

We're on our way home,
We're on our way home

We're going home.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


My eyes follow the motion of two fingers all the way to the end
then back again like a typewriter’s carriage return
to and fro a v-shaped pointer and middle finger

Focus on an image

still photography

out of sequence
variations on a theme

follow follow follow
hold the image


the next click
of the viewfinder
the next frame

what do you see what do you see

the insertion of
a finger

don’t make me say
what it is don’t make me

take a deep breath take a deep breath


where am I where is this
what is this

pulling out
leaving behind


what do you feel what do you feel
where do you feel it

pain in the bowels
lower stomach

enough for today enough

time for leaving time to go goodbye

tightness in the chest
pulse racing

doctor’s office
just a moment

are you okay
are you okay

into the rain


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

An infamous date, seventy years later

On this anniversary, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Despite my own private reservations, I cannot hear Franklin Roosevelt's eloquent address without being caught up in the moment. At the end of dramatically intoned sentences, the entire room breaks into patriotic, thunderous applause. In direct violation of my own beliefs, I feel a desire to let out a cheer as the short, but powerful speech crescendos. Pacifism in any form now seems out of step and unnecessary.

A day which was observed with solemn reverence for the entire country holds a very different meaning for Friends. Charles Lindbergh and his boy-next-door delivery as spokesman for the Anti-War movement was rendered redundant in an instant. Those who still believed that the United States ought to beware of foreign entanglements now became a small minority. Some, usually stating religious reasons, refused to serve in the military. But they were regularly treated like traitors or turncoats. Some were even thrown into jail. This 2006 article in Friends Journal summarizes a variety of stated offenses and solutions for non-participation. Much of this ignoble aspect of our history is simply not discussed.

Conscientious objectors were often persecuted for their efforts in World War II. John F. Kennedy acknowledged this when he said, "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." World War II COs endured verbal abuse and vandalism of their homes, were refused service in restaurants, had to witness being hung in effigy, dealt with efforts to prevent them from voting, and were socially ostracized.

Conscientious objectors and their families also suffered economically. When the men of the family were in CPS [Civilian Public Service], they were not paid. Many COs went on strike, and some called the workcamps "American Slave Camps." Families relied on the women to provide financial support. Also, families had to pay for COs to go into the CPS (about $35 a month). Finally, there were fewer job opportunities for the family members of COs because most of them would not accept employment that included working in war industries, and some employers refused to hire family members of COs.

Many CO families were separated while family members served in the workcamps or on farms. Some families disagreed with COs and were ashamed of what their relatives believed. In some instances, parents and spouses even threatened to commit suicide. The worry over persecution, loss of pay, and separation took over the lives of many COs' families.

In a different time, enlisting for battle was an automatic action by many. Stories are told of men who, while driving in a car towards some destination, heard of the Pearl Harbor attacks by way of the car radio. Many immediately turned around, regardless of previous plans, and proceeded directly to sign up for military service. An older man I talked with some years ago told fascinating stories. He spoke about how, having turned eighteen, he proudly enlisted for the army. Not only was it expected, it reinforced ideas of acceptable masculine behavior. And, it also made one popular with the girls.

He would later be wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, this during a particularly traumatic and violent German offensive. But that is later. A still isolationist nation had not entertained frequent invasions or a total war, and this is why it rushed to armed combat under the sway of an extensive propaganda machine. It would soon recognize that war wasn't nearly as glamorous as it had been led to believe. Even with technicolor or the support of Hollywood's most popular matinee idols, war was still hell.

The impact of this anniversary has faded with time. Once remembered by all, the number of those who were even alive back then has steadily decreased. Soon, it may be remembered only by history, recorded and passed down by those who were themselves not present. History must inevitably rely upon the reflections of primary sources for any truthful retelling. Still, what makes any momentous event real and tangible are personal narratives. One of my Grandmother's brothers came ashore on D-Day. Due to prior written correspondence with him, she knew he would be there. She never talked about the grandiloquence of that event, just that she cried all day and night, fearful that her brother might be among the casualties. These anecdotes summarize the reality of war, not the speeches, not the pomposity.