Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday Video

She grew up in an Indiana town
Had a good lookin' momma who never was around
But she grew up tall and she grew up right
With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

Well she moved down here at the age of eighteen
She blew the boys away, it was more than they'd seen
I was introduced and we both started groovin'
She said, "I dig you baby
but I got to keep movin'...on, keep movin' on"

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

Well I don't know what I've been told
You never slow down, you never grow old
I'm tired of screwing up, I'm tired of goin' down
I'm tired of myself, I'm tired of this town

Oh my my, oh hell yes
Honey put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song,
Take me as I come 'cause I can't stay long

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

There's pigeons down in Market Square
She's standin' in her underwear
Lookin' down from a hotel room
Nightfall will be comin' soon

Oh my my, oh hell yes
You've got to put on that party dress
It was too cold to cry when I woke up alone
I hit the last number, I walked to the road

Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin' in and I'm
Tired of this town again

Friday, January 30, 2015


I want to share with you a passage with you that I wrote earlier last year. In it, I was writing about the summer camp experiences many of us went through in childhood. Some of us have wanted to pass that tradition down to our own children.

As I wrote,

The theories long-propagated by organizers of summer camps promise the comforting nature of steady, close contact of one’s peers. They envision the sort of constant, positive interaction which produces lifelong friends and connections for later in life. It is true that you might meet a handful of fast friends there, formerly complete strangers, with whom you will stay in touch forever. Or you may not.

These experiences provide, far too often, an underwhelming result that doesn't particularly hold up in reality. Parents of students seek to outdo themselves, ensuring that their children have the best camp and vacation experience possible, but in seeking perfection, they overlook a particular blind spot. It is one they miss themselves in the midst of the clutter and details that passes for life.

One crucial distinction cannot be corrected by programming alone. Here is what usually happens. The close proximity of to each camper to another often facilitates superficially close relationships, for only for a time. Few open up with secrets usually guarded and concealed; it is a risk-averse tactic that usually creates distance in the end, not unity.

From a psychological standpoint, the fear of transparency, either as a child or as an adult, eventually pushes people away from each other. Friendships made in camp or, later in life, in conference, usually stay there and do not leave. During our adult life we copy the same superficially intimate, but mostly evasive patterns.

Thoughtful organizers make sure to give us e-mail lists and phone numbers, to better facilitate forming the friendships and acquaintances sparked by weeks, perhaps even months of common purpose. And yet, few pick up the phone or type e-mails with the intention of keeping in touch with a bunk-mate or a partner during a workshop. I cannot understand why. What are we afraid of, really?

Keeping ourselves protected from some perceived slight makes us islands. Our politeness is often surface alone and we may feel we have to compartmentalize our life, forming invisible laws and rules about who we trust to be a friend. The moment we do that, we prevent community from forming. Boundaries like these are problematic, even if they seem to make sense at first.

As adults, we can generate lots of excuses. Work is too busy. I volunteer for a particular cause. I just don’t have the time. These are excuses, and they seem plausible enough, so we buy them. The most perceptive of us know that they’re likely only lies or at least half-truths. We claim we don’t have a need for more friends, because that might upset the house of cards lifestyle we’ve been living. I believe that we must form loving communities in order to make the world function as it should. This idea is not new. Many people well before my time have discussed and championed the same basic ideas I’m advancing here, concepts first articulated well before the day I was born.

The concerns of children are easier to excuse. Lacking driver’s licenses, their mobility is restricted. Every year they are congregated into classes with the same teachers and the same students. They’re constantly forming friendships at school or avoiding them, and so camp is just an extension of the other nine months of the year. They have much to teach us, or, failing that, our own past could serve as an instructive lesson.

Adults in the work world might be required to attend a conference or a professional development seminar, but it’s not the same. The focus is on work, not on socialization. This is a shame, now that we are busy enough and engaged on what we think matters to leave no room in our lives for friendship.

We keep talking about peace. Peace to me is built upon mutual trust and understanding. It is based on real relationships where two or more people are not overly preoccupied with the supposed priorities of their lives. This process requires vulnerability and not needing to chase someone down. This is the very same vulnerability I have been carping about for years. I don’t think that we’re thoughtless people or rude people. I think instead that we’re easily distracted and quick to confuse what ought to be our true priorities.


"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dry Drunk

A work of fiction.

The alcoholics stuck together on the smoking portico. This was the only place smokers could congregate, according to regulations, and it provided a break from the monotony of the ward. Even though it was winter now, everyone stayed bundled up to not miss a single opportunity for a nicotine fix.  One man with skin like leather and blotchy places on his face told the story of his first wife.
The next wife I get, he said, is going to weigh 300 pounds and know how to cook. My last one was a looker, but good looking women are more trouble than they're worth.

The others seated nearby, taking periodic drags, cackling phelmy, throaty laughs. They were swapping stories, a regular pastime. They had five minutes to finish up before another on-site AA meeting. Though frequently intense and confrontational, AA was at least more interesting than a steady supply of lukewarm apple juice and individually wrapped graham crackers. Psych wards can be many things, but usually they are dull affairs full of forced small talk and lots of lying around, trying not to wallow in one's misery.

I was already consumed with a new way to kill time. It involved finding a ward crush. Being in close quarters with others for a long while increased the odds of finding one. During the hospitalization before last, I didn't even have to make the first move. A young woman my age acted unfailingly polite, offering me more than once the interesting-looking book she had recently finished. In the end, as I learned, it was my curly hair that was the clincher for her.

Most of the time, these efforts of mine went nowhere productive. Even if a mutual attraction existed, there was little more than we could do besides exchange phone numbers while sitting as closely next to each other as was allowed. It was like going to summer camp, if enrollment was fluid and ever-changing. Some were discharged and sent home, but new arrivals kept arriving in droves. It would be easier to form no attachments and not worry about whatever potentialities might or might not come to pass, but that's not the sort of person I am.

One particularly industrious woman, who possessed absolutely no work ethic but a genius IQ, played two interested suitors against each other. I was one of them. The two of us competed against each other like political candidates at a debate. Aware of her tactics, in my own defense, I had a weakness for tall redheads with brains. I knew I was being used, but didn't care. When pride, coupled with the promise of acquisition becomes a factor, it's extremely easy to act foolish.

It's a shame she never lived up to her potential, which was vast. I visited the pizzeria where she worked as a waitress, ten years later. By then she must have been in her early thirties. She pretended to not know who I was. I could have introduced myself, but I didn't want to brave an unwanted greeting. I paid my bill, left a reasonable tip, and departed.

The trainer for this latest session was conspicuously nervous, tightly-wound. I thought she was cute, so I small talked harmlessly, but with purpose. She talked about having obtained an overseas degree, from Oxford, I think. Then she dissected a movie she'd seen the night before.

We had things in common, a fact evident immediately. We could have gone forward from here, but like so many alcoholics in recovery, she doubted herself. We could have kept talking about something other than booze stories or broken promises. AA meetings are full of such things, full of raw nerves and shame.  

I'm not ready to be in a relationship. 

She even said it out loud, as though no one else could hear her except for me. Turning away from me, she sat quietly, in one of the seats placed in a large circle. I did not pursue her, but I took a seat directly across from her, in her field of vision. Our talk may have concluded, but I wasn't going away. The most frustrating interactions, in my estimation, are those concluded without each card turned upwards, every hand revealed.

One thing I could always promise to loved ones is that I would never lie to them about my drinking. I admitted to being intoxicated when I was. I admitted to getting behind the wheel while over the legal limit. My ex-wife never had to put me on the stand and subject me to a cross-examination. I knew I was a drunk and I made no bones about it. I never drank in secret and everyone knew that I was the first one at the liquor store, ten full minutes before it opened for the day's business.

So when other people weren't forthright with me about their own baggage, I had a tendency to get very indignant. I heard a thousand stories but always prized most the ones not couched in defensive language. I severely disliked addicts who had a particularly deplorable acumen for alibis. Those who do not want help are wasting their time and everyone else's.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Thinkin' 'bout the times you drove in my car.
Thinkin' that I might have drove you too far.
And I'm thinkin' 'bout the love that you laid on my table.

I told you not to wander 'round in the dark.
I told you 'bout the swans, that they live in the park.
Then I told you 'bout our kid, now he's married to Mabel.

Yes, I told you that the light goes up and down.
Don't you notice how the wheel goes 'round?
And you better pick yourself up from the ground
Before they bring the curtain down,
Yes, before they bring the curtain down.

Talkin' 'bout a girl that looks quite like you.
She didn't have the time to wait in the queue.
She cried away her life since she fell off the cradle.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chloe Angyal and the Roots of Rape Culture

Before I begin, I want to state that I’m a Chloe Angyal fan. A feminist, a columnist, an activist, a lover of romantic comedies, and a former dancer, Angyal has been blessed with many talents. Those of us who write while wearing their heart on their sleeve, with an occasionally vicious compulsion for constant self-reflection, must stick together. I’ve watched as she's matured and progressed over the years. I’ve expressed sympathy for her tearful breakups with boyfriends, triumphed at her publication successes, and seen parts of myself in her example.

While an interview subject on MSNBC with Melissa Harris-Perry, back in December, Angyal made a particularly strong statement that some might say was a little inflammatory. She said, emphatically, that we live in a culture that hates women. Prior to that, she said, rather dramatically, that those who doubt the stories and accounts of sexual assault are stabbing these victims in the heart. Both statements were made in response to the numerous and all-too-frequently documented instances of rape on college campuses. Many are, as we know, never reported. But unlike Ms. Angyal, I wouldn’t go quite so far.

When I was in undergrad, a fifteen-year-old girl attained early enrollment. I got to know her a little because she was in my English composition class. I edited a few of her papers and she edited mine. Class over, our paths never crossed again. Within a year, I heard that she’d become the sexual plaything of several athletes.

Her numerous charges of sexual assault and supplying drugs and alcohol to a minor while on school grounds never went to trial, but were instead settled out of court with the university. At the same time that these offenses were being committed, I lived in a dorm on campus. Entering after hours required a magnetic key card, but not much else. Certain dorms were semi-policed, but it was easy to sneak in visitors and alcohol, especially.

Campus security where I attended school was notoriously lax. Only the most intense incidents required the police force of the city of Birmingham. Colleges and universities have only reluctantly agreed to be a semi-parental, a semi-law enforcement presence towards its student body. It is a lack of accountability and adequate on-campus security that leads, in part, to rapes and sexual assaults. This culture doesn’t hate women. Hating women, as is Ms. Angyal’s position, would require special effort. Most colleges and universities don’t focus enough attention on the problem at hand to hate much of anything, except for more work for them.

I do agree that we live in the midst of rape culture. A culture of misogyny with undercurrents of physical violence towards women exists. But in the end, someone must be responsible. We’ve said that rapists ought to not rape, and that it’s unfair to shift the burden onto women. An easy answer would be hiring more security or cops on the beat. But that’s only a protective, defensive response. We have to get inside heads and change behavior.

Getting the message across that No Means No alongside the notion of informed consent is more difficult. Recent advertisements and commercials have noted that everyone has an obligation to prevent rape and sexual assault. This is true. But the roots of criminal behavior, of which rape certainly is, are never that easily dissected. Some say we ought to blame the parents. Others say that a violent culture and the crime that goes along with it is responsible most of all. Each of these answers is correct in part, but not entirely.  

Education is not an answer in and of itself. Women are raised to be deferential, rather than persistent. In a case of trauma, women are even less likely to vocalize and report what happened to them. This requires a quantum leap in gendered expectations. These aren’t products of a culture that hates women. Our culture doesn’t like to think about survivors of any catastrophic event. We don’t like to see veterans with missing limbs and we don’t want to see the bruises of the battered wife. Seeing rape victims reminds many of us of the horrible parts of humanity.

As much as feminists emphasize their own views and their own protocol, a truly successful anti-rape strategy is going to need to include many moving parts. I’m not intelligent enough to eradicate an odious practice that goes hand in hand with wars of conquest and generally evil behavior. It's been around for a long time. But I do know that it will require more than anger, more than simply righteous rage. Even law-abiding citizens will rape and pillage when the opportunity presents itself.

That’s in the DNA of many, usually to be unleashed under terrible circumstances. And unless we examine its great taproot, which is within us, rape and sexual assault will continue. A harsh kind of punishment like this doesn’t hate women, it hates for the sake of hatred. Sometimes I think we ought to more closely inspect what makes us hate before we can ever ask what makes us rape.

Quote of the Week

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me- Bob Dylan, "Visions of Johanna"

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Video

Can't stay at home, can't stay at school.
Old folks say 'You poor little fool'.
Down the streets I'm the girl next door.
I'm the fox you've been waiting for.

Hello, daddy. Hello, mom.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Hello world! I'm your wild girl.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

Stone age love and strange sounds too.
Come on, baby, let me get to you.
Bad nights causing teenage blues.
Get down ladies, you've got nothin' to lose.

Hello, daddy. Hello, mom.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Hello world! I'm your wild girl.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

Hello, daddy. Hello, mom.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Hello world! I'm your wild girl.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

Hey, street boy, want some style?
Your dead end dreams don't make you smile.
I'll give you something to live for.
Have you and grab you until you're sore.

Hello, daddy. Hello, mom.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Hello world! I'm your wild girl.
I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

Cherry bomb!
Cherry bomb!
Cherry bomb!
Cherry bomb!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The March for Life and the Limits of Religious Choice

I was on the subway yesterday on my way to an appointment. As I approached the platform, about to board the train, I noticed that at least four cars, maybe more, were completely full. Their contents were high school students, girls exclusively. By means of identification, they wore the same knit caps in purple and white. The word "Life" was prominently displayed across the brim, along with an acronym I didn't understand.

Through direct inquiry of one of the students seated nearby, I learned that they attended the same conservative Catholic school somewhere in Maryland. My first polite inquiry had been summarily ignored by an older male adult chaperon, perhaps a teacher, so I asked a teenage girl seated nearby for more information. Earlier during the day, there had been a large Pro-Life rally, the so-called March for Life. That was the reason for the "Life" designation on everyone's headgear.

I'm about as pro-choice as it comes, even referring to pro-life supporters as anti-choice. Though my libertarian father and I differ in many ways, his stance on abortion rights led him to be on the local board of Planned Parenthood for a time. This is to say that I don't understand the arguments made by those who would end legalized abortion. What mainly troubled me yesterday is that I find it distasteful when children, even older children like teenagers, are used as props to advance some greater ideological point.

One could even suggest that at fourteen or fifteen, kids simply aren't old enough to form their well-reasoned own political views. It took college for my nascent political consciousness to emerge, to question and weigh out the politics of my parents and decide what my own should be. It is said that a person's political views are not set into cement until around the age of twenty-four.  

A public school would not have been able to get away with a thing like this. Doing so would be asking for a lawsuit. Even if a minority group of students who identified as pro-life wanted to go on a trip to Washington, DC, to protest, I doubt the request would be granted. The only loophole I foresee was if the group agreed to not directly advertise the name of the school with which they were affiliated. This was not the case with the Catholic school I mentioned earlier.

Though they were cautious to not spell out directly the name of the school, even initials can be incriminating. This is what concerns me most. We're a nation supposedly built on the notion of a separation between church and state. But when it comes to schools with a religious bent, we allow these sorts of activities to proceed. The recent Hobby Lobby case is one such example and there are others yet to come.

I've never heard of a group of young Quakers enrolled in a Friends school that collectively headed to an anti-global warming rally or a pro-choice day of solidarity. Should I be wrong, I welcome anyone to correct me and I take no offense. If parents choose to take their children and their marching shoes to the streets, then that's a very different situation. If a minority group of students under the auspices of a school club wanted to attend, then that, too, is a different matter. But if the entire school was compelled to participate, or the event was a formally scheduled school event, the nature of the argument changes.

What I observed seemed more like a field trip than a group outing. The girls chatted casually with each other, but I didn't observe a kind of intensity of purpose that I do with many who consider themselves serious activists. They acted like students thankful for a day off from school. I've fallen into that category myself when I was that age.

Religious exemptions have always been a political hot potato. I'm sure that, in this instance, the private school in question was likely within its legal rights. What I object to is not so much the cause they support as the way in which they went about airing their grievances. Teenagers are still children, still very much minors. One of my major pet peeves is when I observe adults using kids for cheap emotional appeal. Whether they knew it or not, these students were representing a particular issue by virtue of their very presence.

I try very diligently not to force my religious beliefs down anyone's throat. The same is true with my political views. I enjoy pleasantly chatting with those who share a common cause with me, and I keep conversation at a surface level with those who do not. Many liberals have a kind of paranoia and hyper-vigilance when it comes to questions of whether they observe other people being manipulated against their will. Though it has basis in fact, these nagging worries may be little more than projecting. Some have even dismissed organized religion in any form as inherently toxic and designed to brainwash others. That's not necessarily so.

But I do think it's worth questioning whether the conduct mentioned above is acceptable. Should religious schools be allowed to take extremely partisan positions and involve minors in the process? As noted above, the cynic in me feels that teenagers might summarily dismiss the activity as harmless and quite perfunctory, rendering my anxieties needless. Even so, I know that the intention of this group trip is to reinforce a particular ideological issue, one in which I do not agree. I wouldn't want a pro-choice group of high schoolers from a Quaker school to participate collectively in a mass protest, either.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Notice

I've been asked to write a pamphlet specifically for a Quaker audience. Because of this new assignment, I will likely be posting a little less for a few weeks. I'm having to brush up on my Chicago Manual of Style, for starters. Grad school, now a full decade ago, was the last time I had to worry about a style manual of any kind.

Every publication has its own unique guidelines. A team of editors will meet together as a single body to determine whether they're satisfied with the finished product, or whether it needs more work. I know enough by now to recognize that no one's first draft is perfect and without correction, least not my own. I know the topic already and intend to use previously published material along with the newly written passages. Mostly this is an exercise in compiling, rather than strict creation.  

My Meeting is supportive of this task and I don't want to let them down. I know I'm writing for only a handful of Friends, maybe only a few thousand, but I know I have insight to share with those of my own faith.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Seat at the Table for the Mentally Ill

I lost the ability to sleep naturally, to the best of my reckoning, about eight years ago. To keep away insomnia, I take a very strong sedative that doubles as an antidepressant. Last night I didn't get much rest because I'm currently withdrawing from another medication, a tranquilizer known to most Americans as Valium. One can't come off of Valium or any of what are categorized as benzodiazepines cold turkey, and yet I've had to because I couldn't get in touch with my doctor.

Obamacare, by my direct observation, has been very effective in some areas and minimally effective in others. Psychiatrists in this city charge $700 out of pocket for a first-time appointment and around $200 for follow-up visits. Because I cannot pay enormous bills like these, even with Obamacare coverage, I have to go to the worst, least funded clinic in the District. Doctors will counter that health insurance companies don't reimburse them adequately enough to allow them to make much money. If that is the case, then our next set of reforms should ensure that a psychologist can make as much as a heart surgeon.

My psychiatrist is sharp and well-trained, but when the money and staffing isn't there, one has to improvise and prioritize. It shouldn't take me ten days of persistent inquiry to get medication refills. In a much more affluent setting, a nurse on call would handle this request within 1-2 days. Or, in some cases, a psychiatrist himself or herself would, in about the same amount of time. For every single area of specialization besides mental health, my insurance covers most of the charges I accrue.

These are the things money can buy. Dreams are wonderful things, but concrete plans are even more wonderful. Last night I heard President Obama talk about making sure to include those with mental illness in this grand coalition of our nation's population. I'm glad that I was finally noted in a Presidential address. Mentioning mental illness of any form in so public a forum would have caused deep shame and discomfort to everyone in my grandparent's generation. That's how far we've come and, don't get me wrong, I'm grateful. Yet, I kept hoping the President would offer specifics of where the money would come from and who would pay for it.

Health care in this country is still about access to coverage and the money to ensure it. The system needs to be fixed when a psychologist in private practice will charge upwards of $150-$200 per session often without taking any insurance because Medicare and other insurance plans only pay $60. As it stands now, my psychiatrist charges $150 for each session, but I'm sure his actual take-home pay is much less. Modern medicine should be a holistic experience, where a doctor takes the time to get to know his or her patients. Instead, patients are often rushed in and out for the sake of profit.

Again, I know that throwing money at a problem is no solution. But fully funding clinics for every American would provide, at minimum, jobs for nurses, doctors, physician's assistants, and secretaries. It's short-sighted in the extreme to overlook a pressing need such as this one. Though, as I noted above, we have come quite a ways in general mental health awareness, but a tremendous amount of stigma and misinformation still exists with mental illness. Far too many people are not being treated because they are being denied access to coverage. They can't pay the cost or take off work easily to be properly treated.

The American health care system is still based on profit. I don't expect a single-payer system to ever be passed into law. What I do know is that it will take time for Obamacare reforms, as enacted, to show evidence of their stated goals. Rural Maryland needs psychiatrists and psychologists as much as Washington, DC. The difference is that more profit can be collected from affluent urban dwellers than rural residents. Capitalism and our continued reliance on it continues to trip us up. Casting blame on one group or another isn't fair. We are shackled together by a system that will always reward privilege and increased income first.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beyond The Queer Eye

Today I celebrate an otherwise invisible anniversary. It has been ten years since I became a professed feminist, though I suspect I was one a long time before I quite deliberately pinned a label to myself. I'm amazed by how much I've learned in a decade's time. Male allies like myself often overreach due to basic ignorance, especially in the beginning. What made me different was that I was a quick study, but if I am to be completely honest, I always had a leg up on the competition. As is true with many queer men, I have often identified more closely and thoroughly with women than with men.

This is the case in almost every aspect of my life, from my mostly stable childhood to the pop culture that fascinated me then and continues to fascinate me now. For whatever reason, I've always felt more drawn to films that feature a solidly female ensemble cast. One of my guilty pleasures is the 1980 film Foxes, a story of four teenage friends growing up in Southern California in the late 1970's.

It holds my attention even now very naturally, not because I made a bucket list of Things All Feminists are Supposed to Do™. I wasn't consciously trying to play the part of the newly liberated feminist man, but my interest was so profound that it was never an effort to absorb the discourse like a sponge. Female friendships in every form fascinate me, even if they are only the product of a clever screenwriter. I've often been jealous of the kind of tight-knit friendships I observe in the women who are most often my closest confidantes.

Men are supposed to be islands, indebted to no one. That was an impossible task for me. I confess that I've wrung my hands in worry. I've been petrified in the company of other men that I was coming across as too vulnerable, too chatty, too honest. My interactions with most other men are perfunctory, superficial, and not terribly deep. Men who also identify as queer, however, are a breath of fresh air, allowing me the opportunity to spontaneously recite memorized Sylvia Plath poetry, share baking recipes, and many other pursuits never to be mentioned in the company of straight men.

In addition to being a confessional account, this post is a mea culpa of a sort. The other side of the coin is that I know I've turned away men who have made overtures of friendship. The closest male friendship I have is a guy who dislikes stereotypical heterosexual masculine posturing strongly enough that he exclusively seeks friendships with queer men. In him and in his example, I have some modicum of kinship. But as I said, he is one of the few. On public transportation, I stand well clear of bros wearing hockey jerseys and too much cologne.

I know I rub men the wrong way when I deliberately limit contact with them. That's not very fair of me. There's a man in my work orbit who I know to be a kind soul. I admire the work he does, but I find I tend to avoid him in person instead of setting the record straight. Explaining the situation would be an awkward experience but maybe I ought to give it a try.

In all truth, I'd much rather associate with women. My interests have always lined up more with theirs and this spirit of commonality stretches to the way we communicate. I'm happy to find friends who are women, but with only a few exceptions, I know that I'm treated a little differently. Granted, I don't have a uterus, nor will I ever, but unless I chance across the sort of woman who has mostly men for friends, there is always the possibility present of misunderstanding.

Back in college, my best friend was a woman who had never been friends with men who weren't straight until me. We tended to read each other's mind and as the two of us became better friends, her young daughter grew close to me, even though I've always been uncomfortable in the presence of children. We developed romantic feelings with time, but I think she preferred seeing only one particular side of my sexual orientation, the kind not attracted to the opposite-sex. I never pushed it, fearful that if I confessed my feelings, she would throw up walls and our friendship might never recover.

I've been variously misunderstood and mistakenly categorized as a player, a womanizer, or to a particular few as somewhat distant. Because my presentation is very masculine and because I usually come across as 100% heterosexual until I volunteer information, I find I can take people by surprise. But if anyone were ever to want to know who I really am, they'd do best to speak to my woman friends.

It's taken me quite a long time to grant to men more than a very reluctant handshake, but, though difficult, I confess it is a relief to offer an embrace to other men and receive one in turn. I peer at the world through masculine eyes and with male privilege firmly intact. But I'm a blending and blurring of conventional lines of demarcation, forming combinations that are subtle and unsubtle, cisgender and transgender, gay and straight. If any description of me rings truest it is that I feel like a gender hermaphrodite. But I would rather just be.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Quote of the Week

If I were a man, I would strenuously object to the assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class. This is female chauvinism.-Betty Friedan

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday Video

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me again

I'm not the only one
I'm not the only one

Hate me
Do it and do it again
Waste me
Rape me, my friend

I'm not the only one
I'm not the only one

My favorite inside source
I'll kiss your open sores
I appreciate your concern
You'll always stink and burn

Rape me
Rape me, my friend
Rape me
Rape me, again

I'm not the only one
I'm not the only one

Rape me, rape me

Friday, January 16, 2015

Don Siegelman: The Wrong Cause for the Wrong Reason

I know this post will likely not be received with much support or much enthusiasm. It will probably draw lots of criticism, but I cannot be silent any longer. The legality of Don Siegelman's conviction and subsequent incarceration has now taken the form of a particularly persistent conspiracy theory. A desire to punish Karl Rove for his legitimate crimes in other arenas has suspended the laws of logic and good sense. Many cause célèbre like these develop their own forward momentum and group-think.

Allow me to provide my own credentials. I registered to vote at a local Siegelman for Governor headquarters when I had just turned 18. I voted for him that year, 1998, and for his re-election in 2002, four years later. At the time of Siegelman's first campaign, Republican Forrest "Fob" James held the highest office in the state. An unapologetic good old boy from rural East Alabama, James had been governor years before, but had run back then as a Democrat. The consensus opinion among Alabamians and even those within his own party was that, as a former football player, Fob had played a few too many downs without a helmet.

The consummate party insider, Siegelman methodically rose up through the ranks of the Alabama Democratic Party one rung at a time. It was no secret to anyone that Don eventually wanted to be Governor. Nakedly ambitious, Don saw his chance and took it. Those close to him felt that perhaps he should have stayed a little longer in each office he achieved, be it Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or Secretary of State. Siegelman refused.

Lieutenant Governor Siegelman saw his chance with an unpopular incumbent in office and made the most of it. But even those who voted for him were voting less for Don Siegelman and more as a protest vote against Fob James. The Mobile Democrat and challenger almost exclusively campaigned on a single issue, copycatting Zell Miller and Georgia's education lottery to fund college scholarships for deserving high school seniors. A live, televised debate between the incumbent Republican and his Democratic challenger showed evidence of the latter's one-track mind. Question after question was doggedly directed back to the lottery and its virtues.

When eventually passed in the Alabama legislature and put to a popular vote, the education lottery failed. The front page of the Birmingham papers the next day showed a plainly shocked Siegelman observing election returns. It would later be learned that, one state over, gambling interests in Mississippi had funded anti-lottery efforts, contributing to its defeat. But even so, Siegelman had the vast remainder of a term to fill. He limped through the rest of his time in office, signing into law only modest legislation. He ran for re-election and lost a cliffhanger election that was eventually won by Republican Bob Riley.

It makes no sense to me why Karl Rove or any Republican would make a concerted effort to go after a one-term Governor whose time in the political sun had largely expired. In the prosecution's case, Siegelman was roped in with Richard Scrushy, a crooked businessman and self-promoter who had artificially inflated the profits of his company for his own gain. During an earlier trial in which he was the sole defendant, to save his hide, Scrushy paid off whomever he could to win his own Amen corner, eventually securing his innocence, along with a newly adopted, transparently self-serving religious streak.

Few people defend Scrushy these days, as he served his own stint in jail. Siegelman maintains his supporters, which now include The New Yorker. At the time of the trial, some argued that Siegelman was being roped in with Scrushy in an effort to punish the latter at the expense of the former. This was well before any arguments of Republican meddling were introduced. Be it known that I consider it a possibility that Siegelman may be guilty by association, but his overgenerous patronage system likely shows ample evidence of improprieties. He was known in his time in office to incautiously assign the spoils of victory without checking backgrounds first.

Certain political intangibles like personal charisma shouldn't matter, but we all know that they do. Siegelman is not a particularly charismatic figure. He often comes across as distant and diffident, and not nearly as perceptive as his elite education would have one believe. An informal nickname among the state press was to call Don "The Golden Flake." For those not familiar with Alabama, Golden Flake is a Birmingham-based company that makes a variety of snack foods. It is particularly well-known for its potato chips.

Until I see proof of dirty tricks, I maintain that Don Siegelman is guilty as charged. Karl Rove is more than slick enough to cover his tracks. Once more, I think Rove has bigger fish to fry. Why he would take the time to involve himself so transparently in the affairs of a small state with so little to gain personally keeps me skeptical. Many on the Left want Rove held accountable, as do I, but this is a dead end. Surely there is something else out there beyond a toothless ex-politician whose ship sailed long ago.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Selma and the Legacy of George Wallace

The recently released film Selma includes a scene between President Lyndon Johnson and Alabama governor George Wallace. Wallace's son has penned a passionate defense, believing that the film slanders his late father. Former Democratic U.S. Representative Artur Davis, who switched allegiance to the Republican Party a few years back, has responded with his own essay.

The irony of George Wallace is that he is still one of the most well-known Alabamians in American history. He was arguably one of the strongest, most productive governors in state history. At a time when candidates for Alabama's highest elective office campaign on single-issue platforms and accomplish only modest reforms, Wallace was highly productive. It's a shame that all of his charisma was spent mostly on his self-styled flair for theatrics.

It is true that Wallace used segregationist and racist rhetoric to stir the pot for his own benefit. As for whether he was a racist or not is unclear. Many people outside the state are unaware that Wallace won a final term in office with solid African-American support. He apologized to black leaders and black people directly, having escaped assassin's bullets, but still paralyzed from the waist down. They believed him, even when his racial policies were decidedly uneven when once again in office.

Davis writes,

Of course the redemptive years ought to count in evaluating Wallace's record (they would count for more if they had been more substance than rhetoric, if Wallace's last term as governor, secured with black votes, had actually attacked poverty in the Black Belt, or revamped a state tax structure that drains poor people).

Alabama as a state still suffers from Wallace's legacy and his looming shadow. It has dealt with its own internal identity crisis, particularly the perpetual struggle between rural leadership and city leadership. It is an issue that faces many states, but he nonetheless served as the public face of Alabama's defiantly proud poor whites. After all, Wallace was a small town boy from Clio, little more than a whistle stop with barely 1,000 residents at the time of his upbringing.

Wallace could be punitive towards those who opposed him at the ballot box. His patronage system reflected this fact. Alabama's largest city of Birmingham, where opposition to Wallace had been strong, was quite deliberately the very last place where interstate highways were built. He boosted the local economies of smaller towns by building an elaborate system of junior colleges, which exist to this day. Had he not been consumed with being the public face of resistance to integration, he might have held an esteemed place in Alabama history.

But, as we know, this was not the path George Wallace chose. Tearful confession from a wheelchair aside, Wallace will be known for defiance, his head tilted back at a podium, chin jutting pridefully upwards towards the sky. It is an image I studied in school, a familiar story my parents and other older adults discussed among themselves from time to time.

As Davis concludes,

It is the sneer of a man who lived for power in his time, who could have cared less about the future because there were no votes there, and whose neglect of his state's conditions still haunts it. 
Whatever the state of his soul when he died, his actions suggested that this George Wallace was the real one. And the cruelty of his legacy lives on, and warps Alabama to this day. 

I have to admit I was not much of a fan of Selma. It was too stylized, too Hollywood for my liking. Though well-intentioned, I would have preferred a grittier rendition and a smarter screenplay. As is true with many Southerners, I prefer casting natives whose Southern accents are not the product of a vocal coach. The story needs to be told, yes, but not like this.

The South has a distressingly repetitive inclination to be the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. Whether we're discussing Jefferson Davis or George Wallace, the result is always the same. Selma, the film, forgets a very crucial aspect that stylized studio films often do. I do not think the definitive rendition has yet been committed to celluloid.

As noted Southern historian C. Vann Woodword wrote about Reconstruction, "It is undoubtedly a period full of rich and tragic and meaningful history, a period that should be studiously searched for its meanings, a period that has many meanings yet to yield.  But I seriously doubt that it will ever serve satisfactorily as a Golden Age--for anybody. There is too much irony mixed in with the tragedy."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tales of a Former Football Player

Now that another college football season has concluded, I'd like to finally share my own story. It is by turns commonplace and unique, indebted as much to tradition as it is to the next big thing. Every year, this account becomes someone else's to try on like shoulder pads in the equipment room. Each player adds to the living legacy of those who have come before while seeking to make an indelible mark of his own regarding individual accomplishment.

I'd wanted to play football as soon as possible, which in the suburban community where I grew up meant third grade. Ever since my birth, I'd been a dyed-in-the-wool Alabama Crimson Tide fan. I attended my first game as an infant, taken along by my father. This took place on a regular basis as I grew older, able to talk and walk upright on my own. Mostly I attended the games played at venerable Legion Field, the old grey lady of Graymont Avenue, in my hometown of Birmingham.

It didn't take long before I became a voracious and learned fan, critiquing the on-field decisions with a kind of fascinated precision. I learned the strategy and correctly predicted each penalty before the referees methodically marked them off. I was especially entranced by the back and forth drama of the game, the way that wave after wave of momentum changed the dynamic and outcome of the action on the field.

Despite my zeal, my worried mother insisted I wait another year before signing up. By then, I was ten years old. As a means of keeping the game competitive, players could not take part if they exceeded a certain weight threshold, much as is the case with wrestlers and boxers. 90 pounds was the absolute maximum one can weight and still be eligible to play. Because I was one of the biggest kids, I almost always came within a pound or two of not being able to suit up and play. This was due more to a matter of genetics and biology than being overweight.

Fat bodies! I could hear the coach all the way across the field, especially the way his voice reverberated and carried well across the playing surface. Should I exceed the threshold upon weigh in, this was now my cue to start vigorously jogging around the perimeter of the gridiron. Thirty minutes later, having shed some excess water weight, I stepped on the scales again. This time, I passed muster.

The loose informality of Pop Warner football is nothing like the seriousness assigned to the game once middle school and high school arrive. I lived a block away from the practice field, within walking distance to where we practiced, the ground littered with the sickly sweet aroma of paw paw trees and their decaying fruit. With one hand, I learned to hold the face mask of my helmet. It stuck out through the center of my shoulder pads, where my head was meant to go. I took the same shortcut through the woods for every practice, emerging and then putting on the remaining pads and protection.

A few years later, I'd make the same reluctant journey with my fellow players, not in solitude as I once had before. To me it felt like descending into the bowels below. The practice field had once been a ravine, meaning that one had to walk down several steep flights of stairs to arrive. It seemed to me as though I was making my way downward to hell itself. I wonder if my teammates shared my feelings. I bet more than a few did. Anyone who tells you he enjoyed practice is lying. The same is true for basic training.

Returning to my youngest playing days, where I was little more than a boy, the head coach took an immediate shine to me. I don't remember why I was pegged to be an offensive lineman, having never taken a snap, nor played anything other than backyard full contact tackle football with the neighborhood boys. Even at a very young age, I suppose I had the natural physique needed. Though I couldn’t, the coaches could predict how I would look when I reached full physical maturation, only a few short years away, really.

Though painfully shy away from football, I was aggressive on the field and had almost perfect form. This came from observation and athletic ability. It could not be taught. Form and technique cannot easily be coached. Those with a natural athletic ability were already one up on the competition. After practice one day, the head coach ambled off the field, which for us was a converted baseball diamond. He sought out my father, who could always reliably be counted on to be present by the time practice had concluded for the day. They began to chat about me and my potential as a player.

You know he's the right color. My father nodded up and down in agreement.

I didn't think much of that remark then, but I knew what was meant by it. Until the early 1970's, the football teams of every major Southern school were all white. Steadily and with time, black players moved from the minority to the majority. This became the case within ten to fifteen years. At the beginning of integration, black players were usually running backs and wide receivers. About the same time they became defensive stalwarts, often at linebacker and free safety. Now, most defenses in elite schools in the South are comprised entirely of black players.

A few positions have, often by design, been designated for white players. One of them is quarterback. Another is place kicker. A third is punter. And the fourth is the entire offensive line: two guards, two tackles, a center, and a tight end. A black player might take on one of these positions from time to time, but these slots are the last bastion of Caucasian pride. At first, I was a offensive tackle, but I later became a guard. This was because I was deceptively fast for someone as large as myself, skilled at pulling across the line of scrimmage to attack linebackers or defensive ends.

The head coach had a horrible temper, one that used to scare the hell out of me, but he doted over me like a prized pupil. I made him look good and helped his teams win games. Though I didn't know it at the time, he was a long-time yellow dog Democrat, and had done political consulting for the party for a while. He told stories about Bill Clinton when the latter was still Arkansas governor and unknown to a national audience. As is the case with many states in the South, politics and football intersect. With me as his trump card, the coach could call in some old favors.

During practice one day a yellow jacket painfully stung me on my right hand. Using an old folk remedy, the head coach unrolled a cigarette, applied spit to it, and then firmly affixed it to the site of the sting. It didn’t really help, but I wasn’t about to let on otherwise. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Even with the intensity, there was a kind of laid back attitude attached to the brand of football played by earnest and often somewhat clumsy elementary school kids. The coaches gave their time voluntarily. We only practiced a couple of times a week before the games. No one else had the time for more than that. This was soon to change, though I didn't know it yet.

Once coaches began to be paid for their labors, the pressure was ratcheted up. Regardless of whatever history, driver's ed, health ed, or physical education class they taught to justify their existence to the school system, football was their primary occupation. And we knew it as much as they did.

I now began to despise practices, which were scheduled every day during the week, minus game day. For punishment following losses, we had to practice on Saturday mornings, as well. Training camp began during the sweltering early August heat and humidity. My freshman year of high school was one such example. The most intense heat wave in years descended and quickly overstayed its welcome. We started two-a-days in 105 degree heat with a 130 degree heat index.

I'm amazed we all survived. I mean this literally. Players have been known to succumb to heat stroke and I think it was the resilience of my youthful body that I did not keel over and collapse. I arose early in the morning to prepare myself for the first intense and punishing practice. At its conclusion, I slowly dragged myself off the field, was driven home in exhausted silence, drank two liters of Gatorade, took a two hour nap, then awoke to do the same thing all over again.

The process of recruiting starts earlier and earlier these days, especially as money continues to flood the college game. Recently, an eighth-grader was offered a scholarship before he'd even played a single snap in high school. But even twenty years ago, good players were wooed and courted with much fanfare, flagged as superlative by grown men twice their age, their progress tracked.

College football has its own pecking order and hierarchy. I may have been a ravenous Alabama fan, but I was simply too small to play for my favorite team. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Though I was a fast offensive lineman and a tough one, I weighed a paltry 200 pounds. Offensive lineman in elite teams need to be upwards of 300 pounds. How could I gain that much weight in a short period of time, without resorting to performance-enhancing drugs or living in the weight room?

The second-tier SEC schools were a better fit and likely to ask me for a formal visit. Though it hurt my pride a little, I recognized that schools like Kentucky and Vanderbilt were my only real options. That these were perennial losers was certainly not lost on me. My little league coach became my most enthusiastic booster, believing the rate of return he'd eventually receive from my services on the field would be worth his effort.

My father was taken to Lexington, Kentucky, site of the state University. The trip was ostensibly for fun, but it came with a strong ulterior motive that became evident immediately. Several big wheels with the university were present, including the first female governor of the state, Martha Layne Collins. My booster was well connected with the state Democratic Party, and I suppose this big show was meant to impress and awe. If I were to commit to play for the Wildcats, I'd surely be considered for a job as a starter.

Alas, my heart was not in the game. But what really did me in was the onset of the first of many depressive episodes, which then became full-fledged bipolar disorder when I reached my early twenties. After I quit, midway through high school, some of my teammates decided to hang it up as well. This lack of talent led to three subpar seasons by the remaining players. During that sorry span, the team had losing records and missed the playoffs. Following the year of my graduation, an ineffective head coach was replaced by a dynamic, though arrogant firebrand.

This upstart, Rush Propst, would eventually become the most successful high school coach in the state of Alabama. The potential for greatness at my high school had always been there, but finally someone put the pieces together in the proper order. And yet, I have to say I never regretted not playing for him or anyone, really. I left the sport without any illusions. Some of my teammates questioned my decision to quit, assuming I'd desperately return after a year of guilt and longing, begging for a second chance. I never did.

Had I decided to keep playing, I saw myself in a three point stance, lined up at my familiar left guard. Across the neutral zone from me were players from the other team. They wore a striking shade of crimson, the very uniforms that are as striking today as they were in my childhood. As each player ran onto the field to start another game, I'd hear the same fight song that even now gets stuck in my head with every contest I watch today as a casual observer. If we played on the road, it would be even worse. I knew I'd have mixed feelings, but perhaps I could channel my envy and sharpen the chip on my shoulder.

Would I have been happy toiling away in the hot sun for a team that lost more games than it won? I know I would have had mixed emotions when trying to play my best against a larger, more talented defensive front. We might steal a game here and there. We might even pull an upset when a better team had a bad day. But even though the coaches might call us champions, or better yet, implore us to play like champions on the field, we'd still be losers.

I console myself sometimes by saying that at least I would have gotten a good education. Though I would like this to be the case, I am skeptical. I have a feeling that I wouldn't have had enough time to be the academic superstar I valued far more than any success in sports. In college, as a non-athlete, I genuinely enjoyed most of my classes. The athletes with whom I had classes in college had to travel regularly, leaving no choice but to painstakingly carve out time to complete classwork. I'm sure graduate assistants would have been glad to assist me, but I wonder if I'd really have the time to absorb everything. College is difficult, even for smart, motivated people.

Saturdays in the fall will always hold a fond place in my heart. With new technology, I can, from the comfort of my sofa, view twenty games at once when before one had to make do with only two or three. The experience of playing football was not a total loss. I learned what it is like to push one's body to the absolute breaking point and somehow manage to survive. I hope keeping myself in tip top shape will add a few years to my life.

People always talk about how the game builds teamwork, and that may be true for some, but never was the case for me. I never had to be reminded to do my job, hold my block, remember my assignment, and work in tandem with others. That's how I've chosen to live my life and how I was taught by my parents.

Nowadays, I can wax nostalgically if I wish and maybe tell a good story or two. But in fairness, that's about the extent of my enthusiasm for old times. Even though I think the concept of a scholar-athlete is a joke, regardless of sport, I do have a sympathy for the players on the field. It's hard work. Being the entertainment and self-esteem agent for a particular school, state, conference, and region is a real pressure-cooker. I probably should be more understanding when young men usually between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two fall short and make bad decisions, though they know what they are in for the moment they sign to a team.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What Do Women Want?

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'

Sigmund Freud

My boyhood was mostly conventional. I learned almost immediately to separate women's ways from men's ways, to see myself as diametrically opposite in every conceivable aspect. Little boys start fires and play out in the woods. Little girls are prim and play with Barbie dolls. There were always a few tomboy rebels out there like my sister who annoyingly tagged along at my heels, but they were always easy enough to brush aside.

These gender roles of which I note were further reinforced in my own consciousness by older male role models. Once I came home from school in seventh grade, having made a girl my own age a friend. I noted in conversation with my father that there wasn't much difference between men and women.

My father swiftly and emphatically corrected me.

"Maybe at your age there isn't much difference. But when you get a little older, you'll see."

This was years before I learned to assign labels to myself like bisexual and genderqueer. I always perceived of myself as a different sort of male, but knew that I wasn't female, either. Since then, I've learned the hard way that socialization is crucial to self-esteem, and so are past experiences with love, desire, and sex. We either charge ahead fearlessly or place strict limits upon affection and to whom we grant it, insisting upon a set of hurdles to be jumped before full confidence is granted.

It wasn't until I began to read feminist discourse in my early twenties that the scales fell from my eyes. The gender essentialism I had always taken as truth was now called into question. In a world without assigned gender roles, what would we be? This philosophy I embraced with the vigor I devote to any cause that demands my interest. And even today, I wouldn't put so much work into self-improvement if I didn't think that a Utopian dream might one day be reached for everyone.

And yet, like Freud, I must confess that I often do not know what women want. They may not even know themselves, further complicating the problem. My greatest consternation in life has been a particularly feminine predilection to throw up walls and retreat when direct communication might be better served. Years ago, I recall chancing across a very flirtatious woman at a party. Her interest in me was clear and in times past, such conduct usually ended up with an exchange of phone numbers and a first date.

When I made tentative inquiries, she immediately pulled back, claiming her social life was full and had no room for me. This was curious, and no less infuriating. I don't lump all women in with her, but I've consistently seen the kinds of fears and learned neuroses women often possess around romance. Vulnerability must be part of our own social contract. One of the reasons I try to be an effective male ally is that I want to ensure that men and woman can communicate effectively without first needing to apply the brake, or having to play games.

One of the things as a man I cannot understand is the fear of pregnancy. I know I never will and have accepted that long ago. What simply does not exist for me is a very justified anxiety in the minds of many women. The closest nagging worry in my own life is a lingering paranoia of contracting venereal disease, or worse yet, HIV. There were times in past life where I was extremely incautious, but I am gratefully clean and not inclined to take those sorts of risks again.

I don't want to sound cavalier. This is a difficult topic to resolve, especially because we've been taught to segregate ourselves by gender. Many men who are perfectly content in their own masculinity and have few female friends do not possess the firsthand knowledge I do. I am a self-taught feminist. I took no women's studies or gender studies classes in college. Instead, I possess a kind of anecdotal evidence of the opposite sex that shows my own natural curiosity to know the other side. Every person who doesn't feel entirely of one gender or the other bases his or her own private studies based upon repeated inquiry.  

Men and women both are highly sensitive beings, and I wish we'd enshrine this notion in granite. We express our sensitivity in very different ways, but nothing stings as much as callous rejection or psychological harm. The more we experience either, the worse it becomes for everyone. It's easy to hold a grudge and it's equally easy to hold fast to the memory of past pain. Let's learn how to live and to love.

Watching the Wheels

People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing
Well, they give me all kinds of warnings
to save me from ruin

When I say that I'm okay,
well, they look at me kinda strange
"Surely, you're not happy now,
you no longer play the game"

People say I'm lazy, dreaming my life away
Well, they give me all kinds of advice
designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I'm doing fine
watching shadows on the wall
"Don't you miss the big time, boy?
You're no longer on the ball"

I'm just sitting here watching
the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

Ahhh, people ask me questions,
lost in confusion

Well, I tell them there's no problem,
only solutions
Well, they shake their heads
and they look at me as if I've lost my mind

I tell them there's no hurry,
I'm just sitting here doing time

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels
go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Quote of the Week

"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."-Napoleon Bonaparte

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday Video

Dachau blues those poor jews
Dachau blues those poor jews
Down in Dachau blues, down in Dachau blues
Still cryin' 'bout the burnin' back in world war two's

One mad man six million lose
Down in Dachau blues down in Dachau blues
Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor jews
The world can't forget that misery

'N the young ones now beggin' the old ones please
T'stop bein' madmen
'Fore they have t' tell their children
'Bout the burnin' back in World War Three's

War One was balls 'n powder 'n blood 'n snow
War Two rained death 'n showers 'n skeletons
Danced 'n screamin' 'n dyin' in the ovens
Cough 'n smoke 'n dyin' by the dozens

Down in Dachau blues
Down in Dachau blues
Three little children with doves on their shoulders
Their eyes rolled back in ecstasy cryin'

Please old man stop this misery
They're countin' out the devil
With two fingers on their hands
Beggin' the Lord don't let the third one land

On World War Three
On World War Three

Friday, January 09, 2015

Transparency and Quaker Worship

I was gently eldered (disciplined) earlier in the week for the content of some of my writings, here and in other venues. As I was told, many Friends see Meeting for Worship as a safe, confidential space. From time to time, I've incorporated the goings on and individual vocal ministry of Worship into writing material. Real life material has been invaluable in times past, but from now on, I have agreed to abstain. I am, I must admit, left with several questions, though I am more than willing to abide by stated guidelines.

How many unprogrammed Friends would object if their Meeting for Worship was recorded for a podcast or a YouTube video? Granted, many people unfamiliar with our traditions would find extended periods of silence boring, unless they knew what to expect first. I once attended Worship in a gathering of conservative Friends where the entire hour was streamed live over Skype. This was for the benefit of a member who was infirm and lived in a remote area. She was unable to make the drive from her residence to the Meetinghouse.

In programmed churches, sermons are routinely videotaped for live broadcast or on tape-delay. Sermons, especially, are often converted into free podcasts for anyone to listen. I listen to several on my iPod, often when out and about running errands. I sense it is the peculiar nature of unprogrammed Worship that makes some squeamish. But are our fears justified? Taken this way, unprogrammed Worship is treated somewhat like a session with a psychologist or a support group.

I personally would not object if my words during Worship were broadcast over the internet. Years ago, I made a decision that in an effort to reduce stigma, I would speak up vocally about the identities I hold. I know that's not everyone's cup of tea. But I do wonder what we're seeking to hide or protect.

By implication, these rules governing Worship could be used as cover for someone who wanted to provide ministry that was not Spirt-led, knowing that he or she would never be held accountable for it. If others knew they would never be disciplined beyond the auspices of a Meeting, it provides a lot of cover for someone with an agenda. This may not necessarily be the case, but it leaves a fairly massive loophole for some to exploit if they wish. Sometimes accountability can be external as well as internal.

It has always been my intention to share the particulars of the Religious Society of Friends. Though I am opposed to proselytizing, I do wish to reach those who are Quaker and don't know it yet. I know the importance of community in a society that increasingly isolates us from one another. Having a cause and a sense of purpose is extremely healthy, and you don't need a therapist to tell you that.

When confronted with people who I sense are lonely and in desperate need of social outlets or engagement with others, I often suggest Friends Meeting as an antidote. Most people say thanks, but no thanks, but others not automatically opposed to organized religion or faith in any form have taken me up on it. I would not be opposed to removing the veil of secrecy even further. Friends may not mean to seem mysterious and even a little foreboding, but we can often appear that way towards others who see our ways as eccentric or strange without adequate explanation first.

We have much to offer, and in the internet age, I think we must conform to the standards of our times. In particular, we must continue to reach younger Friends who are often minorities within their own home Meetings. Using technology for the benefit of growth is no sin. Though I respect the concerns of those insist that everything said in Meeting must stay in Meeting, I must say I do not agree.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

No Show Tonight

A song written and recorded by the long-forgotten Phoebe Snow. The lyrics are clever, so they're enclosed below.

There'll be no show tonight and no, no
The music won't sound right
The audience is being impolite
And I can't act tonight, don't make me
And I can't act tonight

I guess I missed my cue
When he said we were through
He walked up the stage with some ingenue
And all I can act is blue, I really mean it
No, no stand in will do

Take back your Oscar
Your horseshoe made of flowers
You'll find me down at the local pool hall
Tying up the phone for hours

Who could have guessed how
He'd rewrite the script for me
I might be Sarah Heartburn
But I can't cover up this jealousy
And I can't cover up this jealousy

Let me fly again soon
And give back my toy balloon
He's got me grounded in my dressing room
Well that man's got me grounded in my dressing room

There'll be no show tonight, no, no
The music won't sound right
The audience is being impolite
And I can't act tonight, don't make me yeah
I can't act tonight, and I can't act

I can't be Sarah Heartburn
I can't be Sarah Heartburn
No, no, no, oh

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Voyeur Manifesto, Excerpt

Enclosed is another short story excerpt. To put this story in its proper context, the main character is a man who films women in various stages of undress for pay, without their consent. My inspiration was a segment on a television show about a skeezy landlord who filmed his female boarders in the shower by use of a hidden camera. Eventually the man was caught and the women unfortunate enough to be his victims stepped forward to share how they felt violated.


Every morning, even Saturday and Sunday, I received a fresh e-mail from my boss. They were usually curt and to the point, typed in all caps. TARGET DRESSING ROOMS IN HECKART, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM, COLLEGE STUDENT RUSH. One wouldn’t want to hang around for too long, as that would attract attention. In what has become a habit, I stick around for forty-five minutes at most, and then keep moving.

The times really have changed. Technology makes much possible that was once impossible, or at least consigned to the realm of speculative fantasy. Photographs are much easier to take, because they tale only a fraction of a second or two to produce, but the customers clamor for videos. Don’t worry about trying to find our website. It officially doesn’t exist and, should you sign up, still doesn’t exist.

You won’t come close unless you’re an expert in navigating parts of the web beyond the reach of Google or have a few hours to spend fruitlessly linking from site to site. Most of our business is spread by word of mouth, though at times a few persistent and lucky people have encountered our site on a whim and subscribed. Everyone knows the risk involved. As the saying goes, you pays your money, you takes your chances.

Every assignment has its own challenges and unknown variables. One day at a department store I spied only middle aged women, which is fine for some, but we tend to get more requests for the younger set. I’ll let our customers provide the color commentary. For me, this is just a job. My foremost responsibility is not getting caught. I’ll concede there is a degree of taboo fun present for me sporadically, but that’s mostly faded into the background. I’ve become a professional, a label that always eluded me beforehand in every other occupation I tried.

How I do it is a trade secret I would prefer to keep mostly hidden. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t learned overnight. In the beginning, I silently observed whomever entered a stall, feigning that I was trying on clothes myself. Having obtained access to the dressing room area, I then balanced uneasily on a chair or by whatever elevation was possible for me.

My focus was on an immediately adjacent room. Half-standing, half-crouching, peeping just over the partition, I recorded a few minutes or so before noiselessly ducking back down for protection. Before I perfected my technique, I almost got caught on more than one occasion.

My first few attempts were unusable because I couldn’t hold my hand steady. I was too nervous, too fearful of getting caught in the act. I don’t know the identities of anyone else who works this same basic job. This is a condition of employment. We can’t be seen at the same place too frequently or be somehow linked together even in guilt by association. Some men are assigned very different tasks from my own.

Those who are skilled with hidden cameras have a basic understanding of concealing their equipment in an inconspicuous way, inside walls, bricks, bathrooms, and showers. Some shoot from the floor, with their camera focused upwards, capturing legs and feet. I’m not smart enough or proficient enough for setups like those. 

Since none of us receives formal training, what we bring to the table are skills we’ve likely cultivated as a hobby, often to appease our own private peccadillos. Those jobs I’ve just mentioned pay more because there’s increased risk involved and arguably more work. I’m not sure how to remove mortar around bricks or to chisel a small opening for a camera lens, nor do I care to learn.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Happiness is a Warm Gun

She's not a girl who misses much
Do-do do-do do-do
Oh, yeah

She's well-acquainted
with the touch of the velvet hand
like a lizard on a window pane

The man in the crowd
with the multi-coloured mirrors
on his hobnail boots

Lying with his eyes
while his hands are busy working overtime
A soap impression of his wife which he ate
and donated to the National Trust

I need a fix, 'cause I'm going down
Down to the bits that I left uptown
I need a fix, 'cause I'm going down

Mother Superior jump the gun
Mother Superior jump the gun
Mother Superior jump the gun
Mother Superior jump the gun
Mother Superior jump the gun
Mother Superior jump the gun

Happiness is a warm gun
(bang bang, shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, mama
(bang bang, shoot shoot)

When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger (oh, yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm (oh, yeah)
Because is a warm gun, mama (bang bang, shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, yes, it is (bang bang, shoot shoot)

Happiness is a warm — yes it is — gun
(Bang bang, shoot shoot)
Well, don't you know that happiness
(happiness) is a warm gun (is a warm gun)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Good Christian People

In a gathering of Quakers, a man only a few years older than me discussed his dilemma. He was a college professor and professed Christian, but confided to the group that he deliberately used profanity during his lectures so that his students would not make incorrect assumptions. He desired a working relationship with his students, and found that a profession of faith separated him from the most important aspect of his work. Many of us have been viewed by others in similar terms should particular phrases and word choices be used.

I see nothing wrong with well-timed and well-placed cursing. Used for emphasis, it has an important function in language. Anything can be overdone, especially if the intent is only to shock. I sometimes speak to my doctors in clinical language, since the vernacular would be too embarrassingly crude otherwise. I keep swearing out of my writing because it appears unprofessional, much as I kept profanity out of my exams and term papers.

My friends are beginning to have children. Bad habits like drinking and smoking have been discarded, especially if children are in pending status. They no longer use profanity and have coined creative euphemisms in its place. Those in my social circle may see no need for organized religion themselves, but they do want to set a good example and a moral framework for their children's greater well-being. Pre-school is often offered by houses of worship. I went to Methodist pre-kindergarten myself because my mother had been raised that way.

My own parents tried to be a good example, especially when my sisters and I were very young. Dad kept his famous temper at bay somehow. Mom went into hyper-drive, instantly ashamed of her own rebellious past, and fearful of somehow being an unfit mother. She took it too far, but knew how impressionable children can be, seeking to use her own efforts at strict perfection as an example for us to follow.

Two neighbors and family friends of my parents were very religious Southern Baptists. Aside from belonging to the same denomination, they had something else in common. In each, a family member became a heroin addict. In the midst of her addiction, one of them became pregnant and could not say for sure precisely who was the biological father. The other moved in with a boyfriend on a whim and moved hundreds of miles away, continuing to use.

Speaking of my first example, bout after bout of rehab has produced a tentative recovery each time, but she is incapable of raising the child herself. Her very Christian parents have brought up the kid, now 12, as their very own. I imagine the circumstances of his birth were difficult, but the child's grandparents follow their religious teachings which include raising a Grandson as his mother and father. Their daughter has not been banished or disowned by either parent, who rightly see the struggles of their own child as a disease, not a failing of character, morality, or general weakness.

Very religious people have all the same problems non-religious people do. Our standards and teachings may be different, but we are still quite capable of making mistakes. Even the best of intentions backfire. I Worship with people who are still rejecting and processing the faith of their upbringing. We have our share of semi-recovered Catholics and Mormons.

We really ought to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It's tempting to look for broad-brush bogeymen in the form of religious extremists who picket abortion clinics, or brainwashed cult members. But these are not most people. Most people wish to live peacefully, and if organized religion is an effective tool to accomplish those ends, then so be it. For some, a holy text is sufficient, but does not take the place of positive interactions with others.

But let's not forget what each of these methods produce in their ideal state: making us better people. Rules and guidelines take many forms. That said, I don't know many people who would swear around a three-year-old. We can live our lives as if someone (or something) was watching us and mimicking what we do, or we do whatever we damn well want. But let's not forget that everyone's playing his or her own game in their own way for the entirety of one lifetime. That's what we're given and it's up to us to find the balance that appeals most to us.

Quote of the Week


If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.-Dorothy Parker

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saturday Video

Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something
That you think is gonna last

You wouldn't know a diamond
If you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious
I can't understand

Are you reelin' in the years?
Stowin' away the time?

Are you gatherin' up the tears?
Have you had enough of mine?

You been tellin' me you're a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I've known you
I still don't know what you mean

The weekend at the college
Didn't turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can't understand

I spend a lot of money
And I spent a lot of time
The trip we made in Hollywood
Is etched upon my mind

After all the things we've done and seen
You find another man
The things you think are useless
I can't understand

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Flatscreen (An Excerpt)

Editor's Note: In an effort to try something different, I decided to write a story that was unabashedly sexual, but I tried to avoid being smutty or gratuitous. Posted here is a segment of a larger work. It was seriously considered by one publication and I'm currently awaiting the decision of a few others. Some who read my religious writings think that I'm a goody-two-shoes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is the mid-Nineties. The radio plays “Waterfalls” by TLC on a nearly-constant loop and everyone has seen the video, too. The twin force of radio play and MTV heavy rotation continue their juggernaut as though the two will never come to an end. Record companies spend millions of dollars for four minutes of visual excitement, sometimes more.

No one has yet heard of file sharing programs or iPods, social media, or the possibility for making a fool of oneself on it. In sports, Michigan quarterback Scotty Dreisbach has implausibly thrown the game winning touchdown on a crucial fourth down play against Virginia. A particular service provider offers a free clip of the winning catch for subscribers only. Over a phone line, a four minute video takes two full hours.

"Hey you," I typed, big yellow letters on a purple background.

"Hey", she replied, smaller white text on a black background.

"How was your day?"

"Boring as usual."

I asked another question next, one I had stated many times before. She never seemed annoyed by it, but was typically evasive.

"When are we finally going to meet each other in person?"

"Soon, but in the meantime, I'll send you something."

In the days before the proliferation of digital cameras, smartphones, selfies, and photobombs, she used the tools available to her. The task required creativity and some physical dexterity. The thick glass panel of a flat screen scanner was the surface she chose. She sat naked upon it, straddling sharp rectangular corners in hard plastic. I imagined the process must have been terribly uncomfortable, or at least require a kind of nimble flexibility. Had she laid it flat against the floor? That was the only way I could reckon she'd been able to pull it off.

The image produced, squished against the perfectly level surface, had stretched external genitalia to an extreme, making certain portions of the female reproductive system appear much larger than they were in reality. I wish I would have kept the file around for the sake of novelty, bizarre as it was, but it got lost while transferring from computer to computer. Just as well. It would have only reminded me of her.

In those days, taking nude pictures required creativity and courage. Since then, the ease of digital technology has produced another moral panic, a fear that children are being sexualized by online predators, too young to have the good sense to abstain. Every generation produces its share of parental angst around a particularly troublesome fear. Today's conniption fit, sexting, is a product of the proliferation of digital cameras. Back then, pictures had to be processed by a lab at a drug store, a very public method which kept sexual images to a minimum.

I knew I was not the only person to receive a copy of this particularly revealing picture, which she offered to interested parties like some obsessive networkers offer business cards, though I was one of her favorites. I was merely one of many. She'd said I was one of her favorites, so that meant something at least. We spoke over the phone and online on a nearly daily basis. She had even offered herself to me, someday.

"Are you serious?" I'd typed.

"Sure, when the time is right."

She never went into greater detail than that. The trip would have required a lengthy car trip my parents would not have agreed to, and even if they had, my only other option would be relying upon a ride from the airport that I knew might never arrive. Amanda was not very responsible when it came to the passage of time and I knew I might need to wait helplessly, stranded with bags in hand for hours before anyone showed.

"So, did you get it?" I'd opened my e-mail window to find the attachment.

I wasn't sure what to say, honestly. There was something cartoonish about it, out of proportion, maybe even slightly swollen. Of course I found it arousing, mainly to be given something rare and intimate. Part of the appeal of the naked image is how it is constantly longed for but rarely presented. Even today, in an arguably more sexual epoch, playing hide-and-seek retains its luster.

"Do you like my big clit?"

I indicated that I did, but wasn't quite sure how to process what I was viewing. She talked about sexual details the way that people speak about the weather. No boundaries. No restraint. I sensed she craved attention from men, and every one that entered her orbit was an ego boost.