Doubling Down and Drowning

clint with tulips final

In the wake of yesterday’s turkey shoot in San Bernardino, which eclipsed last week’s Planned Parenthood shootings, does anyone even remember the community college in Roseburg Oregon? It was exactly two months ago. My friends on the left rage that meaningful gun control must happen. My friends on the right demand that an armed citizenry would diminish bodycounts. From my perspective they’re both wrong.
The raw facts on sheer numbers of weapons in the U.S. dictate that it is no more possible to limit guns in America than it would be to follow through on Trump’s half baked idea to round up and deport 11 million illegal aliens. They’re here, they’re queer, get used to it.

The concept of a good gun owner taking out a bad gun owner is why nearly all of us have a pistol in our castle to protect our family. The right likes to trot out an occasional incident where that actually worked out for the home owner but they’re quaint when put head to head against the huge numbers of accidents, suicides and domestic violence killings they’re actually used for. The strategy of conceal carry is already an unmitigated disaster in every poor gang turf in America. Sadly our movies and television reinforce the fantasy that we’re all potential antihero bad asses, exacting righteous one to one head shots against hapless, aimless storm troopers. Newsflash Mister Eastwood: It’s. A. MOVIE!!! (Or tv show or video game). We’re fed that imagery a dozen times a day. Never the reality of being so coursed with fear and adrenaline that you lose coordination, can’t hit the side of a barn and probably run out of bullets in your panicked first five seconds. Stop it.

From where I sit the enemy is fear.

As a citizenry we’ve always had guns. That’s a constant. The real variable is hope and the lack of it. Always a constant in poor areas where killing is a regularity and doesn’t make the news is a perfect microcosm of what “normal, white America” is sliding towards and we’re freaking the fuck out in the worst possible ways.

I grew up with a small dog named Burgie. She was an unusually well tempered Dachshund. She got along with everyone, four legs or two. She even showered our Culligan man with kisses every month. As she got old and couldn’t walk well, went deaf and her vision was clouded by cataracts she became increasingly snappy. Everything started scaring and threatening her. She didn’t feel safe and felt helpless to cope with her circumstances.

My childhood pet is a perfect corollary for America. The middle-class is being choked out into a paycheck to paycheck existence. Far from the idealistic dreams of Babyboomer bra burners choosing to have careers outside the confines of “Domestic Engineer”, no one has a choice anymore. The traditional fabric of a stable family and neighborhood is all but gone. Everyone is from somewhere else and no one has time to get to know their neighbors. My last decade of employment was with a company who stubbornly held onto the classic 40 hour workweek, health benefits and retirement fund blueprint. We were small so it was easy to watch in real time how, through privatization, increased shareholder over worker focus, pressure to jettison classic employment packages for temp, contract or part time workers not qualifying for benefits increased anxiety. Job security was replaced by “be grateful you even have a job”. I watch it play out louder and tighter, at every level. Thank goodness the media is here to point at our neighbors as being the culprits and cause of our personal collapses. Out of neurotic frustration and pent up impotent rage we’re all too happy to buy in and lash out. At the exactly wrong thing.
My friend Kevin posted a comment last night suggesting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as our hope. I’ll spare you the peek at google.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

As an atheist it would be super dooper easy peazy lemon squeazy to roll my eyes and dismiss any verbiage from my favorite fiction fantasy book. But Kevin is a christian and that passage provides direction, focus and comfort for him. My decidedly irreligious eyes read this as hope. Inner reflection. Reinforced by better action. Toward myself, you, and my neighbors. What influences you in a positive way? When was the last time you fed your heart by reading, practicing, and expanding your better self? What do you do to be a part of any sense of community? How do you help yourself by helping others? These aren’t fluffy, esoteric questions. They’re the only things that keep the claustrophobic terrors of day to day life from killing hope.
Another law, another gun, another person or people to blame won’t make me feel safe. Only hope. And hope comes directly from what I think, say and do every day. Fear or Love – which am I worshipping right now, this very second? Because that thought, idea or action is the life I’m choosing moving forward.

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My Switchblade Can Opener

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Last night during the wrap up of Traditions in Relationships I read a snippet that talked about knowing my partner’s achilles heels and using them to intentionally hurt them. It dawned on me that not only do I know what they are but the very idea of using them against her was abhorrent to me.
This is sort of big news.
I’ve long stated that I have the reasoning skill set of a woman more than a man and people just as often get mad at me when I say that women are clever and manipulative as a matter of historical survival. In a world dominated by slower thinking and physically superior men, these were the tools they developed to get their needs met. I grew up as a little man with a big brain in some very tough circles once I left the nest of my neighborhood. The odds were very good that I could neither out-fight (though I was pretty good in the confines of a vehicle) nor outrun you, so I had to outthink you.
Reading people; studying body language, vocal inflections, collecting pieces of their histories, inclinations, what they react to and comparing that to my own versions of the same, as well as learning to trust my intuition gave me razor sharp survival skills. And I used the shit out of them. Looking back at some of the situations I got myself into it’s boggling to me that I didn’t end up as a cautionary line in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Yet, here i am.
That skill set meant that I had the ability to decimate your ego or psyche in 15 words or less or dance between raindrops to escape. It also has proven to be a brutal waste of time in my recovery. What i keep finding as I keep growing up spiritually, emotionally and mentally is that the tools I used to keep me alive and safe “out there” only stunt me from growing in here. In fact they can kill me because they require me to reject the principles of the program in order to use them.
I don’t live “out there” anymore. In fact my life is really pretty gentle. It is only my psychic ptsd that thinks I need the old ways in my hip pocket to feel safe. But like a feral animal, cautiously, warily stepping out – practicing one principle at a time, then scurrying back to my cave only to realize that doing so didn’t kill me did I slowly grow more courageous in trusting these new principles and tools. To practice these principles in all my affairs.
Today I use those skills I honed for survival so many years ago to help me read and understand people to help heal them. And if I can’t do that to at least feel nonthreatening to them. That my presence is somewhere they can exhale.
So… what old, treasured piece of weaponry is it finally time to let go of?

The Comfort of My Own Private Echo Chamber

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I’ve mentioned before that I make a point of following a pretty broad spectrum of sociopolitical perspectives on my feed because I want to get a good barometer of what people who don’t think like me are feeling about daily events. It doesn’t serve me to react to any differing perspective with a collective reaction of the see, hear and speak no evil monkeys and ban them from my social media feed and favor only the soothing sounds of the echo chamber of like-minds. That only fortifies each camp’s perspective and digs greater rifts between all of us. We all lose.
The memes, articles and posts I’m seeing running down my Facebook feed regarding Baltimore are, I feel pretty indicative of race relations in America. From pining for the good old days which never existed to utopian temper tantrums for a world that doesn’t exist to uncle toms, apologists and race traitors of all ilks. Each with a surety that they have a much greater understanding of the situation than their fellows. (unless they agree with me!) I read and watch each of their rants, pithy snippets and sound bytes and what I get is that everybody is afraid. No one sees an out, no one likes where we all stand and no one really knows what the fuck to do except wish for better and blame the other.
It’s even worse if you scroll through the comments section of any video or article posted up here. That’s where I get to read the hideous underbelly of what people actually think but don’t say in polite society. It’s fucking gross. But it’s America.
The one good thing I’m getting from this cacophony of opinion is that we’re starting to have the discussion that America needs to have with itself regarding race, class, opportunity and responsibility. Yes, it’s fugly. And it desperately needs to happen.
It is a common trait amongst humans to choose comfort over courage. But I think you’re up for it. I double dog dare you to click “follow” on your friends from high school, coworkers, relatives and people you slept with back in college who you hid because you couldn’t stand what they said on their feeds. Have it out with them. But remember – there’s a reason why you liked them in the first place. Remember that while you’re disagreeing with them. Yelling louder won’t get us where we need to go. Remembering and finding common ground will. Only love. …but I could be wrong.

The Audacity of Loving an Ugly Duckling

4thgrade

A friend who I really only know through Facebook posted a few pics of the “new” her that were so striking that I felt compelled to encourage her with a comment. What I said was “You look great! I hope your mind has followed.” She’s someone who I know has struggled because she’s been pretty honest and open about how she feels. Some of it is easily just the rites of passage that all of us go through in our twenties. But some of it is that extra tweak of damage I recognize because it reminds me of me. So naturally I root for her from afar.
I grew up a pretty ugly kid. Nerdy on top of that. And an introvert. With a big brain and an uncool depth of feeling. In short, I was fucked. When I turned 18 and got clean I miraculously went from ugly duckling to stoner punk rock swan. Only I had no idea that I had. I saw myself through the same filter I always had, only now girls started to pay attention to me. Which I thought was weird, but I sure wasn’t going to ignore my good fortune. Unfortunately my mind didn’t keep up with my improved outer appearance and I played from the perspective that I still suck but I’m smart and charming and as long as I’m good in bed you’ll hang out for awhile.
For the next 30 years.
I made a LOT of messes. Aimed for women who I had no business falling for. Managed to never get shot. (and I don’t make that statement for dramatic color) Pushed away lovers who were probably actually great, loving, loyal people for the very reason that they were just those things. And handed my heart on a platter to lovers who were no more capable of receiving it responsibly than I was at staying.
I finally broke at just under 40 years old.
I spent the next two years doing absolutely nothing romantically inclined and sought outside help. I’d dug as far as I could with the steps. They weren’t designed for this shit. But they DID give me the basic honesty and self awareness to be able to flip all my cards face up with a professional so *they* could put them in an order that made sense and receive new tools to heal my psyche. Learning to apply those ideas and skills was sometimes graceless. But it was exciting and it required me to step radically outside my comfort zone. Frankly I was all for it.
My 40’s became bar none, the best decade of my life by a long stretch. At 43 I was brushing my teeth one morning when it dawned on me that I was a pretty good looking guy. It was quite literally the first time I’d had that thought. My mind caught up to my outsides – just in time to get deathly ill for about 4 straight years, culminating in the loss of my leg. During that stretch of repeated tastes of “almost dead” fear drove me back to all my old ways in spades. But I wasn’t that ugly, introverted, awkward kid anymore. My mind actually had caught up, though at the expense of another relationship and long friendship.
It’s funny, having a fake leg hasn’t rendered me ugly. If anything it’s emboldened me. It no longer matters to me whether I’m attractive or not. Because I am clearly not my body. I am the thoughts I act on. I am the kindness I show others that no one knows about. I am a kid blowing raspberries in my wife’s belly while she squeals in equally childlike laughter and redoubles her feisty efforts to pin me. She thinks I’m hot and it makes me smile because it just isn’t important anymore. Staying and appreciating a fellow good, kind, loyal soul as my partner is what matters.
So I have great hopes for my Facebook friend. Because it took that guy to become this guy. I’m rooting for her.

Aim Low, Shoot High

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When I had a few years clean and had already worked the steps a couple of times, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount had become all the rage around the rooms. As it turns out, that book was an integral influence on the original writing of the Big Book and after reading it I could see it’s stamp all over Bill’s words. But that’s an interesting side note. What’s in my head this morning is the profound effect Fox’s book had on me as an Atheist. (which is only to say it could probably have a profound effect on *anyone*!)
You see, studying Sermon on the Mount changed the way I saw recovery in AA in a most fundamental way. Fox talks about principles in terms of absolutes. That Honesty, Humility, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Brotherly Love are perfect ideals. At the time I was a very angry young man, though my two runs through the steps had provided me some relief from that particular bondage of self. Just enough relief that reading Fox’s ideas on practicing principles in all my affairs struck me as something I needed to pay attention to; it mattered not that when I threw a rock [principle] at the east foothills [ideal] that I didn’t hit the east foothills [ideal]. What mattered was that by trying as hard as I could in the moment – I made progress.
What I read in that book was that being human meant that I could never achieve perfection regarding these principles but that every bit of suffering in my life was directly connected to the degree by which I worship my exceptions to practicing them in each affair of my life. My serenity is inversely proportional to my “yeah but’s…”.
Mind blown.
On a very core level I thought to myself, “fuck.” because I knew it was absolutely true even as my mind came up with several favorite, well polished, lifelong trophies of justified rage that I loved (in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way) to hold up regularly as my righteous burden qualifying me to treat you badly.
Thus began my going on 25 year snipe hunt to eradicate my “yeah but’s” regarding practicing principles. Not because I’m a saint (as all of you who know me know for damn sure!) but because I’m practically Don Quixote when it comes to trapping my own hypocrisies and hoisting them up to be mocked! Sometimes they’re vanquished. Sometimes they’re accepted as being a quirky part of me that I may not be ready to let go of yet. A catch and release program of sorts. But acknowledging my “yeah but’s” means they no longer scurry around ruining my happiness without my permission. Which starts making them look and feel kind of silly.

“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” never looked the same to me again after that.

Unremarkable Acts of Humanity

Stef and I were window shopping at Lowes a couple of days ago and I started chatting with an employee hanging out near kitchens about tattoos. He wondered aloud whether Pinky had done my stuff. He was in a wheelchair and we shifted toward talking about disabilities. I pulled my pant leg up to show him my Gimp Membership Card and we launched off into discussion as my wife smiled and waved us off to go look at shelving. She knows me and my random 10 minute long chats with strangers.
We were talking about perspective and how many people who end up in chairs or get amputated struggle emotionally with it, with being different. He said “you know what man? I’ve got cerebral palsy. I’ve been in a chair my whole life. Sometimes a customer will ask me how someone like me ends up working at a home improvement store. I tell em (waving his arms in an expansive gesture) you see all this? I know where all of it is. Every last piece. I know what works with what and what won’t. They’d be lost here without me and this brain.
“And that’s the thing” he said as he started to turn and ride off like a Hawkings-esque John Wayne into an aisle 7 sunset, “people waste their time suffering over the lives they used to have and the things they used to do, when they could be looking forward towards what they have now and how they can use it!”

<Gimp mic drop>

I couldn’t agree with him more. For all of us, whatever we’re claiming as our handicap.

I think the most important element in these sorts of stories I tell is not that they’re inspiring but that they are actually completely unremarkable.
I don’t see myself as handicapped. In fact unless I’m taking it on or off or walking through a metal detector I never even consider that I have a fake leg. And I think that’s infectious.
I posted that high school teacher dance video this morning and it wasn’t until my third time watching it that I noticed the kid in the front row of one of the dancing student sequences rise up out of his wheelchair to more or less move in sync with everyone else doing it. He blended in. He wasn’t showcased nor catered to nor pittyed. He was one among and unremarkable. It made me very happy because *that’s* the point.


The ultimate goal to me for any segment of society that needs special attention to achieve successful averageness is that attaining it should not be newsworthy at all, it is so commonplace. Be it gay rights, brown people inhabiting the middle class or excellence in something other than sports or entertainment, women receiving equal access and pay, mental illness treated with the same acceptance as any other physical malady.
My goal is “so?” in the best of ways.