Doubling Down and Drowning

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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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The Vilification of Virtue

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As Pope Francis parades across D.C. I am reading a resurrection of hatred for the man across my news feed.
By Christians.
It disgusts me.
As an atheist I have no dog in this fight. But as an outsider looking in I have a great deal of affection toward Frank because though we surely don’t see eye to eye on everything (not a prerequisite for my admiration btw) he does espouse the spirit and ideals of what I understand to be the core of Jesus’s philosophy; Love, Tolerance, Humility, Compassion, Service. Principles that, for myself as a Humanist, are just as imprinted on my heart. Principles and ideals that seem to be, in practice, anathema to what worshippers of Republican Jesus preach. A sort of hate-filled, paranoid mantra of fuck you, I got mine, wealth ministried, god hates poor/brown/gay/foreign/liberal devils because they’re ruining God’s Chosen Country… in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Seriously. What the actual fuck. That’s some serious Through The Looking Glass shit.
I understand the cynicism of some of my fellow unwashed heathens who decry Frank as a propaganda pitchman for a corporate brand that’s been tanking for 20 years looking to rebuild it’s stock. I don’t agree with it but I see their point. My own perspective is that even if this were true, he is the CEO of the world’s largest social services conglomerate on the planet. Public displays of washing female muslim prisoners feet, holding the disfigured in prayer, defrocking high ranking clergy who harbored child molesters or used church funds for lavish personal excesses, personally discarding the plush environs normally availed to a Pope/CEO for modest furnishings and clothes – as he apparently has done his whole life, offering olive branches to gays, atheists, women who’ve aborted, acknowledging their humanity, these are all ideas worth living up to, whether you’re me writing this blog, a single mom raising a family, a 30something middle manager at Walmart in Tallahassee, or God’s celebrity pitchman. Whether he’s looking to refill pews and coffers or not, he’s setting a tone of brotherly love and inclusion that has to affect 1.3 billion people. The fact that so many old guard Catholic practitioners and bishops are pissed off by this to me shouts volumes about how much they’ve forgotten what Christ’s message was in lieu of their own personal security and power.
I admire Frank because his message is double dog daring me to love you whether you’re like me or not. And people hate him for it. Jesus was said to have been considered a radical. Frank must being doing something right.

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?

Penny For Your Fucks?

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I have a confession to make – I give fucks. Lots of them. I mostly always have.

When I was younger you could tell how many fucks I gave by how loudly I pronounced that I didn’t. These days I’ve learned that when I give them for free and for fun I understand that they will be given in return. Maybe not directly from the person or cause I aimed my fucks at, but the Universe notices and reciprocates. The problem is in the specificity of my fucks given. If I insist that they only come back to me in just the ways and from just the folks I want them, well, I’m fucked. People don’t work like that.
But if I’m busy shouting loudly just how many fucks I’m not giving I’ll receive a pile of pity fucks that will bounce right off because I’m actually so full of fucks that I can’t possibly eat another one. And pity fucks taste funny anyway.

It turns out that fucks are a lot like the penny dish at the checkout stand; need a fuck, take a fuck! Got one to spare, leave a fuck! You don’t know who it might help. But I always walk away feeling a little better when I give a fuck and don’t worry so much about who’s taking. It comes back to me when I’m not looking.

If I spend all my time worrying about who might take my fucks I will see threats to my fucks everywhere. If I give them freely I won’t notice you threatening my fucks because it’s inconsequential. I will however notice all the different ways my fellows gently give their fucks too. Inspiring a friendly fuck feeding frenzy. It turns out that fucks are self replicating. It all depends on my fucking focus.

Boogeymen, Burgers & Bullets

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Much shouting happens over guns every time something big hits the news. But g
uns aren’t the issue – even as they are obviously the issue. Gun control won’t work simply because we aren’t Australia. We’re America, with 88.6 guns for every 100 citizens per capita. No one. And I mean no one is going to take them away. It’s just reality. In fact given the overall psychic state of America’s emotional and mental health they’re increasingly seen as an answer by a public slowly drowning in debt, poverty, fiscal disparity, fraudulent government, a quiet dread that their retirement plan will consist of moving in with their kids or robbing a liquor store so they can spend their golden years at scenic San Quentin By the Sea, with a media that daily, almost gleefully points to how “they” are coming to take what little resources we have away. We’re all scared shitless and pole-vaulting over mouse turds. It’s not that bad. At least not where you’re being told to look.

When Stef and I left New Orleans we felt a tension building around us. Something nefarious shifted in the feel of our neighborhood. Two weeks before we packed up to go, a mother’s day parade got shot up 6 blocks from our house in broad daylight. A couple of weeks before that a neighbor stepped off his porch and fired rounds at a guy who’d been trying to break in. A week before that a guy got robbed at gun point a block up across from the Ruby Slipper and it didn’t work out the way the robber planned. Since then things have gotten worse. The Quarter has seen such an uptick in violence that Quarter merchants have banded together for security.
Here’s why it’s gotten worse; New Orleans is a beautiful, eccentric, mess of a second world city. That said, there was always a strong sense that we’re all in it together. Hurricanes happened no matter which neighborhood you lived in. Entergy loses power for days at a time whether you live uptown or in the 7th ward. Everyone gets to boil their water a few times a year for several days at a time because the pumps backed up sewage into the municipal water. Everyone suffers the heat and humidity. Everyone gets rained on. Everyone relishes in it’s music, food, corruption, and colorful characters. No one’s immune. That’s what made it’s gumbo work. It was unspoken and completely understood.
Only now gentrification is pushing the poor out of traditionally lower middle to poor neighborhoods. Pushing them further out of their city. That camaraderie is being replaced with “Fuck you, we aint in this together no more. Gimme your damn wallet.”

That little story was okay as long as it was happening somewhere else. Not affecting my quiet little middle-class life. Let the poor brown people tear at each other far away on the news. But that’s not how it is anymore. The middle-class is feeling just as shut out and disenfranchised as the poor and brown have always felt. And we’re being told to blame the poor and the brown for it. But by all means PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!!

It’s happening everywhere. Here in the bay area it’s becoming less and less possible to live if you don’t work in tech with a double income. Hell, if my father wasn’t a smart guy back in the 70’s and made it possible for me to own a house, my wife and I would’ve been forced to leave awhile ago. We barely live month to month as it is. Our answer is to hang in and hang on as long as possible and in the meantime practice that “we’re all in it together” mentality. All the things we do here at the house are a part of that belief. We help. We ask for help. We share. I was raised that way. A part of me scratches my head and wonders why everyone doesn’t do just that too. Because opening our house fosters a small town mentality where people feel safe. And it enriches the fuck out of us to do it. Love and service baby, love and service.
We’re in it together here. I own 5 firearms. The thought of giving them back is ridiculous. I’m not worried about poor people robbing me. They’re in it together, just like me. We all keep this sanctuary afloat. I worry about the people telling me I need to worry about my neighbors. And how easily Americans buy that narrative.

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.