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.

10 Things I Hate About You

emperors-new-clothes

I was sitting around our fire a couple of evenings ago when someone mentioned the popular sentiment that no one is born racist. A buddy of mine chimed in that he heard someone recently, he couldn’t quite remember who, actually trying to tell him that this wasn’t true at all, that more recent “studies” showed small children preferring dolls and playmates that looked like them over those that didn’t. “It was ridiculous” he scoffed.
“Who was this?” I asked.
“I’m not 100% sure, but I have my ideas”.
A wry smile came across my face as I reminded him that it was me.
Then I went into a little bit of the study I’d watched sometime back by University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer that replicated the research done in 1947 which was eventually used in Brown v. Board of Education to, at least on paper, end segregation in schools.
This led into my segue on Robert Wright’s research on Darwinian psychology and our unconscious predispositions toward any and every way we make choices all day long to improve our odds of propagating our genes with the best possible compatible genes.
His eyes glazed over as he tried to disagree without being disagreeable. I understood his dilemma and didn’t take it personally at all. It’s a reaction I often see when I try to bring this stuff up because it’s utterly anathema to what we’re told everyday in books, tv and every media flavor on the planet. That our nature is love, that hate is taught. That with Jesus, or Buddha or this self help book, I’ll be able to reconnect with My True Self.
Which is all great and good except it’s bullshit. And it does you and I a great injustice to sell us that. My True Nature is not Love. It’s fearful as fuck. Love is actually pretty damn hard to attain. Everything you aren’t telling me but that I’m watching with my lying eyes tells me so.

Every job I’ve ever had has a built-in disdain for anyone not in my department, or in my group, or in my company. Workers dislike management and visa verse. People in my home group talk trash about other home groups as sport. Or the way “others” work steps, or don’t work steps. Families talk shit about one another, and other families, other towns, states, countries, cultures and races. Sexual identity factions tear at each other, jockeying for status. Insert any and every sliver of society into that sentence and it’s no less true. Just not in public. Only with certified cosigners of our particular point of view. And we’re horrified and betrayed if they break that unspoken pact by disagreeing or exposing my secret squirrel real opinion on something. It’s everywhere and all encompassing and so ever-present that “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” or the next Maryanne Williamson best seller doesn’t stand a chance of buoyancy.

Unless.

Unless I am first honest about being the supremely fearful, self-serving asshole that I am in the first place. That this is not some character flaw that I must discard in order to get back to My True Self (which is the Self Help version of the old adage stating that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us he didn’t exist) but that fear IS my nature.

As an animal this instinct is reflexive, from the amygdala portion of the brain that processes survival threats and also signals the presence of food, sexual partners, rivals, children in distress, and so on. It’s connected into most other portions of the brain. (interestingly, this little portion of the brain is larger in conservatives – but I digress) It’s literally how we’re wired.
But we’re evolved! Enlightened! Self aware!
Well, barely.
My ego gives me much more credit than I deserve. It’s actually pretty stunning just how not those things most of us are 23.5 hours of any given day; running on autopilot responses and reactions to life all the while thinking we made a choice, a decision, took a stand. Naw. You probably did and said what you always do and say. And patted yourself on the back for it. We build stories and books, erect statues and laws and traditions celebrating our evolved nature, lining the streets to worship… the Emperor’s New Clothes. And in an awkwardly uncomfortable way, we all know it but cheer anyway.

Ever notice how truly happy people stand out? That’s because they’re the exception, not the rule. Fucking well regulated serotonin levels. I hate em!

I don’t go on about all this to harsh your mellow. I say it because being honest with myself about where my feet are really planted is an absolute requirement if I want to walk forward without walking into walls or off cliffs; Further pissed that I’m a sinner or that the steps are bullshit or that I’m a horrible Buddhist because I shouldn’t be angry so I’ll just be passive aggressive. Fear IS my True Nature. The principles of altruism; brotherly love (not directly toward someone that will benefit me), hope, courage, openness, faith, integrity, willingness, kindness, joy – these are hard! They aren’t reflexive traits, for anyone! They take practice, especially when they are inconvenient. Not to make me a better person, or to bring me closer to God, but to create larger, more defined pathways in my brain for serotonin and other “happy” chemicals that trigger those feelings and responses to flow through.

I am no fan of the term “Miracle” or “Spiritual Experience” as they are the thinking version of magic. That word often invites the equivalent of a bill in congress packed with pork before it gets passed and signed off by the president. All kinds of half baked shady bullshit slides through under the guise of “magical” that was really just code for “I just got a super killer dose of endorphins or serotonin!” But when I try to replicate it for further Scooby Snacks it fails. And then I’m bitter. What a gyp!

The truth about me is I’m a hater. So are you. There, I said it. Now I can actually move on towards something better.

Aim Low, Shoot High

RIAN_archive_399644_Young_tennis_players_practicing

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.

Acceptance Defined & Defiled

ACCEPTANCE does not mean laying down and taking it. By definition it means seeing things as they are. If, once my eyes are open I find the truth unbearable then don’t bear it. Fight. Loudly. You will be reviled but you will be shocked at how many others feel just like you. You’ll never feel more alive than in the chaos launched in speaking truth to mediocre death.

Smother’s Day

Smoking my morning cigar on the deck I saw a butterfly light, appropriately enough on the butterfly bush across the yard. I said quietly to myself as much as to the universe, “Hi mom.” If you’ve been to my house you’ve seen butterfly ornaments tied at various points around the yard and in the house. My sister has a huge wall piece in her living room near our mother’s ashes of butterflies springing off the wall. It was her thing.
Mother’s day is difficult for me. I had three mothers in my life. One that birthed me, gave me up and after tracking her down ultimately blamed me for my sister’s murder because I couldn’t save her from 400 miles away, before she herself stole all the money from her mother’s trust. One who raised me, who was abused horribly in her childhood, who was neglected and beaten and abandoned by hers. Who spent our life fighting depression and persecution complexes. Who didn’t defend or protect me when I was raped as a small child. Who was a master at the insult/compliment. And one who clearly endured the rest of us with a church smile barely containing the lemon she was biting into during group outings because her family adored my sister and not much else.
Being well entrenched in the recovery community I am surrounded by folks who’s mothers rented them for drugs, beat them, openly resented them, used them as pawns to seek revenge against their exes, neglected them and lashed out at them as the reason their life wasn’t what they’d dreamed for. An old friend of mine once said that she started becoming a better mother the moment she admitted to herself that she hated being a mother. I thought that was absolutely courageous.
Yesterday I posted something from a writer who gave voice to all of us who struggle with today and got hammered for it. It hurt. A lot. Because fuck you, that’s why. You didn’t have my upbringing. Perhaps you aren’t any of my mothers. My post today isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us. Please stop reading and scroll on to a Mother’s day post that better mirrors your experience. Or unfriend me here and in person. Any rude or hostile commentary to this post will be deleted. Because I won’t be shamed one more time for having feelings that are less than glossy about the most significant relationship most of us ever have.
Over the years those dysfunctional relationships effected every relationship I had with the opposite sex. From abject terror of them, to making them all pay for the harms done me, to playing doormat, to domineering, to being loyal when I should’ve run with my hair on fire, to being utterly incapable of being faithful. My compass spun all over for lack of a true north. There came a time however when I finally needed to be my own man. This came in stages; through the steps I was able to sort out what was mine from what was theirs. Therapy helped me sort out what the steps weren’t designed for. And ultimately a living amends to the woman who raised me, however haphazardly, by teaching her how to treat me. (by no longer making her pay for my childhood and no longer acting like I was 13)
By making peace with my past I came to see how truly fragile she was and how much she had risen, given her own circumstances. It meant calling her out when she acted meanly while standing by her side. Sometimes it meant spending less time with her. It meant telling mother number three to kick rocks when, one more time she talked badly about mom as if she wasn’t there during another endured ‘family holiday dinner’ and letting everyone know that the charade was over. I protected mom.
That was the turning point for me. Not that she changed. She tried. But she was close to 80 at the time. What changed was how her unfinished business no longer effected me.
Someone described to me recently that early wounds are like a giant black spot in a bowl. The spot never actually goes away. It only gets smaller by comparison to all the other moments and experiences I add to the bowl. This came as an epiphany to me at 30 years sober that I had not actually failed for some reason because days like today still hurt. Because a butterfly wandering into my yard still makes me smile wistfully, for who mom was and wasn’t.

A Jewish Comedian, Playwright & Card Manufacturer Walk Into a Bar

If you actually know me you know that I am deeply romantic. (my first plan for this weekend was to use our airline ticket credits to fly on a whim to Alaska to snuggle in a nice hotel and gawk at the Northern Lights) That said, few things in life are more disingenuously painful than Valentines day. It’s like Richard Lewis and Woody Allen got together with a struggling card company and conspired to create a holiday replete with revenue opportunities with the intention of making everyone as insecure as humanly possible.

If you’re in a relationship you wonder what act of devotion will make her happy. What’s the right balance of dinner, chocolate, card, hotel, awkward visit to Frederick’s for tacky lingerie (all of which artificially marked up 20%) is the right balance? Is the Hello Kitty vibrator too much?

If you’re the recipient of this garish display of over done (do people actually wear and eat strawberry panties? Do they come with a 3 day run of Monistat?) do you just laugh (inside) and pretend to swoon moistly at his awkward attempt at realms he really doesn’t have the slightest clue about? Do you feign not taking it personally that it is or isn’t a reflection of what he really thinks?

If you’re just starting to date it’s even trickier! What says too much? Which color roses sends the right message without overplaying my feeling?

If it’s long been on life support do I bother with faking fiery emotional acts of devotion that neither of us actually wants to participate in?

And oh the shame, self loathing, what’s wrong with me, I hate my ex, ilovemyex, I DONT NEED THEM! I’MJUSTFINE!!!! evilness skull fucked into the heads of the single. (who were just fine with being single a week ago)

In other words – to all of us, I congratulate Hallmark on their brilliant strategy of subversive shame with a deeply considered FUCK YOU!

And I offer you this picture of kittens and hearts.

kits&harts

You don’t need permission; its not a prayer – it’s a choice. Exercise your power!

You don't need permission; its not a prayer - it's a choice. Exercise your power!