Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Inevitable Trauma of Existing

Whenever I see a baby, my body tells me to make another one, but my mind tells me the opposite: that the future is too tenuous, too brutal, for the next generation; and a small pang of wistfulness bordering on envy rises briefly to the surface of my consciousness. Not wistfulness or envy for when my kids were babies, or having more babies, but about actually being a baby.

It must have been so easy, I think to myself. Sitting in a car seat just looking around. Waiting for a grownup to come along and give you a bottle or plop you down in a high chair and cut your cream cheese and jelly bagel into tiny bite-sized pieces. Sure, you're one hundred percent vulnerable and exist at the whim of the adults around you. On some level you know this, that you could literally be sitting in your own shit for hours. But if you're consistently well cared for, it probably barely registers. 

You're a blank slate of potential, cabined only by your genes, your environment, and luck. In other words: everything. You have no idea what's coming: the inevitable trauma of existing.

Life is a total shit show and it beats every last one of us to a bloody pulp in one way or another. No one wants to say that out loud because it’s a scary fact to face. No one gets out of here alive. And no one gets out without taking a few knocks and bearing a few scars. There are so many shitty things that happen to every one of us. You can feel grateful for your blessings while at the same time acknowledging how hard it is just to BE.

The vulnerability of infancy never really goes away. Yes, you're in control, but not really. You realize that you're the grownup now, and you can eat Apple Jax for dinner if you want, and maybe you feel like life is good but sometimes it's just awful and your sense of control reveals itself to be an illusion. 

Maybe your kid goes to rehab or overdoses, or is bullied in school, or is the bully, or gets into a car accident with a drunk driver. Maybe you get raped or molested. Maybe your best friend dies of breast cancer. Maybe you see their body taken away on a stretcher. Maybe you get fired from a job you loved. Maybe someone you trusted betrays you. Maybe you have a chronic mental illness that keeps you in bed, unable to move, for weeks at a time. Maybe you can't pay your bills. Maybe your spouse leaves you for somebody else. Maybe your ex is a stalker or impossible co-parent who doesn't pay child support. Maybe you fall down some stairs and end up in a wheelchair. Maybe your computer fries in the sun and you lose the novel you've been writing for five years. Maybe your house burns down and takes all your family heirlooms with it. Maybe you finally have to put your dog down--your loyal companion for so long. Maybe you screw up and go to jail. Maybe you run away from a good thing because you're self-defeating and scared.

Maybe that feeling of vulnerability--that inevitable trauma of existing--is enough to make you curl up into a tiny ball, put your hands behind your neck and your head between your legs and earbuds in your ears, under a weighted blanket, in the dark. As dark as you can make a room, and you feel like life finally has you beat in the seventeenth round.

But then there are glimmers of light. Like maybe you fall in love again. Maybe your kid wins a soccer scholarship. Maybe you stand on a mountain ridge under the sun with your friends, your cheeks ruddy and the wind in your hair and your damp butt on a mossy rock, and you look out over the ocean and taste sea salt on the smushed cheese sandwich from the bottom of your backpack, and it's the best thing you ever ate. Maybe tears form in your eyes while you're skiing down a mountain listening to the Beatles or watching the sun melt into the horizon on a faraway beach. Maybe something makes you laugh so hard you almost burst.

Maybe someone bakes you a pie, or knits you a hat, or invites you to a party, or buys you lunch, or writes you a letter, or a song. Maybe you write your own songs or buy someone else lunch. Maybe you feel the rush of performing in a play or telling a story to an audience. Maybe you get a promotion. Maybe you learn to play the guitar. Maybe you finish your degree. Maybe you save someone's life without knowing it, or they save yours. Maybe you put your head on someone's shoulder or they put theirs on yours. That's the good news.

The good news is that human connection, love, and empathy are First Aid for the inevitable trauma of existing.

Friday, March 8, 2019

When Love Comes to Town

Anonymous guest post from a dude in Juneau, in honor of International Women’s Day:

I once read a story that went something like, “Love is not two people gazing at each other, but rather two people looking in the same direction together.”

I’m well on my way to 50. It seems very apt, as you reach middle age and are single or unmarried, that you begin to feel a gnawing sense of doom. The sky, which for so long you have looked to and dreamed at, feels likely to come crashing down at any moment and crush you with the weight of the entire atmosphere.

With age you hopefully gain wisdom, a larger sense of respect, a truer sense of what love really is, and what you absolutely don’t want to repeat in terms of life and love errors.

And then you eventually meet someone. Someone who changes your whole paradigm.

This person might just challenge your very core beliefs. She might teach you a trick or two that you never thought of before. She has a sparkle in her eye that you’ve seen hints of before, in other women, but never at the level she brings it. You begin to realize that every mistake you’ve made or heartache you’ve endured was to teach you a specific lesson meant for a future together.

With her.

And then you tell her your entire life story. You tell her shit you wouldn’t even tell your mom about. You write songs about her. You talk about Bernie Sanders and what his presidency could mean for America. You share dreams of Val Davidson running for governor and winning.

My dad once told me, “Never touch a woman in anger, only in love.”

Even though my dad was my hero, we had a different view of life. But he was spot-on in this respect. For too many men, in too many sociocultural pods, the idea that we are above the women in our lives – our partners, mothers, sisters, daughters and otherwise – is pervasive. It’s an example of millennia of genetic muscle-memory that lets powerful males control equally powerful women with impunity.

Compassion and empathy, and even sympathy, are not taught as core skills to men by their fathers (or their mothers) for the most part. Boys aren’t allowed to cry, and girls aren’t allowed to hit back. Instead, many girls are told that they need to be good wives and mothers before good doctors, lawyers, teachers or otherwise. Many young boys are told by their dads that women are property and should be subservient to their authority.

The men of this world need to look in the mirror and— hopefully with some sense of equality and loss of entitlement—learn to honor and respect the women in their lives. This could be difficult and almost an exercise in futility given the centuries of male-dominated indoctrination in this hemisphere, but it’s possible with work.

The women of this world need to stand up and refuse to be silent any longer. Don’t take that shit, sister.

If we all looked more to the Celtic and Alaska Native cultures – where goddesses and the moiety are honored and revered – we might be in a better place as a society.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Charles Dickens, Budget Analyst

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of mercenary budget slashers from Michigan, it was the age of interrupting their shoe shopping with a legit budget beef. 

It was the age of wisdom .... oh wait no it def wasn’t. It was the epoch of the rank amateur, it was the epoch of the excommunicated professional Deep State™️. 

It was the season of flying first class, it was the season of doing it while simultaneously kicking little old ladies out of nursing homes and off public assistance. It was the spring of filing a budget, it was the winter of not actually knowing what was in it or what it did to the people we are supposed to be serving because we give zero fucks and also math is hard.

We had everything the Petrostate had to offer, except actually we didn’t because corporate capture. We were all going to hand out six figure pretend jobs to our cronies like they were Skittles, we were going to gas ourselves up to be the off-brand bag of cereal to the Trump Administration’s Kellogg’s Froot Loops™️.

In short, the period was one in which we suggested with a straight face that our children freeze in their classrooms and lectured college professors with letters about their uselessness, all while legislators from our own party quite understandably looked at us like we were some combination of clueless and insane.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sick, Dumb, Mean, and Afraid

It is critical--and I mean truly critical--to understand that the governing power structure in this country right now, from the top down, is actively invested in four things with respect to the general population: making all of us--every last one of us--sicker, dumber, meaner, and more afraid. And it will swiftly punish anyone who tries to expose that fact, push back against it, or give it voice.

How and why? The answers are long enough to fill 17 books, but let's briefly unpack this in 500 words or less.

A citizenry that is uneducated, divided amongst itself, unhealthy, and afraid lacks the ability and the resources to push back against cronyism, corruption, and corporate capture. It is robbed of the tools--including the financial tools--necessary to assert both individual and collective rights. Keeping the populace in this condition allows a small cadre of economic elite and their elected-through-gerrymander foot soldiers to undermine human rights and the environment by exercising outsized influence over both domestic and international decision-making and public institutions. 

A population that is dumb, mean, sick, and afraid is easier to con and manipulate. These goals are reflected in public policies and funding decisions that are devoid of human empathy and intentionally starve the citizenry of the resources it needs to succeed in a system that is rigged in favor of corporate--not natural--personhood.

They want us dumb. They want to starve our children of knowledge, because they know that the more educated we are, particularly in science and civics, the more we understand the ridiculous con that has been perpetrated on us for decades, is reaching its apex now, and will ultimately kill us and the planet.

They want us mean. They use a divide and conquer strategy dating back to the Roman Empire that pits us all against each other for their systemic benefit. While MAGAs and Libtards are busy arguing on Facebook, the ruling class is raping and pillaging the planet and stripping the country for parts. They are doing this, mind you, on the back of underpaid, under-protected, blue-collar labor fueled by a mythical mirage of future financial success that--conveniently--never seems to arrive for hard-working Americans who can't pay their bills no matter how hard they work.

They want us sick. This is reflected in our broken health care system and the absolutely criminal insurance market in which we relinquish giant chunks of our piddling paychecks on the promise that these corporations will return our money when we get sick--but surprise!--when that day comes, they have an institutional policy of denying claims outright, so that only the people with enough moxie (read: time and resources) to fight back get the services they paid for. When we are sick, we are literally physically defeated. We are too busy trying to get insulin for diabetes to care about the reason we can't afford insulin for diabetes, much less do anything about it.

But most of all, they want us afraid. They want to punish anyone who speaks out against this mode of governing because telling the truth is the biggest threat of all. The second someone says the emperor has no clothes, you have the potential for a dangerous rebellion, and the ruling class knows this. That is why government employees cower in fear of exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and are summarily punished when they do. That is why loyal public servants are driven out of government and replaced by lickspittles, cronies, and hacks. 

Sick, dumb, mean, and afraid is no way to live. We may not have much control over being sick or dumb, but we can decide not to be mean or afraid. We have to fight this by refusing to argue with our fellow citizens, calling this venal system what it is, and simply refusing fear.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Adult Friendships Should Be Value Added. Full Stop.

Brevity is the soul of wit, which maybe is why I’ve been shying away from longer-form blog posts lately. That, and they’ve kind of fallen out of vogue as a medium, and also I’ve been feeling pretty depressed and uninspired.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about the role of friendship in adult life; what we as adults need (and don’t need) from our friends; and what we should seek from our friendships.

I can remember a time, mostly in adolescence and young adulthood, when nothing mattered more to me than my friends. I spent a lot of time fretting over who was “mad at me” or who was on the outs with whom or how I could navigate every little social interaction to maximize the goodwill of my peers. It was insanely stressful and occupied a shitload of mental real estate, which, at the time, I could spare.

But as you get older, your priorities shift and your social circles narrow. The perils of adulting rush in to fill the void previously occupied by friend drama. You start to contemplate your own mortality amid piles of bills, professional conflicts and setbacks, marriage troubles, and child-rearing. You find that you lack the bandwidth you once had for friend bullshit, because there is enough other more pressing bullshit to go around.

I realized a long time ago that I needed to adjust my expectations of friendship for sanity’s sake. That no one person can be all things to all people; that some friendships will always be one-way streets; that moments will arise when a person’s character emerges and you learn who your real friends are and who could really give two shits about you. I long ago gave up caring who was mad at me for no good reason and decided that my standard for friendship would be based on personal boundaries and mutual well-being.

The basic metric now is value-added. Adult friendship should support and buoy the rest of your life. It should add value. It should make life easier, not harder and sadder. It shouldn’t be a drain on an otherwise stressful and chaotic existence. It should be a refuge and a harbor—not yet another storm.

Here’s to calm seas.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Does Everyone Eat Like Vultures? Or Is That Just My Family?

I’ve often wondered about this, but of course I know it’s not just my family, because I’ve seen it elsewhere. At the risk of stereotyping, it’s pretty much every Jewish family I know.

Our approach to food is lurkingly ravenous, like we haven’t seen a meal in a week and know for a fact that we won’t see the next one for another week more; even though there’s a refrigerator full of food that’s being constantly monitored and inventoried by my mother: 

“We need more cheddar cheese.” “We’re out of cookies.” “I’ll start a list.” Let’s go to Fred Meyer!”

Seriously my parents beg me to take them to Fred Meyer the way I used to beg my parents to take me to Toys ‘R Us. Except instead of an E-Z Bake Oven™️, it’s Tilamook Mountain Huckleberry ice cream and a pair of Carharts.

Like where does this come from? Is it the epi-genetic trauma borne of thousands of years of wandering in a desert, eating nothing but matzah and camel jerky? Maybe hummus if we were lucky? Is it some hold-over from the lower east side tenements where we lived off pickles and kept karp in a bathtub? Is it the competition for resources inherent in urban living?

Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: when a spread of food emerges, we descend on it like vultures, circling around and periodically dive-bombing a tray of brownies or a chicken carcass. There are quite a lot of people who don’t behave this way around food. I’ve seen it mostly west of the Mississippi: people at weddings and parties and such lining up in a calm and orderly fashion for buffets. And in my head I’m just like, why aren’t they throwing elbows and taking more of a locust approach? Or at least a vulture?

No, they come for those little mini-quiches with the laidback vibe of the undesperate; like they know there will always be more mini-quiches where those came from WHEN ANYONE WITH ANY COMMON SENSE AT ALL KNOWS THAT THE ONLY HORS D’OEVRE THAT FLIES FASTER THAN THE MINI-QUICHE IS THE PIGS-IN-BLANKETS AND IF YOU DON’T GET ON THAT SHIT STAT THERE’LL BE NOTHING LEFT BUT GRAPES AND CELERY STICKS! 


Friday, February 15, 2019

16 Real National Emergencies (Hint: Not a Wall)

1.  Climate change.
2.  Income inequality.
3.  Military-grade weapons for sale to kids at Wal-Mart.
4.  A quasi-dictator who creates fake emergencies to expand the reach of his power.
5.  Citizens who are complacent with their heads in the sand.
6.  Citizens who ignore other people's suffering.
7.  Citizens who remain silent.
8.  Citizens who shrug and say "it's not my problem."
9.  Citizens who don't vote.
10. Citizens who make up every excuse imaginable for their total inaction.
11. Citizens who willingly execute the illegal, unconstitutional orders of people in power.
12. Citizens without empathy.
13. Citizens who don't question the source of the information they are receiving.

14. Citizens who think they're not next.
15. Citizens who put their heads down and do busywork while waiting for this all to pass.
16. Citizens who refuse to take real risks for the integrity of their governments.

Most of the national emergency is behind a mirror, not a wall.