Sexuality

I was involved in a conversation the other day about sexuality, this one focused on the term “Sapiosexual.”

 The definition of sapiosexual is “a person who finds intelligence to be the most sexually attractive characteristic of another person.” Let me say “A” definition rather than “The” definition, as definitions themselves were a large and contentious part of the conversation. I did learn a new term, “SJW” or Social Justice Warrior, which I will define as “pretentious self-involved wanker with no experience, who tells others how to navigate society. No social skills, justice skills, or warrior skills required.” Apparently, my definitions are whatever I want them to be,  your definitions are whatever you want them to be, and as long as one of us is offended (how could we possibly avoid that?) the other is a racist.

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Without offense to anyone who identifies as a pussy

Without offense intended to anyone who identifies as a pussy

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 This conversation took place within a group of people who pride themselves on being intelligent and open-minded. Afterward it occurred to me, “who does not take pride in themselves as being intelligent and open-minded?” After all, we live in a world in which seventy six percent of people surveyed believe they are above average. I have actually heard that statement defended, based on the idea we all have an above average number of limbs. Most people have four, but some people do not, making average slightly less than four. That’s not how this works.
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Several years back, I overheard a conversation on the train into work. Two young ladies were discussing language, “what language do you dream in?” and such. One said “I do mathematics in German. I don’t know why, it just works for me.” I shared the experience with a coworker, who asked what the young ladies looked like. I said I didn’t know, I had not turned around to look, I just found the conversation attractive. He said, “Yeah, brains are sexy.”
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 A number of slow realizations have explained the labels I use to describe my sexuality, I now recognize this as the point I identified as a sapiosexual. It had always been there, this is when I embraced it, about fifteen years ago. Other aspects of my sexuality have been more, or less, obvious; certainly to look at my last three relationships you might doubt my attraction to intelligence, which is what makes discussions such as this so difficult.
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 There are many definitions and measurements of intelligence. There are probably more definitions of sexy, but we usually don’t cringe when someone says “She’s sexy,” even when the person being described is as far from sexy (to us) as we can imagine. We tend to recognize the subjective nature of attraction. The conversation I was having seemed to focus on the oppressive, and yes the adjective “racist” was used, nature of being sapiosexual. As a sapiosexual I have never felt so oppressed. This might be because this group is otherwise very sexually open and accepting, they might even find the word “tolerant” negatively prejudicial. There was no delay or shortage of the abuse placed on sapiosexuals, with “pretentious” being the very mildest insult.
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 I’ve dealt with this all my life. I can get along with anybody, but once I am “outed” as being what is now referred to as “gifted,” everything changes. I maintained a B average through school, so the only scorn I received was from parents and teachers who would say “You’re not performing at your potential,” and “I know you can do better than this so I’m dropping your grade.” I saw it in my eldest son, who was routinely beaten up at school, because not only was he intelligent, he told everyone about it. Being a child of the sixties it was easy to deny accomplishment and gravitate towards an earthier, grittier existence (not that the two are mutually exclusive). I recognized what other sapiosexuals recognize, intelligence isn’t about a number on an IQ test, it has more to do with understanding and wisdom. Funny how you can be respected as “wise” without being labeled “intelligent.” I want to believe this is because deep down folks can recognize intelligence has many presentations, even when they don’t admit it out loud.
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 I will agree that many who claim to be sapiosexual are pretentious, either seeking someone to compensate for their shortcomings, or attempting to compensate by the claim. In the arena of sexual preferences this is often the case, but this conversation went much farther than attacking pretensions, which although uncommon is not unheard of in this group. Portions of the conversation actually attacked intelligence itself, some were careful enough to attack the measures of intelligence as oppressively used by European males. Perhaps my judgement is off since the TBI, but I had absolutely no trouble seeing intentional offense. As disgusted as I felt, there was a certain sense of fraternity, humans tend to have the same frailty of hypocrisy, the most sensitive can still be aggressively offensive.
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There are many attitudes I do not have but can sympathize with, but I will never sympathize with the hatred for those who are different. I understand it, I know it takes place, but I have no sympathy. The only words I can come up with to describe the attitude are negative, there is no compassionate way to speak of it. Oddly, the majority of hatred for those who are different appears to originate from those who accuse others of prejudices, of disliking those who are different. The same people who are so very diligent about properly labeling everyone tend to use labels to segregate and negatively discriminate. I would say they must not be very smart, and some of them are not, but some are, which makes them evil.
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Our world is not binary, black or white. Being attracted to intelligence does not make the lack of intelligence disgusting. If you were to believe such, any statement of preference would also be a statement of prejudice against whatever would be opposite.
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I think we are all intelligent enough to see that.

Memories

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I have no memory of the moment, just a vague impression of the day less than a week after I came home from the hospital, when I heard David Bowie had died. My memories are difficult to explain, I have always been able to put myself into the moment, all of my senses involved, as opposed to simply recalling a list of events, the script of the moment. This is why now I can say “I don’t remember that” while still knowing exactly what took place. If I can’t touch it, taste it and smell it I don’t call it “having a memory.”

My brain is alien territory, my neurosurgeon tells me I should make myself comfortable, I will be here for a while. Maybe not forever, but I am better equipped if I familiarize myself with the terrain. To that end I am learning how to express myself, and taking care to explain my words. I am not ready to share opinions, I lack confidence in my logic. Much as in the way I am careful when speaking about the drugs used to treat Multiple Sclerosis, they did not work for me, but they do work wonderfully for some people; don’t take the fact I don’t use them to mean they don’t work at all.

The gap in my memories has grown, and I’m told this may just be a temporary fluctuation. Presently I have no memories of December or January, and November and February are fuzzy. Important within that statement is the fact my first evening with Sam was Thanksgiving. I am thankful for our relationship, having been abused in my last few emotional relationships, an “open” relationship seemed safer, an opportunity for honesty and communication to take the place of the deception the previous relationships offered. That Sam turned out to be more loyal and caring than the women I have trusted in “committed” relationships the last few years is both amazing and spiritually rewarding (not to imply open relationships are not committed, her level of commitment just astounded me following my previous “committed” experiences). She literally saved my life, then she nurtured me back to self-sufficiency.  This is a list of events to me, I don’t possess memories of any of it. I intend to explore the entire relationship in another article. Less important is that apparently I painted the bedroom in January. Not a horrible job, especially considering I didn’t have the use of my right arm.

A different set of memories started this article, falling about me like, well like purple rain. Now I just need to place these thoughts orderly, to find some rhythm of the falling rain. I used to be pretty good at that, identifying the synchronicities of life.

A large number of iconic musicians have died this year, working down the scale a scary number of musicians have died. While just under two human beings die every second, those of us in the arts seem to have taken a disproportionate amount of losses this year. A week does not pass that at least one acquaintance leaves us, sometimes several (Lonnie Mack died the same day as Prince). Each has some impact, when numbness starts to set in another icon leaves the stage.

Music binds the artist to memory, so these losses have to me been parts of myself. Prince held one such space. Which brings me to the other aspect of memories I want to explain.

With only one previous exception, I don’t stop loving people when the relationship ends. I have been told I should adjust this aspect of my life, but I can find no reason to deny how I felt for a person. If they can’t get over it and need to deny it ever happened that is their problem, more than likely the inability to accept reality is the reason we’re no longer together. Knowing a few people, one of them my last wife, another the woman who insisted I divorce her, prefer to pretend they never knew me helps me understand them better. Getting both of those messages in the same week is a synchronicity worth examining.

After I separated from my first wife, I lived briefly with the most adorable young woman. Very young woman, just a freshman in college. The song “Raspberry Beret” was popular, and mirroring my own love of hats Kay started wearing a raspberry beret, occasionally singing a few lines from the song. I think she bought it in a second hand store, she had incredible attention to details. If only she hadn’t been so young. I moved on to a woman a few years older, but for over thirty years I have seen Kay’s smile (and if it’s a quiet day I spend more time with her) every time I hear the song. We have written to each other, she’s doing well and also has fond memories of our time together.

The first time I heard the phrase “purple rain” was in the song “Ventura Highway” by America. Just now I am flooded with the memory of listening to the song in a raging storm as I drove up the Seaward Avenue exit in Ventura back in 1978. This is what I think of as a memory, the sky is violet and I can feel the wetness from the poor seal of the convertible roof of the Spitfire. There’s a steakhouse on Harbor avenue and I can smell the smoke even through the rain. I am there, and I am here, all because a phrase connected a memory.

I am certain this should be frustrating, knowing how my brain can work yet having sections that don’t work. In many ways I wish I was frustrated, but anger rarely has positive results, and right now I am focused on positive results.

Everything is connected, this is easier to see when you recognize everything is just different expressions of the same thing. I have referred to this as the matrix which supports the fabric of Maya, and as I explore the concept I find we each thrive in a universe of our own choosing. I’m comfortable with the sometimes gritty reality, others find the softness of a custom made fantasy more appealing. There is no “right” or “wrong” approach, nothing intrinsically “better” about exploring reality. It just works for me.

Prince didn’t allow his music on YouTube, so I don’t have a video today. If you get the chance to hear it, Warren Zevon’s cover of Raspberry Beret is a fitting interpretation.

 

 

 

 

Frustration

It has come to my attention I should take a break.

During a cognitive evaluation last week I mentioned my frustration with the results of my tests on Lumosity. I am not showing improvement, in fact some areas are showing a decline, and my best scores are in percentiles below sixty. I used to routinely rate in percentiles of the upper nineties, my IQ is well into the “genius” range. My arm is healing, why isn’t my brain?

The therapist suggested I step away from immediate results such as Lumosity, my recovery will take at very least a year, and there is no guarantee I will ever have the abilities I had just a few months ago. Watching the progress at this point is bound to be frustrating, and frustration can be a stumbling block in the process of creating new neural paths. I’m hoping she will also be speaking to the folks who approve my disability payments, they seem to think I’ve been away long enough, I can dress and feed myself, I should be healed.

I am not healed. Although my writing has been sporadic, what used to take a few hours to put together now takes several days, and my latest attempt sits in my “drafts” file, less than half complete after a week. I am quite frustrated.

HST at a similar crossroad

HST at a similar crossroad

My mind is filled with fragments, lines, and even paragraphs, but I can’t tie them together into an article. There is so much to write about, but I still want my thoughts to make more sense than the reality which inspires them. I will probably work on drafts and withhold publishing them until they are proper. Subscribing by email will ensure you receive anything I do manage to publish.

At the moment, frustration and depression are fighting for dominance, today would have been Emma and my seventeenth anniversary. I am aware I am not the man she loved, and question if love will be a part of my life again.

One more appeal, the bills haven’t stopped coming in and a future with a roof over my head depends largely on charity. Please share my GoFundMe campaign, little contributions add up.

I just can’t stare at empty pages right now.

 

Easter Sunday

Vrolijk Pasen!

KBlakeCash

easteregg5The birth of the Easter Bunny

On the odd chance you are from some far away, heathen culture, say England perhaps, I’ll be sharing the story of Easter today.

Matthew tells the story like this, in his twenty eight chapter:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

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Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

I have been writing in this blog for almost three years, daily at first, slowing to a more random pace, trying to settle on no less than once a week. Three hundred and eighty articles in and I am on target. I’ve covered topics from Quantum Physics through Astrophysics, Cosmology through the End of the World, Religions, Politics, a little Sex, and a good helping of Music. In short, the things I think about. This last year has been increasingly personal, and this article may wander into the most personal dimension, not the thoughts in my mind but the matrix of my mind itself.

I have always had a strong memory, recalling the quantity and quality of the events I have witnessed with speed and precision. I have been told I possess a keen intellect, absorbing and analyzing information, then communicating said information in easily understandable terms to any audience. I tell you these things because I remember them, not because I am aware of their presence now. I am reticent to comment on the world today, as I am not secure my analysis stands on the same foundations I have relied upon in the past.

Imagine the way you think. The complex layers of a memory, the data from all of your senses wrapped in your intellectual perception connecting every fraction of a second. I have been told a human may only experience one sensation at a time, one sound, smell, touch, emotion. The brain switches between inputs so rapidly it appears all these things are happening simultaneously, yet even more is taking place outside of awareness. We possess filters, our vision shifts our perception of colors to believe light is white; try on some tinted lenses and see for yourself. We can hear a melody through static, separating out what we want to hear; the same can be true with words in a conversation, consider a single political speech as heard by one thousand different voters, each hearing what they want to hear. We have each had enough tactile experience to know physical sensations are relative. Emotions exist in a dimension of their own, no adjectives are adequate. Tuned by all these factors our memories reside not only in the instant they were formed but also in the moment they are recalled. A word describes this, it is originally Sanskrit. The word is māyā (माया), and in a sense we refer to as “poetic” it has multiple meanings, most commonly considered to be “The illusion of reality” in the sense reality is an illusion. It is “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality.”

With this fabulous brain creating reality from our sensory inputs, it can be difficult to determine if one of the inputs is faulty, and often difficult to explain. Verbally explaining a vision issue to an ophthalmologist is near impossible, you don’t speak their language; twice in my life I have had to resort to visual aids, a smear on the lenses of the first, using my hands to represent my eyes to the second, and this because I had diagnosed the problem and needed them to confirm and treat it. They had been pursuing (and ruling out) a different diagnosis, and were not on the path to the problem with my vision. How do you determine if the fault is in your brain? The stimuli has passed through several filters, are you certain the processor is to blame? Are you likely to ever suspect the processor, as it creates the filters and references you use to judge reality?

So I find myself today. I know one of the functions which takes place in my brain is malfunctioning. I don’t know if this is affecting other functions, or if those are malfunctioning on their own, or if everything is fine outside of one malfunctioning segment.

I have always been an emotional person. I feel deeply, I am passionate both verbally and physically. When I got out of the hospital last month, once I started remembering things, I found myself surrounded by reminders of Emma. My grief was overwhelming, I cried so much I would leave the room so I could scream in the pain which was tearing me to shreds. Then I stopped. I didn’t feel anything. I felt no passion or desire for Sam, and although I knew I should have some level of emotion directed towards the woman who leapt from open relationship partner to full time caregiver while waiting for the ambulance, even the apparent emptiness of my soul only troubled me on an intellectual level. Nothing affected me, I used to cry over commercials, dance to rhythms of the road, laugh at inappropriate moments,  and suddenly I was flat.

I do not think it requires a leap of logic to suspect the remainder of your mental facilities when one function of the brain isn’t working properly following a concussion, and I don’t remember much of the week following the accident. This just seems to be a reasonable precaution, along with avoiding heavy machinery.

I am not sure in which way or ways I should approach the question; how to elicit an answer (tests), how to measure and interpret any results. My mind is a carnival, every barking dog and stick of candy floss an important part of the tapestry, which is the gold thread and which the brass ring?

Lacking any formal training, and allowing any lapses in judgement, it appears I will need to reconcile every item I find, taking inventory of what holds me together, should I care for that revealed or not. I should enlist assistance for the task, and a brief perusal of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid produced zero results within the state. I feel rather strongly no shortcuts should be taken, the blossoming questions rise as a cloud from a bonfire off in the field, drifting across the moonlight as it paints the faces awaiting the carnival’s fireworks display.

And I can’t tell if this prose is an elegant indication of wellness, or an abstruse intimation of infirmity.

 

 

I will be waiting a few more weeks for cognitive therapy, it seems odd to me there are so few therapists available, the need appears overwhelming. So many unconscious sufferers wandering aimlessly. I joined Luminosity at the suggestion of my neurosurgeon, at least I will be exercising my neural net, keeping blood and electrons flowing. The other practice I have been applying in trying to find my emotional base has been following “inspirational” web pages, reassuring thoughts and mantras usually presented as memes. The greatest power I realize from these memes is the recognition I am not alone, someone else has produced the same thoughts I am pondering.

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

The eventual remedy lays in memory, remembering who I am, verifying the memory represents reality, and living the life of the man who not only has been this person in the past, but is this person today. Social therapy, spending time with people who know me, can only provide the strength to separate the music from the static, provide reminders of laughter and passions. When I find I can dance to the music I have uncovered, there will be reason to believe I am on the right path toward experiencing passions again. I can acknowledge the possibilities are endless, opening my mind to the breadth of the spectrum, but only one wavelength belongs to me. I think it is just about 400 nano meters.

 

 

It’s a wonderful carnival, I’m staying all night.

 

Evaluating wellness

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I began to detest the question “How are you?”

“I’m fine” is not a proper answer, for one thing, hair is fine, not people. I might be pushing everything I have to appear I am operating within normal parameters, but I would never reveal this truth. If I have to tell you how hard I’m trying to stand up, then just standing up wasn’t good enough. I am almost certain the person asking does not really want to know all the things I am doing to look “fine” in the hopes no one will ask me how I am.

Today, almost thirty years later, the question is as difficult as ever.

After three decades of disguising myself as healthy, I don’t know what else to do. I have been fortunate in many ways, I do not appear to have aged, and I have played the part of reasonably healthy younger man well. I have not needed to adjust my act, and became emboldened by success. Then, like the roller coaster at the end of the ride, there was an immediate change of velocity. As one friend said of his experience “I woke up one morning and I was old.”

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

This is the part I have found troubling, referring to it “like the roller coaster at the end of the ride,” feeling a sense of conclusion. Stuff happens, I have known this for thirty years at least. I have friends with Multiple Sclerosis who have lost the ability to walk, and have had to make a multitude of adjustments in life. I have known many people who were simply struck by ill fortune. I have known others who have not survived. I am, as I knew, fortunate. For some reason this has not made the adjustments any easier.

As I begin to recover from my “accident,” I am finding my recovery will not be as complete as I might have hoped. I will not be one hundred percent of what I was, but I will be closer to one hundred percent of the average fifty seven year old white male. Well, not in mass, but in many other ways. Even now, as I push my recovery, I am told I am doing too much.

I try to take this all seriously, because I am not certain about my mental facilities. What if they are right, and I really shouldn’t be trying so hard?

I gave driving a great deal of thought, determined to examine all the variables. I can turn the key, and although it takes both hands to move the gear shift, I only need to do that at slow speeds, such as parking. I have always driven with one (my left) hand. I can manipulate all the controls and see all around me. I do feel fatigued more quickly, driving a little more than an hour each way is all I care to try at this point. My doctor still feels it is a bad idea, not exactly chastising me for driving to an appointment the other day, but making his disappointment known. I knew I wasn’t ready to hit my old haunts (and their additional impairments), but now I feel the need to back off a little more, be a little safer.

I start physical therapy next Friday for my elbow, I’ve already been advised it will not be functioning as well as the other. I’ve been told a number of things about my body over the years and prefer to just see what happens, knowing the range of motion is expected to be reduced gives me a goal to exceed. My fingers are already moving fluidly, I’ll be making music as soon as I can figure out how to hold the guitar. Drumming is out for now, until extending my arm doesn’t make a sound of its own. I also begin “cognitive therapy,” which will be interesting and probably fun. Unless someone determines I have suffered excessive brain damage, which is bound to throw my confidence into a black hole.

My eyes, and the bones which hold them in place, are the subjects of Monday’s appointment. Something must be physically wrong for my vision to change the way it does, focus shifting as I stare forward. I just need everything to stabilize before getting another prescription for lenses. And there I go, assuming everything will stabilize. I spent my life making things work, I’ll hold my eyes in place with duct tape if I have to.

Wednesday we’ll be investigating why I can’t hear through my right ear. It had been getting a little weak, but since the accident the hearing on that side is gone, and although I was in a haze in the hospital, I do recall hearing one of the doctors saying he thought something was wrong which could be adjusted during the skull surgery (which didn’t take place because I kept healing).

The following week I begin catching up with all the health issues I’ve let go since Emma died. My new general practitioner was amazed I wasn’t reduced to dust in the fall, my osteoporosis has been untreated for seven years. So a new Dexa Scan and rheumatologist for treatment are in order. A new Neurologist seems an obvious choice, so an MRI is expected. The doc wrote prescriptions for my antidepressants, but a shrink is certainly on my horizon, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed; I am not the man I was 31 December, I know this for certain as my emotions have flat-lined. And of course there are still follow ups with the neurosurgeon to determine what physical damage to my brain still exists.

So, with my usual duality (good sign), my evaluation of wellness is I am better off this happened, it steers me towards treatments, but the happening itself has been awful. I have lost independence and ability, I feel “old.” I am not ready to feel old. I have a certain presence, a style which may need to be adjusted to fit an old man. It may be a mostly temporary situation, but the rest of me is not getting any younger. This is happening all at once, rather than complain I failed to prepare, I will try to rejoice I have been so healthy so long.

These are just the physical and emotional issues I am dealing with, a subset of the emotional issues are affected by the financial state of being unable to earn a living. I have never had to ask for help before; if you have not already, please stop by the GoFundMe page set up by a friend to help carry me through these difficult times. Even if you cannot help financially (maybe see it as supporting a suffering author?) perhaps you can use the “poster” button near the bottom of the page and print out a copy to share with friends. Great conversation possibilities there, and perhaps I’ll gain a reader through your good deed.

I once met Buddy Rich, his advice on drum solos was “take something simple and make it look hard, or take something hard and make it look simple.” This is hard for me, I hope I am making it look simple.

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

Relationships

A few months ago I was driving through a section of New Jersey I rarely visit. I drove past a church I was once married in. It had been my second marriage, twenty nine years ago the day after I drove past the church. All told, there have been four marriages, ended by three divorces and one death.

I probably won’t do marriage again. I hang onto memories more than most people.

There are a number of factors steering me away from a fifth marriage, one I hadn’t even considered was brought up by a woman who said “I don’t want to be number five.” As it turned out, I didn’t want her to be number five either, but I understood her point. She didn’t want to be a number, my latest mistake. My father made a similar comment when I married my fourth wife, and it was equally meaningful, as he is married to his fourth wife and had at the time been married to her for thirty one years. Those guys who remarry can be a flaky lot.

 

number5ao7

A different number five

 

I enjoy the companionship of being married, and I do notice a difference in the relationship when I am living with someone compared to being married to them. As I have gotten older, that difference has changed, and/or I have changed, probably both. I am not terribly concerned about getting married now, yet I still desire the companionship.

Maybe one reason I have enjoyed being married is what is missing from my memories. I don’t tend to remember bad things, so with the exception of my first marriage, of which my ex-wife still feels the need to point out just what a miserable human being she is some thirty years after our divorce, I have good memories. I remember why I got married, not why I got divorced. Oh, I remember why I got divorced, I just don’t remember the reason causing friction or heartache. The “why”s gave me something to learn, adjustments to make in myself. Unfortunately, many people, such as my father and the potential number five, see my history as a series of failures from which I learned nothing. I think this says more about them than me.

It is not pleasant having a mind which works differently from “normal.” Perhaps with my recent brain injury that will no longer be a problem, but I don’t think so, it is getting harder to define. The other night I went to see Star Wars episode seven. A big night for me, my first big outing since the hospital, just a little scared the intensity (3D IMAX) might be too much for my brain.  Instead I kept feeling a smile on my face, memories of the first (episode four) film, memories of my first time seeing the first film. The next morning I wrote to the woman who had taken me to that first screening, thirty nine years ago in a little theatre in New Brunswick. She wrote back, she had a similar experience when she saw episode seven, her friends had been surprised she remembered not only the film, but where she had attended and with whom.

Good people create good memories.

Oscar Wilde said “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

 

It has been said we have similar appearance and wit, but no one mistakes me for Oscar Wilde. I have seldom allowed a failure to stop me from trying again, just in a different way. Experience builds hope, knowing what went wrong helps prevent that failure from happening again. There are just so many ways to fail in a relationship, my hope is I have found them all.

I like to believe I continue to learn, picking up something in each relationship which helps me recognize the same patterns should they show up again. Sometimes the pitfalls are my partner’s expectations, sometimes they are mine. Sometimes there are things to avoid, often there is something to repeat. I still believe humans are intrinsically compassionate, and I will always believe in the power of love.

I should also recall, as I consider my impressions, that I have recently suffered a concussion, and multiple opinions have been put forth on both sides of the question “Is Blake’s mind functioning properly?” My memories have summoned a kind person, I hope that is who I really am. My current emotional state is unrelated to my memories, I  believe I have felt this way, yet presently I am isolated, existing only within my mind, bereft of tangible desires.

From Oscar Wilde’s “De Profunis,” contemplations from his incarceration; “The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”

 

 

 

 

 

Finding my way home

The last month has held some difficult lessons. Fortunately, my attention has been focused, many things I first saw as “new” were simply reminders, I had let myself forget things I already knew.

The year started off with a bang, at least I suppose there was a noise as my head hit the stone floor. I don’t  remember much from those early hours of 2016, Sam has filled me in on a few details, and some are too horrible for her to revisit. Apparently it was spectacular, bright lights and doctors everywhere. And screaming, and blood, those are the parts Sam has chosen not to discuss much.

I am still evaluating the damage, both to my body and to my financial well being. It took a while to be clear headed enough to recognize what path to follow in order to recover. Some things are obvious, some are time consuming, and some are just unpleasant.

I found my choice of insurance plans was inadequate, the one that might have been sufficient was not approved by the “Affordable Care Act,” and I had not thought I would be able to afford the fine which would be imposed without approved coverage. Unfortunately, the only care covered by my plan was “preventative,” I suppose it is my responsibility to investigate how to prevent falling down the steps. I’m not sure what my prescription plan covered, but it did not cover standard antibiotics or analgesics after I was released from the hospital, and of course my five day stay with surgeries and multiple specialists was not covered. That fine for being “uninsured” looks much more attractive today.

I found my employer, Staffmark, a temp agency supplying associates to L’Oreal, was contemptible enough to mention them here by name. I was asked to resign so I could “remain in good standing,” I chose not to because resigning would make me ineligible for many of the government benefits I would require. Staffmark provided nothing, not even short term disability, and when I applied to the State for disability payments and was given a form for my employer to fill out, I was told by the Staffmark manager “We don’t do that, they’ll have to call for the information.” Fortunately, I received that response via email, which by the request of two government agencies was printed and attached to my applications. I wish no one ill, but I do hope the prosecutions promised by the requesting officers do take place.

I found Social Services, the only refuge available, to be a web of agencies lacking intercommunication. Not that I am in a hurry to do something else, spending hours chasing recompense does not interfere with my schedule, and gives me the opportunity to visit a slice of society I would have otherwise avoided. I am there, am I saying I would have avoided myself? There are not too many “nice” people in the waiting rooms, but there is a reasonable excuse for this situation. Before being eligible for services you must be destitute, and the services themselves support a sub-poverty level of existence. Anyone “surviving” on welfare is either cheating the system so they may realistically survive, or not actually surviving in the sense a civilized society should allow. I am trusting my situation is temporary, I will pull myself back up, but the only way to receive housing assistance is to be evicted, that is not an easy place to come back from. To receive food stamps I needed to show I have less than $1oo in my checking account, in the world I used to live I was charged if my balance dipped below $100. And getting Medicaid is not all it’s cracked up to be, not many doctors accept it, almost no specialists do; I can forget about advanced care.

I found I can ask for help. This is not “me,” I am Superman, I can deal with anything, I don’t need people to help me, I help other people. A friend organized a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses. The response has been heartwarming. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers have donated to a small fund which should prevent me from becoming homeless. I should be able to put gas in my car to go to Doctor appointments, maybe buy some extra food. I’ve tried to spread word about the campaign, but as I said, this is not me. You can visit the page and read the nice things Beth has said about me by clicking here, and you can see the names of the (at this time) three dozen people who have donated. You can even add your name to the list, or be listed as anonymous, or just feel good knowing there are other good people out there. Another friend is investigating an auction of Belgian beers which might provide proceeds, another may bill one of his gigs as a benefit. I’ve even stepped beyond my comfort level and asked a few people to consider employing me in whatever capacity I am able to fulfill after I recover.

It took a few weeks before my brain was operating near its normal level, I know I missed most of the first week and can tell there are moments missing from the second. I can still tell my mind is not 100%, I lose focus, cry more often than I used to, and can feel a fog of depression. The hearing in my right ear is totally gone, I hope it can still be repaired once I am able to get off Medicaid. My vision is impaired, this may be due to damaged orbits or residual swelling. My right arm is getting better, the doctor eased the restrictions on the brace so I have thirty degrees of movement, I don’t expect I will ever be at 100% again (and for now I’m typing with my left hand). My balance is hit and miss, most days I can walk with my cane, others I can barely stand up. I have no idea how this will progress, and how much is augmented by my existing Multiple Sclerosis. At very best, this will be the kick in the pants I needed to apply for total disability through Social Security, I’ll be able to get by and continue writing. I’m not thinking about worst cases anymore.

I have found good things, I have found good people, and although I am not there yet, I am finding my way home.

 

 

My Last Political Article

There is little doubt I will write about the effects political decisions have on society, or that I will mention politicians, but my relationship with politics has evolved; I expect this to be my last article on American national politics, specifically the 2016 elections.

I write to encourage thought, despite which there appears to be a shortage of thought in the political theater of today. Politics have moved into the space once inhabited by bitter hate-filled arguments. Agreements are not reached, they are forced, during the process redefining “agreement.” The meaning of the word “consensus” has come to be “shouted the loudest.”

There does not appear to be much interest in “leading” as an elected official. “Leadership” is another of those words lacking a meaning, what we used to call “managing” has taken leadership’s place, although I would like to believe even that concept is due for redefinition, managers once were required to demonstrate positive results. The driving force among politicians appears to be “getting elected,” which may at first sound like a simplistic statement. Of course they want to get elected, my issue is that is all they want. At first. Then it changes to “getting re-elected.” The accomplishment most desired while holding an elected position appears to be “creating a legacy.”

A legacy. Something tangible by which to be remembered. Left by someone who spent their life trying to distort reality.

If you have been following this blog, you are aware I intended to leave America a few years ago. One of the many reasons for leaving was to miss the election. I could see a wave of conservatism growing that would overwhelm liberal candidates. I happen to lean towards the conservative point of view myself, but this was destined to be mean spirited, with an ugliness of revenge not seen since Clinton vacated the White House in 2001.

This year’s unpleasantness has not been created by a party unwilling to leave power (yet), but by the all but presumptive winning party. Consider that fact, along with one of the recent quotes from the clown leading in the Republican primary polls, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” The acknowledgement his words and actions are inconsequential to voters could not be more clear.

A bad joke never becomes funny

A bad joke never becomes funny

Perhaps this should have been “The Sign.” The omen which revealed the onset of the apocalypse. The moment the New York Daily News told a joke with a punchline of reality pointing its finger at us and laughing.

The field turned out to be as many as twelve candidates and one rabid dog. At a moment more sober minds looked forward to unity following eight years of blatant divisiveness, one candidate leapt to the lead due to a history of graffiti; writing his name on buildings provided name recognition, and to connect the name to a face he ran before the cameras and insulted everyone he could. He started by attacking our neighbors to the South, then when a respected former prisoner of war defended them against his tirade the prisoner found himself under attack, called a “dummy,” and accused, despite his years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” of not being a war hero because he had been captured.

Typically, this type of behavior would draw a campaign to an end, but we do not live in typical times. With a wide and diverse field of candidates, the aberrant clown stood out from the sober, qualified contenders. Any threat to his name recognition lead was seen as a personal attack, to which he responded with vicious and vile ad hominem attacks.  His popularity grew as he attacked a debate moderator and eventually the entire debate process when his documented misogyny was questioned, then he demonstrated his misogyny by attacking a female candidate. He mocked a reporter with  physical disabilities. His personal attacks on other candidates intensified, but simply insulting his peers did not generate adequate press for this narcissistic ego.

Ignoring the first amendment of the constitution he was vying to uphold, Trump expressed a desire to ban an entire religion from America. In a nation living in fear of terrorism, he painted all Muslims as terrorists, be they refugees, immigrants, or native born citizens. Following terrorist attacks in other countries, he vilified the victim countries, not only France, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium. This is the man a majority of Americans feel should represent them in the theater of international diplomacy.

I am baffled. The same Americans who bemoaned Obama’s cult like following now abandon independent thought to join the Trump goose step.  I expected the worst the population had to offer, democracy is merely mob rule constrained by civility, and America has been proudly rejecting civilized behavior for decades, but the embrace of fascism shocks me. Some of my best friends support and defend Trump, refusing to see the hate he spreads like fertilizer for his campaign; so I have decided, in the same way I did in 2008, to step away from commenting.

Emma voted for Obama, and while I had found him interesting at first, I voted for McCain. We were able to discuss our differences without raised voices. Several other friends were incensed and insulting towards me because I didn’t vote for Obama, some of those friendships ended. A year after the election, Emma and a few of my friends found themselves regretting their votes and publicly renounced their former support. I do not believe there are the quantity of people capable of admitting they were wrong as there was back then.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer from hurt feelings because I don’t agree with their choice of candidate, we will all live with the consequences of the election.

 

 

 

 

My New Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2015 ends

 

As years go 2015 was certainly a mix.

There were several ups and or downs on several fronts; as with any year simply immeasurable as a whole. It was a year. As someone who lives with their heart on their sleeve, my love life has been a tumultuous fiery carnival, which is normally an overall “Good” observation.

Wonderful lessons learned; the wife who broke my heart ended up being a decent human being, the woman who came after her proved that to be true by being less than decent, and the woman who came after her proved just how lousy human beings can be by stealing two thousand dollars. Good thing she only stole money and not my heart. The carnival provides perspective.

Near the end of the year, no longer interested in “relationships,” with their expectations and impossible to meet prejudices (“you’re just like…”), but still desiring companionship, I looked into an alternative to traditional couplings. Winter was on it’s way, there would be parties and social events, and days snowed in around the fireplace. No point in missing an opportunity to share joy.

I found a woman on line who fit my desired parameters. She appears to know not only what she wants, but also who she is. She grasps the frailty of relationships and seeks the companionship of a kindred spirit. She is sharp, and despite my opinion of myself there are moments I am not sure if I meet her criteria. It’s early, I’m still not certain. We have found peace with each other, a comfort of mind that presents itself at the physical level, and oddly enough some of the things we both desired no longer appear quite as important. As I prepared to write this, and about her for the first time, we discussed our “relationship” and my writing. It’s still early, neither of us are certain, but we are happy to have laid this foundation.

Enough about how we met and who we are, her name is Sam, for Samantha, and we had a wonderful evening New Year’s Eve, Then we came home to meet my neighbors for the midnight celebration. Then the new year began.

Blair had left her glasses, so I headed upstairs to return them. No one is quite sure what happened next, but Sam found me at the bottom of my steps in a pool of blood, wearing Blair’s glasses and holding mine.

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

 

From all accounts this was horrible. I remember nothing, but Sam says I was asking her to help me to bed. The first memory I have is in imaging at the hospital, being asked about my body piercings. Docs were able to remove the Tragus, I somehow took out the Dydoe. Somehow. Shattered right Ulna and Radius at elbow, shattered right orbit, subdural and subarachnoid bleeds, related blood loss.

I spent five days in the hospital (the Flemish word “ziekenhuis” kept floating through my head) as doctors decided what could be rebuilt. Elbow surgery was postponed while waiting for parts, when they arrived I had healed enough to not need all of them. Oddly, Sam and I had attended the same “Elbow” concert a few years earlier, unbeknownst to each other at the time. There was no cranial surgery, my eyes appear to have found the same plane but my new phrase is “It’s early.” I had no seizures, completing the anti-seizure meds the other day (seven day protocol) and aced my cognitive test by naming animals (took a walk through the zoo in my mind). I still can’t move my right arm usefully (post op splint) and my teeth feel like strangers in my jaw, the “bump” on my head has shrunken to egg size with only a line of dried blood and I can move around the house. Now doctors of no less than five disciplines would like to see me over the next few weeks, I am available for house calls…

Sam has been with me the entire time, far more than I could ask of someone who has known me so briefly. Her presence in the hospital was critical to my recovery, her cooking once home has lifted  my spirits above the pain my body is experiencing. This began when she rode in the ambulance with me to Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital (Dr. House long gone, I was shortly transferred to the trauma center at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital). I don’t recall our early conversations, but she has said I seemed to do better when she was there. Did I mention my appreciation of her perception?

Blair and Malcolm visited me in the hospital, on their way to Germany and to visit Tribbee in Scotland.

Throughout all this I have missed quite a bit. My ex-wife had been visiting from Belgium, we had been scheduled to see each other 2 January. Sam helped me contact everyone to explain my absence. My brain is still a touch fuzzy, I am not entirely certain of who I have spoken with, or what I have said. Sam helped me get settled at home, finding clothes that fit over the splint and wrapping it so I could shower, even taking me on an outing to her place. I may be unemployed, it will be difficult to work for a while, but prospects look encouraging.

My New Year?

It’s early…

Whose God?

I’ve seen a number of discussions about God lately, not so much intentionally about God as about the nature of gods, inspired in part by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College. Professor Hawkins had decided to wear a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims, and stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

As you might imagine, there has been quite an uproar over the suggestion that the God of the Christian Bible is also known as Allah. If he’s the same guy, why are the religions so different? Well, let us look at that question. Start with why do you think God, Allah, or any supreme being is male? You are trying to define the creator of the universe in human terms because they are the terms you are capable of understanding. For my part, when I refer to God I avoid gender specific pronouns, preferring “it” over “him” or “her.” This practice is the first step in incorporating the concept that God is in no way human.

One of the more troubling (to me) arguments to come out of these discussions suggests members of a religion in some way possess ownership of their God. This does not appear to be distant from the concept of my car owning me.

To answer the initial question, are these worshiped entities the same, very little investigation is required. Looking back a couple of millennia before Christ, Abraham makes his mark as a prophet. From Abraham comes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three different approaches to the same prophecies, commonly referred to as “The Abrahamic Religions.” The same God, called by different names as time passed and languages changed. As those religions developed, “God” was attributed with different qualities, the manner of worship acquired different rituals. God didn’t change, the way humans interpreted God changed. Islam is simply the latest developmental spur of the Abrahamic tradition, in which Jesus is merely a prophet, as is Mohammad; the Quran being the inspired message of God to Muslims.

The evolution from Abraham gives us Judaism, Jesus appears and is rejected as the son of God by the Jews but accepted as the Messiah by those who create Christianity, Mohammad comes along and delivers the Quran rejecting Jesus’s status as Son of God, creating Islam. God did not change, just who is believed to have delivered his latest instructions. Being most recent, the Muslim believes his religion to be most evolved, thus the correct or “true” religion. Christians may counter their religion is still evolving, Protestantism produces new denominations routinely, but the core of Christianity, Christ, dates the religion as beginning with his birth. Each of the Abrahamic religions believe they are the one and true religion, leading the followers of each religion to believe the followers of the other religions are at best misguided and at worst following a different God, perhaps even an evil God. Some take it a step further denouncing other beliefs as not being religions at all.

As I stated earlier, we as humans define God using the measurements we are capable of understanding. God is seen as a fatherly, therefore male, figure. He must be very old, so he would have grey hair, and he would carry a staff to assist in walking. Even if you are one of those who believe the religious texts date the universe at six thousand years old, God would be well beyond the aging process of humans. Yet no one ever depicts it as a young being, creating the universe is thought to be the work of a mature being. Do you think its hair turned grey at the age of forty, or forty million? The question may already be in your mind, how is the dimension of time traveled by a being who created the universe and time along with it? As humans we travel about seventy years, yet God has traveled at very least billions of years, with some of those being before the current measure of years existed, does it appear older today than at the origin of the universe?

As humans, we cannot pretend to understand the details of what God is physically, much less its motives. The best we can do is to interpret God’s intentions for us, and every religion on Earth teaches we should love each other. If you honestly believe a religion teaches otherwise, tell me how long you practiced that religion before saying anything else, don’t tell me what you have heard about a religion you have not been involved with. Religions are different because they were created by different humans, each believing they understand God better than anyone else.

So I believe the answer to the question “Do we believe in the same God?” is quite obviously “yes,” but not in the way most people mean when they ask the question. I believe the answer remains “yes” regardless of the religions being compared, well beyond the Abrahamic religions, because God is not the rituals we follow in worship, or what we eat or wear.

God is Love.

If you do not believe God is Love, then you do believe in a different God than I do, you might want to check with your religious leaders to see if you believe in the same God they believe in.

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Socially unconscious

The Holidays are upon us. You know, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the biggest of all, Santa Claus Day. But something is wrong…

Imagine the horror of the orthodox consumer, sipping his five dollar cup of flavored hot water in the temple of bucks to the stars, out of a simple red cup!

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This may be the greatest blow pseudo Christianity has ever suffered. In the midst of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the most amazing suggestion was made to soothe the pseudo Christian who feels Santa Claus Day has been ignored by the Church of Consumerism. “Why not find the holiday spirit by buying a cup of Starbucks Coffee for a homeless person?”

“Let them eat cake” seemed so cliche.

These Holidays just cause so much stress, the decision of which offense to celebrate can be the hardest. One chain of shopping malls has eschewed traditional Christmas designs, hoping not to offend any consumers during the Santa Claus Day shopping season.

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Warm and cuddly memories Inc.

 

I actually prefer the idea of a photo of the grandchildren and Santa on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Why confuse Christmas with Santa Claus Day? The celebration of consumerism can be enjoyed by members of any faith, particularly because those glaring symbols of Christianity like pine trees and snowflakes have been removed.

In other parts of the world, the two holidays are separate, Santa Claus Day being celebrated on 6 December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Even that holiday is having trouble not offending anyone. Somehow being tolerant of minorities implies to some people they should be intolerant of the majority, thus this week’s title.

Being socially unconscious has become a national pastime of sorts. People focus on an issue and nothing else matters, least of all any meaningful conversation on the topic. One friend, for whom I maintain a level of respect, is often reduced to sound bites in a discussion, responding with slogans rather than thoughts. I wonder if he feels the same frustration I do, he is clearly banging his head against a wall, expecting meaningless phrases to express his thoughts on complex issues. On the other hand, he is a Buddhist, and firmly believes in the power of chanting.

I was recently invited to take part in a drum circle. Images of a communal moment piqued my curiosity. It seemed a perfect way to spend the evening, I have always been a percussionist, drumming is the simplest form of communication, we still express pleasure with applause. With visions of Richard Feynman in my head I drove down to Maryland.

What a disappointment. It had escaped me that people celebrating the simplest form of communication might not be capable of any higher forms. They had replaced the communal spirituality with the ritual, there was no heart, just props. Although not included in the conversations of other participants, I did overhear them. The pettiness among these “free spirits” was astounding. How did they expect to experience any sense of community when they were so wrapped up in themselves? This was, of course, one experience, one circle, I’m sure there must be some folks who actually get the rhythm going. I’ll try again some day, somewhere else.

The entire experience left me feeling much as I did when a friend of my first wife spent an evening insulting our lifestyle back in the eighties. She was a vegan, a fairly new at the time offshoot of vegetarianism. Any interaction with animals was, to her, abuse. She went on for over an hour telling us how horrible we were for eating meat and cheese, in her thigh high leather boots. She knew what to say, but not what to do. It never occurred to her she was wearing nearly half a cow’s hide.

The most depressing thing lately, the thing which nags at me to leave this world behind, is the open, ignorant hypocrisy displayed by the majority of people, paired with the exhausted acceptance by the remainder. Does no one see this is the theme in several high profile issues?

Black Lives Matter. So much so the Black Lives Matter organization is comfortable calling for the deaths of Police Officers. And no one bats an eye.

Gay people should have the right to marry. And you should attend the wedding and bring a gift, regardless of your personal feelings. Unless you’re Muslim, in which case we do not want to offend you.

Abortion is Murder. Agreed, but if murder is a bad thing killing abortionists is not the answer. Perhaps you feel killing can be justified, which means you have something in common with the abortionist.

The puppets chanting the global warming mantra are perhaps the most disheartening. All the empirical evidence disproves every prediction they have made, yet they are so locked into their beliefs they can’t see they are being used. They make claims using disproven theories claiming to embrace science while working full force against science. They exist as puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy, and accuse their detractors of being puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy.

Don’t even get me started on the occupy crowd.

There have always been, and there should always be, fringe groups. But they’re supposed to be the fringe, not the main stream.

Recently I read an article with the title “Even Cities That Can’t Go Car Free Should Have To.” That about sums it up. Even if you can’t, you have to. Coexistence be damned, let’s just force people to do what we want. But who are “we?”

“We,” more often than not, are a group of spoiled children. Why do you think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Have you watched an eight year old boy lately? “I’m the best, he’s the worst, I can do anything, he can’t do a thing.” This is the peak in America today, the finest example of what it means to be an American, the person who should represent us to the world.

I am tired. I truly wish to know what others are thinking, yet far too often it turns out they aren’t thinking at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Babybaby

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The lightest shackle I’ve ever worn

We talk all the time, but I seldom write to you anymore. You know how I am, better than anyone; I need to see things written down once in a while, and as you know you’ve been all over me lately. So here are a few of your favorite songs and an update from planet Earth.

It’s been five years. I say this to remind you, I’m not sure how time works over there. One thousand nine hundred forty six days on this side, since last I kissed you. I’ve felt you since, but I don’t know what you can feel from me. I know when you have guided me, kissed me, and slapped me on the back of the head. You can take that last bit a little easier, I’m developing a bald spot.

Autumn is doing well, she’s been outside a few times but prefers her perch at the window. After you left she allowed other people to see her, Abby came up for a drink and Autumn walked right up to her just a week after you left. She’s been sleeping with me the last few weeks (Autumn silly), I’m pretty sure you put her up to it.

 

 

Everybody else has moved along, Carlo just moved to North Carolina, I can’t believe he’s in his forties now and already semi-retiring. Coop is incredible, I saw him last year. Mark never showed up for the things you saved for him (I still have them), but I’ve kept an eye on Gino, he’s doing great, you would be so proud. Kyle is getting by, he had some problems but seems to have pulled out of them. I haven’t heard a word about Dominic, he only wanted to harass you, not me. I saw Uncle Tommy a few times, he’s been with you a couple of years now. Rocky called a few times, but I don’t think Catherine liked what I said about her in the book. My kids haven’t changed, Nolan would still be your favorite, he’s grown into a solid man, with a bit of his dad’s crazy. I spent a few weeks with my Grandson Tommy a couple of years ago, you would love him.

I started driving again, living in Jersey makes it a requirement. You know how I feel about Jersey babe, but I’ve met some nice people, you would love this place (not the town, but the property is wonderful). This weekend I was planning to drive to upstate New York, taking some time to see the leaves change and visit Karen, the woman whose husband passed of pancreatic cancer the November before your surgery. That trip has been postponed, so I’ll probably just drive North until I see some nice trees. I get down to Delaware County occasionally, my friend Buddy plays at Tom and Jerry’s on Fridays, and I see glimpses of you there. I drive past the old place but haven’t stopped to see if Jen still lives there, but Jay’s is still in business. I stopped into Mazza’s a few months back, Mimi and Baba have moved back to Lebanon,  they sold the place to some Asians, probably the same family from the 10th St. Cafe. Tarik is living in Jersey somewhere. Last time I saw Mimi I had put on some weight and she said how happy you would be. I’m down under 130 today. I talked to David and Jackie a few times when I was thinking of moving back to Philly, but there’s nothing there for me. There’s nothing anywhere without you.

I’m not Doctor House anymore, but I still carry the cane you gave me from time to time; I get to board first when I fly if I’m using it that day. The MS has stayed in the background, I’m a little wobbly lately but there has been a great deal of stress. I don’t wear ties anymore, and haven’t been called at “the most inconvenient moment” by a technician in a different time zone since you were here.

I’m working meat into my diet again, I’m sure being a vegetarian had you scratching your head, although I did eat a horse steak in Belgium. I developed some vegetarian recipes even you would have liked though, and everything you taught me carried me through cooking for Lieve’s family.

You know how my relationships have gone. Don’t slap my head again, you know I thank you for everyone you have sent. I knew there was no one like you, yet you realized I must fill the vacuum you left with something, it’s not working. They don’t understand, saying “I can’t take anymore” where you would have said “more.” Apparently I love “too much.” I couldn’t believe it either but it appears to be the consensus, other people don’t love each other the way we do, and apparently most people are not as open about it as we are. We never did anything halfway. Except for now, I’m here and you are not. I see glimpses of you, and am confused.

I’ve been listening to different music, you live in the chords of the music we shared. I’ve been playing more this last month, you know what that means. Buddy plays a lot of our songs, making Tom and Jerry’s all the more spooky. And no, I haven’t heard from any of those people lately, but I have been considering a change of scenery. I found a new vocalist, Sharon Van Etten, not your style but I think you would like her, she has your edge.  I saw Neil Young over the summer. I wonder, with all the lives out there, if mine were the only cheeks running with tears through “Hurricane.” I’m in this weird place, feeling a loss most unique, a “you don’t know how I feel” anger, and alternately knowing others must have similar losses from their own perspectives. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about. Except to you. We talked about everything.

There have been so many beautiful moments I wanted to share with you. There have been dark ones during which I needed you to lean upon. The parts you left behind got me through each. Your faith was well placed, I am still the man you loved, I have remained a gentleman and gentle man. There is a field nearby I can wander through, the wildflowers up to my chest, I think of you saying you wanted to run through the tall grass and I am with you, the sun on my face like the warmth of your kiss. This time of year the tops of the flowers have an unearthly purple tint, it is what called me to the field originally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I don’t drink much anymore, I switched to beers while I was married to the Belgian woman, she was a lot of fun, I know you sent her. I’m moving back to wine, winter is coming and you would love the fireplace here, accented with a hefty St. Emilion. I don’t think I’ll be drinking Chateau Margaux without you, but there will be some of your favorites in my cellar. Stop by and hold me by the fire.

I don’t often think of you in the hospital, but I did the other night. It was worse than reality, in my memory you are yourself, your body’s health mirroring your spirit’s. Why are these things happening to my babybaby? I know what the images actually were, but I don’t “see” them in my mind. I recall the radiologist thinking I was your son, but the memories I see are of my beautiful girl in pain.

We discussed life apart at length, and sometimes I think you wanted me to appreciate you more through your absence. I could not appreciate you any more than I already did, and although I’ve done some good things and touched some lives since you left, we always did better work together. Everything was better together and I’m getting a little tired of that fact being thrown in my face repeatedly. I still look both ways before crossing the street, but I’m ready to be with you anytime. Just hold out your hand.

 

Suicide notes

 

 

 

Suicide notes are the final statement, last words for someone who doesn’t believe anyone is listening. They are the message someone wants to share which sums up their life (as viewed through the depression which has led them to end that life). They can be filled with blame or despair, or they can simply be an explanation of a rational decision (Yes, it is my belief suicide can be a reasonable choice). I’ve read a few suicide notes, some celebrities, some acquaintances, and of them several have been quite rational.

When I say suicide can be a reasonable choice, I am not speaking about euthanasia for the terminally or chronically ill. I am speaking of circumstances in which the reasonable expectation of a satisfying and productive life have been removed. And no, I’m not suggesting a permanent solution for a temporary problem, I’m saying it is indeed possible to be trapped in a meaningless life, the problem is permanent.

As a chronically clinically depressed person, I can identify with the suicidal. I’ve certainly considered the act. I’ve been honest enough to admit it and been placed under observation. If there is a doctor out there who can explain how being incarcerated in a hospital room with no contact is supposed to return the will to live, I’m listening. It just teaches you to lie when asked if you’re going to hurt yourself. I did not, in fact, wish to kill myself, I just had no desire to live. I refer to it as “passively suicidal,” I still look both ways before crossing the street. My decisions about my life are no one’s concern, no one’s responsibility, until I decide I no longer wish to suffer. Then everyone has an opinion, usually an uninformed opinion. Speaking for myself, you do not know how I feel, you are not me. You have not survived over two dozen years with my case of Multiple Sclerosis, you have not watched my wife die, you have not watched the collapse of my dreams from my vantage point. I keep these things in mind about you when considering your choices, please extend the same courtesy to me.

A couple of noteworthy authors come to mind, and while they were active participants in ending their lives, they had given the act a good deal of thought and just ran out of reasons to stay alive. Ernest Hemingway’s note, written after months of illness, expresses many of my current feelings. He was disappointed with his legacy, and disgusted with the poseurs of the world.  His summation was (of course) classic Hemingway, “But here’s the beauty part. Forty, fifty years from now, when all the wanna-be Hemingways are old and fat and their chin-fuzz is fried to bristle and their huevos are dried up like figs in a dusty street… But they still want to do it all like Hemingway…They’ll have to eat a shotgun too.”

Hunter S. Thompson wrote a note I can identify with, even though I don’t care for football. Titled “Football Season is Over;” No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

It doesn’t have to hurt. It’s all a matter of removing the central nervous system from equation, understanding the life process and how to interrupt it.

So here I am, a birthday looming on the horizon (only seven years past fifty), glory days in the past, and a series of disappointments in everyday life. I had made every effort to be out of this country before the election cycle began, but here I am, faced with two absolutely scary prospects as presidential candidates, and a populace torn over which sociopath to rabidly support. I had really hoped to avoid this. There’s a television at work, and I have to concentrate on not laughing out loud at the news in front of my co-workers. They actually take this stuff seriously, which highlights just how out of touch with reality the majority of people are. I find myself unable to relate to people, lots of people, the overwhelming majority of people. There are so many more issues, but this is not my suicide note.

Suicide is ostracized, making life difficult for those left behind, if they care what other people think. The fact is, all life ends. It is random, you could be hit by a falling aircraft while eating dinner. Your friend was not going to live forever, so it doesn’t matter if it was suicide or cancer that took him. Actually it does. Suicide is an act of ownership, taking responsibility for ending a life no longer worth living. It is not cowardly or an escape, it is an act of control, a conscious choice of path.

All of my religious influences have been strongly opposed to suicide. “Life is a gift from God, suicide is throwing away that gift, an insult to God.” We each have our own vision of our judgement day (Emma’s was cartoonish), I see it as an acknowledgement of my life to my creator. You can visualize it as a straightforward exchange across a desk (or a child begging for mercy, depending upon your temperament), but the conversation is taking place every moment, at the end we just make contact and I find out if my beliefs are correct (or not). Perhaps such a responsible point of view is unusual. This could very well be why suicide is so misunderstood, people who live their lives never actually taking responsibility for anything, judging those who have taken responsibility and faced the consequences.

You don’t know how it feels. Even if you have walked along the edge, it was your edge, you don’t know this one. Carry that lesson forward, apply it to all of your judgements.

 

 

Dancing about Architecture

It has been a rough month. My typical approach to such times is to embrace the mantra “When the going gets tough, the tough go dancing,” but this has provided little comfort this time around, the wounds I have received are far deeper than any logic would predict or dance could remedy.

I have yet to prove to myself any purpose in continuing to exist, and such thoughts cause me to define existence. The definition, of course, returns me to the dance, the depression staining my interpretations cannot obliterate the beauty of the performance. I remember, and try to convince myself of what I once held as truth. One does not travel the paths I have without making connections in the matrices which serve as a foundation when life attempts to remove one’s soul.

One footing of that foundation is music, which has sounded sour to my ears these last few weeks, another is writing, which requires more thought than a mind filled with self doubt can provide. Another footing is human connections, and despite the betrayal these connections have faithfully provided, little sparks of hope occasionally illuminate a bridge. Knowing I must pull myself together, the universe conspired to bring me to a minuscule venue over a fabric store in Philadelphia, the irony of the side street sharing the name of the woman who has torn my heart to shreds is not lost on me.

A string of obscure introductions led me to meet Ritchie DeCarlo, a local musician who plays in a couple of bands. I’m going to call him a “drummer” rather than “percussionist,” although his kit contains some fascinating percussion instruments, because he also covers synthesized sounds which are only percussion in an examination at the quantum level, such as his use of a theremin.

 

Ritchie on theremin

 

Playing theremin always reminds me of someone conducting an orchestra. I had explained to my second wife (the Conductor) how a conductor was the only person allowed to dance at a performance; she was not amused. So I guess it is time to explain the title of this article to those unfamiliar with the phrase. It is from a quote by Frank Zappa, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In my world, “Dancing” is a metaphor for life. The matrix of meanings and metaphors choreographs a sequence which supports my soul, even when that soul is in tatters.

One of the lineups Ritchie is involved with, the “The Trio from Hell,” more commonly referred to by the names of the band members; Percy Jones, Scott McGill, and Ritchie DeCarlo, performed at TTR Studios last night to a crowd of about fifty. Ritchie introduced the band, categorizing the music as “Not so easy listening.” It is a fusion of styles, most noticeably Jazz, “New Age,” and Electronica. Here’s a taste from last night;

 

 

 

Funny the things you notice in a video, I would have never noticed that bald spot developing on the back of my head. Back to the dance.

I find the music very easy to listen to, soothing with just enough twists to keep me from lulling into a trance. The guitar work of McGill was fascinating, his use of fretless guitars and midis, combined with a left hand that floated over the neck delivering lightening strikes reminiscent of a gulf thunderstorm, must be seen to be believed.

 

Scott turns chaos into order

 

In an industry in which the term “legend” has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, Percy Jones demands a personal adjective. His playing not only has influenced my musical directions, it has influenced many of my other influences. He effortlessly propels his line from “rhythm section” to “lead instrument” and back, creating sounds many people might not associate with the bass. This type of thing warms my heart, having been ridiculed for some of my arrangements; living within the definition of “improvisation,” yet not improvised at all.

 

 

Percy Jones

Percy Jones

 

Ritchie’s drumming glides between the styles fused in this band, again demonstrating the strengths required to play in a trio, the ability to effortlessly transition from lead to rhythm. In the case of a drummer, changing rhythm can be difficult, the mind (approach) is altered with time signatures and style. I recall trying to teach a drummer a particular passage which he envisioned as a waltz, or 3/4 time. It was not, it was a sequence of triplets in 4/4 time. The guitarist (whose ego dictated he believe “RMS” was a reference to his initials) scoffed at the explanation, but the drummer got it and never missed the beat in that piece again. Ritchie played a rather large kit this evening, but far from being gimmickry each piece fit the arrangement in which it was used, from his tympani tomtom through his eclectic collection of cymbals.

Most of Ritchie's kit

Most of Ritchie’s kit

 

Perhaps the most fortunate part of the evening was my friend bailing out at the last minute, leaving me with no one to share the experience. Because I do have someone, you.

Writers write, musicians play, and chefs cook. I’m ready to do all three today. I’m not back yet, I still need to make the “Lovers love” part work again, which rests with that woman named with a side street.

Implausible deniability

Many of you are aware I used to work for Amazon. While it was a fascinating experience, it is not one I would ever repeat.

Recently the New York Times published an article about the workplace culture at Amazon. For some reason, Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon took exception to the descriptions of the treatment of employees saying “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.” I am not surprised. Not because there is anything untrue in the New York Times article, but because Jeff Bezos is a lying asshole. I just wanted to get any inappropriate presumptions of my appraisal of Amazon out of the way as quickly as possible.

Bezos doesn’t particularly care for the press outside of advertising. He appears to have a disdain for the written word, and after a year of trying to figure out why so little is written down at Amazon (word of mouth being the preferred method of communication) it became apparent. Written documents create a chain of evidence. It becomes difficult to keep saying “I never heard that before” when there are a stack of memos alerting you to the situation. And this is what Bezos is doing with his statement. “I’ve never heard any complaints because anyone who complains is marginalized and shown the door” doesn’t make as good of a press release. His denial is implausible.

The article described the culture at the Seattle headquarters of Amazon, focusing on the white collar workers there. I have no experience at that facility, but the reporting came as no surprise. I left Amazon amid complaints about the “sociological snake pit” at the Robbinsville, New Jersey facility (EWR4). My complaints. I could see how the process was flawed and self perpetuating, I was at the time too naive to realize this was the design. For some reason I wanted to believe the hype, I wanted to believe Amazon treated its employees with twenty first century sensibilities, what I found was the Simon Legree school of management, with enough Orwellian overtones to bring a physical chill when considered. I was alarmed the management failures were creating a hostile work environment, without realizing it was business as usual. The fact that one manager had been successfully sued for sexual harassment three times, and rather than be fired (zero tolerance was allegedly the policy) he had been promoted should have told me everything I needed to know. Much like the Catholic Church, every time this guy was sued they just moved him to another location.

EWR4 is almost entirely blue collar, a new facility built to utilize Kiva technology, robot assisted inventory. Amazon purchased Kiva systems in 2012, an attempt to monopolize use of the warehouse robotics. Amazon isn’t really interested in free market principles, it prefers to own its competition and when that is not possible it blocks access to innovations that would allow competition. The facility opened in July of 2014, I was there the first day. As we developed into our roles, it was immediately apparent these Amazon folks had no idea what they were doing. There were teams from different facilities which were supposed to be training the new hires, but when your company doesn’t commit anything to writing (or bother to bring trainers who are familiar with the subject which they will be training), each “trainer” has his own way of doing things (We later found that being a trainer was a perk, an ability to go on “vacation,” and assignments were based on connections rather than skills). Some of the trainers had come from facilities that didn’t even have the Kiva robots, and tried to show us how to do things “their way.” Six months later we were still trying to figure out the processes, each new manager having his own idea of what the jobs we were trying to accomplish consisted of, and how to accomplish them. Among a shrinking group of associates who were actual critical thinkers, the joke was “Well, this startup wasn’t too bad, considering this is the very first time they have opened a fulfillment center.” There are one hundred and fifty one,  sarcasm was salvation.

Although there were a handful of managers who had transferred to the location for startup, none agreed on anything. A question could have six different answers, and any answer different from the one the manager speaking was giving you was wrong. Bob might tell you to do something one way, then Jim would discipline you the next day for not doing it the way he wanted (but had never actually told you about). Standards for discipline were elusive, a theoretical performance goal became the minimum accepted productivity. Associates were encouraged to apply for lower management positions, so of course the rabble of incompetents jumped for the openings. You no doubt have a job. You have worked with other people. You may have management skills. If you do, you know that “wanting to tell other people what to do” is not a management quality. Yet those were the people “promoted” first. I did not apply for management positions, it was made clear early on (the day our interview became our orientation) skills and experience were meaningless. A promotion to a managing position might take you to a department in which you had never worked, where you would have the opportunity to tell people who had actually been doing the job how to do it better, even though you had never done it at all. Oh, there’s this story about how every manager is exposed to all the facets of the facility. I once sat in the pilot’s seat of a jet fighter, but I would have no idea how to fly the thing and would never presume to correct a trained pilot.

There is a lot of talk about leadership at Amazon. I never saw any, but I heard the words and saw them written on the walls. The “Leadership principles” are printed throughout the building (often misspelled). All that was missing was a big “Big Brother Loves You.” The frustrating thing for those of us who opened the facility was the leadership principles are rarely followed. I speak of those of us who started last year, a cross section of the unemployed in Central New Jersey. We showed up for our interviews and found we were at orientation, this is presented as a big happy surprise to new hires. If you only hire simpletons it will be a big happy surprise, but when you hire blindly across the the pool of available talent a few intelligent people slip in. We found it rather off putting our first interaction with the company was basically a lie. Far from “hiring the best” as Amazon chants, it is “hire the available.” By Christmas it appeared the recruiters were scouring homeless shelters, and the work environment reflected such. I was called “gay” by one group of young ladies, it doesn’t bother me but seemed to get under the skin of my girlfriend, who couldn’t fathom the ignorance in the question “Where is your gay boyfriend?” She was attacked with racial slurs because she wasn’t black. That was the cumulative total of reasons to call her a “Cracker ass cracker.” When she complained to HR her complaint was shredded. Yep, months later when she referred to the complaint because the situation had only gotten worse, the manager in question admitted to shredding the complaint. The examples of improper and even illegal procedures administered by HR is a chapter of its own. This is the standard of leadership Amazon promotes. And this is just a tiny part of Bezos’ insulation from reality.

Most of the more productive workers burned out under the badgering method of management. The goal might be 400 units per hour, but realistically, doing the job the way it is supposed to be done, 300 units per hour would be sterling. Nonetheless, were you to be stowing cases of CDs you might hit 350 or even 390. The manager doesn’t say “good job,” she says “if you can do that you can do 450.” Then she rolls over a cart of large or single items with no available bins, and your rate drops to 100. Careful, you may not be working there tomorrow. Rates are calculated minute by minute, rather than average rates to compensate for the multitudes of variables in a day, the worker is judged by his lowest rate of the day. If you “cheated”, ignoring the quality and safety standards, you could make the numbers, and management only cared about numbers (I actually knew a person who, in the same conversation with a manager, received a perk for having the highest rate in her section that morning, and a write up for falling below this manager’s standard at another point the same day). Morale among the honest people working there was the lowest.  When I left, just a year after starting, there were less than two dozen people still there who had started with me, out of a population of about one thousand employees. When I had mentioned the turnover rate to management I was met with dismay. Now I realize they were not surprised by the rate, they were surprised I took issue with it.

I was fortunate. I had an “indirect task,” so I wasn’t measured by piecemeal rates. I had the opportunity to work with other facilities across the country. Perhaps my managers felt this would soften my view of their performance, giving me the knowledge it wasn’t just them, it was this bad or worse everywhere else. I suspect my managers were not intelligent enough to plan such a strategic move, just about every positive event at Amazon happens by accident. When I found one facility was habitually misstating the contents of their internal shipments, I mentioned it to my manager. He shrugged it off. After a few months, conversations with other facilities who were having the same issue with this one facility, and what is most likely to amount to millions of dollars in “lost” merchandise each year, I found the root of the symptom. Without going into too much detail, they were doing it wrong, using a system no shipper on the planet uses. When I explained it to my manager I got “Well, someone is going to have to go out there and show them how to do it right, and it isn’t going to be me.” In my mind this problem is solved with a single phone call, firing the shipping manager and replacing him with someone who has worked in the industry someplace on the planet Earth, but at Amazon everything is face to face. When I suggested the only logical reason to do things the way they were being done at this facility was to cover enormous routine theft, I was placed under investigation.

I could go on, but I don’t intend to write a book about it. Speaking of books, Amazon started as a book seller, and books continue to be a large portion of its business. Being the only game in town they treat authors much as they do their other employees. Big surprise there.

I was disappointed by Amazon. They came in with a good reputation and talked a good game. Most successful cons work that way. The environment was worse than a sandbox, I would say High School but I actually had a good time in High School. I mentioned to one manager in training there are many examples of successful companies that do not bully their employees, he smiled and said “but this way is more fun.” I’m sure he’s on his way to a career of new facilities, as he stays one step ahead of the harassment lawsuits. His comment had the tacit approval of the HR manager, she didn’t bat an eye when I mentioned it to her.

Amazon is a corporation. It is just another store, and you can buy almost anything through them. Or you can choose not to contribute to their profits and market share. At an all hands meeting last Spring, the General Manager of EWR4 said in a statement to the gathered employees, “You are not people, you are only numbers to me.” This is the general manager of Amazon’s largest facility (he has since been promoted and oversees two plantations facilities). Yet this isn’t the Amazon Jeff Bezos sees.

That would suggest Jeff is either incompetent, blind, or lying. I don’t really care which. I won’t patronize companies that abuse their workers, so Amazon is off my list of preferred vendors.

 

Choosing a wolf

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It’s getting to be that time again, the presidential election season. I have a love/hate relationship with the event. I love the idea of an informed electorate choosing the best leader. I hate the reality of an ignorant and uneducated electorate being herded like sheep.

It gets worse than that of course, civil discourse having fallen out of favor, most political “discussions” consist of two uninformed people on different sides of an issue telling each other how stupid they are. Neither actually understands the topic, they just repeat unverified statements, calling them “the truth” or “the facts,” because the statements reflect their opinion.  Mastery of this form of debate is judged by memorizing the best sound bites. I particularly like “you are not entitled to your own facts,” a partial quote of Danial Patrick Moynihan, recently co-opted by the sitting president. Mr. Moynihan was pointing out the difference between opinion and fact, his actual statement being “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

I had someone say “you are not entitled to your own facts” to me the other day. This was in response to my providing references for my side of the discussion. He did not care for reality, so he chose to deny it. So yes, I guess I am entitled to my own facts, the facts, as no one else is using them. This is the root of my frustration, beliefs trump reality these days.

I noticed this a few cycles ago, maybe 2004, when “Factcheck” became popular. It didn’t appear to matter that many of these verification services were merely political fronts, the word “fact” was in the title. Republicans had their facts, and Democrats had their facts. How long would it be before the word “fact” became meaningless? Depends on who you are. If you think critically and are capable of objectively evaluating your own research, you cringe when some bozo shouts out his set of facts, which have already been dis-proven so widely the cat knows the truth (“Maak dat de kat wijs just fit perfectly there), on the other hand, if you believe scientific truths are determined by consensus, “fact” is already beyond your capacity for comprehension.

This last week in a discussion of homosexuality, one person said “There are no moral consequences to homosexuality, it is activity between two consenting adults.” It was immediately obvious this person did not understand the difference between legal consequences and moral consequences. Moral consequences depend on your own particular set of morals, legal consequences are derived from law. If you are homosexual, you may believe you are morally free to practice your desires, or you may be crushed by a lifetime of believing homosexuality is wrong. Take note I am aligning with neither position. I suffer no moral consequences if you decide to marry a goat, even if the goat is not in full agreement with the situation. I deal with the moral consequences of my own decisions, your decisions are yours to deal with. Nonetheless, there are indeed moral consequences to every decision we make, but if you do not understand what morals or moral consequences are, there is no point in discussing them with you. The discussion raged on without me, people who were morally outraged trying to explain to a person with a radically different set of morals what their consequences would be.

I do not use the phrase “no morals.” I was accused of having no morals at one point in time, when the truth was I had different morals than the accuser. His God will determine if he was in any position to judge my choices, I certainly have no respect for his judgement, my God told me he (God) is the only judge I need to face.

More and more words are being left to the definition of the speaker. “Facts,” truth,” “morals,” were easy ones to join “right” and “wrong.” Bill Clinton is famous for redefining two words, his definition of “having sex” has done a great deal towards propagating sexually transmitted diseases, but it was his parsing of the word “is” which has had a greater impact on society. In a country in which only thirteen percent of the adult population is considered “proficiently literate,” he hinged a defense on the tense of a copula (keep this issue in mind, his wife is taking an identical defense in the Department of Justice criminal probe into her mishandling of classified material).

Words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, which is just perfect if the speaker is only speaking to himself. The point of election campaigns is to inform the electorate, yet more and more the point appears to be to mislead the electorate. You know this is true when you look at the popularity of Donald Trump. “He tells it like it is!” say his supporters. Well, in a sense that is true. He has yet to say anything of substance, instead engaging in personal attacks, so yes, that is how Donald Trump is. I don’t see it as even remotely presidential, although the screaming match between him and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might be fascinating to watch from the safe distance of another planet.

In one discussion thread about Carly Fiorina, it was mentioned she had stated “Islamic civilization is the greatest in the world.” No, she didn’t say that. She said Islam had created what was once the greatest civilization in the world, which is true. Some folks just have no interest in the truth, usually people with limited capacity for imagination (or limited reading skills). They pick up a hook and run with it. The rumor she is “an Islamist” will likely hold on for a while. She had also made a fairly thoughtful statement on child vaccinations which received some questions. She said it is ultimately the parents decision whether or not to vaccinate, and it is the public schools responsibility to deny admittance to unvaccinated children. Wowie, she’s not going anywhere with this personal responsibility theme. Either you force people to protect their children against communicable and deadly diseases, or you allow preventable diseases to be spread through required contact, none of this taking responsibility for your actions stuff among the “Conservatives,” thank you very much. The sheep need to be told what to do, they will tell you they are thinking for themselves, but minor observation reveals thinking is not an event on the agenda.

I was married once to a woman who genuinely considers herself to be “a good person.” I willingly recuse myself from that debate, my evidence suggests otherwise, but my bias is obvious. Her “evidence?” Because she believes so. Such is the state of discussion in America, or perhaps the entire world, today. Actual evidence, objects that may be touched, events that have been recorded, are unimportant. All that carries any weight is that which is believed. Perversely, a solid segment of people who subscribe to this philosophy routinely belittle those who posses religious faith, yet there is far more physical evidence Jesus is the Son of God than there is evidence of Anthropomorphic Global Warming. But as I said, facts no longer matter. In fact, this ex wife said “I don’t want to hear it” (actually putting her hands over her ears more than once) when presented with evidence contrary to her beliefs. Several times in our relationship she said “well, I haven’t done the research you have, but I still believe this” and would continue repeating her “point” despite the knowledge it was not true (or at very least, questionable).

As you approach the elections, oh for crying out loud as you go through your daily life, defend your beliefs. Look deeper than the press releases and buzz. Know what you are talking about and if it turns out you were wrong, adjust. I had argued abortions contribute to cancer rates for years, then one day I was challenged on the statement and researched it. I was wrong, it is only a cancer of the soul that is caused by abortion. I don’t use that argument anymore. You become a better person when you can acknowledge your mistakes.

This can be a wonderful experience. We have the opportunity to evaluate the beliefs and positions of the people who wish to be our next president. It’s a fairly important job, conduct your interview thoughtfully. Arm yourself with the facts, and convince a majority to elect your desired candidate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What matters

Life.

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These cells happen to contain all the information required to build a human being. From these few cells will grow all the facilities required, blood, bones, intellect. Can you see that person in your mind? What sex is it? What color is it? Because even though such information exists within these cells, right now they look exactly the same as eight cells from a chicken embryo. Don’t get me wrong, chicken lives matter too.

All life matters. I am unable to connect my world to that of the Snail Darter, but I hate to say goodbye, even though I am fully aware species come and go, our own debut just a few hundred thousand years past. Homo Sapiens Sapiens will pass, perhaps evolving towards another species, perhaps simply disappearing. The rock we inhabit will last longer than we will, rocks don’t die, despite all the pleas to save the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need you. The Earth doesn’t care any more than Mars or Pluto cares, rocks lack consciousness.

You may frame your compassion for life with a variety of points of view. The Hindu philosophy, Ahimsa, is “do no harm” to any living creature. This quality of compassion is reserved for humans, who may decide in which ways to provide stewardship for the Earth. The overwhelming majority of living creatures are not allowed such choices, to survive requires ending the life of whatever is available to provide nutrition.

This is “The Break.” The separation of “Man” from “Nature.” Nature simply is. Man has the ability to be what he wishes. Man has the ability to dream of a better world, to step beyond immediate personal needs and act as a member of a society.

Those eight cells up top, will they become a world leader or a serial killer? As grand as the capacity to hold up his fellow man may be, Man also has the capacity to hold down his peers. He is a complex organism, intellect, compassion, and survival, all wrestling for dominance. Each of us maintaining our own balance, holding to faith we all pursue the same goals. We do not.

Are there “essential human values” shared by all humans? Just one; self preservation. We may hold up construction of our monuments to progress for decades as we argue the impact to the environment, then spread depleted uranium throughout our battlefields. In the name of “the Right to Life,” we may murder physicians. We may choose to kill in the name of an all powerful God who we believe does not have the power to inflict his will on our neighbors. All that is just the work of individuals, put us in a crowd and we can really get rowdy.

An unruly mob chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Death to Cops” burns its own neighborhood. It has never occurred there may be Black Cops? Much of our view of the world is formed by our immediate environment, those we routinely defer to as “enlightened” are thought to have a broader view. The people in the mob either know no black cops, or they see the black cops they know as either “not black” because they are cops or “not cops” because they are black.

Such myopia is not limited to some “lesser” segment of society. A friend, who holds a couple of Ph.D.s, several Master’s degrees, and lives in Arizona, stated this morning “English is already the official national language so that is moot and frankly stupid.” Other than remind her America has no official language I did not engage in conversation. Intellect is measured in many ways, an outright denial of the reality existing just a few meters outside the gates of your ivory tower puts you in the category of people my mother told me not to argue with. It certainly damages the credibility of anything else you have to say. This is the problem of dealing with the myopic. They did not reach their point of view by being open minded, they reached it through isolation. Logic other than their own is “frankly stupid.” A sense of elitism is unavoidable.

That elitism runs through all segments of society, the idea “I know better than you.”  It runs through the terrorist who destroys the infidels for their own good, it runs through the politicians who manipulate society to their own ends.

Some people have a genuine desire to improve the world, such as Margaret Sangar, a nurse in the early twentieth century who sought to heal the social and economic problems of the world. She saw a solution in reducing the birthrate, and founded Planned Parenthood, reducing the numbers of poor and uneducated by simply not allowing them to reproduce. A tough sell, but it was after all for our own good. The sales pitch has been modified through the years, “empowering women” was not her aim when she wrote “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child” or “Birth control clinics shall be permitted to function as services of city, county, or state health departments.” Her idea of birth control was control by the state. She aligned herself with the eugenics movement, Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of a “Master Race,” and the KKK. An uninformed person would not be aware of this, as she knew as far back as 1922. “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities.  The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” As of 2010, seventy nine percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Because black lives matter to Planned Parenthood.

A person in the spotlight who has been called the “Smartest Woman on the Planet” has heaped praise on Margaret Sangar, saying she is “in awe” of her. I would presume she knows what she is talking about and is not uninformed. Perhaps she is testing her audience, probing to see just how uninformed and pliable they are. The reaction might have been different had she said “I’m in awe of Adolf Hitler” because most people know who he was. I understand you can tell a great deal about a person by the people they admire.

About two thousand years ago, Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (Juvenal) wrote “Two things only the people anxiously desirebread and circuses.” Over the years we have chosen to forget the meaning of “circuses” in this context, back then the wild animals ate the slaves for our entertainment. Not terribly different from MSNBC or FOX news, our present day circuses. Not much has changed at all. An observant alien race might not notice the passage of time.

When we choose to say “Life Matters,” we separate ourselves from the animals. When we qualify the statement, “Black Lives Matter,” “My Friend’s Lives Matter,” or even “Human Lives Matter,” we dilute our commitment to life.

 

 

 

 

The diversion of diversity

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Hi there. There’s been quite a bit going on lately, I’ve been taking notes, there is a lot to write about, but I will start with this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States revised the meaning of the word “Judicial” to include “Legislative.” In a five to four ruling, the court removed the right of the states to determine who may be married. There is nothing in the Constitution addressing marriage, nonetheless the narrowest of majorities decided the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause applied to sexual orientation.

What this means is even if your state decided through the democratic process to not allow same sex marriage, your state must not only recognize marriages performed in another state, it must allow such marriages to be performed within the state. While I have no issue with same sex marriage, I am strongly opposed to the way it has been forced on the states.

I was last married in a Quaker ceremony. Only two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, allow Quaker weddings, but they are recognized throughout the world. Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to force every state to allow Quaker ceremonies? The Quaker church does not have the political clout (nor would it accept such) of the LBGT community, and is not interested in forcing its practices on others. Following the tactics of the LGBT community of late, will Catholic priests be forced to perform same sex marriages, in the manner bakers and photographers have been forced to participate in an event which runs against their personal moral code?

Human rights means respecting each other as individuals. It goes against human nature, xenophobia is an evolutionary advantage. The mature Homo Sapiens should be capable of supporting rights different from its own, xenophobia is the primal fear acceptance equals assimilation. It appears such a primal fear is warranted lately, lack of support for a cause is labeled fear of that cause. Socially, we are regressing. Forcing people to participate in something they are morally opposed to creates much more resentment than asking them to simply accept its existence. Texas is suggesting they will allow a balance of individual rights and Supreme Court activism, this is the petri dish to keep an eye on.

The other big story this week is a tangled mess of propaganda, misinformation, and intolerance. A young man opened fire in a church in South Carolina, killing nine people. Cue the politicians. Interestingly enough, gun control wasn’t immediately mentioned, there was a much more appealing subject. Photographs surfaced of the shooter holding a confederate flag, and the church was described as a “Black Church” (Actually it is an African Methodist Episcopal Church or A.M.E.). During all the conversations about racism no one mentioned churches have no color.

The racism angle was used to reinforce the concept the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It is not. No more than the rainbow is a symbol homosexuality (remember the Rainbow Coalition?). Coexistence is no longer the desire, we must all be the same. The Confederate flag has never had more meaning, representing rebellion by the states over a tyrannical federal government. So of course, the Federal government supports banishing the flag, applying Orwellian tactics to deny rebellion. Democracy is again denied, as activists remove the flag wherever they can, justified by the belief they just cannot wait for the flag to be banned. The next flag in line? Ask Louis Farrakhan, who wants the American flag to come down. Taking down the flag isn’t sufficient for the Black Panther Party, which has made several appeals to “Kill all White people.” Racial harmony anyone?

The trend is alarming. I suspect I am like most Americans, I can get along with anyone who wants to get along. I cannot, however, get along with people who want to tell me how to feel or think. In the same sense I don’t see all Muslims as members of Al Qaeda, I don’t see all black people as members of the Black Panther party. I don’t think all people with alternative lifestyles are pushing an agenda on me. I don’t think all Southerners are racists, and know that many Northerners are. As a White man, I am more likely to have a Black neighbor in the South than in the North.

One year from now, we will be listening to the dozen or so people who would like to be our next president. Listen closely. Are they speaking about equality and fairness, or legislating their beliefs upon everyone? Are they appealing to fear or hope? Please do not waste your vote confirming the winner, vote your conscience. Demonstrate your personal beliefs. Be an American, while we still have an America.

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

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This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

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I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rape

A gang rape has taken place, it was widely reported but the victims will not receive closure and the rapists will not be punished.

I’ll be releasing the name of the victim, I know that does not keep with current practice, but her sister, The Truth, happens to be a fellow victim and feels some sunlight needs to shine on this crime. The victim’s name is Journalism, and the rapists are Sabrina Rubin Erdely (AKA Sabrina Rubin), Will Dana, Jann Wenner, and everyone who spread the lies of “Jackie.” For some reason, “Jackie’s” true identity is still being protected, even though in one of the most bizarre cognitive twists her fellow rapists are now blaming her for their crimes.

I haven’t much cared for Rolling Stone magazine since they started stapling the pages together, a few years back a friend gave me a gift subscription of which I read one issue. Rolling Stone lost its soul at some point, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. No longer even publishing on newspaper, the glossy ad packed mutant is indistinguishable from the other gossip and fashion magazines.

Even in these days of cut and paste journalism, Erdely’s story raised eyebrows. Other publications did not pick up an otherwise attractive (in the sensationalistic sense) story. Within a week of publication, Richard Bradley published an essay questioning the story, followed by Reason.com’s Robby Soave’s piece calling the initial story a “gigantic hoax.” Jonah Goldberg of The Los Angeles Times said in his op-ed column, “when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.”

If these people could see from the polished, published story enormous holes and leaps of logic, how is it writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and editor Will Dana missed them? Jann Wenner, who displayed his idea of sensitivity by moving the magazine away from the “cultural backwater” of San Francisco, apparently feels the story fits his masthead of “All the news that fits” as he has no intention of firing either Erdely of Dana.

Rolling Stone has retracted the story, five months after publication. They said they were sorry, even though a simple apology has never been adequate when they have been offended by others. In point of fact Rolling Stone first made the statement “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” just two weeks after publication, blaming what at that time was believed to be a rape victim for their shoddy reporting. Three more apologies were issued before the article was retracted (On Easter Sunday), but most of us know that once a story is out there it develops a life of its own, five months later it has grandchildren.

Still treating “Jackie” as a rape victim, both Rolling Stone and Erdely refuse to identify her, although Erdely continues to blame “Jackie” for Erdely’s failure to do any investigation or even analysis of the raw story. “Jackie” has retained legal counsel, weeks after the story was published, a good move as the fraternity her lies dragged through the mud is now threatening legal action against Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone has shown no hesitancy in throwing “Jackie” under the bus.

The University of Virginia has made no comment, they lose whatever happens. Option one, a rape culture in fraternities damages enrollment. Option two, a false rape story damages the credibility of actual victims, parents cautious about enrolling daughters. Option three, the university overreacts to a blatantly false rape accusation, parent cautious about enrolling sons. Maybe better to just stay quiet for now.

The absolute and continuing lack of journalistic integrity has even Rolling Stone alumni Hunter S. Thompson spinning in his grave. Those who agree with Jann Wenner’s appraisal of Manhattan’s cultural superiority will continue to purchase the magazine, the opinions of such people are largely unimportant anyway.

As Wenner has refused to take responsibility, it becomes our responsibility to hold him and his magazine to journalistic standards. I begin by calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone, although most of us already have for other reasons. To my colleagues I beg you to never employ Sabrina Rubin Erdely in any capacity other than housekeeping.

We all have a basic responsibility to journalism. As writers we must uphold the standards, as consumers we must demand those standards are met. Anything less results in a meaningless media.

 

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

Sex

Just in case you had not guessed, there will be “frank” speech is this article

 

Just checking, I knew the title would grab your attention.

A recent article in The Telegraph about Debbie Harry was titled “Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69.”  Brilliant. A great article about a punk icon, and feminism in music, but the headline hook of “Sex at 69” drew the most attention, at least the most comments. You cannot look at those words and not imagine Debbie Harry rolling about in your bed.

Outside the author of the article fawning over her, Debbie is quoted once about sex, she speaks of Victorian realities.

The comments, nastiest in misogynistic Britain but repeated in other fora, focus not on her music, but on sex with the elderly, one person stating it’s all over for women once they pass thirty two. I’m guessing the commenter was far from reaching thirty two. I am far more attracted to women my age and older than young women, would it be fair for me to suggest women do not become attractive until they are in their forties? Attraction derives from many factors, probably why there are so many different people. There were a few younger women in my life when I was in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure it has been at least twenty years since I have been with a women younger than thirty two. Okay, on edit, I remembered a few, but not many, and twenty sounds better than seventeen in the phrase.

Young people. So sure they are the only ones who have ever been alive.

Perhaps Star Trek influenced my outlook. Exotic is always alluring. I have known women who turned out to be vapid self-absorbed androids. They remained alluring. In the end, they made excellent examples in the “What to look for if you will never be in this town again” manual. But they are still nice to look at.

 

 

Apparently the fascination with differences is not rare. The subject has enough interest to show up routinely in fiction (and life), which gives me the opportunity to share an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed twenty five years later. This because it has this scene with Bebe Neuwirth, who happens to be from Princeton and is only two weeks younger than me. The bit at 2:15 is elegant in its unspoken acknowledgement.

 

 

The attraction to those who are different is pervasive, as obvious as guys with beer bellies thinking the latest supermodel might be interested in them. So why is it some impenetrable barrier exists at the border of our comfort zones?

A few weeks ago during the “Fifty Shades” buzz (glad that passed quickly), I wrote a simple and straightforward explanation/defense of bondage and domination. A friend was exceptionally offended, and suggested (in public) I seek help. I have no desire to know the details of his love life, but I cannot imagine I would be offended by them. I would never suggest someone seek help unless they were a danger to themselves or others. I have been told the truth is dangerous.

The age thing doesn’t cross all barriers, but it remains a taboo subject. Each generation seems surprised their ancestors procreated. The thought of their parents involved in the act stops most people in their tracks. Why? Did they think they were delivered by storks? Did they think the age would arrive at which they would lose all interest? I pity their partners.

I spent a few years with a woman fifteen years my senior. I did not know until our second date her age, and I was surprised. All of our friends assumed we were the same (my) age. Bodies vary, and age differently. Isn’t this the exotic that we should find alluring?

I don’t know what happens in these peoples lives. If your partner is no longer attractive, what does that say about you? Is this not the person you loved last week? Is there a mirror handy? If you were only attracted to a set combination of features, why not buy a doll?

There is a person in there. It is the person, not the body (but yeah, usually also), you should find attractive. Yes, I know, I said there is a way you should feel. Twice. I could give a couple of dozen other examples but I believe I have conveyed my sentiment.

We are given this universe to experience. Every sense we have is designed to attune to a variety of stimuli. Any logic would bring you to “every stimuli is to be expected.”

There is so much tearing us all apart, do we need to worry about how each of us give and receive pleasure? The fact we do indeed give and receive pleasure should be the emphasis.

Sex should be about rejoicing in another. That joy is tainted if one is distracted by the joy others are experiencing.

 

 

 

 

 

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

What if?

John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;

 

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.

For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”

“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?

In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;

No longer forward nor behind

I look in hope or fear;

But, grateful, take the good I find,

the best of now and here

My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.

Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.

I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.

Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.

One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.

Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.

What if I live happily ever after?

There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.

Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

1531727_10151873223641587_667217877_o

If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

Beauty

Plato said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning beauty is subjective. We each find different things attractive, but there are some societal standards. Being obese was once a sign of wealth and surplus, today the preferred image is, in Tom Wolfe’s words, “starved to perfection.” One thing I find beautiful is a person who is comfortable with themselves. Confidence is wonderfully sexy.

Men in general find women attractive, the standards are still based in evolutionary values, good mates will make babies. Wider hips for easy birthing and larger breasts implying ample nursing (untrue if you didn’t know, breastmilk quantity is not dependent on the size of the breast). Breast size is almost universally seen as the measure of a woman, even my beloved Emma (who had rather large breasts), would make disparaging remarks about flat chested women.

My own taste in women seeks a different beauty, even though each successive wife has had larger breasts than the last, it was mere coincidence. When I met Lieve on line (without seeing her) she described herself as “ample.” I thought she meant she was heavy. I see a beauty that is not skin deep, in fact having nothing to do with skin. It is the soul which shines through and captures my attention, which is why I have been involved with women of every body type and ethnicity. My “type” is “real.” I may prefer certain noses and shoulders, but the sparkle of a gentle soul is what attracts me.

Two stories captured my attention the other day. A stunning contrast just inches apart on my Facebook page. I will start with the story of a beautiful woman.

I attended High School with Gail Chovan, who survived breast cancer the year before Emma had pancreatic cancer. Photographs of Gail, proudly bald from chemotherapy, helped Emma approach chemo. That is not all of Gail’s story, she carries the soul of a warrior in the body of a ballerina. Her children, the twins Zelda and Creed, were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, and have severe medical issues. Had these children been born in a different home they could not have the resilience growing up with a Mother such as Gail imparts. Last year Zelda was in the hospital again, for about six weeks. When the nurse came into the room and said Zelda would be released that day, Zelda pulled the intubation from her nose and said “Let’s go!”

Recently Gail participated in Lily Mandelbaum and her mother Elisa Goodkind’s “The What’s Underneath Project,” a series of videos focusing on self image. If you are disturbed by mastectomy scars you may want to close your eyes near the end of the video, but you should listen to Gail’s story.

Beauty, strength, and talent all in one body. Precisely what you would expect from Gail. She doesn’t need to meet anyone’s standards, because her standards exceed them.

The other story is about Mayra Hills, who goes by the name “Beshine.” I might find Mayra beautiful, if all I saw was her face. She has a nice nose, deep eyes and pleasant lips. Most people probably don’t notice those features due to her “enhanced” breasts. By enhanced I mean ten litres of saline each, a bra size of 32Y, and she’s planning to increase the size again this year. The only thing of which I am certain is she will be spending more on back surgery than breast implants as she ages. Her first impression fades fast, as she claims in recent interviews to be 27, yet she was born in 1983. I’m not sure why she would choose to lie about her age at 32, it appears she is not happy with who she is. I can’t imagine going through such crippling surgery (she can’t tie her own shoes) for any reason other than she thinks this is beautiful. She certainly elicits a second glance, but usually it is so people can see what they’re laughing about. She says she loves her breasts, but she obviously has some difficulty with reality. I wonder where her real breasts are? Did she start out large and just obsess? There are few career openings for someone with her disability, and the revenue from porn will certainly drop beneath the level of her medical expenses as she continues to remodel herself.

What we find to be beautiful says more about ourselves than the objects of our desire. What a person does to appear beautiful says more about them than the final product.  Gail is beautiful with or without her breasts. Mayra would be vacuous with or without her breasts.

Attraction, were it logical, would be based on characteristics that will last as long as the relationship. Having written that, I can see it is. Gail and Evan are a life match. Mayra’s fans will disappear as she ages, because beauty may not be skin deep, but attraction to that type of beauty is.