Ten Years out




I have had several reminders about what I was doing ten years ago. I was not writing this blog back then, I was working on another one in which I was chronicling my wife’s experiences with Pancreatic Cancer. Most of this month I have been looking back at what I wrote during the last days of June 2010. Some days brought a smile, which at times were about the irony. Most days I wipe the tears from my eyes.

Looking back through Facebook, I can see my conflicted feelings. On one day, I wrote about a man in Liberty Park asking “Where is the Taco Bell” as a light-hearted moment, and later posted “I’m tired of having to go to the hospital to see my wife.”

On 5 July 2010 I wrote

My friend, confidant, lover, cooking teacher, music student and wife died this morning at 6 AM. She was sleeping peacefully and holding my hand when she stopped breathing.

She had a very rough night, I was glad that we were in the hospital rather than at home. Her pain medications were being updated on an hourly basis. Her kidneys had failed along with her liver, the pressure from the swelling made her feel the need to urinate but her bladder was empty. At about five she looked at me and said “I can’t fight anymore” and she closed her eyes. I held her hand as she lay sleeping, telling her that the time apart would seem to her like an instant from the perspective of eternity. I quoted Bible verses and reminded her of God’s promise. At about six she stopped breathing. I kissed her and called the nurses, there was no pulse.

I was able to stay with her as I tried to call friends and family, due to the hour and the holiday weekend I mostly spoke to answering machines. I held her hand the entire time, when it came time to wash her rigor mortis had set in, her hand stiff and curled around mine. I washed her, gently caressing the body that had once been so full of life, now just an empty container. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and neck, then helped place her body into the bag and onto the gurney. I watched as she was rolled away and packed her things, including the plant she had recieved just two days earlier.

This afternoon I stopped at the funeral home and realized how little I know about her family, I had no idea of everyone’s name that would go in the obituary, and decided that a generic “well loved by her many friends and family” would be the best route. I picked out an urn, actually only narrowed it down to three, I’ll have to go back with her cousin to make the final choice.

I grabbed a sandwich and now realize that I haven’t slept in a while. I have a lot to do this evening, but I know it will all be there tomorrow.

She is still alive in all of our memories. She is still alive in God’s loving arms. She made me a better person, and I must honor her by being the best person I can be until we are reunited.

Looking through her site at the condolences, I found this. It stood out then, and I have never forgotten giving, and receiving, this advice.

Blake,

Our prayers and thoughts are with you I hope your letter can be of some comfort during this difficult time.

Pat

From: Cash, K

Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 2:58 PM (Note: two days before I started Emma’s site)

To: Cash, Patricia

Subject: Grief

Patty,

Grief is a denial of our knowledge that your father is beyond suffering, with our Lord, where he is destined to be.

That does not mean that you should not experience grief, it is an opportunity to reflect on your father’s service to our Lord, in works as far away as Morocco, and as near as your heart. It is an opportunity to allow his children to show their strength, to support each other, to show what your father has given to them.

Prejudice is another opportunity to see our frailty. We justify our prejudices by calling them knowledge, by insisting that we have learned from the past. God has no prejudice, and he knows the future. He loves us no matter who we are, what we have done, or what we will do. Allow your loved ones to prove any prejudices you may have to be wrong. Allow God to guide your loved ones to step up and support you and your mother. Rejoice in the example your father gave us all. Do not falter in your faith due to the failure of another to live up to your expectations. Rejoice in those that do. We think of life as a gift, yet it is eternal life for which we strive.

When I lose Emma, please remind me of these thoughts.

The results from Emma’s biopsy are in, she has stage 3 pancreatic cancer. As much as she expected it to be even worse (stage 4), the news hit her hard, as if it was out of the blue. We see the oncologist tomorrow. I don’t know how she’ll get through this, but it does seem to make her feel better to talk to you.

Peace,

Blake



I stopped by her site quite a bit that year, grooming it into her book. A year later I wrote:


Our wedding rings, now in Emma’s shrine



Tomorrow it will be one year since Emma’s death. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with everything, I’m still not.


I have completed all my “mourning steps”. I’ve recounted the events leading up to her death ad nauseam, I’m certain everyone is tired of hearing about it. So I wrote a book about it. Still, the images won’t go away.


I sit with Lieve today, I’m writing the blurb for the back cover of the book, she’s designing the front cover, using the photograph above.


A few words about guilt. I felt a certain amount of “survivor’s guilt” for living after Emma, I’ve felt some guilt for enjoying life so much with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not letting go and putting more of myself into my life with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not “doing more” for Emma. This is not me. I’ve never really believed in feeling guilty, “accept and move on” has always been my creed.
I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed by sadness a few more times this weekend, and there’s no reason to expect it to stop. Grief has no calendar. Emma was a huge part of my life, in time, in emotional attachment, in significant events. We didn’t break up. We loved each other more and more and then it was over, the film ran off the reel, white screen.


This will indeed mark the end of regular posting here. I have a life, and a wife who has been exceptionally understanding of my absent mind. There is no question that I loved Emma, and unlike a divorce, there is no reason to stop loving her. Except that she’s not here, and isn’t coming back. I could never forget Emma, but I can live a normal life, and share the love within me with someone who is here and can appreciate it.


I’ll stop by and post updates on the book’s availability, but there’s nothing left to say about Blake and Emma, she found peace, and now so should I.



What have I done since then?



Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know. I married again far too soon, and re-learned something Emma had told me; I am hard to Love. In the last ten years I have had four meaningful relationships, the first three echoed those words. Each woman looked me in the eyes and said those words. I expect Janice will someday as well, she’s in touch with her feelings more than most; she’s also a great deal more honest. I accept my complexities, I wouldn’t want to only see one point of view at a time. I could never be “normal.”

I spent a fair amount of time in Belgium, which led to gaining forty pounds. Later, I visited Mazzo’s, the Lebanese restaurant where Emma was one of the family. Mama kept saying “If Emma could see you! You look so healthy!” I learned a new language (Flemish) and was ever so close to emigrating, then at the very last minute had a change of circumstances.

I’ve moved from South Philly. I still drive by our old place whenever I’m in the area. I still go to Termini Brothers occasionally, and find other reasons to be in South Philly. The first few months, while I was still working, I found myself in and around the hospital far too often. First I went to Princeton, where I found the need for a driver’s license, then eventually to Elkins Park Pennsylvania, where I bought a condominium.

I’ve had my own medical issues, the ankle I twisted before Emma’s surgery persisted in getting twisted for at least two years, and halfway through the decade I broke my brain in a fall. That was spectacular. I wrote about it with the details, if you know me you know the intense detail with which I remember crises. The dispassionate way I write about tragedy did not originate with Emma. She hadn’t liked my fiction, but I hope she enjoyed the book I wrote about her.

Our cat, Autumn, has become an old lady. I believe she is fifteen or sixteen years old now, last year she beat cancer; which was traumatic for me more than her I think. Now she has a playmate, Janice’s cat Flash, who is only three and wants to play. Autumn has maintained her dignity; when she wants she and Flash will chase each other, when she doesn’t want to play she gives Flash a look and he backs down. Very little hissing or fighting.

I had a psychotic break last fall and loved it almost as much as I loved going to jail. Really, it was incredibly instructional. Who would have thought a mental hospital could be so calming. I learned a lot about myself, and how my brain does and doesn’t work. I realized I was still grieving Emma. Nine years on and I had not found balance; I was just pretending.

I no longer work. In the months following Emma’s death I developed the idea that if I couldn’t fix pancreatic cancer I couldn’t fix anything. Confidence is eighty percent of a technician’s skill, so I retired. Ended up needing income a few years later and worked at Amazon, then L’Oreal, then I broke my brain and have been on disability ever since.

I don’t know if I would have been a writer had Emma survived. I did collect a journal of her cancer, but I don’t think I would have been moved to have it published had she survived. I’m pretty sure I would not get much screen time, we always found better things to do. When I started this blog in 2013 I was writing no less than a thousand words a day, seven days a week. Now sometimes I miss an entire month.

I wonder what she would think about the President. I’m sure she would have voted for him, but she voted for Obama and hated him six months later. Emma told a story about running into Donald Trump and Michael Jackson in a hotel in Atlantic City. Michael said “Don’t you want my autograph?” and Emma replied “No, I want his (indicating Trump).”

Emma teased me about my sexuality, sometimes using it to start an argument, sometimes using it to turn herself on. That portion of my life has become far more open than it had been, with unexpected repercussions and benefits.

I did finally figure out which band was playing on her last night, it was The Roots, performing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I’ve met some of the members of the band who also play with David Uosikkinen of The Hooters, who also played with Buddy Cash, who played at a restaurant called Tom and Jerry’s where Emma used to work. Everything intersects, is it any surprise I wander through multiple universes?

At some point late next year she will have been gone longer than we were together. Probably around Nouveau day, the day we met. I have no expectations of “healing,” the scars will last forever. The memories are softer now, I know she could be harsh but I can’t remember her being harsh. Emma and I are at peace, happy for each other. The vision I remember best is her lips in an “O” when she was excited.

My latest relationship has all the indications of being my last, Janice is a forever person. It is a good time in life to gather the wisdom of all the lives I’ve led over the last sixty one years and create something solid. The mother of Janice’s late husband lives with us, as does his brother. Janice’s daughter sometimes spends the evening, so we’re about at capacity. It feels warm.

I think of her every day. Part of that is because her shrine has traveled every step of my journey at my side. Sometimes I need to look at something, sometimes I need to touch it. Every now and then something will suddenly appear, a card or something she wrote will be in a stack of papers. Those are weird. I still look at Emma’s personal ad, through which we met.

Emma’s personal ad




I’m in a healthy relationship. I’m building a family. I’m surviving. That’s what she asked me to do. But sometimes I feel like the character “Griffin” in the film MIB3. Seeing everything and everywhere at once, knowing possible outcomes but having no control of his path. Then I remember I had a TBI and a psychotic break, so maybe I’m just crazy. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

But 4 July stopped being celebratory ten years ago, so I’m posting this today, it will be ten years tomorrow at 0600 EST, I’ll be awake.

The logic of Hate

I’m sorry about the title, there is no logic. Quarantine has worn away the social skills of the haters and they appear to be more prevalent. I’m just choosing to believe those skills will return with the ability to freely infect the world with the virus of your choice.

In Pennsylvania, we have a Secretary of Health. Every state has someone in a similar position. Our Secretary of Health is a Harvard graduate, who went to Tulane for med school and interned at Mt. Sinai in New York. Not every state has such a qualified doctor.

Dr. Rachel Levine’s primary specialty is pediatric psychology, which seems to trouble some people. Now that they can pronounce the word, they want an epidemiologist in her position. No other state has one, being a doctor is not even a requirement everywhere.

Dr. Levine is fighting two wars. The pandemic and transphobia. Rachel was born with male genitalia.

Dr. Rachel Levine



I really can’t follow why a reporter, sent to gather news, would choose to insult the speaker, but Rachel is pointedly mis-gendered routinely. When the story is less important than the gender of the speaker the path of information has been blocked. Recently, an ultra conservative group calling themselves “Broad + Liberty,” published an “editorial” titled “Dr. Rachel Levine should resign as PA Health Secretary.” Dr. Levine’s gender is not mentioned, just praise and then a fault which they blamed on the administration.

A discussion of this really brought out the transphobia of my compatriots. And here is where the word “logic” came to play. A number of people displayed their transphobia, but what I found most upsetting was the number of Jewish people who were straightforward about their hatred. It occurs to me that the experience of seeing your family face extermination might soften the prejudice, but no. I’ve known my share of misguided Christians, but this absolutely shocked me. During the second world war, while the NAZI regime was exterminating non-Aryans, they did not stop with Jews. “Sexual deviants” were identified with a pink triangle and sent to the same death camps as the Jews. The triangle has been “reclaimed” by the LGBTQ community and can be seen in use today.

Here’s how it works. Dr. Rachel Levine is a woman. You might not find her attractive, but then again how many people do you find attractive? You might argue that she hasn’t always been a woman, and I would argue the opposite; she was always a woman, it’s just that she used to look like a man. When you turn the conversation to her gender, you miss out on the information about the health department. In the middle of a pandemic. Not wise.

Following the consensus at the time, Dr. Levine recommended that nursing homes accept patients who test positive. The alternative was making them homeless. She then, in full view, placed her mother in a hotel for isolation. Now it is being said she murdered all the people who died in nursing homes, comparing isolating her mother as insider trading. At no time did she say “Don’t isolate your loved ones” or “The nursing homes don’t need to isolate the positive patients.” On the other hand Trump didn’t say “drink straight bleach” yet he, and not the people who drank bleach, are being blamed.

It is tough being told what to do, it might make some feel as if they are children. They are. Slowing the progression of the virus is a job for adults. The frustration of being sent to their rooms has caused a number of folks to become increasingly irritable. Sorry folks, we’re all going through the same thing, the difference is “we’re” doing it gracefully. We expect to survive this pandemic, and expect our new world to be at least partially cleansed of the stupidity of those who wish to spread the virus. If the pandemic follows through, there will be permanent changes to our society. By being in the spotlight, I hope Rachel has opened the possibility of Trans acceptance.

Trans people face deadly hate routinely, with about thirty trans folks killed each year, just because they are trans. The vitriol I have heard from otherwise polite people concerning Rachel scares me, and I’m not even trans. That these prejudices against people who are outside the understanding of a population which was insulated against sexual education exist should not be a surprise. That they have not softened with exposure to the real world is. Ignoring a public health official because she used look like the opposite sex touches on the suicidal. People who are more interested in what is under the clothes of the secretary of health than what the secretary has to say have abandoned common sense.

As a species, we don’t have time for hate.

 

Isolation

This thought occurred a few weeks ago, and has been coming up quite a bit lately due to COVID19. Everyone dies alone.

In the bright light of reality, this has always been true; in order to let go of life one lets go of the world. Surrounded by friends and family, in that last moment, we are alone. With quarantines and social distancing, we are no longer surrounded by friends and families. That time between letting go and changing dimensions is not greeted with a heart satisfied by the warmth of family. A cold empty hospital room is the last recorded memory of thousands, now tens of thousands, of lives.

Funerals, once a family retreat during a time of grief, are a thing of the past. Social distancing becomes of obvious need when you are burying a person who contracted COVID19 at a family funeral. Fears of enormous numbers of dead have played across everyone’s paranoia, from Soylent Green through Ωmega Man. The idea of riffing Charlton Heston films could fill a weekend, in the new parlance; tomorrow. When loved ones disappear into the medical complex fear of what will eventually happen is simply an extension of fear of the unknown.

What we may not have considered is that even though COVID19 is now the highest daily cause of death, total deaths, (you know, all those people who die in the darkness everyday), has doubled. We haven’t reached plague status, with carts collecting the dead. A stressed sytem (Mortuaries) gives up and just tosses bodies into mass graves? Unlikely, although there will be some changes to society that last longer than our memories of 9/11.

The suggestion that shaking hands will go the way of smoking cigarettes has already been suggested, and I suspect other casual contact will diminish as well. After generations of substituting television for parenting, many are willing and even desirous of substituting virtual contacts for real contacts. Many do it already. There is no crystal ball, but the possible changes could go anywhere, and being on quarantine we have plenty of time to travel those roads. I think of how the nation “came together” during previous disasters, how it fell apart just as quickly, yet some things remain. This time we come together by staying apart.

It is getting close to the tenth anniversary of Emma’s parting, and with all that unoccupied mind I have been thinking of her very much. In addition there have been other anniversaries in the household, the very concept of “time” has been turned inside out, causality is taking a beating, but coincidence implies uniqueness. Coincidence is common, we are far more connected than we allow ourselves to consider. Our societal evolution is moving in a different direction, less actual interaction, a redefinition of “actual.”

I doubt anyone will have the opportunity I had, to stay with Emma until I was the only one there, until she said “I can’t fight anymore,” letting go the world, so she could drop the weight of life. At least not for a while, quarantine will end eventually; but will staying with the dying come back into custom?

I think of my life only last year, parties with no prohibitions, and wonder what happened to those people? They were the type to party in defiance of quarantine, an odd paradox of probable viruses to contract. Will that level of closeness become natural again? Maybe not to me, but I’m certain it will for others. The world is changing in many ways, ways we do not consider, ways we might not notice until their consequences are upon us.

I was in a television show; Janice and I were hired as extras for a scene in the program “Dispatches from Elsewhere” on the AMC network. It was long before the show premiered, we had no idea if we would be interested in the final product. As it turns out, we may be the only ones who are interested. This will definitely be remembered in history as a “quirky” series, and it is still unfolding. I am fascinated by the reflection of the “real” world; the viewers I have interacted with may as well be unknowing actors with the show being a camera of their own life; equally unaware.

I found amazing, of many things, the “extra” effect, recognizing you really are just a face in the crowd. We were paid for ten hours, fed lunch, and in some cases made useful contacts. From all those hours on set, the rehearsals and filming, our scene takes about two minutes of varying points of view. If you take from that two minutes the moments when the camera was on our unique presence your heart has beaten twice. I believe we slowed it down to counting hundredths of a second in order to see any part of our bodies.

On film it looks even livelier, larger than the respectable crowd we shared the day with, and then it is pointed out to me. There. That edge of a flag? You’ll notice from the stripes it is a Philadelphia Pride flag. You were the only one present with such a flag. There. Those fingers holding the corner of the flag? Those are your fingers. That is the part for which you were paid ten hours of standard wages. And there are hundreds of thousands of fingers in the picture, each belonging to someone who thought they were the center of the universe at that moment.

Our perception of isolation is tied to our self image. I live in fairly large condominium, on an upper floor, surrounded by trees. This is how I choose to live. I do not feel isolated. Anne Frank lived in a dank back room in Amsterdam half of this size with three times as many people for two years. Times might get hard, but that is how we know when things are better; this is one crazy ride. Washed into numbness by the persistence of inquisitiveness, many seek details that hide the overwhelming beauty of the moment.  We forget that in the end Anne Frank died of Typhus in Bergen-Belsen.

When we die, we live on through the memories we have provided to others. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In my lifetime, I have watched as recordings progressed from pencils on paper through electrons arranged in patterns. Monuments to life have withered, most lives archived as a box of dust. All that will remain will be ethereal, and our physical isolation will result in memories of patterns of electrons, any evidence of twenty first century life will evaporate in an electromagnetic pulse.

It took the Taliban to destroy monuments that had lasted fifteen hundred years, Buddhism didn’t care. There is more to Buddha than his physical image. As our lives vanish from tomorrow’s history, we will continue to exist. In a dimension with different properties branched from a dimension with entirely different properties, three or four times, we exist.

In the ways we made each other feel.







Splendid Isolation

As we isolate due to COVID19, various comments about the level of isolation we experience have been making the rounds. One in particular was a measurement of levels, one being “I haven’t changed anything,” to five being “total lock down.” My personal response was that I am at level four, or level one; I don’t go out much to start with.

The reactions to isolation are largely based on our pre isolation lives. The twenty four hour party people can’t go very long without an audience. Those of us who prefer to be left alone are in a state of bliss.

One irony of quarantine is that I now have to go to the grocery store. I used to have groceries delivered, but when everyone suddenly tried to have their groceries delivered the system was overwhelmed; I could not schedule a delivery. Ordering groceries for pick up is suddenly frustrating, shortages cause items to be out of stock by the time I complete the order. I leave home with several pairs of latex gloves and a container of Clorox wipes. I put on a pair before I leave the car and wipe the surfaces of carts and other devices (such as the self checkout). Then I remove that pair of gloves before entering the car, and drive to another store which might have items the first did not. Re-glove, repeat. Full shower and change of clothes after coming home. The stores are relatively empty, so distancing isn’t a problem.

At home we’re listening to more music, the television is fairly depressing with its reports of COVID19 prevalence, one thousand dead here, two thousand dead there, a party in New York State, nearby states rejecting New Yorkers. Individual responses have run the gamut, and stupid people are just not entertaining. We spent the early days of the quarantine watching films about pandemics.

One wonderful and/or awful thing about America is its spirit of independence and do it yourself attitude. It is wonderful to see people finding solutions , it is awful seeing people spread bad information. Among those spreading bad information is our president, who has contradicted doctors in favor of the economy. We don’t end quarantine on a financial calendar, we end it on a medical calendar. This is going to hurt. It is going to hurt everyone. We do better by exercising compassion for those without choices.

I see this pandemic, and the resulting quarantines, as a measure of our spirits. One does not quarantine oneself in order to avoid catching COVID19, one quarantines to avoid spreading COVID19. Incredibly self centered people violate quarantine to have parties, risking not only the lives in attendance, but the lives of everyone with whom they have contact.  I would like to believe this is evolution in progress, removing self centered people from the population. Those with compassion for others are far more likely to survive.

As with most events in America, suddenly everyone is an epidemiologist. This is a new virus, we cannot count on it behaving like other viruses. It is from the family of viruses that caused SARS and MERS, we already know that treatment for those viruses do not translate into treatments for this virus. The only weapons we have are the actual epidemiologists who are working directly with this virus. Have we not been using social media long enough to recognize false information? Again, perhaps an evolutionary moment, as we are freed of the burden of the gullible idiots among us.

Our “leaders” are showing their true stripes, in many cases to no surprise. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, displayed his self-centeredness when he took to the air complaining that his state, hit hard at the moment, could not have all the ventilators in existence. I would like to see his supply of toilet paper. The president has reverted to his childhood of bullying, allotting supplies to states with governors who are nice to him. Several voices have claimed that “old people” (the initial high risk group) would be willing to die to save their children. It doesn’t work like that, we are not bargaining with death. I would certainly trade my life to save one of my children from an eminent threat, so please don’t call me heartless when I say I would not roll the dice with a virus. We have learned that all ages are susceptible, yesterday an infant died of COVID19. There is no favored age range which we may sacrifice to save everyone else.

Ethics are being debated, as healthcare systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is why we quarantine, to avoid stressing our healthcare system. Triage is a basic element in healthcare, seeing the effects of triage is more than some people can handle. Every trip to the emergency room already undergoes triage, the guy in the car wreck gets treated before a doctor spends time on your broken toe. End of life triage is not a popular subject, but it has always been here. When resources are limited, so are responses. Italy had to deny ventilators to patients over sixty. We will do something similar here. We have fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, to deny we will run out of hospital beds is foolish.

Recently in Philadelphia, the city requested the owner of an abandoned hospital (Hahnemann, closed a few months ago) to allow the city to use the space for overflow patients. The owner wanted a ridiculous amount for the privilege of using his worthless property.  The hospital stands empty. Some of us believe the owner will find a room in Hell.

The optimist within begs me to see all of this as a growth spurt, as humanity is reminded the value of being humane. Growth hurts, but in the end we are better developed. In the interim, we get to watch the evil we are trying to rid the world of take the spotlight.

We will come out of this better if we learn to cherish good rather than blame evil. Take this time of isolation to learn something, a new instrument or language, reflect on your values and relationships.

 

 

And most importantly, wash your hands.

 

 

 

 

How many Jews?

I am always amazed at those who fail to see the damage of the Holocaust. This was a major historical event that took place in some of our lifetimes, but the majority see it (rightly) as history. History, that boring class you could never see the point of.

In a survey taken in the United Kingdom, five percent denied it took place (illegal in many countries), while a slightly larger group feels its extent has been exaggerated. I found those numbers disappointing, until I read the next line “In the survey, 45% of those polled said they did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust, while one in five (19%) believed fewer than two million Jews were murdered. The actual figure was six million.”

The actual number is close to twelve million. Six million were Jews, the others were just marginalized groups who have few mourners. Gay, Disabled, Unpopular were all reasons to be sent to what we now call “Death Camps.” Some of us view the Holocaust as enveloping World War Two, which included the deaths of seventy five million, about three percent of the world’s population. It should be no surprise that the 1918 Flu pandemic is hardly remembered, which “only” killed fifty million.

In the midst of a major culling of humanity, six million Jews were forgotten because they were a reminder of the twelve million humans the NAZIs killed in the shadow of the seventy five million who died in the war. They were not part of the seventy five million, they were in addition to the seventy five million.

Each one of those people was related to someone, although in many cases the relative was another of the six million. Some people only know that a branch of their family ended, others know stories of an individual. This was a large percentage of the entire Jewish demographic, which tends to be only two percent of the world population. Yeah, I was rather taken aback a few years ago when I found just how small the Jewish religion was; I always had thought is was around fifty/fifty Christians and Jews. Every Jew was touched in some way.

So no, the deaths of the relatives of what is now one hundred seventy six million people will not just go away. Sixty percent of the Jews in Europe, one third of all Jews in the world, and people forget? Even if it wasn’t taught, there are people who never heard about the losses of the Second World War?

I can understand isolation. Today, when a plane crashes, it is only on the news if Americans were on board. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 would not have gained the public’s eye had not three Americans been among the two hundred fifty eight passengers. So when a religion you are not connected to is wiped out by people who you don’t care about, why would it stand out in your mind? The same is true today as small civilizations in South America are decimated by corporate interests.

One element about COVID19 has stood out to me. It is a disease the majority of people will not experience directly. Like the Holocaust it will predominantly be experienced indirectly. The precautions we take are not really for ourselves, even if you do contract the virus, the odds are on your side. The precautions we take are for others, who would be much more sick and possibly die if they contract the virus. This is the very core of the concept of “Public Health.”

Presented with a disease most people won’t be affected by, will they choose to vaccinate? In an average flu season, sixty thousand Americans die, yet only forty five percent of Americans get a flu shot. We all wear our seat belts and still thirty eight thousand Americans died in automobile accidents blast year. Will we take precautions for something we can not see? It would not be cynical to say “no,” it would be realistic.

All my life, I have been hearing about self sacrifice, giving of yourself to the benefit of others. I have not seen many examples. Perhaps due to the lack of examples, the public mood has moved to a “what’s in it for me” perspective. The nobility of self sacrifice is often denigrated. Issues lack importance until they are knocking on the door. COVID19 is tapping on the window. Bright glowing signs indicating we save ourselves by saving others go unnoticed.

In the end, those lost to COVID19 will never come close to the loss of Jewish lives in the Holocaust; but they may be remembered more. They will be people we know, our peers. Jews remained insulated after the Holocaust, the stories spread decades later as survivors influenced the world. I recall saying to my late wife, “You will be remembered.” She is, because I speak of her. All I needed was for someone to listen.

Six million human beings were killed because they followed a religion. That should be enough. The fact that six million more were killed because they were deemed to be “impure” should shake anyone who has ever doubted themselves. It does not make the Holocaust “random,” the people killed were killed because the state chose each of them, as individuals. The largest targeted group were Jews, would it be different if tomorrow the targeted group was Muslims? What if you lived in a country where your religion did not fit the majority? There are sects which call themselves “Christian” yet behave in abhorrent fashion, what if the state decided that Christians (in general) were a detriment to society?

Listen. Speak. Share the stories about what happens when a government is out of control. Share the stories about what happened to other people when no one cared about them.

Or be a super hero and just care about people different from you.

Binary society

 

I gave some thought to this title. I considered “Digital society,” but that does not really convey the meaning I’m looking for. We have moved to a digital society from an analog society in the sense that nuances are seldom considered, things either pass or fail the judgements that are placed on them; but the pass/fail barrier is reached through a binary process, components can only be a single digital response, one or zero. When I say binary I am not talking about the code, in which 1/2/3 is expressed as 1/10/11, I am speaking of the digital logic of yes or no.

If you are X then you are Y. Not a little X and not much Y, once X turns from zero to one, Y equals one.

If you are a Republican you are racist, greedy, selfish, uncaring (sometimes reduced to hateful), and hypocritical. Not one or a few of those, all of those. If you are a Democrat you are pro-choice, socialist (sometimes reduced to communist), bleeding heart, hedonist.

The point you might have missed in that paragraph is the very basis of the decision is rooted in the assumption there are only two choices. (Hidden shocker, THIS is why we will never have a viable “third party.”)

Humans, and Americans in particular, have difficulty considering alternatives; life becomes one all or nothing decision after another. As one of the most basic insights into the phenomena, consider the average number of limbs on a human.

You thought “four,” with the logic people are people, I’m average, I have four limbs. The actual number is 3.97. As your brain tries to consider the specifics about that 0.97 limb, you are distracted by the equations for the various combinations of limbs possible. That took a little more time than just stating “four,” efficiency is antithesis to creativity. That may sound ironic, as part of my tours for a winery, I would compare efficiency to “lazy,” the easiest way to accomplish one’s goals. When a life goal is taking a selfie, efficiency is lacking in merit.

The origin of my thoughts today was an exchange on social media between a reader and a journalist whose career mirrored newspapers. In the reader’s defenses to her blatant radical sexism, she stated “Women are an enormous majority, I don’t understand how anyone can be anti-woman.” Now let me list the order in which the errors in that statement affected me.

First, I know that percentage is close to fifty (the actual number is 50.8). Second, I realized if there were more than two possibilities, 50.8 percent could be interpreted as “enormous.” Third, I realized mentioning that there are more than two possibilities would derail the conversation, the subject would become sexuality. Fourth, is anyone actually “anti-woman”? This sequence took less than one second.

I’m pretty sure, even with every possible variation, 50.8 percent can not be judged as enormous. Transgender people and various genetic deformations may create dozens of possible demographics. Sure, there are far more “women” than “intersex” people, but the default position is there are two possibilities, a trans woman is a woman, a trans man is a man. This of course blossomed into sexual orientations, and all the infinite ways we restrict a spectrum to a binary issue.

I grew up monogamous. As far as I knew, the alternative was toxic, destructive to participant’s souls. In being a faithful husband, I was betrayed. For revenge I betrayed my next wife. Neither time did I feel clean, I felt degraded, objectified. My third wife was perfect, life was perfect, then she died and I knew perfection existed, and was not restricted; I could love again. Somewhere a group of women gathered under the old moon to take their turns building me up and then cutting me off at the knees. Then I met a woman who was polyamorous.

Two old straight folk on the streets of NYC


Polyamory was a third choice, not binary. It helped me in seeing how many choices there are out there. I had always been bisexual, and I met the most incredible bisexual polyamorous woman in the world. The fact that when we went out, we looked like a straight couple was not lost on us. We were both bisexual and understood things are not always as they appear. So now we live in very cozily in a relationship that appears to be “monogamous” and “straight”. That’s not three choices, that’s like twenty seven.

American society only supports two choices. Give them three and you will be denigrated, give them twenty seven and you can be excommunicated.

Deep inside I believe Homo Sapiens is in the process of evolution. In the same sense I can separate the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus, I can separate the Binary human from the Spectral Human. Often the trait is not acknowledged, it may not effect the involved individual in any way they notice. One easy way to see from the outside is to observe their beliefs. How many positions are black and white, and how many are grey? If you are a spectral, you will be able to see where on the spectrum they are, depending of course where on the spectrum you are.

I rejected much of this thinking in my youth, feeling comfort in black and white. I didn’t have to think, leaving my mind clear for other pursuits. The efficiency of the growth process later yielded to a comfort in multiple dimensions, up/down, left/right, forward/backward, color, volume, tone, and infinite measurements.

I am not suggesting that anyone try to change who they are. It does not work, as evidenced by hundreds of “conversion therapy” clinics. You can stretch your mind no further than it is capable, there may only be four lights, you see what you see.

 

There are certainly more than two


The question might be, “What color are they?”

 

That isn’t what I said

“it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”?

 

I make every attempt to be honest on this blog. I allow any comments which do not contain messages of hate, and never edit anyone’s words. The few edits I have made other than spelling in my own words is noted, and typically accredited. Maybe because I know that once it’s on the internet, it’s forever. Kind of like a tattoo.

I was astounded back in the nineties when Clinton denied saying things which had been preserved on tape, and when Obama “walked back” from statements he had made to the press.

But the most unreal thing I have seen in the world of communication is the deletion of tweets (twits). This takes place in other forms of social media, but the twitterverse is just too funny. I checked, I have an account, and I just could not figure out how you can make a Freudian twit; or how you can say something that is instantly seen by millions and think deleting it will be seen as anything other than your shame for being an idiot.

My personal guide has always been “Don’t publish any remark that you would not want engraved on the Washington Monument.” No one has tried to engrave any of my remarks, but you never know. . .

As much as we like to believe no one is listening, someone always is. At least one in four homes actually paid to have a wiretap. How much has changed since I was repairing a printer for The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and was asked if I was tapping their phones. They were such a sweet old paranoid bunch. Today they probably all carry cell phones, their every movement tracked. Janice was on a conversation thread on Facebook and said “Gen Xers don’t use Snapchat.” This morning she had an email from Snapchat.

The desire to change the public record is just as obnoxious as censorship. Changing a statement because it contains an offensive word is not in the same league as finding a typo. I suggest the proper way to change a word should be to strike it and leave it in place, i.e. “Censorship sucks is really nice.” The original intent remains to be considered.

Deletions have been so common that there are websites which publish only deleted tweets. This has been going on so long you would think people would be aware of the futility of self censorship. That of course is the important part of the equation. They don’t think. They do not think when they twit, and then do not think when they delete. Enough instances can make you believe they have never thought at all.

“Drunken Twits,” emotions bared under the influence of alcohol, are curious. The twitter was too intoxicated to know it was the wrong thing to say, yet managed to avoid any spelling or grammatical errors in a complex racist attack.

I never cared for the twitterverse in the first place, when a friend introduced it as the font of all knowledge I knew better. Group decisions are indeed better than those made by an individual in certain applications; but the studies which indicate that trend refer to groups of people experienced in the topic considered, not random keyboard warriors in the twitterverse. When someone makes that argument they are revealing their lack of knowledge; believing the title of a study is equal to the conclusion and that it applies to all applications.

Self censorship has always existed, politics is full of “misspoken” episodes. I would much rather a person acknowledge what they said (or twitted or whatever), clearly state what was wrong with it, and what they “meant,” precisely, when they said it. “You know what I mean” is no excuse for poor communication skills.

We have become so involved in “making words our own” that not everyone knows what we’re saying. I understand misunderstood words, that the statement meant something completely different than it was interpreted. When a word is misinterpreted, so is the meaning. I’m not sure why, but I usually know precisely what someone means. Maybe my insight into languages makes me more aware of non verbal cues and inflection. Emma was so mono-cultured that she could not understand the words on Monty Python. My last wife could not understand Flemish in the dialect of her father, who was from Bree, she grew up in Kessel-lo. (Flemish has eleven distinct dialects; fewer than seven million people speak the “language,” which is actually a dialect of Dutch.)

Misunderstandings should be understandable, yet I frequently see bitter arguments rooted in semantic differences. In these instances, seeing the crossed out word makes it clear it wasn’t an intentional (or in the example; it was) “mistake.” When Mike Bloomberg feigns bewilderment about a sexual harassment suit with “I don’t know, maybe she didn’t like a joke I told” you know he knows precisely what was said and he’s trying to defend his language. I think he would have been more effective had he said “Sure, I said ‘How do you get a one armed blond out of a tree?’ when she broke her arm.” If he then gives the punch line (You wave to her) he didn’t understand the point of the suit.

It is normal to misspeak. To deny that the words were offensive means you don’t understand the offense. To explain that it was not meant as a personal offense means you lack a filter. To deny you said the words means you are an asshole.

It is often said that generations who wouldn’t talk about politics or religion has resulted in a generation that doesn’t understand religion or politics. We all do better when everyone makes an effort to be understood.

Otherwise it is only intentional obfuscation.

The Fairness of Life

Dr. Sergey Ryabichko, Helena Demkina and myself at Havana in New Hope



I haven’t written in about a week, my depression has been kicking in due to some triggers I have chosen to embrace. I started a few articles and may finish them, but something just hasn’t been right.

This morning, I woke up early to take Janice for an MRI. There was a message on my phone from a friend, who acts as a medium between me and my last girlfriend, Sam. I had only thought I was depressed.

My dear friends, Helena Demkina and her husband Dr. Sergey Ryabichko had been in an automobile accident. Helena had died from massive head injuries, Sergey was still in surgery.

The wedding Party, from left; Blake Cash, Samantha Carroll, Helena Denkino, Sergey Ryabichko, Yuri, and Amina



Right after my brain injury, Sergey and Helena had come to live with me. I had a large home and rented a room to them as Sergey completed his doctorate at Princeton University as a geneticist. They had arranged to rent the room while they were still in Russia, they arrived late in the evening straight from the airport. I had been renting out an extra room for a while, after the brain injury I needed to rent another room, which Sam and I prepared. I painted the walls with a disfigured arm; I know I did it, I have broken memories of it, I just can’t figure out how I did it without the use of my right arm.

They were a lovely young couple, after a few weeks they admitted they were not married. It was about that time I got Helena’s name right, with her accent I had thought it was “Eliana.” They were both slight of build, and very gentle in their ways. Sam and I fell in love with them, they were angelic, always smiling, their love for each other brightening the room. Part of my injury had been my loss of fluency in language, although I was still writing articles in English I don’t recall how I managed to complete them. Sam has told me I spent a week or so immediately following my accident speaking Flemish exclusively, now I struggle with all languages and am not entirely confident with English. I had asked my brain surgeon what I could expect to come back to me, and how to improve my chances. She told me to practice speaking with natives, and I had no idea how I would ever find natives with whom to practice. In that first year I had one tenant from Iran who spoke Farsi, two from France, Sergey and Helena, a Japanese and a Korean. I didn’t speak Japanese or Korean, but I wasn’t sure. It was a lovely time of remembering who I was.  

 

Gifts from Russia


Sam was familiar with a couple of Russian grocery stores in Philadelphia to which we brought Helena. She was excited from the moment we pulled into the parking lot and she saw the Cyrillic writing on the store. She would put her wrists together and clap her hands, laughing with joy. We came home with everything she was missing from home, and quite a few of mine and Sam’s favorites. They took a trip home at one point and returned with some incredible wheat vodka, or paint remover, it was hard to tell; it was one hundered and eighty proof I believe.

Sergey was working intense hours at the laboratory, often traveling when there was no public transportation; walking the mile and a half through the snow. The timing of his cultures was precise; he was immensely dedicated, making sure he was there for each process. Helena took an English course during the days, and would sleep on a schedule to match Sergey.

When the officiant finished, a nervous and wide eyed Helena said “Can we kiss now?”



In the Summer, they were married in my yard. Sam and I found an officiant and two of their Russian friends came for the ceremony. At the end of their lease they went home to Russia, then returned to Princeton a few months later to complete Sergey’s studies. They rented in another home, but still kept in touch and dropped by a couple of times. We would pick them up and take them to dinner and other events; one time we met one of Sam’s other boyfriends in New Hope, they made no judgements.

 

My original caption in 2016, “A glimpse of the sparkle that makes Helena so wonderful to live with”


Helena spoke about how Sergey had taught her to drive in Russia, but she wasn’t very interested in driving in the States. The last time I saw them they had purchased a car and had Driver’s licenses in New Jersey. Those thoughts swirl in my head now, wondering what happened. I have managed to survive about every type of wreck imaginable in my life, the thoughts of Helena’s last moments brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think I ever saw her express so much as discomfort, I can’t picture her in an accident. She had some severe stomach issues when she lived with us, the only way we knew was that Sergey told us, and we took her to the hospital, still smiling.

 

Our last meal together, celebrating Sergey’s doctorate and National Tequila day


The last I heard from them they had returned from another trip home to Russia, and even though we hadn’t spoken in almost a year they had a gift for me, a mink ushanka, from the Soviet era.





I invited them to join Janice and me at Havana in New Hope last summer; my friends had put together an Electric Light Orchestra tribute show; but at the last minute they called to say they couldn’t make it.

The first thing Janice said to me this morning, as she noticed I was reacting with sadness, was “Life isn’t fair.” Life is infinitely fair, fractally fair, as you break it down it is made of units of fairness. The ups and downs of life choose us all with equal fairness, sorry for going Biblical but Matthew 5:45 says it all. “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.” I know these things, but when I say “It can happen to anybody” I never think that my friends and loved ones are “anybody,” I am “anybody.”

Helena in New Hope, “That’s the most gigantic salad I’ve ever seen!”



I have lost friends and loved ones before, for some reason I find myself crying as I write. I have only felt this way once before, as I wrote of Emma’s life.

A friend said to me “May her memory forever be a blessing,” those words have never felt so meaningful. I am forever blessed with her memory, the world isn’t quite as bright without her. I’ve been searching for information about Sergey’s condition, when I have it I will add it here.

I have news on Sergey, it’s been a week since the accident, and he’s conscious and lucid. He has not asked about Helena, and they’re waiting until he is a little more stable to tell him. I’m planning to visit him in the hospital next week. UPDATE Due to COV19, the hospital will be closed to visitors as of tomorrow (13/3/20) so I will not be able to see Sergey until the mass quarantine has been lifted.

Additional update. Sergey sent a message to me on 30 March. He sounded in good spirits, and was aware of Helena’s fate. He had good news, her organs saved seven lives. Now we have to get through quarantine.

Update 26 May 2020: Sergey is home, says he still has surgeries ahead but they are elective, which I take means cosmetic. He is COVID19 positive, but has no symptoms.

Standards

 

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

 

 

I have been presented with a number of issues relating to the welfare of others. Universally I can see how American citizens are better off than most other populations. We have one right, secured from our government in its first documents. We have the right to complain.

Free speech does not imply educated speech, which in many ways is the point of our first amendment to the constitution. There are no standards, anyone can speak. It is our individual responsibility to discern truth from opinion. It remains our responsibility to determine the value of various opinions. For the most part, humans lean towards the definition of the borderline personality (severe leanings result in the label of “Borderline Personality Disorder”); thinking in a “digital” manner, black or white, good or bad, etc. Another faction of people understand that there is a grey area, yet that often leads them to believe that only three positions exist, black, white, and grey.

In my days as a photographer, I preferred studies of grey. Colors are often disputed, what I call purple you may call pink, yet the color of the object doesn’t change. The cones in your eye may produce a different sensation than mine, but the actual color remains the same regardless of the name we give to it. It does not have to be a matter of perception, we may have learned the names of colors from different teachers. Grey is not quite as easy. Grey is standardized, named by its reflection of light. Eighteen percent grey is referred to as “medium grey,” it is a photographic standard. It may be the shade that comes to mind when you hear the word “grey,” or anything that is neither black nor white.

A grey scale, drawn with pencils by my friend Vince Natale

 

Colors, including grey, give us visual standards. Words are radically different. Combinations of words are far more complex than combining colors, yet the same style of logic, “Black or White,” is applied. Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Love or Hate, are all things we recognize as opposites, but should also recognize as spectra. Adding to the confusion is the popularity of creating new words, or new definitions of old words, the exact same script can mean different things to different people. The fact that a sense of humor is subjective causes even more confusion.

What is a joke? Is it funny (and again to whom?), is it satire (with what intention?), is it merely camouflage for hatred? Far too many times I have heard what I interpreted as an attack excused as “I was only joking.” I just can not find demeaning other human beings as anything resembling a joke. For my black and white contribution, forgiving hatred as a joke is merely expressing the same hatred yourself.

Our world is not black or white. There is good within bad things and bad within good. Much of the interpretation revolves around who is benefiting, and who is being persecuted. The love of my life was connected to the Mafia. She did not see the Mafia as “good guys,” but she did see them as acceptable. She began to see the level of conflict when one of our dear friends, a Lebanese woman who filled a maternal role in our lives, suggested that Hezbollah was a good organization, “just like the Mafia, helping out poor people.” Emma could see the parallels being drawn, she heard her own excuses for “her people” being used by our friend for her people. Emma was a very black or white thinker, she cut most of her ties to the Mafia. When the issue came up at family gatherings she would not participate.

In my experiences in the LGBTQ world, I am a Bisexual. the word “bisexual” gives the immediate impression of the root “bi,” or “two.” These days, such a definition is seen as restrictive, offensive to those not covered by the historic definitions of sex. These people (Pansexuals) believe that because they do not feel restricted to only two sexes, people who are bisexual are separate, lesser for their restrictions. Before I go any further, let me explain how wrong the belief is. The history of the LGBTQ population did not start in 1979, but that is when it became more acceptable to speak about it. By 1990, the presence of those of us who are not strictly attracted to one sex was recognized. The world is not populated by people who are heterosexual and homosexual, the spectrum includes many variations. Some homosexuals are only attracted to members of their own sex, some are not. The term “bisexual” was adopted by these outsiders and expressed in The Bisexual Manifesto. Within that document, is the conclusion “Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality.” The Pansexuals have made assumptions. Also within that document of thirty years ago is “Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. . . don’t assume that there are only two genders.” Personally, I prefer the label “Queer;” everyone can understand that word means “different.” To me, the issue of bisexuality v pansexuality is an extension of every other prejudice; assuming another group is inferior. There is no difference between these two groups, other than the egos involved.

When we look at immigrants, almost everyone imposes their own prejudices. Mine is fairly simple and straightforward, derived largely from my own sponsorship of an alien. She didn’t like the word “alien,” saying it wasn’t used in other countries. She had learned English in England, where “buitenaards” was translated to her as “Foreigner.” Other dictionaries translate it to the word “alien.” She was a white person from Northern Europe, her naturalization did not take long.  At her swearing in ceremony there were new Americans from all over the globe, one had been in America for thirty years; that does not mean she had waited thirty years to get through immigration. I had a German roommate at one time who had been in America for thirty years and had no desire to become an American.

I see a legal path to citizenship, and people not willing to undergo the process. Failing to follow the legal path is illegal, therefore those people are illegal immigrants. There are many sad stories told about illegal immigrants, some of them are true. Many of the people attempting to immigrate are well educated, the majority is not. Facing the hurdle of the Department of Homeland Security (which now handles Immigration) can be difficult for someone who cannot write in their own language. There are thousands of reasons people choose to illegally immigrate, but it is still a choice, a decision. So I do not have immediate sympathy for people unwilling to follow the legal path. Does that make me “bad,” or “heartless”? I am somewhere on the spectrum, and probably the worst judge of my self.

As we progress through this election cycle, you will hear many judgements. Consider that an exceptionally small percentage of the people making these judgements are qualified in any way to do so. Is the person saying that Biden is senile a doctor? Is the person saying that Sanders is crazy a psychiatrist? The list is endless. As the Dutch political poster above says, believe no poster, inform yourself. Use your standards, not someone else’s description of their standards. Their grey may be your purple.

 

 

 

Proper sentencing

Justice delayed is justice denied, but what exactly is justice?

Our judgemental society demands justice on a regular basis, largely because most people do not feel that justice has occurred. In addition, they do not truly wish for justice, they want revenge. It helps to understand the meaning of the word “Justice.”

Our old friend Merriam Webster defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Simply put, justice is a process, not a result. People crying for justice most often want punishment, and most of the time they want a punishment which they define as “just.”

Donald Trump received justice in the form of an impeachment. He was found not guilty by a jury of his friends, which may not appear “just.” Had he been found guilty, there are many punishments which do not include being removed from office, and require that the defendant possess a conscience, one that includes the quality of shame. In truth, had he been found guilty and not removed from office, how many would feel that “justice had been served”? How many would be satisfied if he was censured?

Punishment largely depends on the person being punished. My partner tells the story of the worst punishment she ever delivered to her five year old daughter. She made her place her life size Barbie in the “time out” corner. Her daughter was horrified and behaved well for the following ten years. At one point I was incarcerated, and faced what could have been a substantial portion of my life behind bars. Perhaps because I am an optimist, I was not horrified by the prospect. I intended to write in my solitude, perhaps drawing inspirations from my fellow inmates. A suicidal person may not be deterred by a death sentence. At what point is the punishment of a life sentence recognized by the prisoner? On the first or last moment?

Life in prison is largely thought to be the most severe punishment. People tend to look at prison as an awful environment, a daily punishment. Many prisoners do not share that view. In my short time behind bars I saw the new prisoners arrive every day, and it was more like a reunion. Recidivism was the norm, everyone knew each other. This was not always a good thing, my cellmate recognized someone who had threatened him with violence previously.

Length of sentence is a factor, not because of the days inside, but because of the world outside. The common prisoner is not well educated or skilled, on release they may not be able to qualify for employment in a world that passed them by. They may not be able to function with the level of technology we take for granted. They may have lost loved ones, who continued their lives and became involved in other relationships; or children who aged, denying the prisoner their childhood. In determining length of sentence, much more should be considered than just the crime. A twenty year old sentenced to thirty years has had their life removed. A seventy year old sentenced to ten years may have well been sentenced to life. A life sentence does not necessarily mean death in prison.

The proper sentence for someone who has caused a death is often believed to be the death penalty. This is more “eye for an eye” than practical punishment. Those against the death sentence suggest life imprisonment, with the belief the prisoner will feel the guilt of their offense for the remainder of their life. If they feel no guilt they at least have the punishment of being removed from society. Today, a death sentence is unlikely to result in death, and the life sentence leaves many believing they will be released, either because of societal changes or appeals.

We form punishments based on what we fear, not what the criminal fears.

Harvey Weinstein was just found guilty in two of the five crimes he was accused of. He has lived under accusal for over two years, once charged he was allowed freedom with restrictions such as an ankle monitor. During this time, he has been removed from his company and watched it face bankruptcy. He has been unable to work, and with any luck unable to sexually violate other women. He wasn’t the picture of health to begin with, although I believe his apparent “disabilities” were falsified in the interest of leniency by the court. The man who once said “You’ll never work in this town again” will more than likely never work in that town again.

What would be a just punishment? Regardless of the comfort of his prison, it will never come close to his mansions. He will eternally carry the label of “Rapist,” although that has not slowed Roman Polanski much. With minimum sentences he will be in his mid seventies when he is released, assuming his health does not fail. His life, from what we see as his point of view, is destroyed, but is that enough? What if he’s an optimist?

Friedrich Nietzsche warned of the inherent dangers of prosecution, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The truth within this is most often denied, which he also spoke of, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

Finding the proper punishment requires understanding the monster who is being punished. We consider these people noble because they have not become monsters themselves. Yet when they do not mete out the punishment we desire, we consider them monsters.

We all peer into the abyss, the result is most often known only by ourselves.

Evolution

Most people accept the theory of evolution to be true. It can be seen in many species, in some cases documented in progress. It is often used as the definition of belief in science; lack of “belief” in evolution is often a pejorative for poor education, or in attacks on fundamentalist Christians. I get that one, there is nothing in the Bible that is inconsistent with evolution. Why fundamentalists deny it does indeed point to a failure of education.

I am often confused as to why anyone would fight the actual process of evolution, and I see daily examples.

In case you don’t understand the process of evolution, organisms with beneficial genes survive to reproduce, those with detrimental genes do not. Often, detrimental genes do not prohibit reproduction; a gene which shortens life to thirty years could very easily be passed on by an organism which reproduces at age twenty.

Amy Schumer, who may or may not be a comedian depending on your sense of humor, recently spoke of her experience with In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF). Doctors were able to retrieve thirty five eggs from her, of which twenty eight fertilized. Of those, only one was viable. On average, about fifty percent of fertilized eggs result in viable embryos; it appears nature did not want Ms. Schumer to reproduce, but she wasn’t interested in Nature’s opinion.

Science is a province of exploration, we often find ways to do things which are more harmful than helpful. A great example is nuclear weapons. Just because we can does not mean we should. If one’s genetic makeup causes infertility, why would one wish to pass those genes on to another generation?

There are certainly instances in which infertility is not caused by undesirable genes, or are there? When someone has cancer, and treatment makes them infertile, do we really want to spread a genetic chain which is susceptible to cancer? If someone is infertile due to their behavior, do we want the genes which caused that behavior passed on to our grandchildren’s world?

The Darwin Awards, so named because the participants have improved the human genome by removing themselves from it, are a humorous recognition of stupid fatal behavior. Unfortunately, most of the participants have already reproduced.  Not everything is caused by genetics, but I strongly believe that common sense is an inherited trait.

Medicine, in general, is a fight against genetics. Long after I had produced four children, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There is no identified genetic link to MS, so it is unlikely I passed it on to my children. Other traits linked to genetics are frequently modified, starting with plastic surgery and continuing through geriatrics, in which we attempt to prolong life. An increasing amount of pediatric medicine is designed to allow genetically disadvantaged (depending on your definition, in this case I include Ms. Schumer) humans a long enough life to allow them to reproduce. Should we do that? I know it sounds cold and heartless, but condemning the offspring of genetically disadvantaged people to a lifetime filled with pain and disability is colder.

When I use the word “should,” I am not speaking of the moral issues involved; we all have different moral compasses. I am speaking of the impact such decisions have on our species. With our current inability to efficiently distribute resources such as energy, medicine, and food, does it make sense to further burden humanity?  I am not suggesting a Communist mindset, but what we are doing is abusing our resources. A wealthy person has a child for which they can afford to provide the medical resources required, but in doing so they consume the time and resources of the medical system which might be used to improve the lives of many productive members of society.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens is mildly arrogant in its assumption this planet was made exclusively for us, and foolish to believe that once we are gone, the planet has no future. Did Homo neanderthalensis consider the same? Something I found while researching this article is that one suggested cause of the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis is Climate Change. Life continued through evolution, adapting to the new environment. Our current Climate Crises will be survived through evolution as well.

We are aiming for a future of darkness. Infrastructure will fail, sources of energy will become increasingly difficult to sustain; an agrarian society, without electricity or medical technology, is a very possible future. Homo Sapiens Sapiens has developed too many weaknesses to survive radical change. By weakening our genome, we are developing the modern “Neanderthals”, while the future “Cro-Magnons” walk among us. Homo Evolutis will look back at our errors without the benefit of the internet. We are rapidly depleting our storage of information in non-digital form, books are no longer preserved. The age of narcissism has dawned.

Future archeologists may decode what we leave behind, will we appear to them as the progeny of ancient Rome, partying our way to extinction? I have heard before that porcelain does not biodegrade, will they only know us by our toilets?

I just hope we do not damage our hope for evolution by damaging the gene pool. It’s in bad enough shape right now.

It’s Sunday, why not try a sermon?

I have never been one to hide my beliefs (well, when traveling abroad I have been known to refer to myself as Canadian). I was raised as a Christian, Southern Baptist, and my pastor when I was very young preached that we should examine something before pledging our lives to it. So I did. I left the church, but I did not leave God.

I read the Bible, cover to cover, and did not see any of the people I saw at church. I understood who Jesus was, and what he was trying to teach, and saw few of his messages reflected in the teachings of “Christian” religions, and when they were, it was merely lip service. I could see them in other religions, and examined those more deeply. In the end, sometime in my twenties, I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings, calling myself a “Zen Baptist.”

Of all religions, I tend to be more critical of “Christians;” they have the instruction book and don’t follow it. This morning, I had to correct a member of my Belgian Beer Enthusiasts group for berating a Buddhist. The other member had posted a picture of his wife, a Buddhist, and the Christian went on about how she was going to have trouble getting into heaven. Determining the fate of someone’s soul is not the duty of a Christian, that job is specifically held by God. Rather than get into a prolonged discussion, I just reminded him that it was a Beer group, he could share his religious views elsewhere.

I have often said “If you can read a Stephen King novel, you can read the New Testament.” There really is no excuse not to read the teachings of a group with whom you aspire to spend eternity. Yet the majority of Christians have only opened the book to read a verse along with the congregation on Sunday. They have no sense of context. Many will repeat the phrase “Judge not” with their own interpretation of what it means. For one thing, it is only the first two words of a sentence. The full verse, recorded in the book of Matthew as the first three verses of the seventh chapter are “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” The message is you will be judged by the standards to which you hold others.

These are the reasons a good friend of mine rejected Christianity. He would say “There are too many contradictions.” What he meant was the practice often contradicts the lessons. I have heard Priests admonishing their parishioners to carry the love of the service outside the doors of the church, questioning how they could commune with each other in church and then curse each other in the parking lot. Christians often do not follow in Christ’s footsteps. Maybe if the Priest championed reading the Bible rather than the snippets included in the mass they would have a better feel for what Jesus had been saying; but of course that might allow them to read the ninth verse of the twenty third chapter of Matthew,”And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

I am also an American, and hold the Constitution as an instruction manual on how to operate the country. The first amendment has taken quite a beating lately. It reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is where the idea of separation of church and state comes from.

Our current president does not appear to have read the constitution, or just feels as if he is not bound by it. My own thoughts lean towards the latter. The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) is a watchdog group which focuses on the First Amendment, protecting the populace from government intrusion in religious matters; they have been very busy lately. When I suggested this group to my father, who tends to feel Christianity is under attack, he flatly refused. My father is a good man, but he can not quite get the idea that the same rule which prevents government funding of proselytizing the Christian faith also prevents government funding of proselytizing Islam; it is in fact the very core of the First Amendment. Fairness is not appreciated by someone who feels they are under attack, even when they represent over seventy percent of the populace.

I don’t expect anyone to believe as I do. I have little way of knowing, because I make no attempt to drag others into my beliefs. I met one the other day, he happens to be a doorman at my building. He usually carries a bible, and is very quiet. I asked what religion he followed, and in his quiet way he said “I don’t, I follow the teachings of Jesus.” It felt nice knowing I am not alone. I am exceptionally tired of all Christians being portrayed as the one third of us who are evangelical as they most certainly do not believe as I do, nor do they follow Jesus’s words. In Matthew’s tenth chapter, Jesus says in the fourteenth verse “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.” Simply put, if someone doesn’t want to hear you, shut up and walk away.

What troubles me most is the vast number of Christians who propagate ideas which have no basis in the words of Jesus. I repeatedly hear I should not judge all Muslims by the actions of Daesh, but most folks judge all Christians by the actions of Evangelicals. It can be difficult, I tend to judge all Atheists by the actions of their leaders, but some of them are nice people.

 

 

 

Privilege

As with most issues, the concept of privilege tends to be overblown while containing a measure of truth.

Donald Trump is not a member of the NAZI party, but some of his actions mirror their actions. Do not forget that NAZIs tied their shoes, tying your shoes does not make you a NAZI. Some factors apply in using the stereotype, many do not.

An article on Buzzfeed well illustrates that point. One single factor does not signify privilege, it is the cumulative amount of factors. I don’t think Buzzfeed has any more credibility than Psychology Today, but the survey, all by itself, is useful as a learning experience.

How Privileged are You? provides insight into what constitutes privilege. I have always felt offended when accused of “White Privilege,” because it has been based on the fact that I am white. I am more than just white, although hate groups such as Antifa don’t really care about facts. Physical assaults, verbal assaults, and prejudices have been based on supposition.

Not everyone is interested in learning. When my partner posted the survey on Facebook, for the purpose of comparison, most of her friends took the survey and compared their scores. One decided to go on a rant about Buzzfeed, shooting the messenger and in the process also the message. No, the results of a survey are not a diagnosis, but sometimes the act of sharing it can display prejudices you were not looking for. An excellent representation of this effect is “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”  That quote comes from the 1978 film “Superman.” Most people do not consider superhero movies the source of deep philosophical observations; those people also fail to learn from “War and Peace.”

The first lesson in the survey comes with the first question, “Are you White?” I was a bit put off with that opening, then I considered that it was one factor out of one hundred. My total “score” was twenty nine, “underprivileged.” There were questions that seemed faulty, “Have you ever been called a Dyke” and “Have you ever been called a Faggot” should have been a single question. One of the many questions that should have been there is “When you see a rack of magazines, are the majority of people on the covers your race?” As I said earlier, anyone expecting a certified diagnosis from an online test is foolish. This survey should only be used as a comparison among peers, just don’t let Antifa see the results, a score of one would be adequate for them to burn your house.

As mentioned, I am white. I was born in the South. I am a Christian. None of these things make me a racist, but I accept that they are three points out of hundreds that would make me so. I learned over fifty years ago the difference between correlation and causality, and try to apply it to every interaction. As I aged and was exposed to dangers which could be life threatening, I found that in some instances correlation is sufficient. I don’t need to know what is in that backpack with wires hanging out, but I don’t need to kill the person carrying it; I can walk away. Responses require circumstances with which to justify them.

There are many factors which constitute an individual. It is often said that Hitler liked dogs, but that alone does not make him a good person. He also facilitated the deaths of over eleven million people, and while that alone may not make him an evil person, the methods he used to accomplish that goal certainly add up to that conclusion.

Our society, drenched in information, continues to celebrate single issue decisions. The quickness of determining the state of that decision is frightening. I can see an indicator and immediately know what it means, most people cannot. A friend recently posted two photographs in comparison. One was a color image of Donald Trump reaching out to shake the hands of supporters, the other, a black and white image of Adolph Hitler doing the same. My reaction to the implied statement they were the same was that I couldn’t think of a single celebrity who has not reached out in a similar fashion. Then, as others noticed inconsistencies, it became clear the photo of Hitler had been altered (there was an American flag in the background, a person dressed as Lincoln, and Hitler had no feet). Simply noting that this was not only a poor comparison, but it was also falsified, made me a Trump supporter so she immediately blocked me. The simple observation that if what one party is doing is despicable, mirroring that behavior is not excusable, brings me back to explaining to children “He did it first” is not a defense for doing the same thing.

I’ve been noticing a snowball effect, that right along with knowledge, maturity is rapidly declining at a geometric rate. Double standards are celebrated as “necessary.” Moral standards are as rigid as cooked spaghetti. I am overwhelmed with the examples provided by an intolerant population and a rogue president. Literally overwhelmed, I can not finish typing a blog entry without several examples of my thesis occurring, and not just because I type slowly. Noting these issues results in hatred rather than self reflection.

In many ways, the survey on privilege was contrary to my core beliefs. Confidence is seen as a privilege, questions such as “I have never lied about my sexuality,” “I have never tried to hide my sexuality,” and “I am always comfortable with P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection) with my partner” imply that comfort with who you are is a privilege. While I agree that living in fear is an indicator of lack of privilege, paranoia is an indicator of lack of psychiatric help. I have had physicians refer to my “Texan stoicism” as a defect.

Give yourself the privilege of being comfortable in your own skin.

Recognizing Big Brother

 

Some things stick in your mind, you can see them forming before others because the horror is too great.

The holocaust is an example of how evil can spread through a society, so the label of NAZI is thrown at anyone who appears to be authoritarian, or antisemitic. Unfortunately it has spread to include “anyone who thinks different than me,” diluting its horror. In our mis-educational system, how many graduates go forward thinking thirteen million people were killed by old men playing golf?

When college kids carrying tiki torches are compared to the Schutzstaffel, the horror just isn’t there.

 

George Orwell’s “1984” disassembled mind control. Most folks think the work was prophetic, but in fact it was a memoir of the fascist states of the early twentieth century, written after their culmination in 1944. Orwell had seen it happen, from seedling to rotting fruit. We have all seen the process, frozen at certain points in its development in various societies, yet we fail to recognize as it takes hold around us.

As a writer, language is of utmost importance to me. Words are my life. The variances, homonyms, synonyms, and multi-entendres are my life blood. Word meanings change over time, but the immediate alteration to fit a political misuse is far too reminiscent of Newspeak. Combined with deliberate misinformation, “reality” is no longer how things exist, but how they are meant to be judged.

I was never much for euphemisms, I prefer to be understood and avoid barriers. It does seem to put people off, I worked at an SPCA shelter where I killed dogs. I got out of the habit of saying “Euthanized” because most of the people I dealt with didn’t know what it meant. They were already upset, why make it worse by using a word they did not understand?

As I have been around a lot more LBGTQ+ people this last year, I’ve been a little shocked about the sensitivity to words. I am Bisexual, a term defined in the Bisexual Manifesto of 1990 (not to imply that Bisexuality was invented then), Sometime around 2000 folks started using the word “Pansexual,” then it became a prejudicial word. People who call themselves Pansexual today state that “Bisexual” is non-inclusive, because it only refers to two sexes or genders. Read the manifesto kids, “Pansexual” is the divisive term, as it claims Bisexuals are Transphobic (By the way, attaching “phobic” to everything is ridiculous, if you are prejudiced against something you are probably not afraid of it).

Often it seems when people are particular about the words used to describe a group, they are not the people described, but people who awarded themselves the mantle of Pronoun Police. As I looked deeper, sometimes it is only the Pronoun Police, and not the people being described; people from the orient tend to prefer “Oriental” to “Asian.”

Common in the news these days are stories about “Religious Freedom.” More often than not these are instances in which followers of one religion wish to force their point of view on followers of another religion. The constitution of the United States speaks clearly that there is to be no state religion, what many refer to as “Separation of Church and State.” As Americans we are free to choose whatever religion, or lack thereof, we wish. We have no right to impose our views on others, yet a fair number of people believe they are empowered to discriminate against people with differing beliefs. While many of our founding documents are developments of Abrahamic principles, it is still quite easy to see the differences in the Abrahamic religions.  A statute favoring a Christian point of view (or one ascribed to Christianity) does not support a Muslim or Jewish point of view. Freedom of Religion is best expressed as “Freedom from Religion;” we shall have no inquisition. An individual has no more right to impose staff led Christian prayer than they would to impose Sharia law.

This morning, we were discussing Death with Dignity. There has been a lot written about this, most obviously not by those who have practiced it. I was told that “suicide” is not the proper word, because suicide is an irrational act, those who rationally choose to end their lives, and fit certain medical criteria, have not committed suicide. So I read some of the things written, and they are all about providing euphemisms other that the actual word because it causes shame. I know these people mean well, they are speaking to and about the survivors, relatives and friends of the deceased. I was told the word “suicide” shames people who have made a difficult decision, implying they were irrational. After a quick look at the dictionary, followed by more intense probes into the word, I was unable to find any reference to the rationality of the person choosing to end their life.

It is difficult to talk about this without giving the wrong impression. I have no intention of committing suicide. However, the possibility exists that my Multiple Sclerosis may take a turn for the worse, or that any other event might make my life unlivable. Should that occur, I will thoughtfully decide whether or not to continue living. The very last thing in the world I would want to happen is to have control of my life taken from me while a panel decides if I am rational. When it is time, it is time. It is a difficult decision, and calling it anything other than what it is insults the sui, the individual who is taking action. I have known others that made the choice; one last stand of self.

The issue of abortion is buried in inaccurate descriptions. Both sides wish to make their points emotional, so we now live in a world where “Women’s health services” mean abortion clinics, and nothing else; a further erasure of the real world differences between men and women. About one of every four women will have an abortion in their lives, it is, much like suicide, a difficult decision. Because women who have had abortions are shamed for their decision, very few of those women talk about it, so those who do appear to be freaks. They can be dismissed because they have spoken about their “unusual” experiences, they are considered meaningless or extreme because “I don’t know anyone who has had an abortion.” You probably do, but your attitude is so judgemental they never told you about it. The pain, which they continue to experience, is amplified by the failure to console them.

Along that line of language, a local real estate agent is trying to alter my borough’s requirement of a Certificate of Occupancy prior to the sale of a home. He has manipulated the subject, using people whose experience was overwhelmingly expensive. In one case a woman was unable to afford the repairs required to make the home habitable, so his latest rant assaults the borough for ignoring women’s rights. He has framed the ordinance as “immoral,” because the expense of making a home habitable may exceed the value of the home; relying on the local school district’s failure to educate to provide him with supporters. The man who owned my last residence insisted that property values only go up, so he was asking for his purchase price plus ten percent. I bought a nicer condominium in the same complex for one third of his asking price; I am surprised a real estate agent does not understand the real estate market.

With that last example, I am suggesting that practice of corrupting language is not a venture only applied to large organizations. I have seen it used by governments as well as individuals. My first exposure to this type of propaganda was in the Air Force, when I tried to explain an issue to my father; he could not see my side of the issue. Then I realized that in English, my complaint sounded ridiculous. I had gotten used to speaking in Air Force language, I knew what the disguised words actually meant. The collapse of language sneaks up on you, you don’t always realize what you are saying sounds very different to someone expecting common meanings.

 

Rebel.

 

Resist Big Brother. Do not conform, do not participate in the denial of your right of free speech.

The false god of science-lite

When I was young, I was enamored with the sciences. It was a great time, advances were being made in every field, many designed with the space program in mind. I studied chemistry (hard to avoid when your father is a chemist), astronomy, physics, and anything that smelled “cool.”

As I got older, my friends were also attracted to the sciences, going on to careers we each envied, as our careers were envied by them. Mutual admiration was common as we advanced in the world.

Then one day in 1972 a friend said his candidate was neither Republican (Nixon) or Democrat (McGovern); he supported the Peace and Freedom party. He didn’t know the name of the candidate, but the name of the party was appealing after a decade in Vietnam. I became aware that half of the population has double digit IQs, not everyone had musical talent of any kind, some people were interested in a thing because they liked the sound of the name.

I don’t know that 1972 was a pivotal year, it’s just the year I noticed. It did happen to be the last year we went to the moon. It is when I noticed that some of the people who claimed an interest in science did not know what a science was. Astrology was called a science, Homeopathy was a science. The language took a subtle change; more people were “interested in science” than “the sciences.” Science had become a God. As with most religions, the congregation had no connections to their God.

Over the years I have heard people claim science is the reason they don’t believe in a God, or that science supports their opinions. I have seen the scientific method tossed aside for opinion and speculation.

I could never see a conflict between science and God, but then I don’t expect the Bible to be a science text. It is a religious text, I don’t seek answers to religious questions in Einstein’s work, although I do appreciate his view of quantum physics, that God does not play dice.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published paper in Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. It took over ten years for the Lancet to retract the paper, but it was debunked almost immediately. By 2001 it was uncovered that Wakefield had started a company prior to the publication that would faciltate suits against pharmaceutical companies for a fee. His methodology was riddled with corrupt and false data.  There was no question that not only was he a fraud, he was a con-man; this was to have been his biggest con.

Today, twenty years after having been exposed as a scam, people claiming to be scientists are still hawking the same old wares, repackaged with fresh faulty data, basing complaints on ingredients which have not been used in forty years or are present in dosages that are meaningless. There is more Thiomersal in tuna than vaccines.

The antivaxx movement is stronger than ever, based on a lie that has turned into a moral imperative. Who can argue with a mother who will not expose her child to what she believe to be a poison? Perhaps the mother of an immunodeficient child who could die from the measles? Personally, if this was simply a choice by double digit IQs to leave their children vulnerable to deadly diseases, I would view it as evolutionary positive, removing those genes from the pool. But it is not. Unvaccinated children are the building blocks for epidemics among the immunodeficient community.

How many people are immunodeficient? A small percentage, who use the same medical facilities, placing them in contact with each other. Epidemics can move like wildfire through the community.

If the flu, Measels, Mumps, and Rubella were not threats to public health, why did we go to so much trouble to find a vaccine? The brilliant, privileged Antivaxxer will say that the diseases are rare, and rarely are fatal. Remind the buffoon that they are rare now because of the vaccines,  one hundred years ago fifty million people died from the flu. The deaths overwhelmed society so much that my grandfather had to bury his brother. Only a few die from Measels, which is of little reassurance for the over one million parents of children who died of Measels in 1990 (two parents per child).

Ingrid Newkirk as president of PETA, said “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” demonstrating her lack of medical knowledge, and I might say spiritual knowledge as well. She was opposed to vaccines (indeed all medicines) because they are sometimes made with animal products, and always tested on animals. Apparently her childhood memories of a society plagued with childhood deaths and lifetime disabilities, then resolved by vaccines, lead her to believe that human life is cheap.

I once worked at an S.P.C.A. with a young woman who was under the impression she was a veterinarian. Her method of proof of death was to touch the eye of an animal to see if there was a reaction. One day we were discussing animal rights issues (like poking dying dogs in the eye), and she said “Well, I’ve researched this on my own. . . ” so I asked her which laboratory she had used for the research. She told me she didn’t need a laboratory,  she had “heard of” books on the subject. She had not even read the books, she culled her “knowledge” from the title and blurb, and called it “Research.” That was when I knew that the public understanding of what the sciences are is pitiful.

So today, when someone tells me they have two degrees in science, my initial impression is those sciences could easily be macrame and basket weaving. I know actual scientists, in fact I was raised around them, listening to conversations at cocktail parties my parents threw, and then in daily life. There are words they do and don’t use. So yes, I can determine your scientific background just from talking to you about a school play or a futbol match. This is not some superpower, you just have to pay attention to your sources of information. So I cannot understand why so many fail, then I remember how many people have double digit IQs.

It does not require genius to comprehend the sciences, just a mind open to new discoveries.

 

The Holidays

 

Which Holidays?

From our earliest social constructs, we learned to mark the seasons. Of greatest importance were solar positions, the Solstice was the end of the shortening days. The days would grow longer, but the cold was not yet at its deepest depths. The Solstice was a symbol of hope, there would still be bad days, but the direction was warmer.

As we developed religions, it continued to get cold in the winter. Religious holidays, messages of hope, gravitated towards similar events. The birth of Jesus was celebrated on the Solstice, The Faith of the Maccabees is celebrated over an eight day event around the same time. Kwanzaa, a totally fabricated modern holiday, is celebrated over a seven day period at this time of year.

As time progressed the actual dates of the celebrations changed, Constantine separated from the Solstice and the birth of Jesus was celebrated on the 25th of December. The calendar itself has changed a couple of times as well.

“Happy Holidays” applies to most people because we are all celebrating the same thing, Hope. We may give it different names and attributes, but on the darkest day humanity looks forward together. While sniping at each other for celebrating the wrong way.

Earlier this year I was reading about a religious leader who had been asked to deliver a non-denominational prayer. He responded he would not, non-denomination meant no denomination to him. In many ways I agree, while we all have so much in common, a prayer is directed to a deity, within the constructs of its religion, according to a particular denomination. At which deity do you direct a non-denominational prayer? A blessing to one may be a curse to another.

We are at our best when we recognize our similarities, and at our worst when we deny our differences. We are different individuals with unique DNA, our thoughts are built on disparate influences. The best we can do is accept each other, which should cause us to understand ourselves better.

I have learned a good deal from listening to people who do not share my beliefs. Sometimes what I learn reinforces my beliefs, sometimes it challenges them, but it is always refreshing to discuss beliefs which have not crossed the line in my partner’s mind into “facts” which are simply a matter of faith. The only thing I have been able to learn from people who believe their articles of faith are facts is that they do not understand what a fact is, and often do not understand what beliefs are either.

Use this season and its gatherings to learn about people who think differently than you, rejoice about your similarities and respect your differences.

 

 

 

 

Sixty one

A few (six) years ago, a couple of friends got together for a birthday party at L’Archiduc in Brussels. Trulee was turning sixty, and her partner Samy rented the club, and some friends provided music. Blaine had just passed the sixty marker a week earlier, and if you notice in this extended intro, he asks “What comes after sixty?” to which you can hear Trulee call out “Sixty One!”

 

In a memorable evening, the simple obvious fact that sixty one comes after sixty remains a strong memory; life goes on. Now, I reach sixty one. I am reminded of the seasons of life as another friend of mine “retires” to Arizona, leaving behind fifty years of performances. I have also reached the time to rest.

The ride has been wonderful. Sure, I’ve visited the lowest places in the universe, I’ve also danced in the clouds. Balance is crucial in life; understanding that the good times will not last forever is healthier than crashing when they inevitably end. I expect them to end and come back, as they have several times. How am I supposed to write about all the different aspects of life if I haven’t experienced them?

The years have given the illusion of wisdom, more years illustrate the transient nature of the illusion. It works to remain calm, allow processes to run their course, listen rather than speak. I speak softly, and slowly; shouting dulls the senses. I give the appearance of being at peace. Usually I am.

I got to see the best bands, and some of the best concerts. I managed to be in the right (or wrong) places for some historical changes in society. I loved deeply and was loved as deeply. I played fair, even (maybe especially) when I was being treated unfairly. So now I get to enjoy myself. I am comfortable being anonymous, I don’t need to be noticed.

As I enter my sixty-first year, the changes that have taken place in my life are muted by the changes of the last year. So very much has taken place, I have not slowed down as I have aged; it has taken its price. There are good reasons to slow down consciously, rather than due to disability caused by not slowing down.

My desire to write is waning, in many ways my desire to communicate is drawing to a close. Too many people who honestly believe they know everything and want to argue without references are out there. I plan to withdraw from social media on my birthday, a present to myself, I can live much better without the vitriol. I am stuck here in the United States for the upcoming election year, and my capacity to overlook hate has been exhausted. I will still write the occasional blog, but I have no intention of becoming involved in the circus Americans refer to as “Politics.” I do rather enjoy checking the statistics on my readers, the other day one person read fifty of my articles.

As I write this, it has started snowing outside. The flakes fly in every direction from my view as various wind currents around the building carry it. The other day I watched every leaf on a tree in the complex fall off in under an hour, the area around its base covered with a green “snow.” There is plenty to see right out my window.

Janice and I will travel a bit, just in North America. We will still attend LGBT events, but as participants, on the street interacting with people. We intend to socialize locally with real people, as we turn our focus away from the internet and towards the real world. It’s a pretty cool place, I’ve spent a lot of time there.

Life is good, hope to see you along the way.

My Psychotic Break

I pretty much have to write about this.

A month or so ago, I found myself in a spiral of irritation. My sleep pattern slipped from not much to none at all. I was unsettled by something in my relationship and let it fill my mind. I spent the entire day of Sunday yelling at Janice. That’s what I remember.

In a lull of my mania, I asked for something to relax, Janice handed me a few of her pills. After that it gets hazy. The next thing I remember is the phone waking me. It was the police, they were outside my door and would like me to come out with my hands in the air. In my mind, I thought it was Sunday evening. It was Monday evening.

What I have been able to put together is that I was increasingly irrational, and threatened to kill myself quite convincingly. Janice was able to show me texts I had sent; I was horrible. But at this point in time all I knew was that I had fallen asleep and she had left.

I threw on some clothes, and slowly opened the door, revealing myself hands first. There was a nice little barricade set up down the hall, and the glint of laser sights from the rifles pointed at me. I invited them in, they placed handcuff on my wrists, and we took a ride to the hospital. My memory is still shaky at this point, I remember moments but not entire scenes. I know I was well mannered entering the hospital, and I know I lost all contact with reality shortly after arriving. I remember trying to bite one of the nurses, and seeing Janice through the glass door of my room. Later, they took me to a mental hospital, I had been involuntarily committed.

I arrived at the hospital Tuesday about noon, and suddenly realized I was missing an entire day. In my mind I was angry at Janice, thinking she had drugged and abandoned me. The conditions were as one might expect, a few steps up from Ken Kesey’s Oregon State Hospital, but the vibe remained. “Long Distance” calls had to be dialed from a special room, and for some reason anything out of the area code was considered long distance. It took another two days to get in touch with Janice. I think that was a good thing, I hadn’t quite figured out what had happened yet. She had been the person who had signed the order for involuntary commitment.

After release I was able to read the notes from my intake interview. I was described as having a flat affect. I remember slowly waking into reality, realizing the time lost, feeling shock.

It became rapidly apparent that the way out was to comply with treatment. I attended all the groups I could, making friends with the other mental patients. It was a fascinating microcosm of society, we had all, in effect, been equalized, stripped of our individuality. The depth of our mental illnesses determined our ability to recover. Some folks would obviously wait their time out and be released, some folks I seriously hope are never released, but I did not meet anyone who did not belong there. When I was able to realize that, I was able to realize that I belonged there, opening my mind to correcting my mistakes.

The groups were educational, not always about the subjects for which they were designed. One group about red flags put a bright light on one person’s attitudes about relationships, and also showed the folks paying attention that everything goes both ways. Had it not been such a hetero-normative group the message might have sunk in better.

I was (of course) open about my sexuality, I figured it would confuse the staff and spare me a room mate. It did, I was the only male without a room mate. A couple of women opened up about their sexuality, as far as I could see no one was uncomfortable in our group. We quickly became known as “The cool kids,” sitting at our own table at meals; then we slowly became “The old folks” as we dispensed our wisdom to the younger folks. The camaraderie helped us all.

As the week passed, new people arrived, most of them faceless, keeping to themselves, a few more aggressive, pointing out to us how we had felt during the early hours of our incarceration. I could see how I had been and was glad I had not been able to talk to Janice until after I calmed down. One person was particularly intimidating, and knew how to play the staff. He was what they called a “frequent flyer,” someone who had been there repeatedly. The staff knew he wouldn’t follow through on his threats, but we the patients did not. The tension was palpable, and I would like to think that my explanation to staff was a part of my release. I could see it from both sides and explained the difference between physical safety and emotional safety to a couple of nurses, people trained in the field who had just turned a blind eye to the purpose of the facility.

My medications were interesting. I received prompt attention because I take Truvada, an anti HIV drug. They wanted to know if I was HIV positive, so I was processed through medical quickly. Because I had drugs in my system (the ones Janice gave me) when I was admitted, they diagnosed me as a drug addict, and gave me anti-withdrawal meds all week. I received my anti-depressants as usual, but because Truvada and Fosamax are expensive they asked me to have them brought in. Remember the Long Distance issue? Knowing they would have to put out thousands for my meds helped me get permission to make phone calls.

That first phone call with Janice, on Thursday, was overwhelming. I was disgusted by the things she told me I had done as she gave me the timeline of my missing day. I thanked her for having me admitted. I was astounded that she cared for me, and missed me so much. I gave her the number to call in, so I could hear from her, and returned to my group. They could tell I had spoken to Janice, I was glowing. She called every evening, and for that time I was free, not incarcerated. She came to visit and time stood still.

I was released on Monday, and the morning was pure stress. I was told my regular psychiatrist had not been contacted, and I couldn’t be released without appointments with her in the next week. It was less than an hour before my scheduled release when I finally got my post hospitalization therapy schedule. We drove home and spent the rest of the day talking. I had the epiphany that the psychotic break was related to having never fully grieved Emma, and was up all night organizing her shrine, telling stories about each item.

As a result of my commitment, I am no longer eligible to own firearms. I agree. I had no idea what I was doing for over twenty four hours, had I chosen to resort to violence I had a solid arsenal and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition. The possibility I could have another break is higher after having one, so I have no issue with surrendering my weapons. The police were exceptionally nice, assisting with selling the firearms and returning items that were borderline inappropriate, like a set of rolling papers in packages designed by Olivia De Berardinas. I did like the expression on the detective’s face when he said how nice my rifles were, and don’t want to imagine the look when he entered the bedroom with the swing.

My doctors have been interesting, the “What happened?” opening was almost funny. Because what happened was not funny. My brain broke. You can call it a nervous breakdown or psychotic break or whatever makes you comfortable, but I did a hard reboot. I did things I do not remember any part of. I had conversations and wrote texts of which I have no memory. I am better, but the experience was moving. I am fortunate that Janice, against her normal intuition, called 911 and followed through in committing me. I needed the rest. I still need rest, but have spent the intervening month helping Janice move her mother in law (her husband passed away) into my home. I have watched my friend’s final performances before “retiring” to Arizona after fifty years in the music business and spent late nights hanging with musicians several times. I know I am slowing down relative to what I was before, but when I look at it I can not call it “slow.”

I know the path to illness and can avoid it, I am building my resources to be prepared.

 

Family ties

My family has never been much for communication. They believe they communicate, they certainly talk a great deal, but the contact required for actual communication is not always present.

My previous favorite example was a letter my father wrote to me. At one point in the Two Thousands, my company had a contract with the Philadelphia Water Department. There were old pictures on the walls, one of a gas chromatograph from my father’s old company. I sent him a picture of it, and talked about some things going on in my life at the time. His response was a four page history of the Beckman GC-4 (the one in the picture).

Today he exceeded his previous record.

Months after berating me for my life of sin, he sent a short note about what he had been doing and what was happening in his life. I responded with an equally neutral update on my comings and goings, leading off with a mention that I was recently released from a mental hospital following an exhaustion induced psychotic break, mentioning Janice and her Mother in Law who are now living with me, telling him my cat survived cancer, letting him know about future plans. I also mentioned that President Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds could not be rationalized.

A few days later I received his response. He did not comment on any of the things I mentioned, not a word about the psychotic break; instead a two line defense (and praise) of President Trump’s tactics. Love Dad.

Since the break, I have been considering the concept of erasure. So perhaps I’m a little sensitive. My life meant nothing to him.

I’ll write more about the break next time. It was a fascinating experience.

My family has always been interesting. They all tend to be complex amalgams of various points of view, and they are all focused on one of them at a time. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes it is challenging. My eldest son is still focused on some issue that came up after he stopped seeing me.

This is a contrast to Janice. Her family is closer, and her extended family is endless. Sometimes seeing the universe as your family is a bit off-putting to me, I’m doing my best to find a compromise. Janice’s husband ended his life a few years ago, which did not slow her when her former Mother in Law (Connie) needed a place to stay. Now that Janice has moved in with me, so did her Mother in Law. It has certainly brought some changes to our lives, but none that we would not welcome. Connie has been a wonderful addition to my home, to my family.

Connie promptly had a heart attack after moving in and is in the local hospital, and Janice’s children will be visiting today, more family.

I wasn’t sure I would like this. My previous explorations into mixed families have been horrendous failures. Janice’s family has been wonderful, there has never been any friction. As a counterpoint to my own family, they have been humbling. Not that my family is unusually cold, it is just the contrast.

I find it pleasant to have a family to care for, it’s nice to have people to cook for, little things to do for each other. Rather than an increase in stress, it is having a calming effect. This is the peace I have needed. I am grounded and stable.

 

 

World Pride Day

30 June 2019, 8th St at 6th Ave NYC

 

Pride Day became Pride week became Pride month. The culmination of Pride month was the weekend of 29/30 June in New York City. Janice and I arrived Friday and left Monday morning. It was a wonderful weekend in so many ways, the crash of backlash seems so incredibly offensive.

Fifty years ago a group of drag queens and other queers got tired of being abused by the police, so they fought back. The original Pride was days of riots. Today is a celebration, backed by corporate sponsors who occasionally have a horrible history of anti LGBT+ discrimination. The spin off march, Queer Liberation, works to remind everyone that the original Pride was a riot; and has no corporate presence. I really should have gotten up a few hours earlier and gone to that parade, but this was the big fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots so we wanted to see the main parade.

I am exceptionally grateful that I had the sense not to march in either parade. I’m not sure I could have kept it up. From the very first person to the last there were genuine smiles of joy. Everyone was smiling, there weren’t even any whining children despite many children being present. I had been standing for nine hours before I realized I had been standing for nine hours. Janice was starting to collapse, having been the center of attention on our block for nine hours. This is when we found that we should have stayed on the other side of the street. There were barriers to prevent crossing the street, and we were inside the perimeter of the celebration. When that last smiling marcher passed by around midnight, we were able to try to find our way home.

Fortunately, I remembered enough about New York Subways to avoid the frustration of finding a cab. As we entered the station, some idiot who thought he could take over the world monetary system was trying to use the ticket machine to do and a group of girls in line were fighting, so an exhausted NYPD officer unlocked the doors to get everyone onto the platform (for free!).

The vibe in the air was love, and acceptance. It was not unusual to see (or not) wonderfully sculpted garments that enhanced the beauty of the person adorned. There was a small amount of nudity, most women wore pasties and the majority of men kept their genitals out of view. I dressed properly.

Somehow I forgot sunscreen, I have the most unusual tan lines.

 

Janice, being full of excitement, actually got sunburn on her armpits from waving her arms in the air. Being exceptionally beautiful with rainbow heart pasties, she drew some surprising attention. Gay guys like boobies too, every camera that passed seemed to pause on her. Marchers would stop and cheer her “bravery,” often lifting their shirts to show they were already wearing pasties (or not). And perhaps raising our prestige on the street even higher, a couple of people marching and in cars for organizations made a point of talking to her from the parade, because they were friends involved in the same organizations. We even were noticed by a couple of professional photographers, one producing a story for a European magazine,  another the lovely Dianne Arndt, a New York based international photographer.

 

Courtesy Dianne Arndt

 

Being the fiftieth anniversary of the riots, New York was the center of World Pride Day. There were groups from many countries, but I only saw two Belgian flags (don’t read anything into that, I know plenty of LGBT+ Belgians). As well as other countries, other cities were represented, some just small towns I had never heard of.

 

 

One of the two Belgian Flags I saw in the parade

 

There were the traditional contingents of each variety of the LGBT+ community, and the corporate sponsors ranged from IBM to Fred’s Hardware. There were very few political statements, no matter how you regard LGBT+ folks, we come from every walk of life. The presence of church groups was nice.

Crowd estimates ranged from 800,000 people present to three million visitors to NYC for the purpose of the LGBT+ events.

 

Janice with a fellow “Pasties Pride” spectator

Of course, even after a wonderful weekend surrounded by my peers, we had to return to the real world. We came home, caught up with everyone who couldn’t be there or we had seen. Janice posted the above picture on her Facebook page. In addition to receiving almost a hundred “likes” from our friends, a relative of mine chose the occasion to make a rude remark. It felt weird blocking a relative. I have no idea what it will be like when we visit next so yes, I am appropriately intimidated. What I will not be is ashamed. Should she choose to argue (I have no idea what her problem is, I am loving a woman these days) I do feel better informed about her likely issue. Turns out the word “Homosexual” did not exist in the English Bible until the twentieth century. The word it is translated from is usually translated as “Child molester.” Early Bibles even contained the correct translation, some still do. Then there’s the clear words of Jesus when he tells people to grow, to love everyone, and hate no one.

I thought I understood the prejudice and harassment LGBT+ people live with. I was in that “privileged” group of Bisexuals who “pass” as straight. After all this time, people still don’t get it; what happens in my bedroom is as much of your business as what you do in yours is mine. I “came out” to more people who had simply ignored my previous attempts, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for someone with insecurities. I’ve had friends cancel engagements, stop talking with me, and in a few cases end our friendships. So much for our enlightened society.

This year, I am Proud. I have a sense of community I have never felt before. People of diverse circumstance and sexuality joined in support of all who stand outside. I also feel a sadness for those who deny love when it doesn’t fit their understanding, I personally cannot see two humans expressing love for each other and not feel joy.

So get out there, straight, gay, or any variation and spread love.

Adjustments

When I met Janice, we were both polyamorous. Now we find ways to justify the  title. Our lives are simple and sweet.

Pride Weekend at The Woods. All we are wearing are our Birkenstocks.

 

And kinky.

We have found what we never expected. Someone to Love, and be Loved by. Sure, we have a physical relationship that would wear out teenagers, but the warmth, comfort, and happiness we gain merely by proximity is typically thought to be once in a lifetime, and we already had our turns. I just couldn’t think about someone being as precious to me as Emma, and although I have said “I love you” to several women since she died, it never took me as long to say it. This is special, I was kind of afraid to say the words because they had meaning I had not thought possible. When Sam saw us together for the first time (only the second time I had seen Janice), she could see the energy between us, and proceeded to bail on our relationship. At another time I would have argued for her to stay, but I couldn’t wait for her to leave.

There are simple things, our shared preferences exceed those of any woman I have ever lived with. Yes, we are living together. We rarely spend a night apart, the location just changes. She can’t leave her home and responsibilities, and there is no way in hell I would ever make New Jersey my state of residence again.

Our shared passions are nearly identical, and have always been compatible. We’re even going to a baseball game together. She loves sports and I can identify the shape of the ball in each of them.

The passions that we share include our very being. We both have carried labels that were inaccurate, and are more free than ever to be proud of who and what we are. Sam had made quite the point of allowing me to explore “that” side of myself, what a joy to be with someone who is that side of myself, and understands it is not a side, it is all of me.

An interesting aspect has been the reactions. I was pretty sure everyone knew I was bisexual, or at least suspected. It wasn’t “important,” we never talked about it; I would just occasionally say something about an encounter that had not been with a woman. Janice was an activist with Queer Nation, she was very publicly out, so I held her hand thinking I was publicly out too. Apparently I have been too subtle all these years. A number of people distanced themselves from me, most were polite (at least they thought they were).

So I find myself coming out at age sixty. For those who chose to not remember the boyfriend I had at 19 (forty years ago), or the bi/poly household of 1985, it didn’t just go away. And I find it disturbing that my “open minded” conservative friends have had so much trouble understanding I have always been bisexual. Being in committed heterosexual relationships did not change that. I did not “pick sides” and choose Hetero, I just had no male lovers. When a heterosexual person is single, does that mean they are Asexual? Interest remains.

I am free. No longer constrained by domineering partners, I get to do what I want. I can go to a nudist camp for the weekend with my lover. We can go to a swinger’s party and share ourselves with like minded consenting adults. We can go to a hole in the wall adult bookstore and get a standing ovation for our performances. I am harming no one. I am measurably healthier since meeting Janice, both mentally and physically.

Janice and I are bisexuals. We are polyamorous in the sense that we have other lovers, but only as a couple; We “play” together. Just in case you were interested. I know the orientation and sexuality of almost everyone I know, why didn’t you know mine? And why do you think my mentioning my sexuality is “shoving in your face,” when I can’t breathe without enduring the countless examples of your sexuality being shoved in my face and being called “normal,” implying I am not. My sexuality remains an insult to this day. How would you feel if the same was true of you?

I am not asking you to understand me. I am asking you to accept me as your equal, treat me with the same respect you did last year.

Love is Love

 

Why Pride

Pink, Purple, and Blue. The Bi Pride colors.

June is Pride Month. I know, you’re proud every month, but June has been set aside for pride with a capital P. This began with Gay Pride, and rather than separate every minority within the “Gay Community” it is now just referred to as Pride. More on those minorities later.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Pride movement, which traces its beginnings to a bar in New York City called “Stonewall.”

Stonewall had been a hang out for gay men, and was routinely raided by the police. On 28 June 1969, the Queers fought back. For five days there were riots. Gay activism was born. Pride. Gay Pride, Lesbian Pride, Bi Pride, Trans Pride, for most of us, “Pride” is enough.

Some groups want their identity validated as separate among the separate; within my wing, Bisexuals, there are Pansexuals and Omnisexuals (who are the same dog, different collar according to Bisexual Activist Janice Rael) who wish to be identified. Philadelphia has a unique Pride Flag, including a black and a brown stripe, to signify people of color.

The Philadelphia Pride Flag

 

You may ask, “What is there to be proud about?” The answer is “What is there to be ashamed of?” People who are not heteronormative have been erased throughout history. We are proud to be who we are, without public shaming and discrimination. Not to imply those things do not still take place, but it is not as easy to sweep under the rug.

This year Janice and I will be attending a Pride Weekend event at an LGBTQ nudist camp, and we will be attending events in New York City commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and NYC Pride Day celebrations featuring Grace Jones. As my over the top display, I have dyed my beard in the Bi Pride colors, pink, purple, and blue. Just wondering how that will grow out.

There are still insular components in the LGBTQ+ community; we visited the “Gayborhood” in Philadelphia and even though we were wearing our Rainbow identifiers, it wasn’t until Janice spoke up and said we were with Philly Bi Visibility that people warmed up to us. We don’t look queer. Very few people do. We look like a hetero couple, outsiders; which should not be. The community should be more accepting of outsiders, on the other hand, look at other communities that were previously oppressed. Trust takes time. As we struggle to include each other, we also guard our definitions of uniqueness.

There are of course incongruities within the pride movement; one of the closed groups I belong to created a new secret group, I’m not sure how you combine being “Here and Queer” and keeping it secret. It displays the lack of acceptance in society, folks are afraid to come out, but they want to be defiant about it. Another is a group of Bisexual swingers we hang out with, most of the men list their orientation as “straight,” because they don’t feel safe coming out within the swing community. I’ve seen plenty of online dating profiles which specify “No Bi Men,” personally I prefer to know someone’s prejudices so I can avoid them.

My former partner, while claiming to be supportive, felt it was appropriate to express how alien to her my orientation was, eventually turning it into one of her reasons for leaving. I was fortunate to find someone like Janice, who is Bi herself, with whom I can be truly accepted and nurtured.

At the hair salon

 

We are proud of our ability to publicly express our sexuality and orientation without fear. Just like you.

 

Politics

It seems that everyone is talking about politics lately. But they’re not. They are talking about their ignorance of intelligent conversation.

I am not taking sides, I rarely do. When a comment is met by a baseless insult, intelligence has left the building. More accurately, intelligence will have left the building when the person making the comment exits, if he stays and argues, it had left earlier.

Insulting the other guy has a rich tradition in politics. Insulting the other guy’s supporters is something newer. For all those who genuinely believe they can judge another person’s intelligence by who they voted for, the folks at Stanford-Binet would love to talk to you. They’ve been measuring intelligence for over one hundred years and still haven’t gotten it quite right. If you believe that you can judge a large portion of the populace by a single political position, you might want to reconsider your insults towards them. “Racist” and “Bigot” just come across a little hypocritical in such a context.

I have routinely partnered with women who have opposite, or at very least not equal, political opinions as my own. I think in the beginning it was purposeful, designed to inhibit an echo chamber. I want someone I care about to tell me when they think I am wrong, and convince me if I am. The results have been hit and miss. Some have agreed with me out of loyalty, some have disagreed out of spite, some have been unable to participate due to lack of communication skills, and some have been invigorating, honestly exchanging ideas.

I have probably mentioned my fourth wife’s habit of physically covering her ears when information opposing her beliefs were spoken, but I’m not sure if I spoke of the result. She would continue with her knowingly baseless ideas, promoting them and attacking those who believed differently. Not everyone has that level of dedication to being wrong. In a certain way I was impressed. Like the way I was impressed by Timothy McVeigh‘s dedication to his cause.

Emma, my third wife, was probably the closest to me politically, but even we differed on Obama, at least during the campaign. I had initially agreed with her assessments, but then started to see the man behind the curtain before the election. It took her another six months.

The woman I am with now, Janice, has that ever so rare perfect balance. No one would ever suspect her of possessing a single conservative bone in her body. Having anything other than the party line as an opinion can make people on either side of the aisle think you are their enemy, or their friend, and be completely wrong. I have always admired her analyses and interpretations, but it was the other day, when she referred to something as “Left wing propaganda” that I knew she was a true free thinker.

I have other friends who will argue the innate “rightness” of any party, but knowing someone who can also point out their own party’s faults is priceless.

We do not live in a binary world. Society is not binary. So why does anyone think governance and politics should be binary? I had really thought 2016 would be the year of the third party. There were, I believe, thirty one parties with candidates for President, yet ninety three percent of the popular vote went to the two major parties. Both parties were filled with people who “held their noses and voted for the party line,” very few chose to vote for someone who was qualified, or perhaps a better wording would be very few chose to vote for someone who was not disqualified. My personal favorite, for whom I voted, was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian. Gary still got only six percent of the popular vote. I did not throw my vote away, I just made a rather meaningless comment on the two party system. Baby steps in an impatient world

Janice brings me great joy in her interpretation of topics, she always has an unusual angle, because she interprets the issues differently. Her mind is fresh and alive with colors I have not seen before. Janice I can talk about political subjects, and walk away with the feeling we both are considering alternative views we haven’t considered before. She is not afraid to say “I haven’t researched that” and come back later having fully researched the issue. I swear if I had people like her in my intelligence wing we could have ended the cold war ten years earlier.

I am a conservative. I used to call myself a Republican, but the party lost sight of its ideals. Janice considers herself a Progressive, having the same views of the Democratic party. Together we find that commonality, the middle ground, where bot side benefit. By the way, NO ONE benefits from screaming and insults.

While we are in many ways unique, I hope this is not one of them. I hope there are couples all over America having civil conversations and working towards solutions..

 

 

 

Changes

Surprise. Things change.

I was just getting comfortable in this lifestyle to which Sam had introduced me. I had overcome many of my disabilities. I was, by most measures, healed from my TBI.

I was ready to explore polyamory from the driver’s seat. No more hanging back while Sam enjoyed her other relationships, I was ready to start seeing other people myself. As fate would have it, not only was I seeing a side of polyamory I had not before, Sam was as well.

It appears we were approaching polyamory from different points of view. I was taking it literally, “many loves,” while she was taking it as “many lovers.” I wasn’t allowed to have an emotional attachment because she only has physical connections. You know, the stuff monogamous people think polyamorous people do all the time. I am okay with anonymous encounters, but I really got into this to be involved with multiple minds.

The first two women I dated were okay with Sam, but the latest she thoroughly hates. I think it is because she fell in love with me, and Sam was jealous. As time has passed, I found myself loving Janice as well. We click. We have the same desires and attitudes concerning our sexuality. As much as I hate to say it, Sam pushed us together by pushing me away.

Sam went on a tirade, bad mouthing me to anyone who would listen, and some who wouldn’t. She made derogatory remarks about every aspect of my life in every forum she could. I understand jealous rage, I used to feel it. I was fiercely monogamous when I was younger.

What blew me away was when she attacked my morality for loving someone I was intimate with. Most of her attacks were meaningless, obviously designed to be hurtful or annoying, like when she said I was a lousy writer; but when she turned on the way of life she introduced me to I had no desire to pursue a life with her.

It was heartwarming to have people from our online page (which I gracefully exited) approach me as friends. They could see through the bluster of her attacks and saw the angry closet narcissist inside. Our page was supposed to be a drama free zone, accepting everyone. Her shaming of Janice and me was everything our page was supposed to be a shelter from. Janice and I were shocked, the hypocrisy was obvious.

It really got under her skin when I met a new woman for coffee, and spent three hours talking with her. She had settled down and could be civil, but another woman (while she was leaving) was too much for her. It was just coffee! (well, chai) and I was staying out of her way, but again, I failed to match her expectations. One might wonder why she cared, but that would take us down a rabbit hole in search of her true feelings.

Oddly enough, she managed to meet someone who she is now calling the love of her life. He had dumped her a year before she met me, and broken her heart. But he was still on the Swing Lifestyle site and they connected. I sincerely hope they are happy, or at least happy enough to leave me alone.

Closing this relationship has been easier than any of my divorces, I paid Sam for her half of the condo, and will let her store things here until she finds a larger space. In the immediate future, I will have to be home at least every other night to take care of Autumn, once she no longer needs medication every other day I’ll be able to stay away for longer periods.  And the entire meltdown only took about three weeks.

Don’t misunderstand me, polyamory is a beautiful lifestyle. It is essential, as in all relationships, that all participants be on the same page. Janice and I are polyamorous and have every intention of staying that way, she has desires I can never fulfill, and actually gets excited hearing about my dates. I enjoy seeing her satisfied, and we both enjoy pursuits which I will not talk about here, other than to say we do them together, using safe practices.

A number of people have said they are sorry for what I am going through. I am not. I am going through life, and the result of this incident is we are all happier.

Sam managed to move out quickly, so quickly she trashed the condo. She said she would come back and finish up the next week, then cancelled and said it might be a month. In what must have had tongues wagging, Janice came to visit the day Sam left.

So now I return the condo to a presentable state, and finally get to make local friends who can visit. I am, depending on the definition, single again. Janice and I are extremely close and spend most nights at my place, but there is no way we will move in together anytime soon. I will not move to NJ due to their firearms laws, and she is tied to a mortgage and two disabled roommates. Nonetheless, Sam gloated about us moving in together.

Life is good. It could never be perfect, but I am secure, involved with an incredibly complex woman who adores me. The woman I spent three hours with having coffee sees me about once a week. I am becoming involved with some of Janice’s activism, keeping myself active. Janice’s family actually enjoys my presence and is very welcoming. I cannot find anything that isn’t better since, not because, Samantha left.

 

On being Queer

Years ago, when I was in my early fifties, my teenage step son called me a weirdo. He left the room in disgust when I thanked him.

I have always been “different,” even among the different. Even as an outcast the labels never fit.

I moved around a lot as a child, never feeling any place was “home,” it was just where I was. I was always an outsider. As close to having a home I ever have been was my grandparents house in Kingsland, Texas. I could always identify that place as my home, even though I never lived there. They built that place themselves, maintaining a large property that has now been divided, and the house itself has been razed and rebuilt by my cousin, who incorporated many parts of the original in the new building. I am almost certain that my grandmother’s piano is standing on the precise coordinates it has been for the last sixty years.

I am fairly effeminate. I can also produce an authoritative voice and brutal demeanor. When I was working as a digital technician in Philadelphia, some of my clients took to calling me “Dr. House.” It was a title of respect, I cut off explanations that went off-topic, and was generally short with people who wanted to tell me what was wrong with their printer. When I was finished, the printer worked as well as it ever had, and stayed that way for a while; it was unusual to see the same client twice in a month. I dug that moment when they went from being offended to appreciative. At one point I went through a phase of wearing nail polish, a gun metal grey that toner wouldn’t stick to, the only person who complained was my manager, who thought it was too “gay.” I only saw him once a month or less, so I cleaned my nails before going into the office.

I’ve done some unusual things with my appearance, partially because I still don’t like to be recognized but want to be noticed. When I lived in Wildwood, New Jersey for a summer in my twenties, I started wearing exceptionally revealing clothes, it wasn’t the first time people had called me a “faggot.” When they were available in the states, I would smoke Sobranie Cocktails, with their gold filters and pastel papers. In the seventies I had long hair that drew some remarks. In Kindergarten my creativity was mistaken for mental retardation. Gay guys have found me attractive since High School, and one girlfriend used to enjoy walking with me in New Hope Pennsylvania, a fairly gay community, because of the whistles I would receive. I liked it too.

My pastor as a child was exceptionally educated, breaking down scriptures through translation to original Aramaic, saying “but it could also mean this.” He was a questioner, and had found the answers in Christ. He told us to gather all the information we could and make our own decisions. I did. After practicing several religions, I developed a belief system of my own. I refer to it as “Zen Baptist.” In a more literal world it would be called Christian, as in I follow the teachings of Christ. His words as related by the New Testament of the Bible. The Bible is an easy book, if you can read a Stephen King novel you can read the Bible. I sure wish more “Christians” would. In religious discussions I have been called a Fundamentalist, a Muslim, a Bible thumper, and an Atheist. This helped me understand that labels are only meaningful to the labeler, not the labeled.

I even have different physical illnesses. in 1989 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (thirty years and still going strong!). In my fifties I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Just a few years ago I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and the incredibly unusual condition of Superior canal dehiscence. There are people who think the changes in my lifestyle are related to my TBI, which is why I routinely give historical references to demonstrate I have always been this way.

I have had gay relationships, but I am not gay. I have had bisexual relationships (relationships based on a three way exchange of Love and responsibility), but I don’t consider myself bisexual because I don’t seek out men. The best description of me is Queer. I am different. I don’t fit your labels, and your labels might not mean what you think they do.

Romantic connections

My romances have seldom been “normal,” so I have actually given up on “normal” forms of relationships as a goal. Since the TBI, my relationships have been healthier because they are not normal.

Just before the accident Sam and I had decided to live a polyamorous lifestyle. This took a lot of pressure off me during my recovery. I was incapable of intimacy, and she was burning out taking care of me; her other partners were able to give her a break from nursing, as well as satisfy her physical needs. Rather than feeling useless I was happy, knowing she was getting the release she deserved. I “came out” as polyamorous a few months later, but I have only started actively dating over the last few months.

Dating has been fascinating. I am sixty years old, recovering from a TBI, so when a woman finds me interesting it is a boost to my ego, and lately I have found a few who are interested. Where I had no reservations about Sam dating, she has found it is not quite as easy when the shoe is on the other foot. It wasn’t a big deal, but watching her process her thoughts has been fascinating. That said, she did make sure I had condoms with me before my first date, unsure of how she would feel if I used them.

I tried dating a married woman (and yes, she failed to meet the standards of ethical non-monogamy), I was convinced that she was really just a frustrated polyamorist, and even got her to attend a poly meet-up with Sam, but she decided that she was committed to one of her other lovers and polyamory was not the path she wanted to travel. We’re still friends, and will more than likely see each other again (we have common interests), but it would be improper to pursue a romance with her.

Another woman was also experimenting with polyamory. She was recently divorced, and I met her at a poly meet up. We had different goals in relationships, so we parted ways; but again, we’re still friends.

Part of the fascination in dating is the changes to social mores that have taken place.  I met Emma through a personal ad, before the internet. She spent the night on our first date and we moved in together within the week. That has pretty much been my pattern, after Emma died I met women on line but it went the same, with an expectation of sex on the first date. Now that I am polyamorous, which most folks think is a constant orgy, my dates have expressed interest in getting to know me first. But that, it turns out, may just be me. One woman I am currently dating said “I sleep with guys on the first date if it’s just a booty call, but with guys I want to get to know better, I get to know them better first.” This time the ego boost was because she wants to know me better.

Being polyamorous, and operating a polyamorous page on Facebook, I have seen a number of variations in the way partners treat each other. In fact we started our page because we couldn’t deal with the way people behaved on the other pages. All these people celebrating freedom while categorizing and judging everyone else. Many polyamorists are self involved, but Sam and I have a relationship based on communication, and you can’t communicate if you are not honest and open. If more monogamous relationships had the same basis the world would be a better place.

In fact, if more people were open and honest with their spouses there might be fewer poly people. I was attracted to the lifestyle because of the communication required. That was in the early days when I thought everyone believed the same thing; as usual I have been disappointed by reality, poly folks are just as human as mono folks.

I am making every attempt at caution, sometimes I think I may be having too much fun. But these relationships are not throwaways, or one night stands, I’ve met some fascinating people. My latest girlfriend, the one who wanted to get to know me better, has an amazing background in activism, and is not “the girl next door” in any way. New ideas and perspectives are always a turn on.

Many people find relationships difficult after TBI. Mine have been wonderful, even the ones that did not work out. I suspect the difficulty is a result of unrealistic expectations on the part of both partners. I am not an evangelist for polyamory, but I know that the increased communication which is supposed to be a keystone of polyamory (and is in Sam and my case) is fundamental during recovery, impacting every aspect of recovery.

My romantic relationships may be the measure of my recovery. Empathizing with new people, juggling schedules, and new experiences, is a solid road to growth. The fact that my relationship with Sam is stronger than ever leads me to believe we’re doing it right.

 

 

The benefits of Brain Injury

I always have found the bright side of any situation. I learned things I would never have had the opportunity to when I spent some time in Prison. I was fascinated by the technology involved with oncology when Emma had cancer. My Traumatic Brain Injury has provided more insight into “Medicine,” Rehabilitation, Mental Health care, and aspects of society of which I was previously unaware.

There have certainly been things which I see as benefits. While I would never suggest that crushing your skull is something everyone should try, a TBI is not universally negative.

Frustration is so normal in TBI patients that the resulting anger is an expected symptom. I was never frustrated; I was depressed, but never felt there was nothing I could do. Instead of anger towards my changing conditions, I felt curiosity. I was exploring the “new” me. It helped a great deal with the transformation. Rather than wasting time in frustration over what I could not do, I was busy finding out what I could do.

One thing I learned from Emma’s Cancer journey was the importance of an advocate. Sam was my advocate in the months following the accident. She coordinated my benefits and assistance.

When my physical therapists told me I would be lucky to get a thirty degree extension of my arm, I did not set that as a limit, I did not aim for thirty degrees. When I reached zero degrees most of the therapists could not do the same. When I reached minus five degrees (hyper-extension according to the books) no one could. It felt good to do what doctors had said I could never do.

When the otolaryngologist told me my hearing was fine, I sought out another, who was able to diagnose the Superior Canal Dehiscence which had occurred when my skull was crushed. I found a surgeon I trusted to cut into my head and now my hearing is fine.

When the ophthalmologists could not understand that my eyes were not on the same plane, I saw a neuro-opthalmologist who prescribed lenses with prisms and tints (which I could not afford). Fortunately, vision therapy corrected my vision.

The mental fog and slowed processing speed has taken the longest to clear. I am probably as recovered as I am going to get, but that is not stopping me from exercising my brain as much as possible. A month ago I was not writing at all, since 1 January I have been writing close to twice a week. I have had no return of my abilities to play most instruments, but I can drum, well. I cooked last week for the first time in years. I’ve started collecting firearms and reloading shells; I’ve been to the range a couple of times and still can’t carve out the bullseye, but it gives me a goal to work towards. And, dating has become interesting again; as I feel better about myself, other people see me differently.

The accident was the result of my fall down some hazardous steps. I had mentioned the state of the steps, and requested a handrail, a couple of times before the accident. Following the accident the owners denied they had ever heard anything about the steps being hazardous, and had no intention, even after my fall, of installing a handrail. That was sufficient for me to file a suit for negligence, which I won quickly. The amount of the settlement was adequate to reverse my losses of the previous years, allowing Sam and I to purchase a condominium and live comfortably.

Due to the damage I sustained, I qualified for SSDI. I will never have to work again, which has reduced my stress level, which in turn assisted my recovery. Getting handicapped parking also made life easier.

I am calmer, much more understanding than I was before. One exception is truly stupid people, of whom I am less tolerant than before. By “truly stupid,” I mean people who choose to not know things. As with the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, it is understandable to be misled by false media reports, but several days after the truth is revealed you are truly stupid if you think the kids were racists and attacked the Native American.

The therapy I received helped me see that an actual “recovery,” in the sense I would be the same person I was before the accident, is impossible. We all change a little every day, I am not the person I was five years ago, nor are you. We just don’t notice when the changes appear over time. I woke up in the hospital and felt I had aged twenty years. I had, because I was able to exist as a thirty something, and now I was my age. Most people face the reality that they are no longer the football hero or cheerleader they were in younger days, I had to face the reality that I am mortal, because I had never “aged” before.

Admittedly, I am doing much better than most TBI patients with my level of injury after three years. I am doing better than most Multiple Sclerosis patients thirty years after diagnosis. All my life has been fortunate, including Sam finding me in the mudroom, where I would have bled to death by myself. This I place as a result of my relationship with God. Little tiny coincidences have made my life fascinating for sixty years, and I don’t believe in coincidences.

Three years after the accident, I appear normal to most folks. Because I am. I am not the whiz kid with all the answers, but “normal” was a pretty low bar to reach. Another couple of years and I might make it to “above normal,” but for now I am content.

I don’t want to know

My last wife had the most annoying habit. We had different political backgrounds, and she would make statements about mine that were false. When I would try to provide her with correct information, she would say “I don’t want to hear it,” and put her fingers in her ears. In a sense, I suspect this was the reason we divorced. She couldn’t handle constant reminders that the world did not revolve around her. I could not fathom a refusal of information, learning was part of why I loved her; she routinely presented ideas I had never considered, a few of them made sense.

Recently I found myself in something resembling her position. A person presented a thoughtful collection of data and studies that I refuse to entertain. The data was too well recorded and interpreted to throw it away out of hand, it may very well be true, or it could be false, I don’t wish to investigate. It is knowledge I refuse to possess.

The young (42) man who presented the information did so in a sincere manner. Having been inundated with claims of institutional racism being the cause of poor test scores among people of color, he sought out and collected data indicating that differences in intelligence are genetic, racial by nature, and not caused by environment. Were I to entertain this train of thought, it would tarnish my relationships with people of color (by the way, when did white stop being a color?). Certainly anecdotal evidence refutes the claim, I have known white people who were barely in possession of survival skills, and people of color who were brilliant, but I know anecdotal evidence is meaningless in the larger sense.

We discussed my refusal at length. I defended my thought process, which perhaps is a bit esoteric. He did not understand my position, and I realized I could not offer an argument he would understand. He rightfully sees himself as a victim, and seeks defense. For him, the facts are important, because they refute the false claim he (and all other people of his color) are racists. I am older, and simply don’t care what names I am called, because I know who I am.

In contrast, someone else said to me “Do you know that scientists have discovered a traumatic marker in mostly all African descendants in the U.S. that started in slavery in our DNA?” As preposterous as that concept is, I was curious. Was it possible that some incredible leap in genetics happened that I had not heard about? I asked for a reference to the data, but folks don’t really understand how to provide references so he sent some screen shots of the headlines of articles making the claim. From those I was able to find the name of the scientist who published the study which had been twisted into the claim. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, had done a study in 2015 of thirty two holocaust survivors and their offspring, coming to the conclusion that trauma can be passed on genetically. The idea was briefly popular, and then soundly debunked.

I wanted to believe this was possible. I looked farther than the initial claim, even without references. I could see the flaws in her initial study, but continued to look for supporting research. It just isn’t true, like many other ideas that are accepted because they sound like something that could make sense, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Another friend, reflecting on Matthew 26:11 ( For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.), brought up reasons for fighting an unwinnable war. We cannot eliminate poverty, but we can provide comfort for its victims. There are many fights worth fighting, as long as we don’t lose sight of the goal. When the goal becomes impossible, we are fighting the wrong fight and need to reevaluate the goal. By providing comfort to victims of poverty, we are fighting poverty.

I see these unwinnable wars overtaking civil society. For starters, can we de-escalate the rhetoric and stop calling them “wars”? As war like as many people wish to appear, they just don’t make good soldiers. Good soldiers fight to restore peace, most folks today fight for an opportunity to keep fighting. There was the war on drugs, the war on crime and the war on poverty; then suddenly everything was a war. Women, Blacks, Truth, Science, you name it, any difference was framed as a war. The main enemy being “people who don’t think like me.” The civilian, having been assigned the role of warrior, responds in the way he imagines a warrior would respond. The fights never end.

“What about” has become such a popular argument ruse that it has its own new word, whataboutisms. The idea that misdeeds can be mitigated when preceded by misdeeds of someone else. Two wrongs still do not make a right, and it is off putting to have to inform adults of this fact. This image trades on whataboutisms, but instead of continuing an argument it attempts to soften one.

 

I don’t think many people respond well to attacks. They become defensive and any exchange of ideas comes to a halt. We can disagree without insulting each other. No solutions are reached through snarling, one has to respect the person they disagree with in order for anyone to change their mind.

Polyamory

As much as I loathe Wikipedia, I want to start with their definition, because it indicates the complexity.

polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.


Both Greek and Latin roots? No wonder people have such difficulty understanding. Most people define polyamory by what it is not, an inefficient way to convey meaning, but polyamorists tend to over explain, part of trying relentlessly to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like Merriam Webster’s definition better

 

polyamory

plural

polyamories

  1. :  the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time

This removes “intimacy” and replaces it with “romantic,” there are always misunderstandings around intimacy, which I have discussed recently. My opinion is that many people repress their sexuality, in most cases understanding very little about their own bodies. When faced with the subject of other people’s bodies the imagination runs wild, unfettered by common sense. H.L Mencken defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” I might add, “and being not, the ensuing envy.”
My interest in polyamory came on the heels of three emotionally devastating relationships. I had been happily monogamous, in some instances fiercely so. I was jealous of the young men Emma allowed to flirt with her, which prompted her to toy with my emotional responses even more. When she died I tried to move forward in monogamy, recognizing the importance of communication. Next wife had little interest in communication (she was the one who would literally put her fingers in her ears to avoid hearing things she did not agree with), but she did say something as she was leaving that resonated. She commented about how difficult it was to love me. Her statement made no sense on its own, but was similar to something a woman between my second and third wives had said. The next relationship I had went much the same way, with Nancy saying “Loving you is hard” and then blaming me for her seizures because she was “too stressed out from lying to me.” It was all starting to make sense, so when the next girlfriend took $2,000 and went to Japan to see her grandson, I didn’t find it as disturbing as I should have. I didn’t even mind when she contacted me out of the blue about a year later, acting as if nothing had happened, I just told her I couldn’t see her anymore. I no longer expected honest communication.

I had decided the best way to reduce stress was to stop expecting fidelity, no one could ever blame me for causing them seizures again. I certainly did not expect what I found. When I met Samantha I knew she had other men in her life. There was nothing to hide. A month later I fell, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury as well as several other injuries. Samantha took a month off work to care for me, showing more devotion and care than most of my monogamous partners had ever shown. She has encouraged me to go out with other women, and I have, I just don’t have the desire for multiple partners. I’ve had drinks with one of her suitors, he invited us to come over for New Years Eve last year.

Most explanations of polyamory are centered on what polyamory is not. Part of that is because there are so many ways to be poly. There is no one right way, but there are several wrong ways. As I said earlier, poly people tend to over explain, often creating new terms so rapidly it is difficult to keep up. Sometimes they try so hard to be all-inclusive they can’t be followed, which is why Sam and I created a group for mature poly people. I think we’ve kicked four people out of the group, three for inappropriate advances, another for trying to tell everyone the right way to be poly, implying they were wrong. Our defining blurb includes “My poly may not be your poly, but part of the exercise is accepting that however we choose to live, we are all still poly. No shaming or denouncing the formats we have chosen. We all have opinions, display the level of respect with which you wish to be treated.” Our group presently has over three hundred members, several whom have told me our group is the only place they feel comfortable being themselves.

The universal rules of polyamory are centered in honesty. You do not get involved in a new relationship without talking with your partners about it. My relationship naturally carried that to “No secrets.” Polyamory is not to be confused with “Swinging,” or meaningless one night stands; sexuality is rarely confused with intimacy; having multiple partners does not mean having them simultaneously. One of the most common, and least appreciated, aspects of polyamory are “Unicorn Hunters,” people looking to add a third partner (usually female) to an existing relationship, for any number of reasons. People are not objects you take from a shelf to use until you tire of them, they are not a spice with which you can spice up your marriage. There are plenty of multi-partner households, but actively looking to “add a person” is unseemly.

Some polyamorous relationships are asexual, simply warm romantic relationships. The focus is on communication, not sexual activity (can I say that enough?). Of course, if you want to produce a television show about polyamory, sex still sells. It just doesn’t tell the story. Or it tells the wrong story. There are enough false stories about polyamory that we become a bit defensive, but the fact is, there are many ways to be polyamorous, so we don’t have a comprehensive argument. One difficulty is dating, the phrase “I’m in an open relationship” has been used by adulterers so many times that OKCupid, a large dating web site, has an accommodation for people who are polyamorous. You can link your profile to your partners profiles, there is no question that your partner(s) knows what is going on. Cheating is just as distasteful to poly folk as mono folk, because polyamory is about loving, not conquering.

I have been surprised by the people who show up at poly events, but then, I’m there. Polyamorous people come from every walk of life, every income bracket, and every political leaning. You may be surprised I am poly. It is a part of my life, not all of it.

Lethal Narcissism

My mail has been unreliable, apparently I missed the degrees in psychology everyone received. They’re being used irresponsibly, and the value of something that was freely dispensed to all humans can actually drop to a level beneath worthless. Nonetheless, I hear diagnoses and prognoses bandied about by folks who have had no contact with their target patient. Throw a few psychological terms about and people will think you know what you’re talking about; if they’re gullible, or you’re saying what they want to hear. In reality there are a large portion who will see through you, but there is still that seven percent who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

A little research reveals this to be a symptom of the narcissism which is running rampant in American society. Narcissists tend to be the first to judge, and the last to judge themselves.  Of course, recognizing there is a multi million dollar market for selfie sticks might lead you to the same conclusion. The problem with the uneducated psychologists is they do not realize you may display a symptom without having the full blown syndrome. Yes, we have taken a turn towards narcissism as a society, but everyone with a cubicle plastered with photos of themselves is not a clinically diagnosed narcissist. One diagnostic test that has worked for me is to present someone with a list of the symptoms of narcissism. If they do not recognize any of the traits within themselves, they are most likely a narcissist. A balanced individual will recognize their own faults.

We are not over run by people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but the number of people openly displaying aspects are unusually prevalent. They are:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

You see this all around you, just not at pathological levels. You can certainly taste it in my writing. Unfortunately, as with any psychological disorder, behavior that is not addressed self validates and increases. I am troubled for society, the expressions are becoming lethal. When national personalities call for violence, someone will be listening. If that person is less than well balanced, violence of some sort will follow. It starts with rhetoric, and when that rhetoric is challenged the response is ad hominem. I was in a discussion last week about politics, and one person went non-linear, eventually saying “I can have my opinions without factually reporting why I have them…” As I recall, the purpose of exchanging opinions was to convince people of your opinion. This person was under the impression that all that was required for me to accept her opinion as fact was her saying it. If there is truly a New World Order, this is it, “It’s true because I want it to be true.”

My ex-wife was similar. We would be discussing a subject and she would say something which had no basis in reality. When I corrected her she would argue. When I presented evidence she would say “Well, you’ve obviously done more research than I, but I still have the right to my opinion.” One time she actually placed her fingers in her ears because she did not want to hear anything which disproved her point. We’re divorced now. I don’t mind people who disagree with me, I’ve often learned new views, but when someone chooses ignorance over information there is nothing left to talk about.

The issue is not limited to a single group, discussions are becoming more difficult in general, and it’s not just my brain injury. I used to belong to several pro second amendment groups, but a few of them became unstable, with the “gun-nuts” often feared by the anti-gun crowd taking over. They disturbed me as well, so I left those groups. I’ve stayed with a few groups who promote responsibility, finding that conversations with responsible people are more satisfying regardless of topic, there is less a sense of being in an echo chamber when people speak freely and back up their opinions.

This is where narcissism can become lethal. The narcissist, in his arrogance, has isolated himself from other ideas, living in an echo chamber. He believes he is smarter than everyone else, and empowered to apply his concept of justice. The echo chamber is appealing to the narcissist. There are no voices of dissent. In many cases I find they have no intention of making sense, they just want to make noise. Louder is truer.

This week a breaking point snapped, and a man who believed his opinion reflected reality opened fire on a baseball team. He was the typical slacktivist, after firing fifty rounds the only casualty was the shooter. He did manage to wound six people, one seriously, another with a round to the foot. The story has revealed few details as the FBI has taken over the investigation, the rifle has been described as an “AK style weapon” by people who have most likely never held a firearm, and it appears he had been living on the street for several weeks. How he managed to conceal a rifle while witnesses who knew of him said all his belongings were in a bag is a bit odd, as well as how someone could live on the streets when they were carrying a $500 asset.

James T. Hodgkinson had a variety of reasons for believing Republicans should die. In his pocket was found a list of other pro-life politicians he planned to assassinate, because people who wish to preserve life should die. The logic reveals a streak of narcissism. His lack of concern for human life can easily be blamed on the severity of his mental illness, it can also be blamed on media figures who have encouraged violence through their rhetoric. Oddly (?), the media doubled down, suggesting the shooting was not enough. One Democratic member of congress responded to the calls for unity following the attack by saying she thought the shooting was funny. Why we might expect a more solemn response from a party with a history of violent acts indicates we are far more gracious than they are, even as we are portrayed as the bullies in life. This is narcissism showing, the belief they are superior, they have been wronged, no other opinion matters.

Where did this come from? One theory is that narcissists are born out of trauma, another that they are the result of “over-parenting.” I would like to think we can curb the progression from personality trait to personality disorder, but the nature of the process shields the narcissist from introspection. Contrary to popular opinion we are not all psychiatrists, and are ill equipped to counsel the mentally ill. Narcissists deny their own issues and accuse others of being narcissistic. In a defense of the shooting, Democratic Strategist James Devine said “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people. Why is it a shock when things turn violent?” Such a transparent statement, revealing his own narcissism.

Facing narcissists in my life for over fifty years, I eventually learned how to deal with them. Don’t. They either become more narcissistic or violent. They unwittingly isolate themselves, help give them what they want, complete isolation. As much as we may say “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words do hurt. They can be an incitement to violence against a crowd, or against a single person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity

As I approach Father’s Day, I am surrounded by synchronicity, a set of events which appear to have meaningful coincidences. I do not actually believe in the concept of coincidences in the first place, that they should be meaningful absent a cause is more a mind trying to make connections where they do not exist rather than a deep insight, it is, simply, a vibe. But I like the word “Synchronicity.”

My own father and I have had an unusual relationship. I say unusual because it does not seem to be the relationship my peers express experiencing. We’ve been close, distant, and close again for decades. From what people have told me, their relationships have been stable and unchanging. My father and I have both grown over the years, at some points we were on the same plane, others we were not.

Just last December, I was rather harsh with my father. I will make the excuse that I was exhausted from trying to explain the complexity of my brain injury when he popped in with an email of basically “Well what you should do…” after I had been struggling most of the year to do those very things, but I released fifty eight years of frustration on him. Regardless of what I perceived as aloofness, I went overboard. His response was precisely what I would desire, he didn’t make a big deal about it. Instead, when I told him about my surgery in April, he flew in to spend a few days.

 

Dad as I came out of surgery

 

I contrast this with several other paternal relationships in my life.

I would like to believe my relationship with my children is similar to that with my father, in the sense I love them no matter how much they turn away from me. Just last week my youngest son turned thirty four, we haven’t spoken in a few years, but last I saw him he was holding onto a coat of mine which he had borrowed on a previous visit twelve years prior. He said it was the only piece of me he had. Nolan has not communicated with me in years, but he has not (as his siblings have) blocked me. He is honest, if he were angry he might block me, he just doesn’t want to get caught up in the drama of his siblings disapproval of me. I’m still holding out hope for the siblings as well, but it’s hard to reach out to them while I’m blocked. I just know how I grew in my relationships and hope they will do something similar. They have a few years to go, I was about the age my eldest is now when I found a way to understand my father, but then I wanted to understand my father, I was a bit more curious.

My son Nolan (in my coat)

My girlfriend has a difficult relationship with her father, and as I examine that relationship and attempt to assist in the repair of it, I appreciate my father even more. Where our differences often were the result of one of us growing in a dimension the other had not (at the moment), Sam’s and her father’s issues appear to spring from a lack of growth. From what I can see, their relationship has not changed over their lifetimes, both seeking the ideal relationship and accepting nothing less; Sam seeking her vision of a proper father and Saul seeking his vision of a proper daughter, neither accepting the other’s frailties. I hear actual expressions of compassion from each of them, but each wants the other to change. This is the problem my children have, they resist changing their point of view for fear of it being perceived as weakness, an acknowledgement of their previous point of view being “wrong.”

These relationships, and those of other people I have been close to, tell me there is no “normal” father/child relationship any more than there are normal interpersonal relationships of any kind. It is certainly common for children to love their parents and vice versa, but as in any relationship, one party’s love does not obligate reciprocation.

I believe my father is proud of me, he recognizes my strengths and even though I did not follow the path he had in mind, I have been a productive member of society. I am certainly proud of the good works he has accomplished. Go back forty years and we were both difficult and less mature.

Times change. Some of the things I did forty years ago are unacceptable now, others were odd then but normal now. As I have come to reconcile my brain injury, one of my primary concerns was that I am not who I was before the fall. My neuropsychologist reminded me that no one is who they were last year or ten years ago, we change, the world changes, and the healthy among us adapt.

Some people refuse to let go of their pain. Some people find themselves trapped in a relationship in which their opposite clings to their pain. The healthy thing to do would be to walk away, but parental relationships can be as painful to walk away from as to endure. Parents tend to understand the delicate balance, which is why I had hoped my own children would see our relationship more clearly once they became parents. One more lesson in “just because it worked for you doesn’t mean anyone else will see it.” That is a lesson I need to relearn often.

If there is a secret, that is it. Learn and relearn. As each participant changes, and the world they live in changes, accept and forgive; this project never ends. It would be nice if relationships were simple, but they are not; they are the connections of two unique individuals. You can blame the frustrations on Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” or you can change the way you look at it. Leave the past behind, and focus on now, accept and forgive.