Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Regular Clint Eastwood

Last week on a beautiful spring day I was at work, shades on smoking a hand rolled cigarette when one of my coworkers looks over at me and says "you're a regular Clint Eastwood when you want to be aren't you?" I'd like to say that I grunted in proper Clint fashion but instead I chuckled. I totally understood where he was coming from - I can be laconic, gruff and I smoke unfiltered cigarettes, but I was surprised that someone else would see me that way. Laying in bed that night I relayed the scene to my partner. "It totally fits" she said cracking up laughing. The next morning as I stood on my porch thinking, staring at the trees starting to spread their leaves once again, I pondered the comment. Is that really me? Is it an image I've tried to manufacture? Or is it who I've become? 

It would seem at a cursory glance like the first and last questions are redundant but when I thought back to who I was as a little child, I wondered if I was always destined to be what I appear to have become, or if it is the layer of protection I've built up trying to cope with life. Most people try on various phases throughout their lives as they try to fit into society and this might be no different. In the last few years I've come to believe that what we hold onto as us many times is what hold us back because we are beholden to who we've crafted ourselves to be. Slowly, in recent months, I've accepted the hard fact that the world doesn't (and may never) make much sense to me. I fit in about as much as a loose ball bearing in precision clock - I bounce around, occasionally getting stuck, fucking up what other people think is supposed to happen. I guess that last question posed on the porch is probably the closest to accurate - this is who I've become. It feels nice to have weatherbeaten, calloused skin on my heart because living doesn't hurt quite so much but again - is it all of who I am? 

This may seem like an obsessive quest for something most people don't care to consider but any second your world can be turned upside down and what you thought was real, was who you are, suddenly is gone. People who have lived through terrorist attacks, been blindsided by breakups or divorce, suffered sudden financial losses, you name it -  know first hand how one second can change everything. An athlete that has based their entire identity on being proficient at their sport is left with a gaping hole after the permanent loss of mobility in an accident. Who am I? Who are any of us when you take away all the things that "define us"? 

Radio Lab recently had a fantastic episode about the Death Watch Beetle which caused me to contemplate my own place in the universe. These beetles chew through wood as a little worm for 10-15 years before they turn into a beetle. Once the transformation has occurred, their only purpose is to mate and then die. They cannot even eat in the 3 weeks they have to procreate and many of them die without "getting lucky" even once. They are essentially the universe's way of recycling wood. A simple but effective subroutine that keeps everything going. We think because there are so many choices available to us humans for who we can become that we are special, but in the grand scheme of the universe, we are as insignificant as the Death Watch Beetle. What's my function, to irritate people with my singular perspective as I bounce around trying to figure things out? I don't mean to but I just can't help it. Maybe that is my function and it's as thankless as the job the beetles have chewing through wood year after year. Very few people thank or praise a tree for standing there providing shade. Hell, it's rare that a specific part of nature is even recognized outside of the group it is lumped into.

On average, less than 10 people read anything I write which can be discouraging but I realized today that I wouldn't be sharing my life with the partner I love dearly if it had not been for my writing. The first time we met she thought I was a jackass (I was) but as she read my blog posts on Facebook she was drawn to the proverbial drumming of my head against the timbers. You never know what the fruit of your actions will be but when you are authentic, the return is what is natural and suited to you. 

This weekend my children stayed over and we watched The Never Ending Story part I & II. When the ancient turtle pokes it's head out and blathers on about how nothing matters, I knew exactly what "they" were talking about. Even if humans don't destroy themselves, the universe is going to continue expanding, the sun is going to burn out and earth will be a desolate rock all alone. Our species may develop technology to colonize another planet in a distant galaxy but the chances of that happening and any of our names being remembered is about as probable as winning one of the massive Powerball lotteries. So why do we try so hard? I figure it's mostly because we don't know who we are or what the point of any of this is. We try to keep the wheel rolling so that we don't have to think about it. When the credits rolled I realize that despite being a film is for children, the underlying message is brilliant. There is no point except for the fact that the story never does end.

We are all consciousness in one form or another and we all have a purpose like Death Watch Beetles, Mycorrhizal Fungi, trees, bees, every bit of the universe. It's all part of a story that is being crafted by belief and imagination but most of us haven't woken up to the fact that the exterior isn't who we are. Even the exterior of our soul. Much of what we think is our personality are coats of paint layered on our hearts to cover up and make presentable the parts that were disregarded, mocked or abused by others. Consciousness is a never ending story but most of the characters never are zombies. Instead they let surroundings and the accumulation of life inform who they are when they simply need to realize that the essence at the core of each of us is a pen. No matter what is stripped away on the outside by circumstances you can always scribe additional chapters in your own unique hand. 

Fuck it, I am a bit Clint Eastwood but there's much more than that yet to be revealed. Keep on writing your never ending story. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Zootopia

Yesterday, I took one of my daughters out to see a movie (among other things) for her birthday. She ended up choosing the animated film Zootopia about a bunny who wants to be a police officer. Undeterred by the fact that no rabbit of any kind has ever been an officer of the law, Judy presses on delivering the ever so saccharine message of "you matter and can be whatever you want". It's not that I don't believe it, it's that I don't believe they (the production company and world in general) mean it. Early on in the story, Judy's father tells her "you know why your mom and I are so happy? It's because we settled a long time ago and gave up on all the big dreams." That's a paraphrase since my eidetic memory is out to lunch but you get the drift. A few adults in the audience chuckled ruefully and a man three rows in front of me guffawed loudly. It sounded like the laugh of someone who had given up and was just letting the comedian point it out humorously. Many times it's the most awful truths that we laugh at.

I thought about how so many people give up because they listen to people say "that's just life. No sense crying about it." It's like the possibility of a better world is akin to believing Lord of the Rings is real. There is a sense in crying about it though, instead of just laughing it away. Our world is stuck in a self medicating cycle to ignore how society is rotting away. "Aren't films like this helping in some way" you might ask? Possibly, for a few. Nearly everyone gets caught in the trap because the system is designed that way like a hall of mirrors. Inspirational films aren't being made to change the world, they're being made to make money or a name for someone. I work in the film business and know that in most cases, unless forced to by law, the productions don't give a damn about the employees. If you want to change the world, you need to act in a manner that changes the immediate world around you. Otherwise you are just perpetuating the cycle of giving people what they want as long as you get their money. People want to feel like life isn't hopeless so that's the message in entertainment. After the big adventure is over and little miss Bunny Cop exits the screen, she has to go on and live a presumably banal life in a perfect place like Zootopia but of course we don't see that because it's not entertaining. 

We've accepted this idea that if we work hard, are lucky or dishonest - we can have it all. Most of the "work hard" part has left American culture as the reality show instant superstar model tapped that same vein - wanting to be you, be significant. Life is work (the part left out of most movies or montaged quickly away) but we make it way harder because of the system that has evolved. Convenience and comfort are destroying our world and people like Donald Trump shrug and say "I'm a business man" as if that makes his past participation in what he plans to stop perfectly acceptable. This country has come to a point where a large portion of the population believe this shit that comes out of Trump's mouth because all they want is for things to be like the "good old days". There weren't "good old days" for a good chunk of this country - ever. By believing the nostalgic bullshit you are ignoring the plight of everyone outside your small incestuous circle.  It's just as asinine as believing that feel good movies are predicated on a foremost desire to impact the world. Now I'm digressing to rant about Trump. 

Before bed I watched President Obama's talk at SXSW regarding encryption and national security. Listening to the myriad things brought up in connection with this one topic, it was impressed upon me how difficult running a country is. (I'm not sure how you would know where to begin!) An immediate difference jumped out though when the matter of probable cause for searches, warrants for wire tapes etc being in play for years came up and how this isn't much different. It's hugely different because most people have their phone on or near them 24 hours a day. We use smartphones for everything and the idea that someone could pry into your life, present and past (to a degree), is frightening. I think it's equal parts of no one wanting to be on their best behavior all the time and fear of the government. A healthy apprehension of the government is always wise but the personal conduct side is where the problem lies. Freedom shrinks away when Big Brother is potentially always watching but if people acted decently and stood up to bullies and corruption in power, it would be a moot point. 

Cynical is probably what comes to mind after the previous few paragraphs but they're meant to be a reality check. This is just some thoughts, not entertainment to make you feel good. When you are the guy in the front row laughing at your pain do you swallow the entertainment pill and ignore it or realize that pain is there to tell you something is wrong - and do something about it? If you want to make a difference in the world don't make money off inspiring others to think they can change the world - actually change the world by living your life in the way you wished the world to be. Otherwise just keep rolling along like a bunny, I mean horse with a carrot labeled "self-acceptance" dangled in front of it. You'll get it one day champ!

*For the record, the movie is really cute (not the bunny though. If you watch the movie you'll know what I mean : )

Friday, March 4, 2016

All Things Profitable

Dear Alex,

This week my girlfriend and I took a spur of the moment trip up to Michigan binge listening This American Life. Episode #580 That's One Way to Do It, is where I met you, Alex, and I had so many things I wished I could tell you. I grew up in a super conservative family, was homeschooled and am different from them. No, I'm not gay or adopted but I never quite fit in with my family because something inside me wouldn't completely break and conform. Somewhere in my brain it felt like I was trying to make a recipe with the wrong ingredients. The trial runs weren't looking good and I couldn't deny the unhappiness. Even though I've felt very timid most of my life, I valued bravery and honesty because that was the kind of person I wanted and hoped I could be. My honesty was prone to cause more trouble for myself as Mother tried to mold me into her perfect little Christian boy. I never doubted that my parents loved me but it wasn't unconditional, instead precipitated by a foremost concern of the appearance of their ego.

As my teenage years progressed, I tried my best to stick to my parents wishes while dreaming about escaping prison - all the while terrified about what I would do on the outside. I wasn't allowed to date, be friends with girls (or much of anybody for that matter) and was told I shouldn't be spending energy  "thinking about relationships". It's pretty hard when you're a teenager not to think about that stuff but I did my best. My mom had a "conservative christian romance novel" she loved and compelled me to read that promoted ideas like betrothal and absolutely no physical contact of any kind before the marriage ceremony. I could go on for a while with my life story but I won't bore you. Straddling the fence of your parents wishes and your heart doesn't go well and I ended up with a 9 year marriage and 4 children because of it. The trip to Michigan happened because I'm 32 and still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. My girlfriend and I drove 700 miles just so I could knock on the door of a company I was interested in hoping maybe to get a job. I certainly don't have it all together but I've learned a lot along the way.

I want to ask you Alex, "why do you believe the things you believe?" Have you logically looked at all of the sides? Or do you throw things out because you are trying to hold onto something that defines you? I hated democrats most of my life because I was told how evil they were by my parents and Rush Limbaugh. You don't want people to get handouts because they should work for things right? I would generally agree with that but did you know that in the Old Testament, "God" instituted many social programs. They had debt forgiveness, food left unharvested in the corners of the fields for those willing to work and a few other things. Christians were instructed to help the "poor, fatherless and widows". There is a balance just like anything else but the bible leans more communal / socialist than not.

You went to public school so you must have received some education on evolution. Do you believe that the earth is 10,000 years old or many millions? Religion and science are generally irreconcilable. Up till last year every time I heard something like "14 billion years ago" in a science program, a voice scoffed inside my head saying "that's not true". For the longest time I parroted that sentiment because it was part of my identity. Evolution, liberalism, homosexuality, unmarried heterosexuality, etc were beliefs and life styles associated with "sinners" so to even contemplate one of the alternate perspectives felt like leaning over the cliff to look down - you might fall over really easily and die. In the world of our minds when you fall off the cliff what dies is the ego and that will only kill your body if you let it.

Most people believe that some thing will make you whole - parents (a family), mentors, money - power. It turns out that many times the things that we believe we need are what turn out to hurt us the most. Feeling completely lost in life, married doing whatever jobs I could find, I hoped for a mentor. I had given up on asking for advice from my parents a long time ago because my dad never gave advice just theoretical outcomes of the various scenarios he could imagine. My mom on the other hand, would tell me what I shouldn't do, and then declare my only option (which usually sounded awful). By the time someone arrived in my life as a formal mentor, years had passed and I had learned that if my actions don't involve you or someone unconsenting, you have no business telling me what to do. I can't think of a time where I've ever done something to be vindictive. For instance when I got my ear pierced at 21, my mother told me that I needed to take it out to respect her accusing me of "wearing it to be rebellious". I acquired an earring because I liked it, not to piss off or impress anyone. Eventually it happened, I disappointed my mentor by something I did and he distanced himself. It hurt but I was going through losing a lot of things at the time and figured it was par for the course. I took the good, left the bad behind and moved on.

If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to be you just for you. Don't let anyone tell you who you should be and don't ever be something other than you for someone else. When you become something you're not, you're being used. Last year I let go of a lot of hurt and anger as I understood myself, life and my parents way more. I forgave them but at the same time didn't have much use for a relationship because they were still locked in their ideas of me - unwilling to let go of their dreams and egos. The last five months of 2015 passed without conversing outside of a couple brief emails. I didn't hate them but I am not going to let them keep pretending that I am our ever should have been their puppet.

The trip up to Michigan wasn't as profitable on the job end as I had hoped but was amazing in many other ways. I had a short conversation with my mother on the ride back in between podcast episodes which was very pleasant. When we pulled in after 15 hours of traveling through bad weather I wasn't in the mood to look through the mail. This morning as I was contemplating what to write to you, I looked through the post and asked my girlfriend to read a letter that had arrived while we were away. It was from my mother. I was extremely guarded because some of what she wrote in the beginning I had heard before but as an explanation / excuse / half-assed apology for her behavior. This time she didn't evade blame but finally admitted what I felt all along. Even though I had already forgiven her, I cried and it felt good. It was nice to know this long battle I've fought to be me has been worth it and justified. I always doubted if I was just colossally screwing up but as I began finding more peace it laid some of the fear to rest. Vindication takes a weight off and I hope that one day your parents will be able to give that to you. But don't look for it because it will just hold you both back. Be exactly who you would be if everyone that knew you and had an idea of who Alex is died. Imagine you have no one to impress or be beholden to. You don't even need a lover right now, just accept that you are fine just as you and compromising that for anyone isn't worth it. You don't seem like an asshole so this probably goes without saying but don't lash out or do things to prove points. You'll only cause yourself more pain and trouble.

A truck stop in Kentucky had a rack of stickers with things like a picture of President Obama and Secretary Clinton the caption reading "dumb and dumber", or Calvin pissing on the word "republicans", "Keep honking, I'm reloading." I turned to my girlfriend and said "this is what's wrong with America. They are all fueled by anger and hatred." Putting a sticker on your vehicle is a great way of pissing off others without having to stare them in the eye. It's cowardly and that's why I believe many American's like Donald Trump. He says what's on his mind while staring you in the eye and doesn't care. That's why people like him. The man is tapping into a vein of fear and hate like a hungry vampire - he's an asshole so you don't have to be. But some people once bitten turn and the barn can go up in a flash from just one match. You said you like power and Donald projects power but he's a bully. I'm sure you've felt powerless in your life, I know I have, and seeing someone who isn't can be inspiring. Is it worth it to "gain the whole world and lose your own soul?" I don't believe in a literal Heaven or Hell but what I think Jesus was trying to say is that you trade your soul in little pieces for the things you believe will make you whole (power, money, relationships) in the end really having nothing but a shell. There is nothing wrong with pulling away from a situation where you feel disrespected, but always keep being what you want to receive. Boundaries are necessary for any of life to work otherwise nothing would exist.

You seem like a bright, determined young man and I wish you all the best in life.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Police Mode

This American Life released an episode recently called My Damn Mind, the first half concerning the shooting of an unarmed young man in a hospital having a psychotic episode. There were over two hundred police shootings of humans having psychological problems in the US last year. Listening to the story I became agitated. Why did this happen? Sure, I wasn't there but what missing information could make someone think that shooting an unarmed person is acceptable? If two "civilians" tangled unarmed, that would usually be considered a brawl not a life or death situation. It was stated numerous times that "the cops had not received proper training to deal with psychotic individuals" but I don't see what that has to do with anything. The police report states that the young man attacked them causing them to immediately go into "cop mode". They stood by their actions. 

I believe in respecting authority but what I don't accept is the idea that putting on a badge makes your health and welfare more important than someone else's, especially if they are unarmed. Josh Brolin was arrested for tapping a cop on the shoulder to get his attention. He tapped the dude on the shoulder! I know that LEOs will say "you don't know the dangers we face" but what difference does that make? Traffic stops I sort of understand. People may have guns in their vehicles, blast you and drive off, but if you are on a street in the city, the likelihood of someone trying to harm you just because you are standing there is really remote. "But it's still a possibility" some people would argue. Again, how does that make it acceptable? A boxer knows the risks being taken entering the ring - blood and bruises are part of the job - death is recognized as a possibility though fairly remote. When you put on a badge you have to accept what comes with it but most cops aren't wearing a badge to serve.

It's called a "shield" for a reason. Men and women who have felt pushed around or abused in life pick up law enforcement claiming they "want to make a difference in the world". That might be true but what I believe is also true is these individuals want to feel like they have the power to keep everyone right where they want them. I don't like people touching me - it pisses me off most of the time. I can imagine how it would feel good to have a trump card to say "back the fuck up" and be respected. It's all about feeling like your wishes are honored - ultimately that other people value your speck of consciousness. Most people don't work through their subconscious thoughts so when they are ignored, insulted or attacked (particularly when it's someone they look down upon), all the bottled anger and fear are released and unarmed people end up being shot. It's inexcusable and has nothing to do with training to better deal with mentally ill. Law enforcement needs severe help learning how to recognize and handle the demons stuffed into that blue suit, so that the shield is viewed more like a piece of a wall instead of personal bubble. Vikings would form a shield wall that they all stood shoulder to shoulder behind. If someone fell they closed in over the spot to try and progress with the fight. Cops are supposed to be standing for justice -"to protect and serve" trusting that the shield wall will prevail even if one falls. I'm definitely not advocating violence against the police but their attitude of a scratch on me equals death for you is unacceptable and highly troubling. Cop mode should not equal "god mode" - this isn't Judge Dread (who by the way is just a government sanctioned vigilante). These cops going around killing folks are really just a bunch of pissed on, pissed off little kids with a god complex.