Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holidays: Old Farts Style

Holidays are always an interesting time, as in the interesting times that are either a blessing or a curse, depending upon your cultural horror scope. But what makes them even more interesting is when you strip away the ordinary layers of family, food, and community, and discover there's something underneath the tinsel and tears that hangs on long after the final glass is wiped dry and placed back in the cabinet--an introspection that takes root only after being thoroughly fertilized with festive manure.

Traveling through the insightful landscape can be triggered by drama, trauma, or simple family and/or community dysfunctionality. There's nothing like the festering stench of unresolved issues to propel you forward into the clear insight of putting never again at the top of your New Year's resolutions. Holidays remind you that time doesn't wound all heals; sometimes it sits you across from them at the dinner table and forces you to confront them along with your own demons.

There is also the horrible loneliness of trying to celebrate a holiday when there's missing friends and family. No matter how big the party is, no matter how much time has passed, the places at the table filled with different people will always serve as a reminder of those no longer with us, whether by death, divorce, or choice. And the longer they've been gone, the more sainted or evil they become, which leads to the person occupying their former seat inheriting the will never be good enough tag or the impossible expectation of will always be better so you better not screw up tag. And there will certainly be at least one person, if not several, who see you as seated in one of those preconceived chairs, no matter how much you try and deny it.

The best way to get through the holidays is to constantly remind yourself that this too shall pass, and in the morning the blinding hangover will be worth an evening of blocking out grandpa's annoying new trophy wife, the cousin who chugged the good brandy, the ex who either shot if looks could kill glances your way all night, or worse yet, came on to you after draining the liquor cabinet, and the people making polite conversation with you so they can gather enough dirt to gossip about you later.

Or you can take complete charge of your own life and happiness and celebrate the holidays with only those you choose. No relatives you'd have nothing to do with if they weren't family, and especially none of the obligatory serial spouse acceptances that comes with that familial baggage. No monster ex's tolerated for the sake of the children. No neighbors who annoy you 364 days of the year but then you have to both pretend that's okay for the sake of the holidays. No hordes. No crowds. No drama. No hysterics.

But truthfully, we're not that brave so the option left is to wait until old age decides for us. At some point in our lives we look around and realize that the herd has been drastically thinned by time. We no longer have to get together for the sake of the kids, because the kids are too busy getting together for the sake of their kids.  The relatives are either dead or are playing weird grandparent to their own children, and our friends become those who have endured the cruel tricks of time with us, and yet are still around to share memories and insights it takes years to develop. Occasionally, all those various spokes get together in one wheel called "the family reunion," but more accurately known as the yearly Championship Drinking and Perpetual Regret Event.

For most holidays, old age happily determines the guest list. One of the best ways this delightful reward of finally being able to choose your own holiday company was illustrated in my life by  two separate recent events. The first one was a conversation with a man ten years younger. From the beginning, we failed to agree on the concepts of generosity, compassion, and the unyielding (to me, anyways) obligation to help ease the suffering of those less fortunate. After several days of futile arguing, I realized we were living in different worlds.

 His was a world of things, and mine was a world of people. His was a world where looks still mattered, the inner world was simply icing on an attractive package, and mine was a world where we're all starting to look the same: old, gray and wrinkled with only the inner world having special value. His was a world of grudges and resentments, and mine was a world of not having time for that useless crap because there just weren't enough years left to let it take the place of more important things to focus on. I never managed to explain to him that when you're looking at a life span that could be measured in years instead of decades, perspective changes drastically.

There are crucial decades in life where being separated by them can be an insurmountable wall and I'm convinced, with rare exceptions--usually musicians and other artists who know what it means to struggle and sacrifice and need help from others to practice their art for the enjoyment of others, the decade between being fifty and sixty is one of them. I  no longer try and argue with those in that age gap. I know what's coming for them and all I can do is just whisper under my breath: just wait, you arrogant little twit. One day you'll understand. It's amazing how satisfying that is.

But the second event really brought it home for me. I was walking on the beach and saw a group of four people, all at least seventy if not in their eighties. They had that feeling of longtime friends who knew each other so well, they walked as one being. One of them bent down to the water and picked up a flat rock, and then he flung it with expert ease so it skipped gracefully across the water. Then another one followed until they were all standing there giggling, skipping rocks, and being the little kids again they obviously were many decades ago together. Sure, their bodies didn't move as easily or gracefully, but the ease of friendship, the smiles, and the ending and walking away together in unison more than made up for it.

I suspect they were childhood friends who moved away, raised families, lost touch, mourned and grieved so often they no longer could say how many they lost without stopping to think. As old age crept up on them,  they retired and then eventually reconnected on a beach filled with other people who were in the same stage of life, and once again they became the children who set the first stitches of those bonds many years ago because being old allows you the freedom to be young again.

As I watched them walk away I understood that what I wanted to say to the young fool ten years younger than myself was that the middle years really don't count. They're simply a way of passing time until we can grow old and return to something very similar to those early years, only this time with the friends and family of our choice.

I want him to know it's a special time when we don't have  to explain or defend the path that brought us together. We already know it led us to a time of life when we have to support each other unconditionally because society has long written us off as useless and in the way and our bodies no longer allow us such things as fresh starts. We're all we have because we know friendship means depending on each other and the older we get, the less guilty we feel about it and the more willing we are to help each other without expecting anything in return.

My poor acquaintance has long forgotten and has yet to remember once again the value of a simple rock skipping across the waves and the memories it awakens in an aging body. He can't understand yet why the older you get the more you're willing to help other people who have less, even if it means sharing your last piece of bread. He hasn't gone through the decade yet where you begin to understand you're on your own because the young don't care about you, and you see them always finding new and more selfish ways to turn away from the old and elderly.

But most of all, he doesn't know that as we aged and experienced this, we vowed  never to treat each other that way, that we knew our survival depended on being able to give and receive love, compassion, generosity, and the help of others. He doesn't understand that true freedom means letting go of the need to define everything from a material perspective and learn to define wealth as true, unbreakable friendships that endure beyond time, money, and material wealth.

But most of all, he  can't understand until he has lost nearly everyone in his life and is left with just a handful of cherished and handpicked friendships, that we would easily give up every single possession we had just to spend one more day with a beloved friend no longer with us so they could skip rocks on a beach and sigh happily with the contentment of a life time friendship. He just has to wait and get there himself once he crosses that last bridge of things and appearances. Only then will he understand that it's the very young and the very old who possess the keys and tools to create a better, more compassionate world.

We just have to get the middle  to understand this before they've lived the lessons that will teach them this valuable and cherished truth because our planet cannot handle more selfishness and greed. We have to move toward generosity. We have to learn how to give without expecting anything in return.

But it can't come from the old or the young. No one takes what we have to say seriously enough to make any major changes. It has to come from the few and rare exceptions, the true givers, the truly unselfish, the amazingly kind and loving human beings within their own generations. That is the only way we will ever have a better world because change must come from inside us, from our own circle, from our own peers who have the wisdom to see beyond their own time and place. Other than living long enough, it just can't happen any other way.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

A story from Christmas 1989

Maria sent me a huge zip file of old emails, stories, ramblings, musings, and astonishingly perceptive writings from  Anna when she first moved to Bellingham in 1989 and we became friends. I've been reading them over the last few weeks and continue to be astonished at her ability to both sum up and accurately describe people and events. She could spend five minutes with someone, or read a few pages of their words and then describe them to me so accurately I was often left speechless and unable to respond to the accuracy of her insight. My favorites were what she called her "immorality tales." Here is one for you to enjoy. She wrote it about this time of year in 1989. I remember it as being a bitterly cold winter, her last one.

TWENTY THOUSAND POUNDS OF ORANGES, an immorality tale by Anna Winston, December 1989.

Once upon a time there was a man who thought his life would be oh so much better if only he could magically make all his debts disappear and have extra left to live easily without working. He was sure he deserved this because he helped people all the time and told himself he did it because he was a good man and didn't want anything back.

But it wasn't true he didn't want anything back. He wanted something back. He wanted proof that his goodness wasn't just for the sake of being good, that it would reward him for being good. He didn't want to work for it and he wanted people to think of him as a good person. He wanted to be rewarded for all the times he gave. He wanted his giving to be an investment in his goodness. There was nothing free about it. He expected payment, but was too ashamed to admit it. Besides it did not fit his image of being good for goodness's sake.

As he sat around one day contemplating how to get rewarded for being good and feeling sorry for himself because everyone he was good to was taking so long in being good back to him, another friend offered to sell him twenty thousand pounds of oranges for hardly any money as he was desperate to save his home where the oranges grew wild and free.

Our young man negotiated for the oranges. He knew how much he had to pay in order to turn a nice profit that would allow him to live comfortably without working. It was less than his friend wanted, but his friend was desperate and really, whose fault was it that his friend was desperate? Surely not our young man's fault. He had done nothing but good for people. His karma was pure. He told himself he deserved to pay less so he paid less. His friend's distress was not his fault.

So he ended up with twenty thousand pounds of oranges,more than he could eat in a lifetime. He carefully sat down and figured out the maximum he could charge for the oranges and it was a lot because there were no other oranges and he knew people needed oranges to be happy. He convinced himself he was selling happiness so he asked the most he could get.

It was predictable that hardly anyone bought the oranges, but soon word got around that he had the only oranges in town so the community selected one person to go ask him if he would sell them the oranges at a discount so they could go to the next town that was out of oranges for a lot longer and were more desperate to buy them at any price. Then they could take the extra and buy oranges for themselves too.

Since some of the oranges were starting to rot and he wasn't anywhere near his goal of living without working, he agreed to the discount, which wasn't really a discount since it was a whole lot more than he had paid for all the oranges. But he told himself it was his good fortune to have all the oranges, that he had helped so many people and received nothing in return, that he deserved the riches that came from others desperation.

At first it worked out well. He sold enough oranges to pay off his initial investment and soon it was all profit. He was on his way to his goal of living without working. But then he ran into a problem he never anticipated. The people he had helped, the ones he ended up selling the oranges to, found out how much he really paid for the oranges. They were angry and upset and felt horribly used.

It wasn't that they believed he deserved no profit at all, but that he wanted excessive profit as payback for being a good person. He had invested his goodness and expected it to pay off or why be good? This is what hurt them deeply, that his giving came with a price, that his help was not from the heart but from his ledger book where he kept careful track of what he gave and how and if it came back to him enough to make it worth it.

Many of his friends quit selling his oranges for him and made the choice to give up all oranges since now they tasted bitter with  betrayal and usury. Our young man's oranges began to rot and he began to panic . It didn't matter that he had already earned more than he paid. It wasn't enough that he had made a lot of money without working. He wanted more. He wanted full payment for all the good he had done. He wanted to be rewarded for being a good person.

But he didn't understand that people aren't good because they expect a reward. They are good because it is who they are and instead of expecting a reward, they assume from the beginning that their giving is reward enough. He would never understand this because deep inside of him he was not a good person. He was a greedy person who gave to get.

When his oranges rotted away unsold and uneaten, he told himself he was victim of other people, that he would never help people again because it didn't pay off. He locked himself away from everyone and began to hate the world for not rewarding him for being good.

He blamed everyone for taking from him and never giving back. Soon everyone that he originally gave freely to became in his mind, people who took from him. It was so easy for him to make this leap, this huge jump from altruism to unsatisfied greed because he was raised to believe only things had value.

He died a miserable and lonely old man who stank of rotted, uneaten oranges. But he died with a lot of things. A whole lot of things. Much more than he could ever use or appreciate in a lifetime. It was his reward for being a good person.

With his final breath he cursed those he gave to who never had enough things to give back. Their friendships meant nothing to him. Their love and loyalty meant even less. Those weren't things to him. They were excuses. All that mattered was that he died with the most things and they didn't get his oranges.


Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

He was maddening at times, but I always went back for more because he was a mental drug I needed in a world that oftentimes seemed dominated by the idiocy of  the Palins, Bachmanns, Perrys, Trumps, and other members of the terminally stupid club. I knew that even if I completely disagreed with him, as I did many times, especially over the Iraq War,  the way he presented his side of the story was always a satisfying and  infuriating read. He was able to do something many people who feel passionately about a subject were unable to do: he was able to engage those who thought differently in the conversation. That is what made his intellect so addicting in a world increasingly populated by morons who wouldn't give an inch and expected you to swallow the whole mile.

But one area where we completely agreed was Atheism.  There was no maybe there. There was no taking the side of it with one hand and holding out skepticism with the other. He brilliantly described what I always knew about religion, that it flourished by destroying individual freedom, that it grew by creating followers instead of leaders, that it destroyed the humanity in people because it gave them an excuse to be evil. He saw religion as a wedge to divide people, a tool to control and manipulate them mentally, and a weapon to use on them if they dared to stray too far from conformity.

He took on Mother Teresa,  a woman who horrified my sense of decency when she stood outside the chemical plant in Bhopal and screamed for the world to forgive them for poisoning and killing all those people--while the bodies were still warm. He rightly attacked her for supporting the thieves and thugs in the Keating Scandal, for taking the side of the ugly underbelly of corporate greed over the innocent victims of that greed.

MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. READ MORE

I continue to profoundly respect  his courage in taking on the ultimate sacred cow and exposing her for the self-serving and religion-addled tool that she was. And it gives me great pleasure knowing that he outlived her, that he was able to dig deep into the roots that created her and educated many in the world about the dangers of being a tool for the ultimate wealthy and uncaring corporation: the Catholic Church. And while it is probably true that George Bush's disgusting use of religion to perpetuate his sadism and ignorance on the world created a backlash that converted many people to Atheism, and exposed Christianity as just another political tool, I am profoundly grateful to Christopher Hitchens for giving Atheism a validity it very much needed to counteract the ignorance and danger of that kind of  blind religious fervor.

May the worms nibble gently and may we all learn from the legacy of his maddening, intellectually satisfying assholiness. His life was worth the space it took on the earth. Not many can die with that accomplishment as their legacy.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

War of the Classes

Maria and I have been exchanging emails on what Anna would have thought about the Occupy Wall Street movement. On the surface, when you measure the response against how she lived her own life, how she gave away her own wealth to help others, it seems something she would have embraced wholeheartedly.

But, as I wrote to Maria today, Anna was much more complex than that. She detested simple categories and would have peeled back current events with the precision of someone peeling layers from the last onion on the planet, because she detested one class more than she detested the wealthy life of privilege she was raised in, and that was the middle class.

She believed everything about the middle class was fake and that it didn't really exist. It was an invented category to keep people working at jobs they hated,  a myth to keep them chasing a carrot on a stick that would always be just out of reach, and it forced people to live on credit to make up for the lack of decent wages and benefits they needed to support a middle-class lifestyle. It was all on the surface and there was no depth to it. It was a bridge built over someone else's dream.

I hate their perfect teeth, their boring clothes, their shallow friendships that ask only what you can do for them. I dislike their horrible little spoiled children they're inflicting on the planet, she wrote me when I asked why, as such a devout Marxist, that she detested the average person just struggling to get by.

Anna believed the middle class was actually the servant class putting on airs of superiority to hide the fact that everyone was their master, unlike the poor who knew they could always get another shit job, and if that didn't work out, they could find another one and other one. There wasn't any shortage of shit jobs, she always said, and being able to walk away from one was a freedom the so-called middle class has long forgotten existed. The middle class couldn't walk away because all that mattered to them were things and more things. They could care less about people unless those people bought them new toys that were bigger and shinier than their neighbor's toys. They were owned by their things. People didn't really matter much. They could always be exchanged for someone new if the old friend or lover didn't work out.

But she also knew it wasn't always this way, that there was a time when people could work and not need credit just to survive. It was when jobs came with union wages and benefits. The tax base was strong because  the jobs were there to pay into it. That meant roads were fixed, bridges kept in repair, and schools well-funded.

We had many discussions about this because she was the ultimate realist and saw deep through the superficial perfection of the time. Yes, it was a better time in that way, but it was also a time when racism was considered normal, women who wanted something more than marriage and a family were considered psychologically ill, and when the kind of small town mentality that festered under the guiding hand of some unholy intermediary preaching fear from the pulpit, made the churches of America the most segregated buildings in the country.

Anna was an Atheist but she truly believed Ronald Reagan was the devil because it was under his presidency that the real decay started. She had a magazine cover from one of the subscriptions her father read religiously. It was right after Reagan was elected and it had a woman in a mink draped over an expensive sports car and the headline said it was okay to be rich again. That's when the war really started. And it was a war against those who were poor, those who thought that if they worked hard enough, they could reach the mythical middle class that awaited them just beyond the horizon.

For Anna it was a war that became extremely personal. She never thought much about the source of her family's considerable wealth. She grew up with the children of other wealthy parents. She went to the private schools they all went to together. She described her early life as uneventful.

What changed it for her was an internship she did for her PhD that sent her into poor sections of the country. She didn't know poverty like that existed in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. She was ashamed for America, embarrassed that so many of its most vulnerable citizens, the young and the old, were forced to live in conditions unheard of in many parts of the civilized world.

Shortly after this experience, her grandfather died and while going through his journals and translating them, she discovered he'd been a Nazi and the source of the family wealth more than likely came from unsavory business dealings he made during the war in Germany.

You would have had to know Anna to understand how this devastated her, how completely it destroyed her emotionally. This was a woman who was kind, generous, compassionate, and didn't have a bigoted bone in her body. The realization that this man's blood ran through her own veins horrified her so much that she had nightmares of draining all the blood from her body and replacing it with someone else's. The self-hate was so thick it filled the room with her agony. Everyone was afraid she would kill herself to escape the pain.

But Anna didn't die right away.  I'm convinced it was during this time that she became an addict because nothing else numbed the pain. She went through rehab three times but each time the pain would win, the emotional devastation would keep her from being able to get out of bed in the morning. But one day she woke with a sense of purpose, a desire to make up for the harm her grandfather had inflicted on humanity. It gave her enough strength to crawl out and then spend the next two years undoing what her grandfather had spent decades putting together.

I will never know the complete list of places that benefited from her generosity, but I do know that many domestic violence shelters received anonymous donations, usually in small towns she had traveled through on one of her extended backpacking trips across America. I know that some promising, but poverty stricken young women, found themselves with hefty college funds. On a personal level, I know that a very large medical bill I had suddenly disappeared one day. She never admitted it but there was no one else who had that kind of money and wanted to just give it away without expecting anything in return.

One of the most important things she did was train a group of colleagues in Europe on how to work with children of Holocaust victims and the children of those who put them there. She believed if the hate was stopped at the children of war victims, then maybe there was hope for peace on the planet, so she worked on teaching them how to forgive, how to move on, how to stop letting the past cripple them emotionally, while at the same time never forgetting the evil that had caused it.

She was fairly controversial in her methods because she blamed wars and the hate they spawned on the greed of the wealthy and the lack of honor and ethics money inflicts on people. In this she was inflexible. She truly believed you couldn't be both a good person and wealthy because what made you good was destroyed by the greed that takes root when you have so much wealth. She said it was like drugs, that you wanted more and more and more because it was never enough. And like drugs, it made you not care who you stepped on and what you destroyed in order to get more wealth.

In the last year of her life Anna became rigidly inflexible in how she perceived the influence of the rich and powerful on the world. She refused to meet any of my friends who had trust funds or who had inherited more than a few hundred dollars  from a dead relative because she believed inheritances planted the seed of greed in them, that they would someday sprout that seed over some money issue.

The poor, she wrote me once, they forgive you not having money. They understand when you can't pay back that twenty dollars. But those little trustafarians, they'll cut the friendship off if you don't pay them back their dollar. And the wealthy, they'll make you sign a note and charge you interest and if you don't pay them back, they'll take something from you, like your house or your car. Like gangsters. Or drug dealers. Or bitter exes.

Anna did a lot of good with her wealth. She spent it well. She gave it freely. She washed the blood from it and made it work for good instead of evil. And one day, it was gone and she was living on the proceeds of her cabin she sold the winter before, in a tiny studio apartment with a computer and two cats. We had spent the winter on her final project helping women from the Bosnian war learn skills to teach them how to survive on their own after losing the breadwinners in the family to genocide. She helped children of war find homes where they would hopefully one day heal from the wounds of hate.

Maria was one of those children and when I think of Anna, I think of Maria and her sisters and countless other children. I believe Anna would be out there with the Occupy movement because there is no more middle class. There is rich and poor. There is ruling class and working class. The world she always told me really existed beneath the facade has come to pass and she would be the first one out there telling people to wake up, to take back their lives, to value each other, to honor friendships, to forgive but never forget, and most importantly to never forget the power of love because it can't be bought, it can't be traded, it can't be lost. In the end, it is all any of us ever have that truly matters.

Starry Night print
Starry Night by orsobear
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Love, Madness, and Altruism

Sometimes, when we least expect it, the past comes calling and expects a response. Today it came in the form of a very sweet and lovely email from the youngest daughter adopted by Stanis and Ryan in the early 90's. She was barely five years old then, a shy and traumatized victim of  atrocities only war can inflict upon a sentient being still forming the basics of who she would become. For two years she refused to speak. She was Ryan's silent little ghost who followed him all over the house when he was there, and cowered under blankets in her room when he had to go out for even a few minutes. It took nearly ten years for her to feel safe without his continual presence.

Maria grew into an amazingly kind and compassionate young woman who wrote to me when she read my blog entry on Anna's 50th birthday. Ryan was Anna's brother and he died in a motorcycle accident a year ago last September. He never meant to die stupidly, but he did and he did it willfully because he was tired of his own demons, the continual gnawing inside of mistakes he thought he made, people he couldn't save, and guilt that never belonged to him but he took on as if it were tailor-made for him. I couldn't judge him for this because except for the part about the motorcycle and dying stupidly, I could write those same words about myself.

When I first heard he was gone, my first thought was for Maria, for the horror, the unfairness of it, the unspeakable nightmare of once again being the sole survivor of all those she loved. And yet, even then, through all the sadness, the incredible despair of her siblings as they made funeral arrangements for the man who gave them a new life when their old one died, she demonstrated a strength that astounded all of us. In her words, in her actions, in the self-less, compassionate way she turned her grief into a soothing hand to help the pain of others, she embodied the spirit and energy of the man who raised her. But more than anything, she reminded me of someone she never met and knew only through mine and Ryan's stories: her aunt Anna.

Maria never met Anna, and she believed the grief over her death left Ryan unable to share much about his sister. She never pressed him too hard because she knew the kind of pain that comes from such unspeakable loss. Maria lost her entire family in one cruel battle for the soul of her country. She told me she stays strong to honor them so they didn't die uselessly, a concept I think I understand but am afraid to explore too deeply. I only know I am not that strong. In spite of how painful memories can be at times, I can say with certainty I have not suffered enough to find my strength that way. I can never be as strong as this beautiful young woman who wears the love of two people I cared for very much in her eyes.

Maria told me she didn't want to hurt Ryan by forcing the memories from him so he could tell her about his sister, because there were many times when it was painful to even remember she once had another family, much less talk about them.  And like all of us when the people in our lives are still relatively young, she thought she could afford to be patient, that eventually he would be able to fill in the blanks for her about the auntie she knew only through photographs and brief slips of memory that came from Stanis, Ryan, and her two older sisters--and I also wanted to tell her, every time she looked in the mirror. She has her mannerisms, her expressions, a way of gazing at what interests her that is eerily similar to Anna. But they never met. It is a mystery I've tried to explain to myself in many ways and none of the ways end up fitting.

So she wrote to me and suggested we trade stories. I would tell her about Anna and she would tell me about Ryan because we both have holes in our memories and sometimes you just need to fill those holes in order to move forward. I am convinced that loss makes us confront all the unfinished conversations, all the words we were so sure would wait for another day, a better time and place, a more appropriate situation. Because of this, I saw it as a noble offer and I accepted.

And as I did so I thought of how I am currently writing my memories of Lydia for her daughters, and now I will be writing my memories of Anna for her niece. It makes me wonder how I ended up with so many memories that belong to other people, how I became the place others stored such valuable pieces of themselves. However, I know I am no different than anyone else in this way of collecting those we love and cherish when they are no longer with us, but we aren't able to let them leave us completely. Everyone has something to leave behind. I've learned that time and again.

We are all made up of those who came through our lives and left something of themselves behind. It can be as powerful as a life-changing experience, or as simple as it was with one person in my own life--just a scent, a certain faint memory stored in my senses  from a man whose name I never knew but whose delicious scent will be with me for life. I know nothing about him, of his life, who he loved or how he lived. We shared an elevator many years ago and he found a way to crawl into my tissue forever. Choice had absolutely no say in the matter. Why should it in anything else?

We tell ourselves it's our choice what we remember, but it isn't. Those memories don't go away. They are dormant little weasels ready to break through the ice of our consciousness when we least expect it. When I took that first crack with my ax of memory and freed the first weasel, what came out was a moment that at the time seemed so insignificant, I barely noticed it. And yet it became a defining piece of self that shaped, molded, and continues to direct who I am.

It was the first warm day in April after a bitterly cold winter. I had helped Anna transcribe the video testimony of a man whose mother survived the Nazi death camps. It was an angry, depressing session filled with his rage at all Germans. He repeated over and over again that everything Anna was doing was ridiculous because there were some things that could never be forgiven and no amount of forcing him to interact with the children of those who had committed such horrors would change that. I will never forgive!

It depressed me because Anna was German  and I knew other Germans who were kind, loving human beings. And no one was forcing him to take part in her project. He volunteered. But his rage was so total, so complete, so much a part of who he was, it was as if all those things had been done to him instead of to his mother,  and he blamed an entire country, even those who weren't even born,  for what was done to her.

In retrospect, I remember how much I focused on his anger, his inability to forgive, and how little I focused on what I felt in my response to him. I know now I went numb. I shut him out emotionally so I could continue to write down his angry words, his outbursts, the tears that were not from sadness or compassion, but a rage so deep inside him it poured out as tears.


Anna's voice startled me. She never raised it, never let on that she was angry or upset or annoyed. Anna was an even rising and falling of whatever wave existed. She rode it and didn't let it wash over her. I asked her "Don't what?" thinking I was transcribing the words wrong.

Don't do what you're doing now. Don't become them. Stay true. Always stay true.

I've thought of those words a lot in the time since. There's so much of me that always existed outside the herd that I couldn't fit in even when I wanted to. People sensed I was different and it made them uncomfortable just as their embracing a lifestyle that was mostly self-indulgent made me uncomfortable. I've differed with most people in so many ways most of my life, that I'm always surprised when I meet someone who understands my differences, perhaps shares some of them, and most certainly doesn't run away screaming and shouting phony excuses to justify their own discomfort at having to confront themselves through my view of the world.

Most of my life, if I saw injustice, I spoke up and tried to see where I could fit in, what I could do to right the wrong. If I saw someone that needed help, I offered my hand because that's what it means to be human, to care, to share the planet with other sentient beings. If I had one piece of bread and someone else had none, I had to share it because I couldn't eat it if I didn't. It would taste dry and hard and would never nourish me as much as half a piece shared.

It  has been both a blessing and a curse to go through life this way. A blessing because I met people like Anna, like Ryan and Stanis, like Lydia...the list of amazing, kind, and loving people is endless and each day it grows longer. But it is also a  curse because it's an open doorway to those who know only how to take and use and never to give or reciprocate. It's not true that I don't see them coming. It is true that I won't allow myself to sink down to their level. I stay as I am, no matter how devastating the consequences could possibly be, because I can't imagine living any other way. I don't see other ways as living. I see them as existing on the most shallow surface possible and not caring enough to live any other way. But I've learned how to protect myself from actual tissue damage. The rest of it is just things and those are meaningless to me. If they ask, I'll give whatever I have to give. No one needs to take or lie or cheat or bullshit me. All they have to do is ask and it is theirs. But they take and lie and cheat and steal anyways. That always astonishes me.

 Anna called people like that "empty souls" because everything they put in ran out on the ground without those necessary stoppers of sentient beingness in place. They failed to understand it was their own selfishness, their own greed, their own need for vengeance, their own desire to always be one up on someone else, that left them with such an insatiable hunger. It was easy to avoid becoming them. It was easy to dismiss them as not worth the energy it took to relate to them in any way.

But Anna's scorn, an emotion she rarely let loose, was reserved for those who portrayed themselves as givers, as kind and loving people, but who were so focused on keeping the give and take balanced, that it eventually became the most important thing. She saw them as always keeping score, as having an emotional balance sheet that was every bean counter's fantasy.

So to Maria, I share this important piece of who Anna was that mattered the most: if your love, your compassion, your ability to share has limits, it is not love. It is not compassion. It is not altruism. Limits are for sane people, she always told me. But to live without limits on your heart is to leave yourself open to pain, to disappointment, to betrayal. It's pure madness to live in such a way. But can you really call it living if you live any other way?

I personally can't. I have to live this way because it is who I am. Maybe people who are selfish, who are unable to give of their hearts and themselves, maybe it's just who they are and  a whole lot of us weirdos may be wrong in insisting there is a better way. Maybe for them, there is no better way. Maybe that is where their own personal evolution ends. They are like that man long ago hating people who weren't even born yet for things that happened not to him, but to those he cared about. He didn't know the important thing Anna saw in him, the thing she told me kept her going back to try again with him: he hates them not because they hurt him, but because they hurt someone he loves. As long as he can feel pain over someone else's pain, he still has his humanity intact..

It really is that simple.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Eat the Rich

The rich have always stolen from the poor. It's how they became rich. But most of the time they stole just enough to buy themselves all the wealth and privilege they needed and the rest of the world plodded along with the plumped up scraps they were given to buy food, shelter, and a sense of security.

With their own needs taken care of, most people didn't really care about the rich, other than as a sort of strange fairy godmother who might one day, in spite of all evidence against it, gift the lower beings with some of her treasure. This was a message the power elites fed to the people in shovelfuls. One day, you too can be rich like us if only...

It was that "if only" that was the killer. If only you were fortunate to be born into it. If only you were fortunate enough to marry into it. If only you were fortunate enough to learn how to steal quietly and efficiently. Money became the new holy grail, not just money but wealth, mountains of wealth so you could buy mountains of power to enable you to make even more money.

But that part wasn't talked about openly. Instead people were fed the lie that if only you worked really really hard for whatever meager pay was thrown your way, and if you went without, and if you lived like an exiled monk in a threadbare sackcloth bag and ate grass and berries, if you sacrificed everything, then wealth was within your grasp.

But of course it was a lie. You couldn't work your way to wealth. You had to inherit it, marry it, steal it, sell yourself for it. By making it nearly impossible,short of winning the lottery, most people were content with what they had and they willingly and happily shared with the elderly, the sick, the less fortunate. It's how people defined themselves and others as good people: they shared what they had because they knew how lucky they were to have more than enough.

But every so often, something comes along to upset that blissful state of ignorance where people are happy working just for things as proof they really do work hard for their money. The house, the car, the family, the vacations, the toys. There's a transition that happens when they stop being just things but instead become something that is not enough. Greed starts to filter into the formerly satisfied dream state most of the working and middle classes were content to wallow in while they filled up on cud.  But then they started to want more. They started to want power. They started to want prestige. They started to want to live in a world beyond the pretty little prisons created for them.

Greed doesn't just grow overnight. It takes root when money becomes the most important thing in people's lives because it starts to mean they can buy more things, they can buy bigger houses, more expensive cars and toys. It starts to set in when people begin to feel the emptiness of working at a meaningless job for money that lets them survive but does nothing to fulfill the dreams They just know the unhappy relationships, the shallow friendships, the tedious boredom of existence can all be fixed with more money. They wake up from their hunger and demand more.

At this point is where most people are easily manipulated by the power elite. The power pigs know how to play with the angst of not having enough. They're experts at it. It's how they became even wealthier themselves, by knowing how to play those beneath them. The more unhappy someone is with their existence, the more the message goes out that money can heal that unhappiness. Money starts to take on a new value. It becomes a mean of power and salvation. It becomes something people will do just about anything to get more of so they can ease the emptiness of their lives.

And that's the moment greed takes over. No longer do people consider such a thing as having enough to live on comfortably. Nothing is ever enough anymore. If they have extra, rather than share it as they once did, they hide it or sell it to the desperate for more than it's worth. If they have a car about to die, they know there's a poor, desperate person who can only afford to buy it.

Both the buyer and seller know the car is a piece of crap, but justification is an amazing thing. The seller convinces him or herself that the buyer is somehow at fault for being poor so they deserve to be cheated. And the poor person is so used to being cheated that they hand over the money and hope the car won't fall apart too soon and hopefully will keep driving until they can find a better job so they can buy a better car.

That mentality is how mortgages were sold to people who couldn't afford them, and then created rich people who bet on how many of those bad mortgages would go into default. Greed created an industry that basically bet on human misery. There's no going back from that. It's the total and complete abdication of anything human in the being.

So much money was being made that the pool of gullible people had to be kept stocked, so that meant formerly good and decent human beings had to be turned against each other. Suddenly it wasn't the insatiable greed of the wealthy that was responsible for people losing their jobs and homes. It was the fault of the poor, it was the fault of the middle class, it was the fault of those who now had nothing and were desperate for any kind of help to survive, whether it was food stamps or social security or health care. Those things that were nothing more than basic survival to civilized nations, became the new pariah class. It took the attention off the out of control thievery of the rich. They couldn't afford to have anyone notice how much they were stealing.

But then people started losing their jobs. People started losing their homes. People started losing their health care, their ability to survive. Houses were foreclosed on and boarded up while the poor slept in the streets. And it became their faults if they froze to death for being dumb enough to be poor.

This is the mentality that grows and is fed when fearful and stupidly educated sheeple march in the streets in support of huge corporate insurance and health care industries while they can't even afford a doctor's visit for basic care. Of course they are going to be well-funded. Of course they won't be tear-gassed or beaten. They're the property of corporate America and are needed to keep the attention off their thievery.

That's why an organic movement such as Occupy Wall Street terrifies the power elite. They desperately want to find out who the leaders are, who the organizers are, who the financiers are because the Tea Party was funded and manipulated by them and so they can't imagine anyone taking to the streets on their own.

But we are and that scares them and they will fight back. They will attack. They will lie. They will manipulate. And the way to fight back against them is to be what they are not because they can't grab hold of that. They can't fight against someone who shares their meal with a stranger, someone who reaches into their own closet to help a stranger stay warm with an extra coat they aren't using, someone who sees extra in their lives and shares it happily because they really don't need more than they have.

The power elite are afraid people will quit valuing things and start valuing each other. They are afraid people will give away their extra instead of selling it or throwing it away because that cuts into the profits of the powerful. They are afraid people will realize they don't need to own a huge McMansion and are content to live in shelter that is easy to support and maintain and leaves enough left over to help the sick, the needy, the elderly, the less fortunate. They are afraid people will become givers instead of takers, that they will see stop seeing the poor and unfortunate as the problem and instead start looking for the source of the problem.

Once the people start looking for the source of that problem, there is only one place it will lead: to the thievery that's been going on for far too long, at the theft of our humanity, of our compassion, of our generosity, and of our purpose on this planet. Once people's eyes are open they are going to demand answers. They are going to demand change. And they are going to do it as one, powerful unified voice that no amount of money can buy. That's what the powerful fear the most: people who can't be bought. People who know the real value of life is sharing with each other so we all rise up together as a unified and powerful force for change.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Happy Birthday, Anna

You would have been fifty today. We were ten years apart, a decade of differences that we managed to bridge because we both cared about the same things.  I've been remembering how we talked about this magical transformation then, about the party you would have, the places it would be held, the people you would invite. If you were the kind of person who suddenly overnight decided you liked parties. But I think you would have made an exception for your 50th.

It's interesting to me, as a devout Atheist, how strong your presence is in the last few weeks. I will not insult your memory by calling your presence angel or god or any of those imaginary hallucinations you detested and blamed for all the ills of the world. I completely agreed with you then and now, which is why I'm more inclined to believe I reshaped you from your ashes because I needed the purity of who you were to keep me company in what has been a confusing time for me.

Or maybe it's because Lydia's choice was taken away from her, because she wasn't allowed to exit gracefully as she planned. I wanted to fight for her. I wanted to bring up the explicit instructions she left. But in the end, I couldn't do it. I gave in to the grief of others who were with her, who spent their lives loving her. There are moments when I feel as if I betrayed her by not sticking up for her wishes. And there are other times when I think, well, maybe she waited too long on purpose. It could have been her choice at any time. Who am I to say it didn't end exactly as she wanted it to?

Maybe that's why I feel you so strongly. It's not just the whole milestone birthday thing. It's remembering how passionate you were about the right to choose anything and everything. The whole idea of someone making decisions for you was an impossibility you refused to allow into your life. I respected you for that because at the time I was still looking for my strength as a person. I was still letting others define me and my life. It was a confusing time, just like now.

You hated rich people. I always thought that was funny since you came from a very wealthy family. It seemed strange to me that you would feel so strongly about it. I envied you at times, being able to travel, to buy anything you wanted, to be able to help people and not think that feeding the hungry meant you couldn't pay the power bill. Those weren't choices I didn't think you ever had to make.

But I was wrong about you. I didn't know until your brother told me, that you had given away most of your money, that the truth was you had less than I did at the time. I didn't know the grant you said funded your project came from your own pocket, that you spent everything you had to tell the stories of war victims. I didn't know it was your money that bought all the equipment we used, all the clothing we bought for the refugees, all the deposits and rents and food supplies we filled their rented apartments with. I just didn't know.

I do remember you telling me it was a good thing I didn't have extra in my life because I would just give it away to the first person with a sad story. I wondered how you knew me so well. Now I know. You gave all yours away to a whole lot of people with sad stories. You used what you had to help a small piece of the world heal.

Maybe that's why you're so much with me now. I look around at the appalling selfishness of the wealthy, of the whiny little complaints of the privileged little divas too many of my friends raised because they thought if they gave their kids everything they wanted, they wouldn't turn on them as teenagers, that everyone would be pals forever. Now it's my friends who want to turn on their kids and are ashamed of their selfishness, of their shallowness. And all of us look to their children, the grandchildren we would have had if we had children,  instead, the ones who started the Occupy Wall Street movement, the ones who really are unselfish and altruistic and truly care about the planet more than themselves and their own needs.

But it's how we were too. We rebelled against our parents and embraced the wisdom of our grandparents. You told me once that the grandchildren would save the world and I didn't really know what you meant. I do now. Sadly, I do now. But at the same time I have hope. Yes, my dear and closest friends have children they love but don't like. It's the relationship you had with your parents and my parents had with me. It takes skipping a generation to be understood. It makes old people relevant again at a time when we start to feel like useless burdens on society. Maybe that's why my friends appreciate their grandchildren so much. They know in them is the planet's salvation. As we both often said, altruists aren't born; we need something to object to, something so foul it awakens the humanist in us and propels us to act.

I think back on one of the last conversations we had. My father had just died. You knew we weren't close, that I had run as far away from his violence as I could without leaving the country. You knew how his abuse turned me into a fearful creature who was always afraid of upsetting people because my life taught me that upset people inflict pain. We talked a lot about that, about the people I chose to surround myself with, the users, abusers, and as you said, the ones with hearts like parking meters. Those were the ones you told me to look out for because until I learned that I wasn't a bad person who didn't deserve better just because I'd spent a life time getting that message, didn't mean I couldn't one day find my strength and walk upright.

You would enjoy my uprightness these days. I still have my moments. I still don't fully trust people. But I'm working on it. I let more of my friends in than I work at keeping them out. And I've done the necessary pruning you long ago suggested would improve my life considerably. I grew strong just from that one decision.  I thank you for maybe not planting the seed, but at least providing the nourishment that helped it grow.

So happy birthday, dear Anna. I've known some amazing women in my life and you're at the top of the list. And your work lives on. You'd be happy to know that. The people you chose to take it over for you did a fantastic job. Your wish that world peace would grow from the money that came to you from sources you considered too evil to spend on yourself, have been scattered as many small seeds and they've taken root. The world benefitted from your life. That's more than many people can ever say.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Karmic debts and memories

I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend Anna. She was working on a project that involved dealing with a lot of emotionally abused humans who probably would never be okay again. Day after day she absorbed their pain as she listened to the most horrible descriptions of what kind of savagery war inflicts on human beings. My involvement with them was not as intense as hers but after a few minutes of trying to transcribe what they were telling her, I couldn't see through my tears well enough to type anymore. But she kept going, letting me cry as she kept asking question after question. I managed to get their words down without having to see what I was typing.

Later as we drank a bottle of wine and then opened another one because we really needed to get drunk, I asked her how she could do what she did, day after day, without it all leaving permanent wounds. She told me she was paying off a karmic debt and that emotions were insignificant next to that. I wanted to know what she had done that was so horrible and she said "I survived where they did not."

Those words burned a permanent place in my tissue. The interesting thing to me after all this time has passed between the day I had that conversation with Anna and the long list of people who have died since, is they gave me a strength to help others in a way I never knew I was capable of doing. I've always been able to help people on an intellectual level. I've always been really good at finding resources for people who need them.

 But I never felt adequate enough to do what Anna did. I never felt I was that strong. I'm also, as I choose to call it, willfully naive. If people choose to lie, to manipulate, to take advantage of my friendship, it's on them, not me. To be any less is to become them. I'm convinced that is how bad people are created. Those who are hurt, used, abused, manipulated, whatever you want to call it, become the person who did those things to them. I've always felt that was beneath me in dignity and it was up to them to come up to where I was and not allow myself to sink down to where they were.

It's led to some, shall we say, interesting dilemmas in my life. Some perceived my reactions or lack of them as indifference, guilt, judgement, all the things that were in their own heads. It was never about me as those things never are about anyone but the person doing them. So why let them turn you into them? Anna would like that reasoning very much. It was her.

I've found that what works for me, what allows me to be emotionally available for someone like Lydia day after day as she progressed through her dying, was that kindness and compassion truly are strengths. I would be less than I am without those traits as would most of us. I don't think we would even have the right to call ourselves humans if we didn't at least try and nurture them in ourselves. And they lead to amazing rewards. What I gained from my interactions with Lydia can never be duplicated by any other means. I came out of it more whole, more alive, more aware of how precious our time is on this planet. I had conversations I would never have had. I became more human and that makes it all worth it. I think that is a lot of what Anna was trying to tell me that day and finally I understand.

People like Anna exist in our lives so we can remember her words years later and see how they managed to have an impact on us. So when people ask me now how come I feel this need to help those who are dying, those who are in horrible dark places in their lives, those who feel alone and lost, I know it's because I survived where they did not. I've been there in all their manifestations and I'm still here. It's my karmic debt and as far as I can see, it's a lifetime one and one I don't mind paying.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Life Of Flowers


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Journey is Complete

Lydia died early this morning. Good bye my friend. You lived well.

This thing called LIFE

During one of those conversations we have in our lives and then set aside in the memory banks until it's time to make use of them, I remember an elderly woman telling me the worst thing about getting older was not the deterioration of the body, nor the shock of realizing you have less years left then you've already lived. It was saying goodbye to those you loved and cherished, over and over again until there was no one left but you.

I was young enough when she told me this to feel sadness for her but I had no way of understanding what she was saying. I thought it was about loneliness. I thought it was about having no friends or family left. I thought it was about being alone and not having a choice about it.

It was none of those things. It was instead something I can barely put into words but that anyone who has experienced the continual loss of friends and family understands all too clearly. The closest I felt to anything like this before was in the 80's where it seemed I spent most of my life going to funerals and memorial services for people my age who died of AIDS.

It sounds horrible to say, but part of you does become numb after the first dozen deaths. It doesn't mean I or anyone else loved or cared any less for those that died. It was just that after so many a part of you begins to shut down as a self-preservation mechanism so you don't go throwing yourself off a cliff from the unbearable grief.

And now after losing so many friends to illnesses and so close to losing yet another one, I find myself retreating emotionally into that safe place of numbness. But I pull myself back because I don't want to be that elderly woman so many years ago who tugged at my heart with what I thought then was loneliness but was instead just overwhelming despair at being the last one left.

I think of that. Being the last one left. I have so many people I love. I am surrounded by people I love. Just the thought of losing one is too much. I can't imagine losing them all. It's just too horrible to contemplate. But being old makes you contemplate it. You see the age and the sickness on the faces and bodies of those you love and it's the most horrible feeling in the world. And each time you have to let go, you have to make yourself strong to endure it one more time. And through it all, you have to stay whole and sentient and honor the meaning of the word "alive."

For me, part of the healing process is writing about the person I lost. Tonight I'm writing about Lydia. She's still physically present but we said goodbye several days ago because we both understood it was time. There's a point where even typing becomes an effort, where someone has to hold your head up so you can read the words sent in return, and it starts to seem ludicrous. She still managed to overwhelm me with her courage, her wisdom, and her compassion, but I sense it took all the strength she had left to write the words she did to me. I will cherish them because I know how important they were for her to say them to me.

She was the youngest of our writing group, the most emotionally scarred of the group of women who met once a month to camp out in the Sierras and write together and try to heal something in ourselves and each other. No experience in my life will ever come close to matching what that did for me, and no friendships will match the depths we all explored in each other.

There were fifteen of us, with three or four who were occasional participants. We are down to five and soon, much too soon, we will be down to four. And yet, even grief is a measured thing, even sorrow is something that becomes small and selfish when measured against far larger griefs. Our time in the Sierras was a way to try and understand, to put into words what happens when the world we think we know, becomes a world we are horrified exists.

We were children of war, born in countries that suffered from the tyranny of a small but powerful few. Lydia and her mother were the sole survivors on her mother's side of the family. I still remember the horror I felt when she read a poem to our group about trying to grow a garden and finding pieces of clothing,  long forgotten household goods, a pair of broken eyeglasses, a child's toy stained with blood.

Both our grandmothers were Yugoslavian when it was something they saw grow from a desire to live in peace as one people, but both moved away before the dream came crashing down: mine to Trieste, and Lydia's to a small community just over the border in Slovenia. Both our mothers married Americans and came here with us. Both of us grew up and became writers in the adopted language of our mothers. Both of us created art and poetry and spent hours and days and years dreaming of that magical world we knew was possible if only human beings woke up and discovered their similarities instead of their differences.

The first day we met, we recognized all that in each other without having to say a word in explanation. It was in our eyes, in the words we wrote, in the way we sat in a beam of sunlight and listened to the creek's song high in the Emigrant Wilderness of the Sierras. We knew each other. We knew what it meant to be exiled in body and spirit and that was and will always be our bond.

Last December when Lydia learned she had Inflammatory Breast Cancer and that it was terminal, I was the one who fell apart. I walked around like a zombie for days, cursing everything I could think of, yelling at life for doing this, for the unfairness of taking away my one friend who knew my soul almost as well as I did. I was angry. I was depressed. As someone who rarely experiences mood swings, this was a new thing for me, and I didn't deal with it well. I retreated. I didn't want to talk to anyone but Lydia.

And for months we've exchanged hundreds of emails of the kind two crazy writer women exchange. They went on and on and on and covered everything we could think of: stories we remembered from the writer's group, the strange man who was hired to be our guide through the unfamiliar canyons and trails and who kept to himself, the husband of one of the women who was so stunningly attractive we all stared at him like silly little giggling girls, and the many hours of lives translated into words by women who were all raised speaking a language other than English. Our words were in one language and our memories in another.

But we also shared uniquely American experiences, ones that we learned to laugh about but at the time drove us mad with the insanity of it all. We talked fondly of our mutual success story, a woman who lived two blocks from Lydia in the huge apartment complex. We knew she was abused, that the bruises on her face were from her husband, and that she was terrified.  It took weeks but Lydia slowly gained her trust and together we managed to get her away and into a shelter. Since it was a time in our lives when we were both fairly poor, we hit up everyone we knew for money and furniture and household furnishings to give her a new start. When she graduated first from High School at the age of 41 and then completed college just short of her 50th birthday, both Lydia and I felt like proud parents.

And then we talked about her evil twin, the woman who used both of us with her sad story. We believed her. We once again raised money and found furniture and a place to live. But this time the story was completely made up and we fell for it. But in one of our conversations a couple months again, we laughed about it, at how easily she managed to find the soft spot in our careful armor. But at the same time, we knew that one bad experience was worth all the women we helped in our lives. We may be suckers for a good story, but so what? There are worse things to be and when one of our success stories wrote a lovely note to share with those who helped her, we both cried because two years before that the same woman was illiterate. Life evens out that way.

I promised Lydia I would write my memories of our conversations so her daughters would one day know that side of her. I've been doing that. It's been hard. I cry a lot. I curse at the world a lot. And I hug my friends a lot.

And now as Lydia lies in that place of half here and half already making the transition, I think of what she taught me that will carry me forward with her passing and that of all the passings to come: I always make new friends. I always find room in my life and heart for more people. I've grown increasingly picky, but I do add to the assortment of fruits and nuts periodically. It's my insurance, my comfort to know there are people out there who I have yet to meet who will one day be my friends. It's how life works or none of us would be able to get out of bed in the morning.

So to my dear Lydia. Thank you. And may your transition be easy. You've earned the right to have it be easy. I love and cherish you and bless the day we met. It changed me in a way nothing else could. Thank you so very very much.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years

Ten years and we're more divided as a nation than we've been in a long time. In ten years we went from a moment of common skin to one where we allowed the politicians and their handlers to erase that precious lapse into temporary humanity. They filled that quickly emptied hole, with our help, yes our stupid and blindly obedient help, with hatred and judgement and division based on the stupidest of reasons: political ideology.

And of course, religion. Let us not forget the last refuge of the damned, their precious and overwhelmingly destructive weapon called religion. Would there even have been a 9/11 without religion? Would there have been the horrible polarization of one people against each other without the evil and wretched pulpit poundings by the holy hatemongers?

When life is turned upside down and humans are at their most vulnerable, there are always the sick and twisted voices in the crowd sensing the perfect moment to inject their hatred into the open wounds. There are always the behind the scenes puppet masters exploiting the moment for personal gain to start a profitable war, a dirty and secret arms deal, a private army paid for with taxpayer blinded-by-ideology dollars. There are always the politicians waiting with their hands out to profit from the corporate greed of the warmongering wealthy who never miss a chance to make a buck from human misery. And worst of all, far worse because they pretend they are doing good instead of the same evil, are the churches who spread fear and terror and obedience so they have a ready crop of willing idiots to do the bidding of the wealthy and morally-deficient.

This is what the other terrorists have accomplished in ten years as they ripped into the horror of raw wounds with the ferocity of savage beasts blinded by their own blood lust:

1. A terrified and beaten down populace whose only source of information comes from turning the remote to "on" and ingesting what comes from the screens and the radios without question, with the same blind and unquestioning obedience they were taught  in church.

2. An increasingly ignorant and brainwashed populace who believe unions that their grandparents were beaten to a bloody pulp forming so their grandchildren could work decent hours for decent pay without being exploited by the corrupt and the wealthy, are somehow the enemy.

3. The elevation of the most bigoted and ignorant mouth breathing knuckledraggers into the face America presents to the world.

4. A completely programmed population who takes to the street to support the right of mega-insurance and pharmaceutical corporate lobbyists to deny them basic health care, and if they lose their homes, their loved ones, their ability to live as a functioning human being, that it's somehow their fault for not being good enough to afford a decent health plan.

5. The horrible and completely religion fed outright hatred of anyone "different." It's a hatred that creates reasons and makes up lies to justify hate. It hatefully interprets bible quotations into an excuse to hate gays, brown people, black people, non-christian people, non-religious people...anyone different. It creates justification to invade women's bodies with theology and misogyny. It invites the bigots to crawl out from under their rocks and think they have the right to dictate what goes on in other people's bedrooms and lives. It allows the racists to walk around without their white sheets because it's open season on anyone different, especially a Black President.

6. The destruction of any functional education system by demonizing teachers, because after all, there is only one real cure for ignorance and that is education. It's why the tyrants always burn the books first but always leave the Bibles intact.

7. A government that doesn't even pretend to work for the people anymore. They know if they're not re-elected, their wealthy donors will give them plush jobs for life as a reward for the millions they made for them while in office. And the corporate lobbyists know they can easily replace the politicians if they don't win their elections because the American people will never hold them accountable, never make them work for their vote.

8. Demonizing anyone and anything that could really make a difference in the average Americans life. Any politician who accidentally slips through the net and tries to work for the people is soon caught up in some exaggerated scandal to discredit him or her until they're no longer effective. Any journalist, any writer, any news anchor who dares to break from the pack is soon reduced to braying jackass for the corporate masters. For every hate mongering gasbag like Rush Limbaugh, there are hundreds of ethically challenged and greedy wannabes waiting for him to mess up so they can replace him as the voice of the terminally stupid.

9. Allowing greed to define every aspect of American life to the point where fraud and outright theft of the country's wealth and resources became acceptable because greed became acceptable. But in order to steal outright, the people had to be convinced by corporate windbags like Limbaugh and the Fox News Presstitutes, that all regulations preventing them from taking whatever they wanted had to be thrown out. No limits on the amount of pollution companies could spew into the air or dump into the drinking water or leave behind in an oily infested mess were promoted as a necessary thing if they, the almighty corporations were to continue to thrive, to thieve at will.

10. And after the outright theft, the busting of the unions, the elimination of health care plans, the theft of what little income was left was taken so the rich wouldn't have to pay any taxes on their stolen gains, those who were desperate enough provided what every desperate society has provided: a volunteer army eager for a miserable paycheck so the wealthy could enrich themselves with endless wars fought over religion.

I'd say in light of these accomplishments, Bin Laden won. He really did destroy America and every day we remain divided, we reward him for doing so.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We like bland, crazy weiners.

After days of inane chitter chatter and tittering over Weiner's weiner, the wave of mediocrity moved to the "this or that moron for President" debate. I tried to watch. I really did. I figured if anything would wash away the image of one of my favorite shit-stirring politicians suddenly turn into an annoying frat boy tweeting dick shots to the world, it would be rousing debate between dumb, dumber, dumbest, and oh my fucking gawd what a moron Republican dick fest calling itself a debate.

But instead I felt as if I'd stumbled onto a private funeral where everyone was standing around awkwardly pretending they hadn't done nasty things to the corpse at some time in its previous existence.

You had the plastic ken doll being shoved into the face of Mr. Nasty Googler while everyone dared him to touch him again n the bad place.

You had the tin foil racist trying to bottom feed off the leftover crazies the others, in spite of their love of crazies, realized were just too crazy for them. That must have been some sorting process, the crazies deciding who would earn the title, kind of like a combination of cooties and Lord Of  The Flies.

You had the blingmaster who was there hawking something or other to pay off his jewelry bill so he could afford to buy a newer, younger intern-wife.

You had that guy with the corn meal mush sounding name who devoted his life to keeping Al Franken from ever becoming a senator.

You had the guy who made it his mission in life to deny poor black children the right to eat his crappy pizza because their neighborhood sucked.

And finally you had she of the crazy eyes who was last seen hiring a helicopter so she could take out half the cows in Minnesota from the air. She has something against cows. I think they said naughty things to her.

So, when the combined candidates were asked if they preferred, bland or crazy, they pulled down their pants, whipped out their cameras, and tweeted their answers.

And America slopped it up as if they were pigs at a trough, but not as smart as the pigs and refusing to eat the slop unless it was first doused in religion and corn syrup.

More than anything, the debate taught me that we are doomed as a species if this is what rises to the top of life's big toilet bowl.

Will someone please flush before the combined stench of stupidity, greed, thievery, and just plain fuck-headedness makes us all choke in disgust of what we've become?


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Religion as Sheeple Control

Now that the latest crapture scare has been postponed until October so Harold Camping can collect  millions of more dollars, it's time to focus on those he used his fear mongering tactics on to accumulate wealth. They are feeling betrayed, disappointed, scared, and left behind. They want to know why only their bank accounts got raptured. Others see a potential gold mine of fools that still have the potential to be milked even more for jesus.

We're not talking about ordinary people here. These are the dumbest of the dumb, the ones that religion prepared from an early age to be unquestioning, idiotic, cult-leader following morons. They're the first ones stepping up to be used whether it's by a church, a cult, a political party, or anyone with an agenda needing lots of unquestioning obedient bodies to create the illusion of grassroots.

It's about the Republicans, the Koch Brothers, The Chamber of Commerce, and Karl Rove spending millions and millions of dollars to create an illusion the Tea Party is a people movement instead of a backroom deal among rich assholes. It's like Farmville, only you populate it with idiots instead of cows.

None of this would work without a ready supply of less than intelligent sheeple who have already been programmed by their churches to never question authority, to follow each other obediently off a cliff because jesus told them to, and to empty their pockets in the name of salvation to make  saviors like Harold Camping, Dick Cheney,  and Karl Rove even wealthier than they already are.

For those who are shaking their heads as they read this and think religion is not that bad, especially their own,  show me a country that is formed and shaped by its religion and I'll show you a country that is going backwards instead of moving forward toward the next century.

Examine the history of your own church, the politics it promotes, and the money it collects from you to promote that political agenda, and then tell me your church is only about spiritual growth and belongingness. And I'll tell you again that the first thing that tyrants do when they want to control a country is to bring god and religion to the forefront of their politics and get people like you to pay for it all.

"In 1956, the nation was suffering through the height of the cold war, and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. Partly in reaction to these factors, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution to replace the existing motto with "In God we Trust." The president signed the resolution into law on 1956-JUL-30.  The change was partly motivated by a desire to differentiate between communism, which promotes Atheism, and Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian."

read more here

For those who are unfamiliar with the McCarthy witch hunts (mostly those of you reading dumbed down history books forced on you by religion-infected schoolboards), it was about decent people who committed no crimes other than daring to think for themselves, who were labeled as ATHEIST Communists simply because they didn't belong to the correct church or promote the party line of a particular religion-based political party.

Setting aside the reality that most Atheists in America are not now nor have they ever been a large bloc of Communist Party members (even Atheists like to buy lots of cheap crap at Wal-Mart and eat crappy fast food), the painting of one with the brush of the other is yet another trick employed by those wishing to use religion as a noose around the necks of the idiotocracy.

I'll even go so far as to say it wasn't the fear of Communism that scared the power mongers, but the lack of religion. After all, Communism, like any ism, depends on groups of followers all believing the same thing and marching in unified brain and boot to destroy the unbelievers.

This is no different than religion which demands the same blind obedience, or Fascism which allows no dissenting opinions, or the current Republican party with its teahadist minions wanting to destroy everyone and anything that doesn't buy into their Randroid selfish cruelty and paranoia.

There is no difference between religion and Communism, religion and totalitarianism, religion and mental slavery, religion and Fascism, religion and mind control, religion and lemmings walking blindly off a cliff because their "leader" ordered them to do so.

Religion has been and always will be a tool used by the rich and powerful to control the weak and stupid, and scam artists like Harold Camping will be sipping Pina Coladas on some sunny beach with all the money he raptured from the dumb ass sheep as long as religion is so intertwined with politics they are no longer separate entities.

There's a reason our forefathers were so concerned that churches and government remain separate entities. They knew the potential for abuse and were trying to prevent it from happening to the new United States of America. But they forgot about the all-consuming greed of politicians and the wealthy who saw religion as a very useful tool for controlling the masses and making them do their bidding.

And never in their lives could they have imagined the kind of idiots that religion created in a couple short centuries, the kind of people who forgot the sacrifices made so its people could live in freedom from the oppressive yoke of religion.

If they came back to life and saw what this country has become in the name of imaginary playmates and evil puppet masters caring only about wealth and power, they'd abandon it to its own stupidity and look for more intelligent life elsewhere, because seriously, the lives they gave simply weren't worth the ignorance that grew from those sacrifices. In fact, it's a slap in their faces that will resound for centuries and will eventually destroy what they fought so hard to build.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The death of Osama Bin Laden

Someone asked me today why I haven't written anything about Bin Laden's death. I've been thinking all day about what to say in return. As far as I know I haven't directly lost anyone he  killed. Yes, I experienced the horror and cried for days over 9/11.  I still tear up when I see the towers burning. I still feel anger and sadness over the senseless loss of life.

I have lived under the totalitarian fearmongering opportunistic politicians inflicted on this country, while they used Bin Laden as an excuse to do what they wanted to do all along. I have experienced the rage, the despair, the disgust over how brown-skinned Americans were made to pay for the crimes of someone they didn't even know, and more than likely didn't even agree with. For that alone, I am glad he is gone.

I share a similar sentiment with Jon Stewart who on last night's Daily Show said that while he was alive Osama Bin Laden was the face of Islam instead of the young people trying to make a better world for themselves in Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Middle East countries. As someone who had to live under the Bush regime, I know what it's like to finally be free of the world's perception that we are all like that dumb ass piece of jingoistic crap. For this reason alone, his death is important. It gives a new face to people who didn't wear the old one very well.

But I am a pacifist. I can't condone killing. And yet I know the world we live in. I know how desperate the Republicans are to make Obama fail, and so I celebrate that they have to eat at least a bit of their own shit as they are forced to congratulate their nemesis for taking out their symbolic reason for keeping this country under their oppressive thumbs. I'm not so pure that I don't enjoy that part of it immensely.

I suppose for me it all depends on what comes after. Now that Bin Laden is dead, will the fearmongers finally lose their talisman or will they find another one to take its place? As I told someone who expressed optimism that finally the Republicans/Teabaggers will accept Obama as their President now that he showed courage, determination and took the risk in spite of the political peril--not likely as he's still black, no matter how many Bin Ladens he kills. We can't change that about our country. It still has its racist snake pits in Dumbfuckistan and there's not much we can do about that other than live as opposite examples of what they believe.

Maybe that is my hope with this death, that maybe, just maybe we can come together as one people and realize the wedges between us were artificially created by the Karl Roves and Dick Cheneys whose definition of terrorism is a united America. Maybe we can realize our own best interest is to be found in coming together as one people and finally put those heartless and greedy political asshats behind us.

But it's hard to be optimistic when I see that the Republican/Teabagger trolls are still out there promoting their stupid sthit. They still earn their pennies by doing their masters' bidding. They still post their ridiculous talking points, mindlessly, stupidly, without thought of how they are the rot destroying the country from within for people who care nothing about them, who care only about power, about money, about using everyone for their own purposes.

In this sense, Bin Laden's death means nothing. It is just another dead body, another excuse to cover the airways with nonsense as filler in betweeen the real purpose of selling us more stuff we don't need but are told we must have. The mainstream news media went from covering a wedding between two figureheads that are meaningless to most Americans, to covering a symbol used to oppress us for the last ten years.

But if there is a good side of this it is that President Obama, who I perceive to be a decent man fighting against a machine fed on wealth and power, will rise a few points in the polls and will probably be elected because of it. When you consider the options on the Republican side, the mean-spirited, corporate-owned slime who want to destroy him so they can take over again, then Bin Laden's death is a very good thing.

And truly, in the end what it means to me is meaningless because to the people who lost loved ones on 9/11, to a country that was forever change by that event, his death is a long overdue symbolic act that gives us all a chance of moving forward.