Friday, November 10, 2017

Why I wrote "When The Last Tree Dies."

      If you add up all the camping trips, all the hikes, all the walks short and long, I’ve spent most of my life outside. Nature was always the first place I went when the indoor world became too much. The solitude shaped me. Nature was and continues to be my teacher, my healer, my spiritual companion, and most of all, a part of me as vital as all the other parts.
That is why every wound to the planet is a wound to my own body. It is especially distressing when those wounds are caused by greed, by the insatiable need for power, by the futile pursuit of yet more material goods to fill the emptiness inside.
     I know the causes of that emptiness. Some are obvious, such as expecting a thing to replace a need. Others not so much, such as the “begging for prosperity” megachurch religions that teach their congregations how to beg god for material salvation. But the largest void is caused by the move away from nature as an integral part of self, and toward the one that sees it as a commodity, something to conquer, and worse, as an enemy that brings storms, and fires, and floods.
     In the same way that other cultures are demonized in order to exploit them for political and financial gain, so is nature. The media runs continual disaster narratives on a loop of fearmongering. But it never mentions the man-made causes of those disasters. It never mentions that greed is the root cause of most of them.
     The characters in my book suffered from the effects of corporate greed. Their world was already dying from abuse before Preacher Billy’s cult drove them to the mountains. The air was toxic, the water rationed, and the food artificial. Every fire, every storm, made them fear nature more. The more they feared, the farther apart they moved away from nature as a part of themselves.
     By sending them to the mountains, I gave them a chance to reconnect with nature, to fill the void left by those with nothing in their hearts but greed and a hunger for ever more power. I created communities that were vastly different from each other. I made them good and I made them evil.
     I didn’t make it pretty. I didn’t mute what corporate profit motives, religious mind control, and programmed fear does to a human being, because those kind of afflictions aren’t fiction. They are real. They are happening as a I type this.
     But I did make them human, because that means I still have faith in our ability to wake up as a planet. It means I know I’m not the only one who believes we must speak up, we must act, we must make ourselves heard, because if we don’t we, and the planet, are doomed.
     I wanted people to understand what makes people turn to charismatic preachers, politicians, and charlatans. I wanted people to understand what makes someone hate, what makes someone kill, what makes someone dehumanize others for their own gain. And I also wanted them to understand there’s a lot of power in love and we need to draw on it far more and on hate far less.
     If we understand these things, we understand each other. If we learn to fight for peace the same as we fight for war, maybe we will have less wars and more peace. If we start standing up for our planet the same way good people stand up for any abused human being, then maybe, just maybe, we can solve the problems together.
     My book is not a manual. It’s a warning with some suggestions. But more than anything it’s a love story for my relationship with nature. I grew up in a special time when the air was still clean, when I could drink from a river, when storms were natural instead of tragic. I want this world for the children of the future, but that means we have to fight for it now, because we really are running out of time.
                                        Buy "When The Last Tree Dies"


Friday, November 20, 2015

When There's Too Much Real Life In My Fiction

One of the hardest parts of working on a novel is not the actual writing, but the words that come out in the writing. In the post-apocalyptic Utopia I'm trying to describe there's a character who brings out things in me I prefer not to have to deal with because I tell myself there really isn't anything I can do about them. She's a woman who's part of a cult of religious fanatics who have broken away from the rest of the survivors. And like many breakaway cults in current times, her voice is pretty much duct taped shut because she's a woman.

The hardest part about trying to describe her life is that I'm okay as long as I can keep her in the general population of "the cult." She's fiction. I try to keep her fiction. But she keeps emerging as the women who blow themselves up because the men told them to do so. She's the women who stay with abusive men because their religion is based on men having power over them.

In a post-apocalyptic world I have no problem describing her. But at some point my descriptions have to draw on real life. Nothing I imagine comes solely from me. It comes from life experiences I put together, people I knew, women I still know. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that the woman I was describing was one I knew in real life, and her friend, the one who tries to get her to escape with her was also someone I know in real life.

That's the point where it becomes difficult to write the story. I'm not one of those writers who write to get revenge or punish people. I write because I have a story I want to tell. I can't write if my personal emotions get in the way instead of helping to clarify. I can't write if the characters I'm writing about are still alive and living in an emotional prison.

And yet these two women are in a hell as awful as the one I describe in the book. One of them is a complete emotional prisoner of her mate. He decides who she's allowed to have as a friend, and if he gets in any kind of spat with anyone associated with that friend, then she is expected to drop that friend and anyone who has the slightest connection with that friend. Over and over again, throughout the years she just drops out of sight because she's "not allowed" to communicate with people anymore she once communicated with. She can't even explain. The communication just ends. That's how much power he has over her.

Many of you are asking why and how this can happen in the 21st century? It's so freaking easy if you have a substance abuse problem, are an alcoholic, or are simply too insecure to believe in yourself. There are men who are emotional predators who seek the weak to exert their control over. The man who has done this to her has always been a control freak. He lives in a world that refuses to bend to his will, and he found over the years that for many women, love is the only chain he'll need to have total control over her.

The other man is just like him but for different reasons. He finds the weakest of the weak, the desperate drug addicts, the homeless, the socially inept. He takes them in and he enables whatever their addictions. He does this because it's the only way he can have a woman in his life. And they stay with him because as long as they do he will provide them with the drugs they need, the alcohol they crave, and he will feed their insecurity by convincing them no one else wants them.

Both these men disgust me and my heart goes out to the women. But I can't do anything. I can't get them off the drugs and alcohol they need to get by each day without jumping off a bridge somewhere. The men are doing nothing that can be proven enough to arrest them. And then for what? For preying on the weak, the desperate, the hopeless? If  that was illegal, most of the planet would be in jail.

Often, dysfunctional relationships take out the ending on each other with the children. They make them weapons, little missiles of hate and misinformation. They use them to control and coerce. Do as I say of you'll never see your children again. But both these women have no children. But pets are often a handy substitute if you want to control someone. Or a bottle of wine. Or a bag of pills. Or simply a warm place to sleep.

As I write this I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows women like this. Let's face it, we all do. One of the reasons I decided to write this today was because I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out how to get her sister away from an abusive relationship that she refuses to acknowledge is abusive. There really isn't anything anyone can do as long as the cover story is in place and stuck to. I told her this and I tell myself this. It doesn't help the sadness either of us feel.

Meanwhile I have to go back and try to write the woman's story in the book because she is not the people I know. She is more than that. She is every woman stuck in a religious cult that considers her worthless. She is every war victim struggling to keep herself and her children alive when every corner she dares to look around is filled with those who want to kill her. She is every refugee woman facing hate and prejudice as she wanders the world looking for a safe place to sleep.

 In the end, we are all these women, no matter how much we say or believe we are not. They are the canaries in our coal mine of indifference. My heart breaks for them because there isn't a damn thing I can do for them.


Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cult Of Things

Today as I sat at the kitchen table and stared out at the beauty out my window I realized how different my value system is from that of many people. You really can't buy what I saw today. It's not for sale. It's a piece of nature that is available to anyone who wants to take the time to sit and stare and let it in. I rent the house, but the view is free. I often enjoy watching others stop on the street below the house just to take in the beauty. If we see each other we wave. If not, we just enjoy it in our own private front row seat, just us, the solitude, and the perfection of nature.

And yet, such amazing and profound beauty matters little to others. Because it has no admission charge, because they can't outbid someone for it, because they can't hold it in their hand and show it off to someone,  it has little or no value to them.  They are people of things and it is not a thing unless they can own it, log it, strip it, mine it, make it something that becomes a commodity. Then it has value to them.

How messed up is that? So messed up that it's at the root of the illness facing this country right now. People no longer learn for the sake of learning. They learn enough to qualify for the job that will allow them to buy things. They no longer buy a house to live in. They buy a house to show off, to claim status above someone else. They live in a commodity instead of a home and wonder why it feels so empty. A car is not something that takes you out of the madness of the city and into the peace and quiet of nature. It is a status symbol to impress people who at the heart of it, don't really give a crap about you anyway.

Right now a very large part of this country is caught up in the thing trap. They vote against their own interests because the people with all the things have convinced them if they vote for them they will also have things, and we all know that the more things, the happier one will be.

Except it's a lie. I've seen people who should know better, and many who once did, get caught in the cult of things. They amass housefuls of things. They have to rent storage units to store all those things. They build extra rooms in their houses for those things. They live in a timid little crouch of approval-seeking misery in their massive piles of junk they bought believing one day they would reach critical happiness mass.

But they never do. They never find that happiness because it's not in things. It's in those around us, in the love we share with each other, in the meals we sit down together and form memories around.

It is not getting up each morning caught in the trap of things. It is not buying something to impress someone rather than for your own pleasure. Has it ever occurred to these accumulation fanatics that the people they are trying to impress either don't even know they exist, or they are frantically buying their own things to impress someone, too?

I suspect we went so wrong when advertising became non-stop indoctrination selling us underwear, toilet paper, and politicians. It wasn't enough to watch sports. You had to wear your team. It wasn't enough to enjoy a certain type of music or performer. You had to buy all the trappings to turn that admiration into cult status.

Advertising makes us think we were worthless, uncool, out of touch, unless we have whatever is  being shoved at us through the TV screen. And it's made worse by the whole consumer mentality we have to deal with in high school, college, and whatever job we end up with that enables us to buy things.

When did we stop learning that what matters most in life is not things, but love and friendship and the beauty of nature? When did we start judging each other for not having things, money, the right travel destinations, the best gifts, the most prime seat at the table in the most expensive restaurant? When did we start ending friendships, relationships, life-long dreams because they had no monetary value, they couldn't do anything for our career, they conflicted with the expectations of those who had the things we wanted to have for ourselves?

I think we've been played for fools. We have poor people judging those who have even less. We have clubs devoted to nothing but buying more things and if you're not a member of that club, you have no value. We have so many things but no compassion anymore. Most of us could probably feed a  hungry family for a month if we sold just the things we have stored that we never use.

But no, we have to keep those closets crammed full. We have to have that house, that car, those clothes, that membership, that gated community, that job because face it, we lost our souls a long time ago and those things are a last desperate attempt to prove we haven't.

So we pop our happy pills, drink our booze, smoke our weed, and make that plastic credit card scream to keep the facade alive. We hide behind out pile of things and say look at me, I have all this stuff! I'm so frigging happy!

Except the happiness doesn't come from inside you. It doesn't let you gaze upon the beauty of a piece of nature that belongs to all who set eyes on it, and not just you, not some rich asshole, not some greedy jerk who wants to fence it all off for himself. And until you realize that, your happiness will be temporary. It will be artificial. And it will be incredibly lonely because you can't buy what you really need.

I've never given a damn about things, which is why I have just what I need, and most importantly, why I've lived the majority of my life on my own terms with my own choice of friends and loved ones to share it with me. I grew up in Las Vegas, the town of things. There's nothing that money can't buy. You can impress anyone with anything as long as they are more miserable and empty than you. But a truly happy person, well, we're not for sale.

Monday, October 05, 2015


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Me, Sports, and an email from a friend

First of all, let me make it clear that I do not hate sports. I'm a competitive person and I see  sports as a way to compete without dropping nukes on each other. I also occasionally enjoy watching a game or two with friends. I've yelled and hollered with the best of them. I don't like the violence that comes out on the screen. I don't like the break his arm break his leg kill him that passes as cheering. But again, it's better than nuking your rival.

But in saying that I also have to tell you about my relationship to sports as a young adult still living at home. It involved cringing and hiding somewhere until it was over, and by over I don't mean the game itself. I mean the aftereffects of a father who used it as an excuse to inflict verbal and physical abuse on his family. If his team lost, the endless beer and cigarettes kicked in and if by some miracle the physical abuse was saved for later when he could inflict it on my mother in private, the verbal abuse didn't.

It was an endless stream of unrelated to the game itself blaming and accusations. It was having all your imaginary faults dragged up and flung in your face, even if there were no faults and nothing of any validity to drag up. It was being made to feel like a failure just because his team lost, even though you didn't fail and in fact were succeeding in school and in just about everything non-home related.

I managed to survive that and while the spousal unit loves his sports and loves to yell at the TV in encouragement and wrath, not once has he directed his disappointment at me. He knows it's just a game and I am much more than that to him. He's also not an abusive man or we would not be together. I had enough of that crap in my childhood. If he even sounds like he might be disrespectful to me, he hears about it, and most importantly he hears it. It's how the men in my community of friends treat each other.

Or I thought so until this morning when I received an email from a friend who recently moved in with  a sports fanatic. She hates sports but following my example, figured she could find ways to live with it. As she said, she has lots of things to catch up on while sweetie is yelling at the TV.

But today I received an email that started out with "Is this normal?" She went on to describe how her sweetie's team lost and that for about half an hour he sulked in silence. And then to her bewilderment he started criticizing her over meaningless things. He didn't like the color of shirt she was wearing. The neighbor next door was too nosy, they might have to move. It soon turned into a full-blown argument with him accusing her of things she didn't do, attacking her for personality traits he made seem like fatal flaws. I could see the tears in her words.

I immediately wrote her back and told her that no this was not normal but it was not uncommon. I suggested therapy for both of them because my own issues with this topic were too painful to do either of them much good. She asked if I was sure and was slightly offended that I didn't have the heart to hear her out on it much. So I told her my personal story that happened pretty much a year ago this December.

I remember that Seattle won. In fact they knocked San Francisco out of the play-offs. To me it was okay,  it's just a game. Our side won. It was an incredibly busy time of my life, probably the busiest of the year. I went back to work. I also picked up a small writing gig that would bring in some much needed holiday cash. In other words, I was busy and not in the mood to be bothered.

But I was bothered. I received this awful email from a fan of the other team. Yes, it was someone I knew well, a little too well. Ordinarily I would recognize the opening salvo for what it was, the disappointment of someone whose team lost. I would ignore it, let them vent and delete it and go on.

But maybe because it was "my" team who knocked his out of the play-offs, he was not going to let it go. He needed a victim much as my father needed a victim to blame. It got strange really quickly and awful. The writing gig I was working on was about the crazy teabaggers and Obama Derangement Syndrome. Someone writing a larger piece hired me to put together some words based on one of my blog entries. I was in a fantastic mood. I was thrilled to get some extra money. And I was writing about my favorite subject, crazy people whose prejudices are played like a perfect racist fiddle matching their biases.

Then I got the email that set me off. It was about how "my boy" Obama was keeping marijuana from being legal. Keep in mind this was from someone that hasn't gone a day in his adult life without getting high. He kept going on that now that Republicans were in charge, weed was going to be legal nationwide and Obama wouldn't be able to stop it.

Setting aside the fact that this person's grasp of how government actually works was pretty much on a third grade level, and that his comments were revealing his inner racist in a way that was making me extremely unwilling to continue the conversation. He was one of those people who care for nothing but sports and their lack of the basics in a lot of fields is pathetic. Being me, I tried to give him a brief primer on how it wasn't Obama's call. I sent him a short civics class in two paragraphs.

Trust me that it did not go over well. If I was less tired I would have let it drop, but I just finished reading a whole bunch of conservative sites where the comments were deranged conspiracy theories by people suffering from advanced Obama Derangement Syndrome. I got the feeling this person had finally developed another interest besides sports, but unfortunately it was listening to and embracing the most lunatic of conspiracy theories. I wondered how much he spent on tinfoil that year? It must have been considerable.

He then proceeded to attack people on my facebook page, making bizarre accusations of me enabling and featuring welfare queens. I realized I was not dealing with a sane person. I blocked him from my page and email. I deleted his phone number. I cringed in fear that he would call me and be verbally abusive. In other words, it was my childhood all over again for one of the same reasons.

That day ended my relationship with this person. I left open the possibility that it may resume if he got therapy, something he desperately needs for this and other things. I was able to separate his reaction from the normal behavior of the men I know because he was not normal. He was sick. You see, this person was like my father, and the poor women in his life no doubt got a heaping helping of his verbal abuse whenever his team lost. I say "women" because with such an abusive personality, maintaining a relationship is impossible. Every time his team loses, he will find a fault in his current partner. It's the way men like him behave. It was my father all over again.

But the difference was that I am not my mother nor am I this man's wives/girlfriends. I don't allow anyone to abuse me for any reason, especially over something like their sports team losing. He needs therapy to deal with what his own father left him as a legacy if he ever wants a genuine relationship based on respect and love. I feel sorry for him but I can't let him back in my life until he fixes what ails him.

And that's precisely what I told my friend. I told her she can't fix him. He has to fix himself and until he realizes he's broken, nothing will change. I told her if he won't go to therapy, then she needs to go alone. She needs to hear from someone other than me that although there are men like this, many of them, and also women to be fair, there is never an excuse to take out something as ridiculous as a team's loss on your partner, even if there's no violence, no hands laid. It is still abuse and unacceptable and over a period of years, it affects you as much as if he had beat you daily. The majority of men yell at the TV, drink a few beers, mourn their losses, celebrate their victories and don't have to top it off by abusing those in their space.

I hope she listens to what I said and what I wrote in this blog. I hope many women, with the beginning of the football season, listen to what I say because there is never an acceptable reason for abuse. Never.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This World

I'm sitting here in a peaceful, safe place that took me a lifetime to find. And yet, underneath the calm is the depressing realization that the world around this place, and also at times within it and of it, has become riots in the street at one end and virtual warfare at the other.

This is the time we live in, a time where there is no middle. In spite of the vastness of information available to us through every medium imaginable, we have isolated ourselves into a small cocoon of sameness, of things that don't vary from the rigid realities we have set for ourselves.

Our tolerance for differences is purely intellectual because in real life we don't tolerate differences very well. Rather than look at the people around us, look at those that are not around us. Those are the ones we need to examine, especially the reasons why they are not around us.That is where the true sickness of our society lives, in those people we threw away because they just did not fit into our extreme constricts of acceptable and unacceptable.

In the last couple years the polarization of the external world of politics and wealth accumulation has infected the day to day relationships of ourselves as human beings. We are so easy now to cut someone out of our lives because they are not like us. We are uncomfortable without our own personal choir of yes we agree, and we dissect the different ones who don't agree as if they were tumors infecting our perfect world.

We demand everyone be completely socialized, never say the wrong thing, never step outside the rigid lines we have drawn. If they mess up once, if they displease us in the least, if they say one thing we don't completely agree with, then we cut them out of our lives. That person annoyed me. Off with their head! We have let our ego needs turn us all into the Queen of Hearts.

The harsh thing, the dehumanizing part of this is we do it now without even bothering to talk about it anymore. No one feels the need to explain, to apologize, or even defend their right to demand only those like them live and interact with them. No one thinks much of gated communities anymore. They are normal now. They are who we have become, the walled cities of sameness.

We are no longer families with each other where the weird uncle was tolerated because that's just who he was, even if he wasn't like us. Now we cut the weird uncle out of our lives. We no longer tolerate the flaming activists who take to the streets for justice, for information, for equality, for the truth. Instead we condemn them and judge them for bringing "negative" energy into their lives, for choosing to focus on what's wrong with the world instead of what is right. We have grown so fond of living with our heads in the sand that we no longer feel the kick in our ass from those stepping over our indifference.

We no longer understand that not everyone was raised the same, not everyone speaks the same language even if it is linguistically similar. We no longer accept that intellectual and emotional growth happens at different levels and times for different people. We want everyone to be perfect, especially if we are not. The more imperfect we are, the more we demand perfection in others. It's a vicious cycle we just can't seem to break.

We no longer end marriages, relationships, friendships. We burn down the house, trash everyone associated with the destruction, even if we lit the match. We walk away bitter and vengeful and since we live in a world where bitterness and vengefulness are the norm now, it's easy to raise armies to support us in the war on each other.

We are all so special now, all so believing that only we have the right to dictate how others should be and live. We have become intolerant sheep who are led around by flatterers, by yes men and women, by artificial praise and ego boosts. Our needs mean more than the needs of others. Our aches and pains hurt more than those of others. Our childhoods were more awful/perfect than others. Our marriages were more awful/loving than others. Our relationships are more awful/perfect than anyone else. We all just know we are the only ones who get it and everyone else is deficient.

How did we get here? Maybe if we started asking ourselves that instead of finding new ways to judge each other, to make each other THE OTHER, we might just find out how to heal the mess we find ourselves living in. Until then we will continue to live with violence and despair and hatred.

And we MUST get involved. The racism that has taken over this country once more grew because too many people fell asleep. Too many people felt it wasn't their job to deal with it. Too many people didn't want the negative energy of doing something or even being aware it was happening. Too many people just didn't give a damn because their own needs, their own specialness was more important.

At some point America became a selfish, bitter, country intolerant of everyone and anyone who is and was different. This didn't happen overnight. This happened one person at a time. It happened the first time we cut someone out of our lives because they weren't perfect. It happened the first time we criticized someone for not being just like us. It happened the first time we put ourselves in the position of being the judge instead of the citizen.

We can't go on like this. If the country is to change, we must change ourselves first. It's always been that way. What hasn't been that way is our understanding of that simple truth. We let it die because we became more important as individuals to ourselves than to the greater good of a larger world.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Rotating Finger Of Blame

I'm not in a good mood today. I go back and forth between anger and tears. I have moments when I feel nothing but disgust, a whole shitload of it at what we as a country have become. I spent a lot of time today waiting to calm down before I could write what I was feeling , and I finally gave up and said fuck it, this is what I feel, this is what many women right now are feeling, and while I love my male friends, forgive me for saying this, but you just can't understand what we're feeling right now. Don't even try because I suspect it will just make many of us even angrier. This is our pain and our despair. We need it to move us and the country forward. We need its motivating fire or nothing will change.

There is a rotating finger of blame for what happened yesterday in Santa Barbara. That finger points at several moments in time when we had a chance to be decent human beings but just couldn't be bothered. It begins with a dying political party trying to pad its voter base by appealing to the worst bottom feeders imaginable: the racists, the bigots, the misogynists, the religious fanatics, the angry little fucks who point the finger at everyone but themselves for their pathetic loser lives.

And for what? For money to get re-elected to their multimillion dollar jobs serving the "people," except those people were greedy, women-hating racists like the Koch Brothers, like Rupert Murdoch, like Rush Limbaugh, like the hatemongers and bottom feeders on Fox News. Women to them are robotic idiots who blather on about what the men want them to blather on about.

The women on these shows help the Rush Limbaughs of the world insult the Sandra Flukes of the world by denouncing her testimony on birth control in front of an all-white, all-male panel of rich Republican douchebags. They let their male colleagues refer to her as a slut without speaking up. By their silence, or worse, by their parroting of misogynist talking points, they perpetuate their own insignificance as human beings.

A big finger of blame belongs to the lobbyists for organizations like the NRA who let a misogynist  child molesting douchebag like Ted Nugent speak for them just because there's a few mouth-breathing knuckle draggers in some swamp who might buy a few more guns, a few more bullets if you just scare their pea brains into thinking that scary black guy in the White House is coming for them.

Another finger of blame belongs to the politicians who courted the right wing lunatic fringe of religious fanaticism because they needed their votes, and then to keep them happy, passed laws regulating women's bodies as if they were cheap goods harmful to the American public. They looked the other way when these same American versions of the worst of the Taliban women haters used the bible as an excuse to beat their wives, rape their daughters, and deny them a decent education.

No man would put up with that. No man would allow anyone to make him less a man by making parts of his body subject to regulation by special interest groups. No man would allow a group of religious nuts to tell him what he can and can't read.

Another finger of blame belongs to the movie, television and gaming industry that uses women  to sell everything from cars to donuts. Video games and movies use women as props to be abused and fucked. The heros are always the beaten and bullet-ridden he-man who flings his bloody and bruised body on the first female he stumbles across because there's nothing like a good fuck to heal what ails him. Of course, there's never a scene where she says no, where she recoils in disgust at this dirty, bloody, stinking excuse for a man throwing himself on her. She is an insignificant prop put in the scene only to perpetuate the savage male's ego and superior brawn.

There is more, so much more. There is a Supreme Court that defines corporations as people and bestows even more rights and privileges upon rich white men. There are the corporations who will make money off anything, no matter how distasteful, how despicable. All that matters is the bottom line, the profit margin, the shareholders whining they need to make even more money so squeeze the workers even more, especially the women.

What kind of fucked country denies women the right to earn a decent living by punishing them with lower wages than a man, keeping them locked into low-paying jobs and treating them like garbage when they dare to ask for an increase in the minimum wage. The minimum wage! How disgusting is that? How denigrating to women, and how wrong of this country, how hypocritical of this country to not speak up against it.

There's an old saying that you become that  which you oppose and I see no real difference between how women in this country are treated and how they are treated in backward countries trapped in religion and misogynist ideology where women are pretty much disposable bic lighters who can be abused, abandoned and easily replaced.

 I don't feel equal. I feel as if I live in a country where women are taught how to avoid being raped but men are not taught how not to be rapists. I live in a country where women's bodies belong to everyone but the women. I live in a country that won't speak up and call someone a racist, a misogynist, a bigot because they don't consider it their place or their job to do so.

To those people, I ask then who? Who speaks up and says this is wrong? Who speaks up and says this is enough? Who goes to the voting booth and votes out every single one of these misogynist freaks who care only about money and power even if their own wives, their own daughters, their own sisters end up paying the price?

I ask you, what have we become and how did your silence, you apathy, your own bigotry, racism, and your own rejection of everyone different from you contribute to this shit pile of humanity we call America?

Most importantly, I ask, what are you gong to do to make sure your own daughters don't have to grow up this way, because it's not just your world. It's a world that will have a future and it's your children who will suffer if you don't get off your apathetic ass and do something

Monday, January 13, 2014

Age Of The Ass-Kissing Weenie

Today was payday at one of the PODs that prints our designs to sell to their customers. And since we all worked three or four times harder than last year to make up for the commission cuts and other corporate takeaways from this company that finds new and more outrageous excuses every few months to pay us less, there was the usual amount of grumbling, and some panic. My friend whose Faceborg page it is, posted she was worried about stretching the meager amount to buy enough oil for her furnace and also pay for a new tire that was practically bald on her car. Within seconds of her post, the weenie arrived to take up the cause of the corporation:

We're all lucky to have a paycheck at all considering how expensive it is to run a business. If they could pay us more, they would, so quit complaining and count your blessings.

Right on cue, the Ass-Kissing Weenie arrived to take the side of the company. Some of our group has speculated that she might be on the payroll of this company, but after years reading the comments sections of news blogs and frequenting different forums, I am almost certain she is not being paid. She does it because she has put herself in the position of always defending authority against those who challenge it.

The kind of person who does this often is under the delusion if she praises the corporate masters openly and profusely, they won't mistreat her as badly as they mistreat everyone else. She's convinced if only she kisses enough ass, when the company struggles, it will save her and toss everyone else overboard.

This is a response based on fear, and while I can sympathize with that, I also know everyone else is in the same position and their fears are just as legitimate. But they're not weenies. They wouldn't drag her down to elevate themselves. And what she fails to understand, is the corporate assholes she defends will not reward her for this kind of behavior.

They will consider her someone not to be trusted and kind of icky and nasty. And what we all know and she is clueless about, is that when the hammer comes down, she'll be lined up against the wall with everyone else, because no one likes a weenie, and the company really does think we are worthless, can easily be replaced, and could care less if we like, hate, criticize or praise them. They don't see her as any different, no matter how much she fools herself into believing this. If we're shit, then she's shit, too. It's the corporate reality in Dicken's America.

I've always believed that kind of ass-kissing weenieness is High School behavior that was  never outgrown. I just bet these kind of weenies who stick up for their corporate masters,  were the same sneaky little tattletales who had to run to the teacher with everyone's transgressions. They've probably also had a run as the neighborhood gossip who never had anything good to say about anyone, and who were always the first  to let everyone know who's fucking whom, who's getting a divorce, and of course, the first one to appoint themselves the official trash talker in everyone else's relationships, courtings, break-ups and divorces.

That kind of weeniness is not fear. That's pretending they're better than other people. That's stepping on others to elevate themselves. That's using other's misfortunes to make themselves look better or more important. Those are the most disgusting of weenies. I have only disdain for such weenies. There's nothing redeeming in their actions, nothing worthy or meaningful. It's just mean and vindictive.

Another variation of people like this, the weenies who never really left High School behind, usually end up as forum monitors because it allows them to punish people they personally don't like for either their politics, their religion (or lack of one), or just to make themselves feel more powerful. Usually you can tell these kind of weenies run the forum because it's always just them, a few yes-weenies, and nothing but rainbows flying out of unicorn butts when talking about "the company."

 I've seen them everywhere from t-shirts to cancer forums. There's a sadness that permeates these places because nothing meaningful is ever discussed, nor are problems ever acknowledged. It's Joe's Bar and Grill with a few tired and underpaid staff waiting around hoping for some new customers that will never walk into such a depressing place more than once.

A variation of these kind of weenies usually run conservative/right wing blogs. No one is allowed to comment about anything except topics inside the bubble. Banning is immediate for daring to bring up unapproved topics or a perspective that doesn't fit the narrative. It's total mind and sheep control, unlike liberal/progressive sites where everyone is welcome and chaos reigns supreme and everyone has a different opinion that's equally as valid as someone else's.

Then there's the Weenie bosses from hell who are so inept that everyone laughs behind their backs. They probably know how everyone feels about them so they exercise their weenieness by being total shits to those unfortunate to work for them. They never praise, only criticize. Nothing is ever done to their satisfaction. Everyone is an idiot. It's always someone else's fault.

And yet, such bosses are incapable of performing most of the jobs of those they criticize. And they attract the ultimate weenies, the ass-kissers who defend the boss every time, whether that boss is Boeing, Walmart, or the owner's idiot son.

Weenies like this are the same kind of weenie teabaggers who let rich assholes like the Koch Brothers create a fake movement that existed only to defend the wants of the very wealthy. As long as these weenies think there's someone below them in dignity like black people, liberals, democrats, and women, they will kiss their rich masters asses until their lips are rubbed raw.

The Ass-Kissing Weenie Troll is always found in the comments section of most online publications. When you eliminate the paid trolls who post the same response all over the internet for pennies per thousands, you'll find the authority loving weenies. These people LOVE authority. They love getting reamed by anyone with a badge, uniform, fancy title, hefty bank account, or political office.

They are the ones verbally assaulting the old, poor, and weak. It makes them feel important and less like losers. In High School, they were the ones who waited until the bullies finished beating up the weak kid, and then when everyone was gone, would go and give the victim one final kick, and then run away.

And finally, today on a blog that some of us set up to help a friend in need of financial assistance, the ultimate evil weenie just had to come and put his shit stain on something that was none of his business. He wanted to know when us old assholes were going to die off and leave the country to the makers and not the takers, and that he found it personally disgusting that we were soliciting handouts for an adult that was too lazy to work, and that he was tired of paying for our social security checks, food stamps, and free health care.

I didn't even bother to respond. I just deleted his comment. I didn't have the heart for arguing today. A year ago, a woman I greatly admired, died because she didn't have the money to get a mole checked out. It took her three months to find a doctor who would even see her without insurance. By the time she was able to get tests, the cancer was in all her organs. A year earlier, and it would have been a simple removal of a mole. Her doctor kept asking her why she waited so long and didn't seem to understand the whole concept of no money and no doctor but you would see me until it was too late.

So I deleted the mean and heartless comment directed at a woman suffering from cancer that some of us were trying to send on a bucket list vacation. He wouldn't understand why this is important to us, so I deleted him without bothering to explain.

Maybe if we all did that, there would be less weenies, less mean people, less creepy stalkers of the poor and sick looking for ways to make themselves look better, bigger, or more important. I let one person drag me down to her level today when I responded. I'm glad I didn't let another one get to me as well. A small victory, but I do enjoy seeing the blank space where his mean comment was. It means he didn't win and that's enough to make today not a total loss. And it inspired one of the readers of my friend's blog to donate the final amount to send her on her bucket list trip of a lifetime. That makes today a winning day in spite of the Ass-Kissing Weenies.


Monday, November 04, 2013

A Furry Heart-Shaped Space

I remember the day perfectly. It was sunny and cold. We'd been in our new house for a little over two months when our old kitty who shared our lives for 18 years finally gave up being my extra special lap cat, and died in my arms in the middle of the night.

It was over 17 years ago, but I remember the sadness that gripped me for days. I walked around still practicing cat tail awareness, the art of making sure there wasn't a tail in the path of my feet. I got up every morning and immediately headed for the cat food, before I remembered there no longer was an insistent demand for breakfast at my heels. And since she was the kind of cat who could work a room better than any politician, it was weeks before I could be in a crowd of friends without breaking into tears.

As you can see from her photograph, she was gorgeous, probably one of the most beautiful cats I've been privileged to have in my life.

But she was also the kind of cat who fell out of trees and off of roofs. The vets we took her to for emergency treatment could find no reason for this clumsiness in a cat. Our theory was that she would just get so blissed out by sunbeams and lovely spring days, that she would forget where she was--a real "in the moment" cat.

She was the perfect cat for us then because we were social and she was social. We had lots of people, friends, acquaintances, loved ones who filled our lives then and she adored them all. Except for a couple of them, she managed to get at least a hand on her from every single person who passed through our lives. In retrospect, we should have paid closer attention to the ones she rejected. She saw what we didn't see and was therefore that much wiser.

In her last months, she was frail, thin and very much dependent on us for everything. We got a used playpen from the classifieds (it's what people used before there was Craig's List) and made that her safe place. We bathed her, hand fed her, and when it became clear that she needed help to make the transition, we called the vet. He was going to come to our house in the morning, but that night, as I was holding her in my arms and crying, she slowly slipped away and left me broken-hearted.

I thought I would never have another cat. She left too big a hole and nothing could ever fill it the way she did. But I've always lived with critters and the house felt empty and cavernous without one. I walked around like a sad armless zombie until one day, a lovely spring morning with birds chirping in the trees and the first buds on the pear tree just forming, I'd had enough of empty cat syndrome. I called up the feed store and asked if they had any kittens. They told me they had a whole bunch of 5 dollar bundles of fluff and to come on down.

I was convinced I knew what kind of cat I wanted. He had to be orange. For some reason I wanted a male, probably because I loved one of my friend's cats who was an orange love bug. He had to be short-haired because it meant less cat hair to clean up and less hairballs to throw up. I knew he would be there waiting for me.

And he was, an adorable little orange fluff ball that I was test holding when a tiny little claw hooked itself into Jeff's sweater and looked up at him with a pleading promise of love if only he'd pick her. Her name was Ashes and she was sleeping in the litter box away from all the other kitties. There was something about that which appealed to both of us since we had just bought a house and were feeling all grown up, and also a bit alone being the adults all of a sudden with a mortgage and jobs. He handed her to me and I put the other kitty back in the cage and reached out my arms. I was already half-way to the cash register the moment our eyes met.

She was barely 8 weeks old and when we brought her home, the first thing she did was check out where the litter box was, where the food dishes were, and where the best place to hang out was. She did all this with the confidence of a critter who had accomplished what she set out to do that day--get out of that cage and into her own palace. She went from Ashes to Sophie and for nearly 17 years she ruled our house and hearts.

She was truly a princess. Unlike Esme, there were only a handful of people Miss Sophie decided were worthy of her grace. If anyone tried to get her attention or forced her to be touched or petted, that person went on a permanent shit list. They never got near her again. But if you ignored her, she would eventually come out after the third or fourth visit and sit down in front of you, with her back turned, and a very clear attitude of "Okay, you can pet me now."  After that, the person became just another body in the house who would be honored with the privilege of giving her a pet or two.

There were many days over the next decade where she was our soothing balm during difficult times. We had no money most of the time as we struggled to survive in a trashed economy. We had no money to travel or go out for dinner or buy anything but the basics.

But we had a cat who kept us company, who was always within a few inches if we needed to just hold a cat or pet one. She made herself available to both keep us company in times of want, and to heal us in times of sorrow and broken hearts. She was the strength that allowed us to get through the loss of several of our friends to death and illness. She was the soft warm balm that eased some difficult decisions we had to make then in order to survive both physically, emotionally, and financially.

The biggest gift she gave us was teaching us how to love openly and completely. She was our princess and we loved her unashamedly. We were a solid and loyal and loving tribe of three. And we were certain we'd have many happy years together.

This summer I noticed that she was losing weight and at first I tried to deny she was ill, that it was simply old age that was making her so thin and frail. And then one day she tried to jump up to her favorite perch in my office and she missed and landed on the floor. I picked her up and put her on her perch and that became our routine for a couple weeks. By then I knew she was dying, that surgery would be ineffective and wouldn't be worth the cost and the misery it would put her through. If I knew I could get a few more years, we might have chanced it, but for three or four more months, it wasn't worth putting her through it.

I spent most of the next couple weeks crying with her in my arms. I couldn't bear the thought of not having her in my life after almost 17 years. She was a part of me. She slept in the office with me all day, hung out with me and Jeff at night, and always would come to say good night and tuck me in before leaving to explore the endless fascination of night time through the windows in the living room.

And then the day came when we knew she wouldn't survive the night. We made her as comfortable as possible and in her last moment of consciousness, we locked eyes again like we did all those years ago and said our goodbyes. Once again, another beloved pet died in my arms after 17 years of love and devotion.

I didn't think I could ever go through this kind of pain again. Before Esme died, we also had a dog who lived part of his life with her. He died at the age of 18, ten years before we lost Esme. Sophie was pet number three we had together who lived over 17 years. There's only so much grief you can handle before you say enough, I can't take anymore. We were both reluctant to get another pet ever again. I told myself we were too old for another pet, that it would outlive us and that wouldn't be fair to any potential furry one.

And the grief was so strong, it felt disloyal to even think about another cat. I had bonded with Sophie in a way I never had before. It was a new feeling for me, to trust my heart so completely to something outside of myself, to love so completely there was no shame, no embarrassment, no fear someone would consider me silly for such a thing. She was part of me and when she died, I lost a large piece of myself. I didn't think I would ever recover.

But life has other plans for us when we think we have everything all figured out. I cried myself to sleep for at least two weeks after Sophie died. I couldn't sleep without being "tucked in" by her every night. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and grief. Neither Jeff nor I could handle being around anyone. We isolated ourselves with our loss and our grief and waited for time to heal the deep sorrow and make it tolerable enough to go on.

And then one night I fell into an exhausted sleep and dreamed that Sophie was alive and leaping around gracefully and miraculously healed. She was the young cat again, full and round and warm and a bundle of happy armful. And then I saw she was with another cat who kept staring at me with these great big eyes. In the dream I turned to look at this cat and when I turned back to look at Sophie, there no longer was a Sophie, just this big-eyed cat staring at me. I heard someone call her. "Daisy! Come here, Daisy!"

I spent the morning in tears, and more because I wanted to look at pictures of kitties than anything else, I clicked on a Craig's List ad for a kitty. It's our lean time of year so we couldn't afford the "rehoming fees" the posters wanted for their kittens, so I was sure I was just window shopping. And I was, until I saw her picture, the cat I dreamed about, the big-eyed cat named Daisy.

We had absolutely no money as every cent we had was going to buy propane. I didn't even look to see how much the poster wanted. I called and asked about her ad. It turned out she lived a couple blocks away and for the "right person" there would be no rehoming fee. There was no question about whether she was coming home with us. We put the cat carrier in the back seat and drove to pick up our new cat.

She's two years old and in a week she has already charmed her way into our hearts. She's adorable and cute and funny and smart as can be. We are still getting to know each other, but she's already gone through the house and sat on everything to let any interlopers know this house is taken. She is a lovable little creature who doesn't tolerate being held but absolutely loves being petted. She's the first cat I've petted who demands her tummy be rubbed, who loves being combed, and who loves water. We keep finding her in the bath tub, on the sink, batting at drops of water on the window. Unlike our other cats, she's a climber. We find her in places we can't even imagine how she got there. And once again, when we wake up in the morning, there's a sweet little merping sound wishing us good morning and by the way...where's breakfast?

It is a most delightful way to start the day.

Monday, August 05, 2013

So, they grew meat...

Scientists grew meat from the stem cells of a cow.  Pasty white meat from an animal that was never really an animal, just something scraped into a Petri dish. It even has its own Wikipedia page. In Vitro Meat.  Seriously. This is the Internet. Of course, it has its own Wiki page, probably within minutes of it emerging in strands from the dish, just like our ancestors did eons ago on the banks of Lake Ooze.

Then, of course,  the scientists shaped it into a burger, because if its anything geeks know well, it's the shape of fast food. Sadly, even after mixing the pasty stem cell "meat" with bread crumbs, seasoning, and frying it in an heart-choking amount of butter, it tasted meaty in texture, but the flavor was nothing to get overly excited about.

But it is exciting to speculate on meat grown from stem cells. Bland meat that has no flavor. Pasty white meat that you'd never know was "beef." Many possibilities have been put forth since the meat hit the frying pan. People excitedly surmised this Frankenmeat had the potential to end world hunger. Space techies suddenly saw a solution to feeding the passengers and crew on unlimited space travel voyages. Animal lovers saw a way to save the cows at last.

That started me thinking. The meat is bland and therefore interchangeable. Why stop at beef? Why not chickens? Why not fish? It would all taste the same and the only differences would be in flavorings and added fat content.

Think about it. We could send people to explore the galaxy forever. They could continually generate their own meat from a tiny laboratory space. The only problem would be disposing of waste, clothing themselves as fabric wears out after awhile, water, and, because such voyages would be decades long, eventually each other.

Then I started thinking some more. All that bland meat that looked and tasted the same. Horrifying as it is for some to admit, the truth is if our stem cells were grown the same way, we could not be picked out from the crowd of other animals on the plate. We'd be just as bland, just as pasty, just as white, although I suspect our fat content might be a tad higher.

When we bury a body, we take up valuable real estate on a planet that is running out of resources. If we can reduce a cow to a mess of stem cells served up seasoned and fried on our plate, we've already set aside the ethics and moral arguments. It's not a cow anymore. It was never a cow even though it came from a cow. The same argument would apply to us in that situation. It wouldn't be us in that dish even though it came from us.

What it comes down to is we are not any different than that fried stem cell burger on a plate. That meat is us.  We ARE meat when you really do think about it. We are not vegetable. We are not gold. We are not holy. We are meat.

So basically this is the reality we are faced with: humans are greedy, consuming omnivores and I don't see us changing anytime soon. We're going to want our "meat" to taste different from other "meat." It's why we have multiple flavors of ice cream, multiple arrangements of topping on pizzas, multiple everything.

 But the resources are not endless and stem cell meat is just the beginning of new moral arguments over food and survival. Eventually the argument will not be what is meat and what is not meat, but what is Messy Meat and what is practical meat. And because it will all taste the same, some types of meat will have premium labels. And I'm guessing it won't be the cow with the expensive label stuck to its Petri-grown ass.

You can argue all you want, but Soylent Green is here. The minute the contents of that Petri dish ended up in the stomach of someone else, we officially became meat. Now it's a just a matter of adjusting to that reality.

From Ursine Logic's Child-Free By Choice shop.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Life Outside the Kingdom of Singularity

I've always lived in a diverse world, beginning with my family who were culturally blended into a whole that would never be homogeneous. We barely fit into society most of the time, much less within the confines of the same family. In retrospect I understand it was because we were so different from each other. We had so many diverse skills, talents, ideas, and dreams that we were bound to part ways in order to achieve at least a semblance of success. We had to find our way through a maze of visions in order to claim one as our own.

But the visions were an excuse for a very basic truth that ran through all of us: we had to find our OWN way. It was the only chance we had to develop our ideas, our  personalities, our  paths separate from the herd. And it wasn't until recently that I began to understand how rare that was, how unusual to set upon a path unique only to you, and to seek independence in self and action from the familiar comfort of singularity. I suspect that it's not a world many live in  lately.

One place I notice it most is in the type of education most people currently receive. They are well-trained in their skill set. They are the best in what they do. They can discuss their field endlessly and flawlessly. Until they run into a very large wall.

That is the wall of singularity. They know what they know, and maybe the more creative ones can imagine and implement ways to incorporate what they know into something similar to create a third thing that resembles them both, but differs only slightly.

It is the same feeling trying to have a discussion with a member of the singularity. They know their subject. They can apply anything to that subject: the religion of computers, the politics of engineering, the literature of design. But then the wall gets them. Then the noose of singularity cuts off their thinking. Then the conversation becomes forced and not as entertaining. It is at some point, like discussing the weather. Yes, it rained in the past. It is raining in the present. It will rain in the future.

But there is no poetry to the rain. There is no search for meaning in  the sound of the rain or the feel of it upon the skin. There are no long songs written to the rain. It is all sterile and precise and oh so tedious and boring. 

And worse, such singularity crosses swiftly over into dogmatism. No new input means no new ideas. No new ideas means the existing ones are elevated to the point where they are beyond criticism. They take on a holiness, a religiosity that eventually won't allow criticism because the other sides cease to exist.

People then begin the process of becoming as rigid as their ideas.Change becomes fearful. Different people become scary. Different ideas become tyranny. The more the world around them changes, the more the singularity cling to the only things they know, whether it is religion, science, art, politics, music, literature, murder, mayhem, war, hate, bigotry, intolerance.

More than anything this spells the doom of cultures and society. It wasn't their differences that destroyed them. It was their sameness. Inbreeding of ideas is just as destructive as inbreeding of people. Over time you are left with monumental stupidity and nothing left to repair the damage done to communities, towns, states, countries, and eventually the planet. There's no one left smart enough or educated enough to fix the problems so the culture dies.

We are moving in that direction and we will reach the crossroads fairly soon. Ignorance has a way of taking over because it feeds on itself. But there are a few things to throw in its path that while it may not stop it, might at least slow it down some.

One of the biggest is education. I was one of the lucky ones as were many of my generation. We had a true liberal arts education, which meant we had to also study math, science, history, literature, and art. More than anything, we were taught to think and analyze, something that is rarely taught anymore. Now people are taught to focus, to apply precise learning to precise topics and not deviate from the task at hand.

But we need to deviate. We need to learn how what we are being taught applies to the past, present and future. We need to see the historical consequences of actions without the filter of politics or religion. We need to understand what it means to make our own decisions and therefore learn to accept responsibility for our actions. We need to learn to think, to analyze, to discuss, to hear, to listen, and to contemplate.

 Because if we don't, our singularity will be the chain hooked to the nose of our precious little prejudices, and the other end will be in the hand of those who need herds of singular minded sheep to use for their own purposes.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The View From Here

I live in a tiny vacation community, one of the handful of year round residents in my neighborhood. My neighbors, when they are here, are mostly Canadian. The rest of us are varying degrees of American ranging from born and raised in the same community, to recent and not so recent immigrants. In the three years I've lived here, I've made a couple of really good friends, am working on filling out a couple more, and am on good happy daily hello terms with all my neighbors. What makes this unusual is that every single one of us differs politically, religiously, and economically. And yet we live in happy harmony with each other.

I've thought a lot about this in the last few days. I thought about it as I exchanged hellos and small talk about kitties and the suddenly delightful spring-like day with my neighbor. The day after the election he wore a shirt with an anti-gay marriage theme and bemoaned the taking over of America by socialism. I made no secret that I voted for every one of his worst nightmares...Obama, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization...his entire list of horrors. We basically nullified each other's votes.

For a couple days he avoided me and my equally treasonous spouse. We didn't see each other by the mailbox. We didn't say hello. We didn't exchange small talk. And then there he was as if nothing had happened. He was friendly. I was friendly. I played with his kitties. He bragged about their antics. We went on with our respective days.

I think what soothed this over is that we both have had a chance to interact on a small, friendly and frequent basis. Brief though those moments are,they are still enough to let both of us see we are not monsters. In fact, if you laid a lot of our lives side by side, they'd be similar. We've both worked most our lives. We both are approaching retirement with just enough to survive on if we are frugal and don't want for much, he a bit better than I because he had a great union job for most his life.  For both of us, it's how we've lived most our lives so there isn't much of a step down. It's normal. We're working class. We have no rich relatives to save us in old age. We are our own saviors.

And yet we are so different in how we think. He is conservative. I'm as liberal as they come. I have two wonderful friends I desperately want DOMA to go away for so they can stay in the country. He's terrified gays will force him to marry his cat. We've never talked religion, but I suspect he has strong religious beliefs but does not feel the need to inflict them on me, just as I have no need to talk about my atheism to him. It's ours. It is who we are and not something we need to force on others to have it be meaningful to ourselves.

We get along because we know enough about each other to feel comfortable with each other. We're never going to party together or even have a cup of coffee on the porch. We have our own lives, our own friends, our own families. We are neighbors in a small village and we both know if it comes down to it, we have each other's back, politics and religion be damned.

The neighbors that are closest to me politically are still a few levels shy of liberal and are what I consider salt of the earth type Americans, the ones you call "good people." They are not complex, but they are not stupid. They value the beauty of the land because they grew up in it and so are environmentalists by default. They hunt and fish because it's a source of food they grew up with and they still need the extra supplies to survive when money is tight. They waste nothing, grow most of their own food, and spend a lot of time just enjoying life.

They believe in a live and let live philosophy and they walk their talk. I can't imagine them judging anyone. I felt immediately accepted by them. They are familiar to me. I grew up with them. I married a man who came from the same kind of background. I like them as people. When we first moved here, they sent over cookies and a holiday card with a Bible quote that was more inclusive and loving than mean and judgmental.

I suspect they are true Christians, the kind of people who volunteer at the food bank and give generously to their church when they have extra. If I needed help with anything, I'd feel comfortable asking them and I'm certain they'd feel comfortable asking me. We are good neighbors. We joke about things in the neighborhood. We laugh a lot. I'm fairly certain they voted similar to me except for the gays, but I'm certain that soon as they actually meet and interact with someone openly gay, they'll come around. There's no reason for them not to.

My other neighbors are retired Canadians who worked as firefighters, law enforcement and white collar professions. We live here for the same reason. We love the trees, the saltwater, the squirrels, the heron, the eagles, the absolutely luscious vegetation, the blissful peace and quiet. On holidays we like to drink and be merry. We have friends and family around the fire pits and grills. We makes things go boom on the 4th of July and New Year's.

We live a simple and delicious existence. None of us are rich. Some of us are poor. But all of us have found what we require to survive and be happy. We get along. We enjoy seeing each other in our gardens, on our porches, decks, and mowing the lawns that refuse to stop growing. We are here for the same reason and that is far more important than our religions or political beliefs.

And of course, being such a diverse and delightful environment, there's also people here who are just like me. We've had delightful conversations. We've already created perfect worlds over bottles of wine, glasses of beer, and cups of tea. We've met in the local taverns, gone out to eat together, and sat down on the beach to absorb the sunsets. We've become friends and are working on deepening those new and delightful bonds.

All in all, we are a tiny neighborhood in a small community in a vacation suburb of a larger town. We are as unique as where we live and just as we appreciate the diversity of nature and wildlife, we are learning to appreciate each other. We may not always agree, and we may in some cases never agree, but what we do share is we took the time to say hello to our neighbors, got to know each other, and discovered our differences were far less important than the common ground and dreams we shared.

In our tiny piece of paradise, we've caught a glimpse of how the world can truly be if we lived in it as neighbors, if we watched out for each other, if we didn't try to force our beliefs on each other, if we respected each other's individual spaces as if they were our own, if we lived as if we all had the same right to exist in the same tiny little place on the planet. Yes, we are not perfect, but we are trying and maybe that is what makes the difference between harmony and horror. Maybe that is why we can get along with each other when others can't. Maybe we have something here that others can have as well if they take the first step, extend the first hand, share the first hello. It sure beats the alternatives.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

Words From One Of The Carrots In The Stew

We've never met in person,  but our virtual friendship is entering the twenty year mark, long enough for both of us to forget we never actually met in person. But that's the internet and I am grateful that it brought us together that day on a long defunct literary discussion list. From fifteen women, we are down to a handful. Literally a handful. We can count each other on one hand.

Over the last couple decades we've shared our lives with thousands and thousands of words. They've described love, life, death, rebirth, the good, the bad, the indifferent, and tears of joy, of sadness, of despair, and of loss. We've grieved the death of our literary sisters. We've lamented, cursed, and screamed at growing old, not for vanity or the loss of our youth, but because it takes away those we love. If you live long enough, you become a survivor by default and it's often a sad place to be. There is no victory in it, just the whimsical nature of time and the hand you are dealt.

And sadly now, my friend is in her final weeks. Last week she decided to end all further attempts to heal her and is instead focusing on what she calls "the end game." We've both lost enough friends to breast cancer in the last decade to know it's not a fight to lose because she never picked cancer as an opponent. It just happened to her as it happens to far too many women. To call it a fight implies a loss or victory to the opponent. No. It is simply a change, a transition from living to dying. She's a purist that way. Throughout it all, she's focused on living and not on dying. She's wanted to be addressed and acknowledged and loved as a living human being, not one who is dying. Victory to her means her friends and those she loves are able to forget what is going on in her body and focus on her the way they always did.

She refuses to be called brave because she says she is not. She does what the doctors tell her. She listens to what her body wants and does not want. As another of our friends who died last year said, who she is becomes far more important than what is happening to her. Rather than brave or courageous or strong or winning and/or losing, she prefers the term "growing." I have loved watching the process of her coming into her own as a woman, as a friend, as a delightful human being.

Yes, the sadness over eventually losing her is often hard to feel, but honestly, the same can be said for all my friends. Once you hit those later years, the sixties, the seventies, losing friends becomes far more common than we ever realized. We become better at saying goodbye. We become better at helping. We become better at cutting through the crap and learn to just be with each other.

While I really believe we have become better as a culture at accepting that death is an inevitable part of living, there are certain issues that still need perfecting, and one of those is pain management. There is absolutely no reason my friend or anyone should have to suffer pain at the end of their life. And yet they do. I've asked my friends in the medical professions how this is possible, how is it that with all our advances, the only option for pain management at the end is either suffering so you can stay conscious as long as possible, or such heavy doses that you are virtually in a coma until you transit from here to some other reality.

I've heard many answers and the most common seems to be our dance with morality. We are taught certain drugs are bad and unbelievably there's still those who would deny the full range of pain medication to the dying because they don't want to make them addicts. Seriously. I'm not joking. There are moralists who would rather see someone in pain than risk making them addicts just before they die. This is just fucked up in so many ways.

Then there's the whole money/research issue. Life is for the living and so we focus the funds on helping the living and not the dying. Medicines are developed for profit and pain medications are relatively cheap compared to chemo drugs, so the dying get filled up with those and have to suffer in pain. My friend has learned to be insistent to not feeling pain and also not being out of it until it's time to be out of it.

This worked well until a couple days ago when she lost the ability to speak and can barely type. Now she is dependent on what others think is good for her instead of what she needs and wants. This is in spite of reams and reams of last wills, living wills, final directives. At some point, the "team" takes over and the patient is no longer a willing participant.

But we've been through this before, so her pain is less than others in her situation. She has people fighting for her, family who understand her wishes completely and are ferocious in the face of those who try and go against them.

And yet, dying is a complicated process, especially in this digital age. We thought we'd covered everything, the eventual message on her blog, her Facebook page, her twitter account, and for the most part we have. But there's always loose ends, personal things you forget to tell people, things that matter to you but didn't realize mattered to you until you lose access to them. This happened with her twitter account. Because she could no longer type easily, she let it go for a few days and a well meaning friend closed it down for her as he mistakenly thought those were her instructions. He feels terrible that he misread her instructions, but it's too late to get it back. It's gone.

So today I've contacted some of the people she was following in an attempt to at least give her access to the progress of people she cared about. It's a surprisingly long list. I'm not trying to recreate her account but merely becoming a conduit from them to her via me and my account. Most people have been completely understanding and others are suspicious and required some reassuring words before clicking that little follow button. Others, mostly from her community of breast cancer women, appear to have fallen off the radar. Their last posts were weeks ago and they don't answer my requests. It's not for me to ask her why these people matter to her but they do.

So here's my reason for writing this. For those of you who are support, family, friends with someone who is beginning the end game, please remember there are people like my friend. You may not understand why she needs to keep in touch with people who are strangers, you may not know about the many emails she received from complete strangers moved by her blog describing her path and the lessons learned and unlearned, you may not know she also has people she followed, read and connected with on a level only those who are going through such a thing can understand, but they matter to her.

I have promised to keep her virtual family connected with updates. It doesn't take much, just a few moments to post on her blog that she is with us but unable to type, that she is transitioning and wishing everyone love and happiness and the spiritual and personal growth that develops us as human beings. It doesn't take much and yet it means so much. There is a middle path to protecting the cherished privacy, the final intimate moments of life with those we love, and yet not losing touch with those who have come to care about us.

We, at the heart of ourselves as human beings, tend to measure everything on a personal level, so if we don't understand something it somehow becomes less in importance. And one thing we often fail at is understanding why and how someone cares about us. If it isn't a personal lover, a close friend, a familiar family member, we don't always see how much we matter to someone else. That's our last obstacle to overcome as members of the upright species: learning to accept there are those who love us, who care about us, even if we barely feel them inside our hearts. Our lack of awareness doesn't lessen what they feel. It just makes our planet a more lonely place for all of us.

So today I will contact more from the list of twitter friends and help make the world a less lonely place. And one day I hope my friends and family will do the same for me because we all live in this stew together, no matter how much we cling to our individual carrot or potato self.

Lavender Skies Print
Lavender Skies Print by northwest_photograph
Shop for Boulevard park Posters online at


Monday, February 25, 2013

Village Idiocy

I recently spent a month recovering from the flu. It was the kind of flu that didn't allow me to do much for a couple weeks except mindless crap. Seriously, it hurt to think and it wore me out to do anything requiring more than minimal effort. I tried reading but couldn't focus. I tried to work, but after trying to put up one design several different times only to accidentally delete an hours worth of work by clicking the wrong key, I gave up. I turned to the old standby--games. I spent a couple days making the world safe from angry birds, but even that required more energy than I had , so I turned to television. Specifically, mindless tedious stupefying television, the kind most of America feeds on for most of their waking hours when they're not working.

I'm not an anti-television snob. There's some excellent shows that I usually wait until they come out on Netflix to watch, and I really am an Amazing Race junkie.  But that's about it. I've never watched many of the popular culture shows. I tried, I really did, but in the end they were about not every interesting people doing not very interesting things. And I may be old, but not old enough to get my news from television actors pretending to be journalists. I'd rather read blogs online from many different views to form an opinion, rather than have it fed to me by actors who wouldn't know a real news story if it kicked them in their partisan asses.

What I did find as I flipped from channel to channel is that American television is like the worst little inbred community of stupid people on the planet. I've lived in small towns and the news is basically the same kind of tedious gossip that passes for conversation in those horrid little communities. No one ever talks about ideas. They talk about other people. No one ever talks about the problems of the world. They talk about who's bedding whom and whose divorce is that week's meat to rip apart and feed to the hogs. No one ever talks about solutions to world hunger, the destruction of the planet, how to make a better world. They gossip instead. They say mean and horrible things about people they don't even know. They form sides. They create a world of us and them. The news on television has become the worst of these things, the worst of these people, the meanest and most shallow excuse for existence imaginable.

At first, just as I felt when exposed to this behavior in small communities populated with small-minded idiots, I was stunned that people could live this way, that they could get  information this way, that they could make real life choices based on being fed pure biased bullshit.

And then I began to understand it was all deliberate. Television feeds into the small minded idiots in these communities. It creates low information voters. It creates people who are always afraid of some boogy man or woman of the week. It makes it seem normal to have an us and them world where everything is always one person's fault, one ethnic group's fault, one country's fault. It creates the kind of fear that discourages independent thinking for herd behavior. Television tells you different people are bad. Different ideas are bad. Truth is bad.

Television is called programming for a reason. It doesn't want you to think or discuss real ideas. It wants you to gossip about each other. It wants you to always blame someone else for problems you create yourself. It wants you to live in fear and in mistrust and to always always think just like everyone else. And to severely punish those who are not like you.

And in between, they want to sell you shit. Lots of shit. Stupid shit designed just for people who no longer are able to think for themselves. Step right up, and please do use your neighbor's back to step on as you climb up the Randian ladder of disdain and privilege, because you're special and deserve to buy all the crap they're selling you.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Weekend

The horrifying events in Connecticut were breaking as we waited to board our plane to Las Vegas. We were headed there to celebrate forty years of love, friendship, family, and community with those who hold special places in our hearts. We were going to reconnect with people we haven't seen for decades: old college friends, family, people we met along the way and who managed to stay connected even though our paths took us all over the planet. We went to celebrate old and new weddings, friendships formed in one place and finished growing in another. We went to share the gift of our love for each other with our friends and family who never met before, or who attended one of our long ago weddings, or who sat in college classes with us, or who lived in communal households during our formative and idealistic years. We went, more than anything else, to share the profound and deep love we've built together as a community. It was our gift to each other, our gift to those we loved and cherished the most.

And all over the country as we waited to board for one common destination, a horrible tragedy was unfolding. I know I wasn't the only one trying to block it out. The sound was off on the airport screens, but the images were impossible to shut out. Grief has a way of cutting through the silence, and even brief involuntary glances at the faces let us know this was a grief beyond words. It was a horror unimaginable to those of us in that waiting room together. It was the complete opposite of the reality we were living in, the life of tolerance, and love, and hope, and common dreams built and shared over decades of love and friendship.

And yet, we blocked as much of it out as possible. We were on our way to a different reality and topics such as death, dying, and tragedy were personalized to something we could take in wound by wound, sadness by sadness. There was an awareness of those in our lives who would not be there to share in this amazing adventure months in the planning. The dead had faces we knew, people we'd loved and said goodbye to in the last few years, some as recently as weeks before. We'd already shed tears for them before boarding the plane because they weren't able to board with us. To cry for strangers would have opened our own personal wounds again and we already put them on hold for the weekend.

We were also aware of the short time many of our group have left on this planet, us included. The youngest of us all have gray hair and gravity has definitely won. For some of us, it was clear that time was something we called "now or never." For every year we put this off, our group of friends and family would grow smaller. Mortality sort of creeps up on us. One day we think we have forever, and then so quickly we look in the mirror and see that forever has a shelf live and we're on the losing end of it.

As a group we have survived illnesses that would have killed the less strong. We are the ones left, the ones who get up from the chair more slowly and ache after a hike or a stroll through adult Disneyland. We are medicated, creaky, and definitely dancing on borrowed time. It's why events such as ours are so important. We are so aware they are now or never events and we hold them close to our hearts.

But the families who lost so much in that awful tragedy, they were in their forever times of life. They sent their children off to school as they did every morning and had no reason to  believe they wouldn't do the same next day and the days after for many years to come. They were parents who were giving their children a childhood, a memory to take forever into adulthood that would form the basic of bonds to come in later years.

We had that. No matter how horrible and dysfunctional our personal childhoods, we didn't fear someone coming to our schools and killing us. That was the only place we felt safe. It was a refuge. The teachers were our adult protectors. It is unimaginable to us as adults who grew up in that time, to think of our schools in any other way.

And yet, there's a whole generation of children who have grown up not feeling that sense of security,  that safe place of our childhood. The first school shooting students are now adults and it has happened so much that we now have several generations of children who don't believe they are safe at school. Sonja, one of the cherished friends who spent the weekend with us at our adult slumber party, returned home to her kids and I'm sure hugged them closer and tighter than ever before, and then she described how the world has changed in this very succinct and poignant way:

"I just demonstrated to my children what one does if one hears gunshots, and made them demonstrate what they had learned. I then gave them several boxes of Lego and instructed them to resume their childhood. I proceeded to the bathroom to cry until I barfed."

I can't imagine the grief of those parents. I have wept many tears at the loss of friends, but they were ill and their deaths were not unexpected, or they died in accidents after much of their lives were already lived. But when a group of children are murdered in such a horrible way, whether it is in war, or disaster, or murder, we lose a piece of our hope in the meaning of forever. We shut down a piece of ourselves that dares to dream of a better world, a safer and more tolerant planet, a more loving and sane humanity.

That is why it is so important to have weekends like we did where there was so much love that everyone who walked into that room was wrapped and cradled in it. It is the only way to fight back. As my young cousin Anna's shirt said: Love is the answer. We must fight back with love because that is the only power than means anything. We must fight back with tolerance because that is how we measure our personal worth as human beings. We must fight back with joy and happiness and acceptance of each other as imperfect and frail creatures doing our best to pass through this life with honor and integrity and a sense of fairness.

I really don't know how we can stop hurting each other, how we can stop killing each other. I have no answers for that. But I do know if each of us makes time to spend a weekend together with those we cherish the most, if we combine the best of our friends and family together in one place and share our love for each other without holding back, without expecting anything in return, without holding on to old wounds and stupid misunderstandings, then we create a force that can fight evil as one unified beam of love.

So send out those emails, make those calls, post it on Faceborg, tweet it until your fingers ache, but start planning your own weekend with each other. Don't tie it in with the holidays. Make it its own holiday. Celebrate being alive and loved and then take that feeling forward and help make a better world, because if we don't, then who will?



Friday, November 02, 2012

Obama, Marijuana, Braces, and the Issues Voter

I was catching up on some of my favorite blogs today and ran across a friend's entry that really bothered me for a lot of reasons. First of all, it demonstrates one of the divides many of the comfortable middle class don't realize is a divide, and second of all, it furthers the message that only appearance is a valid measure of worth. Here's the shortened version of the story:

About three years one of my friends wanted to move from a neighborhood that wasn't a good place to raise her daughter. It was a serious downgrade from a house to a tiny apartment but it was a safe middle-income neighborhood with a good school and she felt it was worth the sacrifice.

There hasn't been any money for extras. My friend is too proud to ever accept any kind of public assistance. She shops at garage sales and thrift stores for school clothes each year. Her daughter always had a lunch to bring, even when dinner was Top Ramen and a box of frozen vegetables. They've managed to squeeze by in three years with their power being turned off twice, and their phone once. They've survived. And they feel safe in their home.

But something happened the other day that sent my friend into a depression that she's having trouble shaking. As I said, they moved into a middle-income neighborhood, the kind of place where the standard of living is just a bit above what my friend raising her daughter alone can afford. It was fine until her daughter started middle school this year and became quiet and even sullen at times. At first my friend thought it was just the normal adjustment period of a new school, but then she began to understand it was more than that.

Her daughter who never asked for anything, who never complained about having to wear used clothing and live in a tiny apartment, came home one day and asked if she could have braces. Her daughter's teeth are not horrible by any means. She has the engaging grin of a young, pretty girl. But her teeth aren't perfect and now it's an issue all of a sudden.

It shouldn't matter but suddenly it's a big deal because all her classmates have braces. And being kids, they make fun of her lack of them. They tell her she will always have ugly crooked teeth if she doesn't get braces NOW! They make this lovely young girl feel ugly because her mother can't afford to have her teeth straightened until they resemble perfect little white picket fences.

It was heartbreaking for my friend to have to tell her daughter she can't afford to buy her braces. It was heartbreaking to watch the previously confident girl with perfect grades suddenly lose all confidence in herself. And it was especially heartbreaking for both of them to realize that no matter how smart a girl is, no matter how much she sacrifices along with her mother so they can both have a better life, she has just received her first lesson that she will go through life judged on her appearance.

There is nothing that can be done to fix this. My friend does not have the money and her daughter's classmates will never understand how something they take for granted--their perfect teeth, will one day be a symbol of class division to those who grew up in homes where braces were a luxury their families could not afford.

It is my sincere hope that by the time my friend's daughter goes to college,  she will have learned her advantage in life is what lives inside her, not what others see and judge on the outside. But I also know she will never forget how she was judged by her classmates who simply didn't understand there were some things that not everyone could afford, and in many ways their very appearance was a privilege others didn't get a chance to have. This lack of understanding is just another brick in the wall that continues to divide the people in this country from each other.

My other issue today came after a discussion with a man who has several post-graduate degrees. He was a radical in college, always up on the latest world events, always engaged and aware of the issues. He went on to the professional career he always dreamed about. His entire adult life has been a comfortable one where he buys a new car each year, upgrades his home about every five years, travels, and has a secure retirement in his future.

But he hasn't read a book in years. He only reads the local Republican rag in his very Republican neighborhood and each year begins to sound more and more ridiculously conservative, spouting talking points that he would have laughed at just a few short years ago. He only uses the internet to check sports scores. He doesn't care enough about the rest of the world to even bother checking to see if it's still there.

The only thing he watches on television is sports. He hasn't even seen a movie in a couple years. He has no interest in anything but coming home from work, plopping himself in front of his TV and watching all the sporting events that dutifully recorded themselves while he was at work. And he smokes marijuana. Lots of marijuana. In his 50 some years of life, I don't think he's ever had a problem finding marijuana. After all, he's a respectable, white middle-class American. No cop has ever stopped him and harassed him for being high or getting high or trying to get high. He buys it from other white, middle class smokers like himself. There's no slumming needed to get his weed.

And yet, he refuses to vote for Obama because he's done nothing to legalize marijuana. Yup, that's his entire reason for not voting, even though nothing has yet to interfere in his desire to get high. He would rather stay home and risk a president getting elected whose religion won't even let him drink coffee, much less ignore people who want to smoke weed or drink,  and he thinks there is no difference between the candidates. This is your one issue voter from the other side, folks. This is your no information voter. This is who will never go to the polls because he won't even educate himself on this one policy that he claims matters so much to him.

And no, I don't believe it's the weed that made him this way. I believe it was working to accumulate all the toys he feels he needs to have on hand to impress people who don't give a crap about him. I believe it's because he quit reading books. I believe it's because he watches nothing but sports. I believe it's because at heart he is a selfish, callous shit with hardly any friends. The weed is just something he uses to mute the tedious boredom his life long ago became. And it's all Obama's fault that weed isn't legal. He says this all the time as he's toking on the other end of the phone, as he talks about the great bud he scored, as he defines his life according to the sporting events he watched and how high he was.

The thing is there wasn't that much difference between him and my friend's daughter. They both had the same beginnings. They were both brilliant with a great future ahead of them. The only thing that got in the way were things like braces, and summer camp, and vacations, and cars. It divided him from them just as my friend's daughter is being  divided from her life and theirs because of her imperfect teeth.

Neither of those are things I can do anything about. Both fall under the this is the way life is category. I can't say my daughter's friend will end up like this man just because of her teeth, but if there's one thing that can stifle her as a human being, it's that pain of realizing that no matter how smart she is, how educated she becomes, until she deals with that horrible pain of childhood, that pain of being excluded because of something beyond her control, her personal growth becomes stunted forever.

Strong Woman Round Clock
Strong Woman Round Clock by orsobear
Shop for other Clocks at Zazzle