Back to the Work of Tomorrow

The events of the 2016 presidential election in the United States left me feeling…well, it’s quite difficult to put words to it, really. Honestly, I can say that I’ve never felt that particular hodgepodge of emotions before, and I hope that I won’t ever have to feel it again! As we know however, the future is an uncertainty and I have to accept the fact that events may just not go the way I want them to — even really big events of historic proportions. While I cannot find any good, as of yet, in the political outcome of the election, I am starting to move beyond the emotional, reactionary, and defensive, and into the realm of healing, understanding, and genuine compassion and interest. I do not accept that half of my fellow citizens have an intentional malice toward others for no reason. I know first-hand that U.S. Americans are a people who value fair-dealing, straight-talking and equality. Yet, with that said, it is impossible for me to pretend that I, as a cisgender queer white male, have had a full glimpse into the limitations and systemic under-thumbing that many of my fellow citizens who are not of that particular intersectional identity have had. In short, I know that I am privileged and I believe that in that knowledge lies the first footing of our climb toward a better, and fairer tomorrow.

Politics in the USA are particularly polarizing, likely because we have only two viable political parties, thereby enforcing an either/or mentality. I think anyone with half a brain can understand exactly who those are who benefit from this dichotomous splitting of the populace. I doubt however that most understand just how intentional the enforcement of that rift is. By pitting us against each other, having us devolve into petty squabbling about issues that really require no political debate at all and are matters of individual liberty, the work of the power-merchants quite astoundingly takes care of itself. A divided people is a conquered people. My aim here is not to come across as some sort of revolutionary. I deplore revolution! Instead, I draw comfort and security in knowing that there is an ever-unfolding evolution that carries us all forward; sometimes faster and sometimes slower than we might like. I believe that we are now at a place where we must evolve or face the consequences of our laziness, clannishness, our knee-jerk judgements in ‘othering’ before we have had any chance at all to understand what the phrase, “These United States…” might mean to people who don’t look like us, speak the same language as we do, share our religious convictions, or have access to the privilege that we take as a given. That means all of us have to reassess. All of us, even us liberals who are often so very self-congratulatory and satisfied with ourselves for being, “woke”.

Clinton’s loss for me, somehow underlined latent fears and mistrust that I’d always harbored toward  my own people. I took the rejection of her liberal-centrist platform as a rejection of those Americans who identified with that platform. When we were called snowflakes, or social justice warriors, or leftist weirdos, I sincerely didn’t grasp how my liberal viewpoint couldn’t be shared by the whole country. Liberal, after all, comes from the Latin for free, and doesn’t everyone want to be free? Well, that’s a much more involved question than I could ever attempt to answer here, but I am coming to realize that pinning down a meaning for words like freedom, might be the work of a lifetime, of generations, maybe of forever. Perhaps such dreams cannot be interpreted or relayed, maybe they have to be dreamt and re-dreamt until they aggregate into a collective unconsciousness whereby reference points such as origin are so forgotten and unnecessary that they become regarded as purely obvious. We are not there yet.

“If at first you don’t succeed — try, try again.” So for me, it is back to work. Back to doing my small part in the unfolding of the American experiment. I cannot be certain that it will all go the way I hope, for that is the nature of experiments. What I can do however, is look into my neighbor’s eyes. I can hug my radically politically opposite-minded family members and tell them that I am happy to see them, and I can mean it. I can show up and share my point of view, and maybe even more vitally, I can listen. I can listen when the words I hear make my blood boil, when I fear that I might disproportionately react to an opinion which I find abhorrent, dismissive, abusive,  or bigoted. I can listen without feeling that I have to debate and negate the arguments given by people  with whom I disagree concerning policies I find unjust. And most importantly, and I believe that here is where we will find our work over the course of these next years, I can slowly, excruciatingly slowly, interject spaces of commonality, equity, agreement, fairness, optimism, progress, and evolution. It is a long march forward, and when we get there, and WE WILL GET THERE, we will need as many free hands, and willing helpers as possible to turn that collective recurring dream into something that might bravely be called tomorrow.

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Wanderlust

My whole life I’ve been attracted to the far away. I can recall being a very small child and somehow instinctively knowing that the world was a big place and that things were very different across the oceans. That intrigued me and kept my mind busy on aeonic and humid summer days in Virginia, where there were endless fields of boredom to fill with notions of adventure. Growing up, I never knew what to say when people would ask what I wanted to be when I was older. I’d usually answer with something vague and abstract like, an “artist” of some sort,  a “writer“, or a “traveler“, or even a “wandering monk” (I’d read Kipling’s Kim and thought that was a genuine option). There was also a period where I wanted to be a protestant pastor, but that was mostly only because I was under the misguided impression that they only had to work on Sundays and enjoyed the rest of the week off. However, when I think back on those days, and that question in particular, I guess I have to admit that I didn’t really want to be anything when I grew up; I just wanted to go.

Those who travel often sometimes refer to their need to get out and explore the world as a kind of illness, an obsession, even a possession, and while that may be their honest assessment of their instincts, that doesn’t quite define my personal experience. I like seeing the world not because I garner pleasure from the exotic, nor because I want to escape the quotidian mechanizations of life, but mostly because somehow every place that I end up in becomes an integral part of my journey toward self actualization and realization of what my own life might mean. Without getting too esoteric about the whole thing, I think of myself as a kind of secular mystic and being surrounded by new environs, unintelligible languages, new iconographies and symbolisms, ancient architecture, contemporary material culture,  and sounds without definable origin, etc., all suss me out of the shell of domesticity and routine and into what’s really going on.

I think that many of us tend to reduce the world into our particularized experience of it. But, the world, even in the 21st century, is vast and there are still countless things to discover. Of course the whole doctrine of discovery, at least in its historic context, is total fallacy and is flooded with racial and cultural power imbalances and exploitations, but the kind of discovery I reference here is a personal one — a discovery of self. I doubt that’s what the conquistadores experienced as they raped and pillaged the New World; could be wrong though. Did those brazenly greedy men, emboldened by prospects of uncountable wealth, and maybe even a bit of adventure, ever pause to consider how those journeys changed them? We’ll never know.

Wanderlust has always been a part of my life. Without any effort at all, I find myself daydreaming for sometimes hours on end about writing comfortingly geometric postcards by the water in Porto, or watching children play in fountains during  an especially stagnant  and oppressive Roman summer, or the smell of easterly rain coming in from the ocean in Colombo, or the pins-and-needles tension in my feet while standing in line for the cinema in “everything’s uphill” Hong Kong, or sleeping atop an adobe house with a smooth, flat roof and a broad and bright night sky in Santa Fe.  In my mind’s eye, within an instant, I can visualize the wisps of a rowdy flame transforming a funeral pyre into eternity in Kathmandu; smell the delicately floral fragrances emanating from the spaces between the rapid back-and-forths of the lacy winged fans a flock of Spanish ladies are using on themselves (and the world) after a matinée zarzuela, can hear the unfriendly and sharp clicking that informs the blind that it is safe to cross Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee as I too cross the monumentalism of good ideas turned bad by good people, can feel the chill in the air and the wish to pull the blanket over my shoulders, up round my neck, and into the moment in Addis Ababa as night approaches, and there in the background, the  never-ending  honking car horns so frequent that they become only one incessant and intolerable carillon beaconing the human’s need for silent moments to hurry home — clanging now ubiquitous in almost any city the whole world over. Might that shrill slash into the great jazz ensemble of nature be the soundtrack of our post-Model T lives?

Now, I am a grown up and I’m still going, still discovering, still dreaming and waking up and dreaming. Now, theoretically, I could go wherever I want, but I’m not one for planning dreams. I like to organically end up in places, turning corners here and there to make sure I avoid the ways I’ve already taken. Sometimes, I get lost. Usually, I find my  way, and so much more than that. Sure it might take me longer to get where I’m going, but that’s okay. Wherever I go, there I am.

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Pride (n.)

June is Pride month and whether that pleases you or not, there’s a good chance that somewhere near you there’s going to be a parade, march, or celebration and it’s going to be loud and colorful! I figure that you can either enjoy the occasion or you can lock yourself in your house and wait for it all to end. I mean, what’s a month give or take? A lot of people will wonder why it’s necessary in the age of ever-growing marriage equality and advances in LGBTQ+ rights to take to the streets and…dance!? Well, there are manifold reasons why the community needs such a month and are bonded and strengthened by the events surrounding what builds up to a memorializing of the Stonewall riots somewhere toward the end of the month. If you’re not familiar with the events at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, you might want to read up on it as since June 24th of last year, it comprises part of the Stonewall National Monument and is therefore solidly integrated into U.S. American history. Since this is not a history blog, I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, the riots mark the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the USA, a movement that is still growing, changing, and assuming its proper place within both the American and global human rights movement.

But why call it “Pride Month“? Well, you may notice that those people on the floats, rocking out to pop and techno music, at least for that day, are genuinely expressing not only how proud they are to be themselves, but how proud everyone is of how far the community has come in a relatively short time. There have certainly been struggles and there continue to be areas in which the community needs to do and be more; the AIDS epidemic is not over, LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is hugely disproportionate when projected against society as a whole, victimization and abuse continue (especially, but not only, in rural areas where young queer people have limited access to support systems and resources), and rights such as housing and job security are still not fully cinched, but like everything, it’s a slow and painful process. Still, it’s important for any group of marginalized or underrepresented people to celebrate their accomplishments from time to time. Pride is an annual chance to remember, to honor, and to have a little fun!

As a noun, pride describes a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired. Alternatively, it also means consciousness of one’s own dignity. It is the second definition that I prefer to reference when I speak of pride — an abiding awareness of an innate dignity, the dignity that all survivors acquire simply by virtue of having survived when so many did not. A dignity that is mixed with fear and guilt, and also profound respect and a sense of purpose. To be proud is to be among the living, the still fighting; and in a world that so often devalues and dismisses queer bodies and minds, to have pride is an act of profound resistance.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone, in every community and of every possible intersectional identity, took a month out of every year to get with the people they love and celebrate their survival, their common push toward a more inclusive and less violent future, and their particular hue on the flag of humanity?! Wouldn’t that just be amazing!? Try it! Otherwise, there is a very real chance that you may never know just how good it is to dance in the streets surrounded by other humans so conscious of their own dignity that the pounding music, the flamboyant costumes (or lack thereof), the outrageous floats, the cheering crowds, the sometimes jeering crowds, the fear of judgement and shame, and the dark rains of yesterday all fade into a perfectly sunny sky and only a rainbow remains.

Happy Pride!

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Kathy Griffin & The Failing Republic

While my intention for this blog is to not be overtly political, there’s a plethora of worrisome developments in Washington, D.C. these days and while I still can, I want talk about some of them from time to time. The current administration, it must be said, leaves most of us wondering what’s going to happen next!? Whatever one’s political affiliation, it is not outside of reason to explicitly note that this administration is boundary pushing.  Some may argue that this is exactly why so many people voted for Trump; they want someone to push the limits of the business as usual slant. Honestly, I can understand that, but I have to stand up and say that I sincerely believe that the rights and protections currently extended to U.S. Americans under the first amendment are, in my opinion, in grave danger.

Perhaps many of us can recall making class posters and memory cards at school when it was time to learn about the constitution, and specifically about the first amendment. I know that in my case, I felt like at least half of the fourth grade school year was taken up with learning, memorizing, and expounding upon the rights granted to all citizens via the first. I also recall a boyish fascination with parchment paper that began around here, and which still lingers. At the time, I probably wanted to just get through the fourth grade, but in hindsight, I’m extremely grateful that I actually know my full rights and privileges as spelled out in the first. Whether or not any of us will have the full extent of those rights much longer is, I sincerely believe, in dangerously perilous limbo. Worst of all, it’s not even brutal batons and military weaponry that will likely silence us, but us citizens who will, and have already begun to, throttle our own throats. Tongue suicide.

Last week U.S. American comedian, reality TV star, and provocateur Kathy Griffin participated in a photo shoot with the controversial, but acclaimed photographer Tyler Shields (http://www.tylershields.com). There was an immediate public backlash when a photo of her holding a bloodied and decapitated, albeit fake, head of what could appear to be Donald Trump was released. It is important to mention here that the word FAKE makes all the difference! You see, Kathy Griffin did not actually behead the sitting president of the United States. Kathy Griffin, an artist, collaborated with Tyler Shields, an artist, to create a work of art that is admittedly shocking and divisive. The thing that’s so great about art though, is that you don’t have to like it. Some works will speak to you for whatever reason they speak to you, and others won’t. Feel free to write the museum and express your opinion…but there’s a chance nobody cares because the curatorial board of experts in art will have already weighed the merits of the works in the museum as to their contribution to the expansion of art. If certain controversial works are displayed in exhibitions, they may be accompanied by warnings so that museum goers can decide for themselves if they wish to view them. Fine. Personal choice is always cool. What is not cool, is insisting that the museum be closed just because a work is interrogative, aggressive, violent, or in poor taste (although who exactly the arbiter of taste is definitely needs to be discussed (and I’m voting against Trump)). What is also not cool is calling for a curator to lose their job because a work is unpopular or displeasing. That’s kind of the point of art, you see…it reflects social discourse, all of it, the good, bad, and ugly.

Shockingly, some of Griffin’s sponsors have cancelled their deals with her, show dates have been cancelled, too. CNN, and even her “friend” Anderson Cooper, have issued hardline condemnations of the photo and fired her from their popular New Year’s Eve program. She has received death threats, a typhoon of negative press coverage, and is being investigated by the secret service over a photograph of a FAKE severed head, which is well within her first amendment rights to participate in! She is quite directly being publicly punished and shamed for exercising her first amendment rights! What planet am I living on!? Which century is it!?

Once it began to become clear that the photo had offended many people, Kathy quickly issued an apology. While it is certainly her right to do so, I was disappointed. Seeing as she has a career to look after, I’m sure that seemed like the right thing to do to her and her people, but to me, it came across as a forced confession of witchery — though already tied to the stake. Yes reader, witches are still being hunted and they are still being burned in the public square for all to see! Later, she would give an emotionally frenetic press conference in which she again apologized, but vowed to continue to make fun of Trump. She cited an anti-feminist slant to the barrage of recusancy she has faced by the public, and in her words, the Trump family — I believe her. One TV commentator I heard said that they reckoned that most people were upset that Kathy had insulted the “Sacred Office of the Presidency“…sorry, what?! Sacred Office of Presidency sounds a lot like Divine Rule of Kings to me. There is no sacred office in the United States — that’s the whole point of a republic!  Neither the sitting president, nor the office, is in any way exempt from criticism, critique, satire, and even insult. If we allow, even once, for a precedent to be set whereby elected officials are shielded from negative leaning disquisition, then we fail to be a republic.

Don’t forget the fourth grade…please!

 

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