Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We Must Not Remain Silent




It is a pleasant sunny day in San Francisco in 1964 or ’65. My mother and I are walking westward on Market Street. Walking in front of us is a young family – mom, dad, boy of about eleven or twelve, slightly younger girl.
My mother pronounces the family communists.
I ask how she knows.
The boy, she says, is wearing a striped t-shirt. That means the parents are Democrats. Democrats are Socialists, and Socialists are Communists.
Another pleasant day, same era, my mother is driving the car down Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville, and I am riding shotgun. She is angry about the civil rights movement. She believes that black people have been put up to it by clever evil people who are trying to achieve domination of the world.
And who are the evil people?
The Jews.
I can’t believe what I’ve heard so I ask her to repeat that. “Are you saying that the Jews are behind everything?”
“Yes,” she says.
So that was my mom. She was racist, and she bought into all the extreme right-wing beliefs and conspiracy theories of that day, which seem to be circulating still.
My mother was an intelligent person. I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe it was being abandoned in that Texas orphanage when she was six. I don’t know.
Seeing the KKK and Nazis marching in Charlottesville, hearing them speak, reminded me of that part of life with my mother. I had not blocked the memory but had blocked the feeling of how profoundly insane it felt living with my mother in those days.
After one of the Nazis drove his car into a crowd of marching protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others, one of the white supremacist leaders called the protesters, “Stupid people who don’t pay attention.” In his version of what happened, the protesters wouldn’t let the driver come through, so he was forced to run them down. It was their own fault and they deserved it.
I noticed in interviews with that Nazi and others that they called anyone who opposed them commies, or Communists, and they spoke of their hatred of Jews.
Not much has changed in the attitudes of racists, except the technology and the weaponry and the fact that there is a president in the White House whom the KKK and Nazis believe is their good ol’ boy. He has not done much to disabuse them of that notion.
There are survivors of the Holocaust during World War II still living, and they are speaking out. They say they cannot believe they are seeing people marching with torches and Nazi flags again. They are telling us, this is how it happens, it is happening again, it is happening now, and we must not remain silent.
We must not remain silent.
There are those who say we should laugh at the Nazis and KKK, and throw glitter on them. Perhaps because I grew up being hit regularly, I would not do that. You need to know what you are doing when you are dealing with people whose thinking is delusional and whose behavior is violent.
Other people advise that we have counter-rallies, somewhere away from wherever Nazis and KKK gather. They want attention, and reaction. If they are unable to get a response, they will be thwarted in their aims. I like this idea. If I had a better idea, I’d tell you now.
I see this as the latest development in America’s eternal struggle over race. Before we were a country, there was slavery. When this country was founded, it was done with a compromise: the non-slave states had to accept the slave states to form the United States.
The acceptance of slavery, of the dehumanization of human beings based on the color of their skin, at the beginning of our existence as a nation has been our downfall, our cancer, our paralyzing, strangulating, murderous birth defect.
We are all living in the profound insanity of being told lies all the time. We are all exposed to the corrosive influence of people telling us not to trust our own perceptions of what is real and true.
This isn’t new, but it is right out in the open now. We, as a people, have a little more power than I had as the youngest child in my family. We can disagree. We can call our Senators and Representatives to make our wishes and feelings known, for all the good that does us. We can call bullshit.
We cannot remain silent.
We must not remain silent.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sense and Nonsense




A worker in a refugee camp in Syria writes: “When we got back to our base camp a couple of hours ago this little fellow, A---, was waiting for us. He said he needed to talk to us.
“Turns out that A--- was worried about his friends in another camp. He said they didn't have any food to eat tonight and that wasn't fair because he has food for tonight. He was worried about them and said he *has* to help them. He was wondering if we could take his friends some bread, cheese, and juice that he had saved for them from his own lunch today. We just happened to have a few things we could add to what he'd already saved so the three of us proceeded to bag up the food individually. He worked really hard on this meal for his friends. He made sure everything in every bag was kid approved.
“For this child to keep such a warm and caring heart amid the cold world he sees all round him is the real victory. I want to be just like A--- when I grow up.
“Be back later. We've got a few dinners to deliver.”
What gets to me about this story is that it makes sense. The little boy’s desire to feed his friends makes sense. The response of the people who work with the refugees, to feed his friends, makes sense.
People are hungry: feed them.
People need safe, clean water: build systems to supply them with safe, clean water.
People need to be evacuated from cities that are being relentlessly shelled by forces of various countries. Go get as many of those people as you can and bring them to refuge, dodging the shells as you go.
Life in a war zone is clearly a high adrenaline situation, but amid the insanity of war, your life makes sense. You see what needs to be done, and you do it.
Simple.
Meanwhile, back here in Amurrica, it is hard to make sense of things.
I read an article about children who grow up in abusive families which said that children in such families try to make sense of their situation.
Sometimes I feel we are living in a big abusive family here, and I cannot make sense of it. The President and the Congress and their corporate masters keep doing things t
hat threaten our health and our well-being, saying things that are completely at odds with what they do, like talking about supporting the troops while cutting funding to the VA, for example. We are at the mercy of creepy shortsighted billionaires and gangsters who seem to be motivated by a lust for all of the money and all of the power.
Rather than feed the hungry, they cut the SNAP benefits. Clean water? I give you Flint, Michigan. Healthcare? Let’s cut Medicaid and Medicare and eradicate the beginning of universal healthcare in our country. Poverty? Gut Social Security. Homelessness? Get those horrible people out of my sight. Welcome and safety for the refugee or immigrant? Hah.
My dear friend and inspiration Kara Chipoletti Jones wrote the other night, “Universal healthcare. Universal housing. Universal income. Universal access to clean water. If we all actually were as good as we think we are, this would be the LEAST we'd want for every other living being.”
I agree with her. As another friend said to me the other day, it isn’t that we don’t have the means to do these things; we don’t have the will.
We do, however, have the will to buy 2,663 F-35 Lockheed Martin Lightning II fighter jets between now and 2070, at an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion, give or take a few billion.
So. I get up every morning and wonder what fresh madness has been perpetrated on a weary world by the delusional creatures who seem to be running things. My expectation of madness and creepiness is seldom disappointed. I sit here with my mouth hanging open and my brow furrowed, hearing the monkey chatter of clean people in nice clothes, as they say things like, “We must save people from the horrors of Obamacare!” when what we need to do is save people from the horrors of private health insurance.
I want it all. What Kara said: universal health care, and housing, and income, and access to safe water, for everyone, and I will pray for those things, and sing for them, and write for them. I would like this country and this world to start making sense, and I intend to make many sensible, unreasonable demands.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Haircut, with a Side of Sexuality



Went and got a haircut last week.
Oh, you kid
When I went in I figured, who knows when I’ll be able to afford a haircut again? And, it’s summer. And, I’m tired of messing with my long bushy hair.
“Cut it short,” I said to Jan. “Cut it all off.”
And she did. Gave me a splendid, short haircut. I like it. It is as low maintenance as a haircut gets.
Most people liked it after the initial shock, and said it was cute. One friend did not like it. “It’s butch!” she said, meaning, too butch, but she’s getting used to it. One gay friend said, “It’s butch!” and meant it as a compliment. He thought I looked great. He suggested I might meet somebody. You never know.
While I’m flattered that someone would think I am still relationship fodder, and I won’t rule it out because as he said, you never know, I’m not really in the market. I mean, twenty-three skidoo, oh you kid and all, thanks, but I’m tired. I don’t think I’ve felt a spark since the Clinton administration. That’s when Rick got cancer the first time, and after that life became arduous, and not very sexy. If I’m in the market for anything it’s companionship and friends.
Meanwhile I’m pondering the thoughts that have been raised by reactions to my haircut. They have been interesting.
Can you tell a person’s sexual identity by looking at them? You can try, but you might get burned. The way people think of themselves and the way you think of them might not have anything in common.
I have heard that sexuality is a spectrum and most of us are somewhere on that spectrum between heterosexual and homosexual, leaning one way or the other, with some brave souls admitting they can be either/or.
Confronting the truth of your own sexuality is not required of people in our culture who identify as heterosexual. You’re expected to be heterosexual in these here parts. You get an imaginary stamp on your imaginary sex passport and go galumphing into the catastrophe of your unaware adulthood. Wahoo.
When I was in college I once saw a person on campus whom I found extremely attractive, and all my hormones went into high gear. When I realized she was a she and not a he, I was mortified, embarrassed, and ashamed – splutter splut splut.
Sometime later I saw her again, and the same sequence of feelings happened all over again. I guess she was my type.
When those feelings happened with guys, I didn’t feel embarrassed.
As an adult, in midlife, I did what I had never done as an adolescent: I considered my sexual identity. I realized that except for that woman in college, it had always been men for me. That was my track record, leaning toward the hetero side of the spectrum. So what did that make me? Boring. Just my opinion.
Considering that as we grow up in American society we are inculcated with a sick model of sexuality (I refer you to rock and roll and almost all country music lyrics, for starters), and considering that many of us are sexually abused and broken when we are young, people must have courage to take an honest look at their own sexuality. It’s a scary thing to do.
It is so scary that some people project their fears about themselves onto other people, and become homophobic. Then we have tragedies.
That’s a gross simplification, as is this whole essay, but there’s some truth in there.
I wish we could all be folded into Jesus’ loving arms, and be fixed, and healed, and whole, and unafraid.
Unfortunately, that is not how Jesus works. We are the loving arms. We must hold one another, and love each other into healing and wholeness, and live with our damn fears together because life is terrifying sometimes.
Can I get an amen?
Regarding my haircut, well, it will grow out and I’ll be back to my “explosion in a Brillo factory” look, as my father-in-law called it. For now, it is summer cool and easy.
As for me meeting someone - Rick has been gone now for three and a half years. It would be just my luck for love to rear its ugly head, but for the moment, after decades of taking care of many other people, I’m concentrating on meeting myself. And, of course, paying the property taxes.