Fragile and Brave on Mamalode

There are things you forget. Wisdom’s that disappear as you grow. Things you shed intentionally or coincidentally. Having my kids has reminded me that there is great benefits to be had by allowing the world in and letting it effect you.

Today I’m on Mamalode with my piece, Fragile and Brave. Please go there and take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts. While you’re at it take a moment to look around. If you like my writing there’s a good chance you’ll LOVE the writers at Mamalode.

Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful day!

Don’t Ever Stop.

light-in-the-darknessAnger grows from fear. And from despair and loneliness and feeling unnoticed and unloved.It feeds on itself and flourishes in the dark. The antidote is light and love and attention and intention. Some bet on the inevitability of anger turning to hate. They short the market and prosper on hate’s seeming inevitability. They seek profit in its viral growth.They guard against the light to keep the ground fertile. They tell the angry that hate is the medicine for the pain caused by the weight of anger. They are modern day snake oil salesman, only worse. They trade in souls. Hate only breeds hate, especially when quarantined. Hate can relieve the pain of anger for a moment, perhaps, and unburden you by letting it out, but it returns heavier than before. Hate hides from light. Fear is angers predecessor. Fear is the root and it holds steady throughout.

How then should we spread love, light?

Meet anger with joy. If anger has turned then we meet hate with love. Strong, determined love. It is the light that can guide us. We have to stand before hate and defend any light we can find. If we can’t find light we must bring it. It will be near impossible at times and we will fail. Failure cannot stop us. Love is not a passive state but rather a treasure worth fighting for, worth dying in defense of.

Your efforts to put light in the world no matter how small are vital and important. They make the light just a little easier for someone else to see. Don’t ever stop. Diminishing returns means we fight harder for the light. You might not see the difference you make, but you make it by showing up, every day.

Thank you.

‘Good Schools’ on Good Men Project

Hello… I hope you are all doing well this fine day.

I’m one of those people who is on edge in America these days with this very ugly Presidential campaign so fresh in my mind. Today I’m talking about one of the issues that has been on the surface for the past year, one that has some very disturbing trends reemerging in a country that has some original sin it can’t seem to get past. I hope this piece, my perspective and some history can help in a tiny way.

We’re afraid of topics of discussion that can reveal things we don’t want to acknowledge but we can know longer sit out of the conversations we have to have. Too many Americans are scared for too many reasons to sit idly by and let the voices of hate and intolerance go unchecked.

I hope you read my post at The Good Men Project and share it with someone you think might get something from it…

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Fragile and Brave

I have a picture of you from daycare. You are sitting quietly, legs stretched out in front of you. You are holding a board book, eyes down inspecting it. Your cheeks are so beautiful I can feel them just by looking, smooth, soft and pink with warmth. Your narrow shoulders are somewhere under the hood of your sweatshirt, a book open but ignored between your legs as you investigate this other book that has captured your curiosity. You’re wearing jeans and there are books scattered around you. You’re probably an old 2 year old in this picture, or maybe a young 3 year old. You are fully engaged, busy doing and uninterested in the person standing in front of you, probably unaware of their presence, who took the shot. I love this picture and it can make me cry.

You are the youngest and I can’t stop seeing the vulnerable in you. Sitting here with the picture and without you I can’t for the life of me imagine you look any different than that picture. Cherubic and intrigued. Tiny and determined. But you have grown. A lot. I still see the baby in you and always will. 

You still tell me about ‘tomachakes’ (stomach aches) and love ‘Sharlie’ (Charlie) and I don’t really want you to learn you are mispronouncing these things. I don’t want you to grow up. 

There are selfish reasons that mostly live in my subconscious. For one, if you’re getting older than I’m getting older. You don’t need to really know this for a good long time now, but I’m not going to be here forever and when I see you lost in discovering I want to freeze the world and stay in it forever. I didn’t have heaven until I met you and Charlie. Mommy made me come to life in a way I hadn’t, but the concept of heaven was one I rejected for lack of imagination. To be fair, who could conceive of something so wonderful and extraordinary as you. My heaven is here and now. 

Another reason I prefer you stay in this moment forever is so that I can always be what I am to you right now and you can always be what you are to me. We have challenging moments for sure, but they are fleeting. They revolve around simple challenges. This simplicity is balanced by an extraordinary frequency. You can have 5-8 crises before breakfast and without fail, whether we do so well or poorly, we get through every one.

Thirdly, I fall asleep next to you. You don’t like to fall asleep. You love to sleep, but the falling part, you are a resister. You get this from me. Each night, when I see you are tired, when we’ve been lying in bed for a long time I’ll inevitably say, ‘just close your eyes, buddy.’ Without fail, at least to this point in time it’s always met with your response of, ‘But it hurts to close my eyes.’ I could stop asking, but I just love the answer so much. You’ll start to drift and most nights you’ll pop your head up and say one last, half conscious crazy non-sequitir just before rolling over and falling asleep. Something like ‘I can’t sleep in parking lot frogs’ or ‘I look just like Fawzy.’ In case you’re wondering years from now what those things mean, well, I have no idea on the frog thing, but the ‘Fawzy’ thing is how you pronounce ‘Quazi’. He’s a character from Octonauts and your mispronunciation is adorable. I prompt it like five times a day. 

What I really don’t want to change is the you in this picture. You are a perfectly fine with the contradictory nature of life that becomes something so scary as an adult. You are exquisitely fragile and profoundly brave at the same time all the time. It’s amazing to see. Your brother was the same way, but you learn, you will learn any day now, to be self-conscious. You will wonder how other people will react before pursuing an interest. You will stop crying when mad and sometimes even try not to laugh when something is funny. You’ll toughen up and as a result you’ll be more cautious. That’s the confounding conundrum you’re going to wrestle with in the years ahead. It’s okay, you’re supposed to. But what is going on right here and now is beautiful and not be dismissed hastily. 

Being simultaneously fragile and brave has served you extremely well to now. It’s made you explore nature intuitively and voraciously. Left to your own free will you’d spend hours a day trying to find and transport every imagineable living creature from the dirt back to the house to show us. You explore whatever sparks your curiosity and you do it with abandon. You are excited when you see things you love, so excited you barely keep in your skin and you show it with squeals. They are pure joy and they are infectious to all who hear them. When you are upset, regardless of any reason or the presence of any others you let that be known too. Your emotions come out when they are felt and it’s incredibly healthy. In a sense you taught me these things. Charlie did too, but he’s teaching us other things. He’s at the tip of the spear, bringing us to new experiences all the time. He’s a boundary breaker and we can’t really enjoy as much of that process as we can with you. He’s desensitized us and you are showing us how to live an experience, not just survive it. 

I can honestly say that you’ve impacted my life more than I ever could yours. You’ve shown me the value of being unafraid. You’ve pushed me to challenge my fears to explore my world like you do yours. Thank you. 

I feel extraordinarily fragile these days. I also feel brave and curious. All these things were pushed so far down before I knew you that I often felt nothing, which was perfect for keeping invisible, but terrible for feeling alive. Living is pursuing your curiosity and finding your emotions and wrestling with all of it all the time. Living is not fearing feelings, but feeling them, saying it and processing them fully and with the help of those you love so you can put them down and not be ruled by them. Living is something you can only do if you are fragile and brave, just like you.  

Acknowledging my Dismay

It may seem silly for me to say that I need to take a moment to talk about my dismay. You may be hearing the combined weight of those of us who lost lamenting, licking wounds, expressing rage or just generally expressing anxiety. For what it’s worth, I know this little trickle will not move the needle. But I have to do it. I’ve been searching and seeking understanding and I think I’ve gotten some. I think the issues that are pressing to me differ from the people I grew up around, who voted pretty overwhelmingly for Trump and it shouldn’t surprise me as I had a unique experience. I’m from a multicultural, multiracial home in a fairly homogeneously white region of the world. I’ve been seeing racism up close for as long as I can remember. My sensors formed before many would be aware of the issue. I’m going to continue to try to understand and build bridges to those folks that voted for Trump in spite of his ideas. But I need to take a minute to indulge this existential despair. I owe it that much. If I don’t acknowledge it I will be consumed by it. I need to purge some periodically to keep from being fully defeated .

Have you ever run into the customer service person behind a desk at say, the DMV, who responds to your honest and simple question about proper procedure with an audible sigh, eye rolling exasperation and a general disdain for you as a person. That’s what it sounds like when I share a genuine anxiety and a feeling of existential dread about the years to come. I’m happy that after years of your seeming existential dread of the President I loved you are relieved by this result. Good for you. But honestly, don’t engage with this if you are telling me it will all be okay. You don’t know that. Objectively, we are going into uncharted territory and besides, even if you are right, that’s not what this is about. So go away. I’m not trying to change your mind. This is a yell for empathy from people, mostly, who agree with me and share my dread. That is my disclaimer. I’m going to make clear my fears here. You may feel like you’ve heard it a million times the last week or so, but this is my turn and I’m not interested in your levity. This is a support group post for other people weighed down by the state of things. Don’t be that DMV worker Go away and let me get this off my chest for and with the people who get me. As I learned when I got married, sometimes it’s not about finding a solution. Sometimes it’s just about being heard and empathized with.

Now, for those of you left who I know will get this… What the hell has happened. We have a president who is terrified of the job. He clearly was so focused on winning that he didn’t consider whether he wanted the prize. I’m convinced that for a long time he was TRYING to lose. In his private moments I’m sure he’s daydreaming about the network he was so well positioned to start and lamenting the fact that he can’t do it as president.

But more so I’m terrified of the schism that is revealing itself. It’s a schism that has always existed, but the boorish violence that is now occurring with such a lack of shame is disturbing. I feel like in this new ‘Trump’s America’, the Klan may just do away with their hoods. Why should they hide. The shame is gone. I heard Strange Fruit yesterday and never in all the time I’ve heard the hauntingly beautiful song about lynchings in the south has the grotesque reality of that world of which she sings seemed so present.

I’m tired of bending and flexing to make my moral outrage quiet enough to hear the justifications. I don’t want to be relativistic in terms of racism. There are built in, institutional disadvantages I’d rather be fighting, playing the long legislative game. Instead we’re faced with heart and soul of Breitbart having an office off the oval and the ear of a dangerously reckless, nihilistic president in way too far over his head. There might be some fear around the world at the prospect of this administration, but there also has to be a certain amount of opportunistic energy prepping to fleece our very overwhelmed and scared president.

Also, while I’m at it, why can’t we all just come out and say that racism is bad, that misogyny is bad that homophobia is bad and that we should all be working to make sure it is exposed as such. That these things are anti-American and in direct opposition to the concept of liberty. I mean if we can’t all just say F*ck the KKK what can we say together. What the hell?

Also, are we sure you aren’t at least a little racist or Misogynist or xenophobic if you voted for an openly hostile (granted he’s toned it down in the days since Nov. 8th) person who is all these things? A person who mostly answered questions of policy in such a blank slate way that there was no policy to reference if you wanted to vote for him on the basis of ideas. A person who played on the fears of angry white voters and gave ‘huge’ encouragement to intimidate ‘those people. You know who they are, you know’ at the polls and suggested that the ‘2nd Amendment people’ get to his opponent. I hear a lot of my friends, and myself, saying a lot of things that start with, ‘Okay, so you’re not racist/sexist/xenophobic but…’ I’ve believed it about those I’ve known as real life people, but I think the blanket exemption is not altogether true. Something more like, ‘I know you don’t think of yourself as a racist/sexist/misogynist/xenophobe, but as someone comfortable voting for one…’ might be more accurate. But that would shutdown the conversation.

It’s time to harden our moral outrage. Not just at the opposition but at the lurching away from wage earning families and cozying up to corporations our own party has engaged in for more than a generation now. A habit that leaves us so out of touch that there is an opening the size of a truck that anyone could have driven through were they only willing to run on a blatantly white nationalist message, putting dog whistles away for openly racist appeals, willing to treat many women worse than the worst ways we’ve imagined of a presidential nominee, being caught bragging about sexual assault and defending it as ‘locker room talk’ and making sharp, personal identity jabs at ones opponent. We should all feel lucky, for now, that it was someone so brazen and so incompetent. A different type of sociopath, a competent AND charismatic one could have done far better and would have been plausibly able to claim a mandate.

I’ll get back to reflecting and analyzing soon. For now I just need to wallow in dismay. Just for this time. Just now. Then, I have to get to work.

 

Deleted for the Day

5:30 Saturday morning. I sat in the bathroom liking, loving and sharing anything that triggered anything that felt like something new. Any argument I hadn’t yet seen, any inspirational meme or rage hidden plea from folks struggling with the same crisis I was trying to engage with. Suddenly, alone on the toilet in the dark I went to the home screen, found the facebook icon, held it long enough to cause all the icons to shimmy. I looked at it shaking there, tiny ‘x’ in the corner and I couldn’t. I needed it. So my cooler head prevailed, I stabilized my apps and immediately opened facebook again. That was when I knew. I went back and deleted the app. Here I am, 18 hours later and I could use some validation. Likes are good I guess. Loves are great. And laughs. They really do bounce around a lot longer in the synapses, feeding the need as it were. Comments. That’s what I’m talking about. Even the pissy ones. I could deal without the ones of people who clearly don’t read the whole update. Granted, mine can get long and I admit freely, I have tone problems. Shares. God do I love a good share.

But none at all today. That’s not totally true. I opened this here computer to write this piece and it was on FB and I had 25 notifications. So I scrolled them. I’ll say this and this alone about one notification. I don’t care who is racist, whether they ¬†are republican or democrat. I don’t like them. I’m anything if not clear on this I feel, but apparently it must be said.

I’m going on a day without facebook everpresent and I feel like it’s probably good for me. I had a great day with the kids. We went to the park across the street on this unseasonably warm day and played our extremely modified version of wiffle ball, which includes long stretches of Teddy walking like a sea crab and Charlie wanting to bat, field, be in the bleachers and search for treasure. Whatever, there was a bat, a ball, a few hits and some very passive fielding. I’m counting it.

When we were done we made it over to the other side of the school across the street, to the playground. It was good, there was another dad and son there. He was right between Teddy and Charlie in age and as suits their personalities Teddy went about digging holes on his own in the woods surrounding the playground and Charlie went about making a best friend. Everyone he meets is his best friend.

The dad was a nice guy and we got to chatting. It really was nice. He was cool, easy to talk to. He made a joke about the Mets shirt I had on and I let him know that the Mets were my winners as the Bills were my football team. He said it was good to see a man raising boys of character, kids who will have to endure pain. It was funnier when he said it. It was a good laugh line. I’d have been happy to call it at that. But we kept chatting and it was fine. By the end he asked for my number in case the kids wanted to get together. Sure. So who knows. Maybe I made a friend. It’s weird. Maybe its just me, but I kinda think that part of my life is over. I’ve never been very good at socializing without getting blind drunk and ghosting. It’s my signature move.

Once home I took apart a full bed to move it to T’s room, took apart his toddler bed and reassembled the full size and finally got done a job this poor, giant four year old has needed doing for some time. After showing him and his brother his cool, new big boy bed, one that matches his big brothers I made dinner. Rice and beans, corn on the cob, corn muffins and chicken tenders (the boys don’t really dig on my rice and beans, but there gonna regret that someday). After a nice meal at the table I had some quality TV time with the boys and then T came up and helped me shave my head. I do it every two weeks and his big brother likes helping, but this was Teddy’s first time. It was cool.

Capper, I got them both to bed. This is normally a two parent, two room job. I did it in under an hour. Whatever you think about that, you have to know, I’m bragging. In this house that’s bragworthy.

I almost forgot. I listened to the new Tribe album while I cooked. It’s good.

Here’s the thing. I’m bad at community. I’m good at dad, but I’m bad at making and maintaining friends. Actually, come to think of it, I’m pretty good at making them but really bad at maintaining them. I can strike up the conversation in the park easy. I can initiate or respond. I’m equally effective. But I know me, and despite everything I should do I’ll never respond if this guy texts. I’ll stay away from the park for a good long time, too. I know. It’s terrible. It’s where I fail.

I say all this firstly to brag. I got a ton of shit done this weekend. That’s not even counting the full day of painting I did yesterday. but secondly I say it because I think there might be something instructive for me in it. I’ll engage all day long on Facebook. I’m sure I’d do the same on other social media platforms but I’m old and FB is where it’s at for me. Anyway I’ll spout opinions, engage in give and take and generally be an open book there. Meanwhile I can’t fathom the idea of having to talk to someone regularly without a structure to it. I love face to face at work but I don’t think we’ve ever had a neighbor in the house. Like ever. A good part of that can be blamed on it being very small, us being very full time employed, both of us, and it being a mess most of the time due to these factors and the two small tornado’s I put to bed this evening.

We’ve lost our political connectedness and I think it might be because we’ve lost almost all of our connectedness. Online I can disengage if you frustrate me or if I think your argument is stupid or if I just get caught up in a show. My grandparents were 1950’s style entertainers. After work other couples from the neighborhood swung around for cocktails. They would perform in community theater and go out with friends. My parents who had six kids, or nine if you looked at it right, even managed to be better than me. My mom is the social glue of her world and made a friend every time she met anyone. They had groups they would go to on Friday nights when I was young. Other moms were always over at the house for coffee, neighbor kids coming and going. It was a hub of activity and they were key players.

We don’t do that. We aren’t like that. It seems fewer and fewer people are. And so when something comes along, like a decision for who to vote for, we have no context to put it in. Honestly, I’m worried this guy, who seemed nice as hell (and looked remarkably like Tom Brady) might have had a Trump sign in his yard. This is a TERRIBLE way to think. And something that I think was avoided by my predecessors because they bowled with friends who’d vote for the other guy. Or they were in a play with them or they sang in the church with them. Maybe they just drank with them, whatever. They knew each other. They had a context for the whole person while nowadays we know nothing of our neighbors. Meanwhile we fill in all the worst.

I should note here that I’m projecting all of this and this might just be an issue for me. If it is, I can tell you, it ain’t healthy. It makes me blind to what people really are. It makes me see people unfairly and inaccurately. It makes me scared of a world of people and surely some of those people can be feared even or especially after getting to know them. But in that mix would be many more who could and should and would help us understand each other better. Maybe if the Trump guy down the street got to know me over pickup hoops and dinner with our wives on a date night for parents before we ever even broached the topic of politics we wouldn’t be so angry all the time. Maybe I’d see sooner how messed up and alienated some have felt whom we’ve never considered as liberals and perhaps he’d understand and see some of the inequalities I’m so upset about. In fact we might come to find we’re voting different folks for the same reasons and that we are both furious at the rising racist tide. Even if that didn’t happen, at least that’s a jumping off point.

Well, Its not been a full day yet and I’m already a little less tense for being away from FB for a bit. The arguments, often not tied to anything but our respective abilities to google facts that support our unbending opinions leaves us feeling like we’ve engaged when all we’ve done is harass. For my rather substantial part in that transaction lately, I do apologize.

I won’t go away. I love facebook and likely will as long as it houses y life of relationships. Just yesterday, in the midst of painting the upstairs landing and smack in the middle of my several day meltdown on FB one very kind, and genuine and thoughtful thing happened as a result of my community there. A friend from college, Bryan reached out to me. We hadn’t talked a ton in college and hardly at all since. But he had a context for who I was and he could see I was unraveling. He sent me a sincere and kind private message letting me know that if I ever wanted to hear a someone’s opinion who voted for the other side he’d be happy to talk. It was genuinely thoughtful, I know because I know him and he knows me, however long ago it was, ours was was a real relationship. Where you sat in the same room and talked. Had beeers. Watched games. All of it. We had a good back and forth about the issues that irked us. I know his information genuinely made me think. Than we talked about fatherhood. How much he loved it and how he enjoyed reading about my experience. It was nice. It was genuine. I wish I had more of that in my life. Disagreement without being disagreeable.

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Enough Already with the Whole, ‘How do I talk to my kids..’ Nonsense.

If you are asking ‘how do I talk to my kids about the fact that Trump won?’ there’s a real problem.

Here’s the thing. If you believe that we elected a racist, sexist, misogynistic, unhinged maniac whose mere existence is capable of bringing untold abuse to minorities of all stripes, like I do, than you damn well better know how to talk to your kids about it. And yes, I said ‘WE’ elected. Because you know what, we are ALL Americans. Even those people you somehow forget when talking about how horrified everyone is at the thought of a President Trump. Also, start saying President Trump. Get used to it. Four years is not forever, but it’s not nothing.

Now also understand that the people, excluding the KKK and the various white supremacist groups, who elected Mt. Trump did not do so, uniformly and in lock step, for these vile traits. I know. I grew up in the area of the country, the beautiful area known as the Great Lakes Region to me, but as the ‘Rust Belt’ to so many who aren’t there. Fuck all of you, by the way. I don’t like that so many people I know and love from growing up felt the need to vote for this monster, but I understand why they did.

Let’s talk about that. Why? There is a fair bit of racially disgusting thought everywhere. It’s a real problem, just as real there as it is in cities and suburbs and rural areas the country over. But there’s a lot of kind, caring, loving and even socially aware, woke white folks there too and they voted for Mr. Trump. Can you sense my frustration? It comes not from any latent opinion changing of the other guy. He’s a straight monster in my opinion and the thought of him as commander in chief scares the life out of me. Nope. Still hate him, even if I still love so many of his voters. I disagree with them, yes, but I love them too. Nope, I’m mad at my own, left side of this country.

I’m mad because even now, when the election is over and our worst nightmare is true, we are taking the easy way out and calling our former base, working class Americans everything but what they see themselves as. Which is the forgotten backbone of a formerly great industrial economy.

Here’s what’s happening. It’s like Trump is in an iridescent dress and each side is seeing only one color. I see plain and clearly the monster, willing to put whole demographic catagories of humans, never mind the fact that the vast majority of them are fellow American’s, into the hungry lions mouth, caring not one iota for them because he thinks of them as some lower form of man then he. Seemingly seeing them as subhuman even, merely for the color of their skin or an accent that their children don’t share. I see a monster that is emboldening the voices of racial and nationalist hate all to serve his own acquisition of power and I’m disgusted.

You know who is on the other side of that monster, though? People. Struggling people. People who were raised in company towns where three quarters of the kids I grew up with came from homes that worked for the same company who could afford to operate there and promised a career long job with good benefits and an honest check that was not just above poverty level but rather a genuine article job that put you in the middle class. People who were made to believe that if they took the special classes those jobs would be there for them when it was time for them to have kids. People who now see those same giant buildings all their dads and many of their moms went into every day crumbling from the decay that comes from being abandoned and left to die as companies died and had to go other places where labor is cheap and human rights aren’t a thing. People who now struggle to paste together a valid income by stitching temporary job to part time gig to anything they can try to do for enough to make Christmas special for their kids they love. And you know what. Many of them love the brown and black kids, what few there may be, whose parents are there in the same boat, having no idea if what little opportunity that’s there now will be there tomorrow.

These folks, they don’t see only what we see. They see someone who came to them and at the very least said, I SEE YOU. You are not crazy. You really did get screwed and by forces beyond your control. He placed the blame where they placed it. He said yes, you got a raw deal and she(really he, but by extension) did this. Was it completely accurate? Who gives a shit. He was on TV every goddamn day telling them they were right to be angry. Then, he went where it didn’t need to go. He stoked anger into hatred and pointed it maniacally at OTHER hard working people struggling to get by. It was truly messed up, yes. But it was done by then. He got it. He saw the America that is ignored, though it is still tens of millions of our daily lives. Communities and economies in despair. Heroin tearing through families and towns and regions. Whole generations of people being ignored no matter how hard it gets. No matter how cold it gets. No matter how much opportunity disappears.

So talk to your kids about the fact that anger can turn to hatred when people refuse to see or hear people who disagree with them. Tell them that a bad man won and we lost. Losing is a part of living in a democracy and you feeling entitled to winning merely because the other guy is vile isn’t gonna cut it. You want more love, go find angry people and listen to them. Find people that don’t look like you and sit with them and try to make friends with them. Tell them we all have to work to make the world a nicer place and we can’t pretend other people struggling has no effect on us. It’s not an option to think that way anymore. Tell them to start thinking now about the next great invention they can think of because who knows what spark of genius will create a new industry and economy that can raise the water so all of us can float higher.

Just don’t tell them you don’t know what to say. That’s bullshit.