Saturday, October 02, 2010

Post-racial? No...

I would like to coin the phrase right now.... get ready... IN-YOUR-FACIAL...
But I should explain. Firstly, this article from the Chicago Trib isn't particularly thoughtful and doesn't answer any questions. It could have been written by a half-bright 8th grader.


It is, however, a question, that I believe should keep getting lobbed into the forum like a hand grenade until people talk about it, argue about it, fist fight about it, and make it clear to everybody, and themselves especially, exactly where they stand on the issue and why. I vote for total transparency with no more veiled insinuation, no hints, and no room for misunderstanding. Hence, in-your-facial.

I do believe that the country is much better off than in 1965, but that was the last time that there was a significant jump forward politically in any progressive sense. I also believe that in the following years one side patted themselves on the back and the other side decided grudgingly that they would go along with things and keep their grumbling limited to mono-chromatic social gatherings, lodge dinners and holiday get-togethers. It's always been pretty obvious to anyone paying attention though that not a lot really changed. You need only look at the continuing disparity in income, incarceration, public education, college entry, etc. to know that Jim Crow has just laid back a bit and is cruising down the boulevard with the top down. And for those that need mass media to deliver the message, consider that it didn't take Sasha Baron Cohen as Borat more than 10 minutes to get a crowd of rednecks to gleefully join in for a chorus of Throw The Jews Down The Well... and assorted misogynist, racist and homophobic paeans.

I might assert that it wasn't technically the election of Barack Obama that stripped off the IKEA quality veneer and brought the shit bubbling to the surface, but he has certainly become the figurehead for the Fear Party Movement. It's just nothing new. It's always been there. Had the election come in a time of economic prosperity the lid would have probably stayed on for a few more years. It's time though and I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, provided that race and class issues are addressed in a national, holistic sense. Portions of the nation have always wrongfully taken a moral highground on racism and fairly well convinced themselves that the civil rights movement was about the South.
Surprise, Boston! Surprise, New York City!

And simply for the purpose of clarification on points on race vs. class... My point is really that there is a lot of overlap between the two issues, but they've always been addressed separately. There was an interview earlier this year where George Stephanopolous was trying to draw out Barack Obama on the subject of affirmative action, and whether it should exist at all, or perhaps be a class-based focus rather than race-based. The questions were posed in the framework of whether race should be a factor in college admittance for Sasha and Malia (pretty smarmy tactic on George's part). Obama answered, as I would have expected, because I agree with him, that his daughters were Ivy League legacy on both their parents' sides and could rightfully be removed from the equation. There are socio-economic factors that make race-based affirmative action (and other race-based viewpoints and legislation) sound and moral policy. I do believe however that until the overlap with class-based issues are addressed, then neither will be addressed properly.

Culture? That's another story altogether. Racially and ethnically based monolithic views of culture continue to astound me.

And I believe in throwing hand grenades.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fathers' Day? Sort of...

With no mind towards saying anything poignant about Fatherhood or Father's Day, and having more to do with a sort of spiritual quest I've embarked on of late, I've been spending some long nights toiling through insomnia taking a personal inventory of my successes and failures as a father. Always prone to self-flagellation, and trying to be as brutally honest as possible, my personal, parental checking account seems to have come up in the red.

I will try to keep this in mind should my sons characteristically forget what this coming Sunday entails.

This is not a testimonial. There will be no confessions of misdeeds, moral lapses or neglect. There are appropriate venues for such things. The internet is not one of them. The people that matter know anyway. I'm just saying that I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what I would have done differently, and searching deep within myself to do better. They are nearly grown, but somehow not, and in many ways more in need than when they were infants. Funny how that works. I pray that I am up to the task.

It was a hellish, long, sleepless night and I hadn't even thought about the alarm or the morning coffee let alone read this thoughtful piece:

click here, damn it

...yet at 4 this morning, stricken yet again with insomnia, and weighing my accounts, but by coincidence was thinking similarly, about how odd it was that rather than the fat little screamers I once knew had grown to be young men. Of course they did, but how dare they! I wasn't ready.

There were many first-times and last-times, as mentioned in the article, that I wasn't present for. There were times but I was present, but not, preoccupied by one thing or another. There were times when you couldn't have told me that I wasn't paying attention, but apparently I wasn't, if only because I was so nostalgic for an age just passed, that I couldn't appreciate the magic of the new stage. I just wish I had slowed it down.

The heavy, pre-dawn rain added to the melancholy. Or call it melodrama. I've always been capable of being the one-man show. One man. One act. On huge ego. Even alone in my bed I embarrass myself sometimes. The third night of insomnia amplified every emotion, compounding my inability to shut it all down. So there I lay, mulling it all over. Pushing 50 with the 18 year old out for the night.... and I've learned to be okay with that... and the younger one faithfully on the other side of the wall snoring. Not long for that either.

And then there was one.

I'm hoping, by that point, to have worked through some of these notions that trouble my sleep now. Perhaps there will be new waking nightmares. Creatures, some real and some imaginary, scratching at my windows and spurring the instinct to pull in my limbs so that nothing is hanging over the edge of the bed.

I need to slow it down. That's it. I need to slow it down.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rose-colored glasses

or just age-related memory lapse? The persistence of memory indeed.

Wistful? How would I describe my mood today, Alex? I'll take Paths to Self-Delusion for $1000.

There may be moments in time best left to the scrapheap of memory lapse, or blackout, or brain damage. It depends on how much you can face, or how many times you're comfortable repeating the same mistakes. Some of us don't have the luxury of choosing what comes back and what remains obscured by time. Call it masochism, or sadism if I've already bored you, but I do prefer to remember. Every so often the past bears an important lesson.

Now and again... not always.

I've been sitting around though, for the past 36 hours or so, feeling wistful. Not quite mournful, but ailing still, my mind running a sad lament for the explosive summer openers of old. The ghost of Memorial Day past was coming back to haunt me in my waking and sleeping hours. The beginning of summer and all it bodes had my faulty, old spark plugs firing. Yet I have been facing it with a growing sense of... not quite doom... but nagging trepidation. Friday morning wore on into Friday afternoon and I could feel something growing. The clock spun and my outbound calls and e-mails were greeted with an increasing number of out-of-office responses. I was talking to machines. The exodus had begun. Yet I was still planted firm. No big plans. No mayhem scheduled. No phone calls asking what time I would be... somewhere. Co-workers, packed from the night before and ready to go, slowly filed out.

Big plans, some asked?

Well, yes... but I wasn't ready to explain. A few things have changed. Big things, actually, but perhaps another time. Maybe.

And I delved further into... not despair... some purgatory between Friday afternoon relief, or even excitement, and tedium. And somewhere to the left of reality as well, apparently.

The compulsion to keep a diary, or a journal or a blog can be a gift or a curse, depending on what a trek back in time reveals. There was a time until fairly recently when maintenance of both a diary and a blog was a fairly big part of my life. Not that much of what is stored within isn't colored by whatever mis-perception I may have suffered at the time something was written, but I did really try to be honest with myself... to varying degrees of success. The time travel this time, however, was illuminating. I didn't unearth the musings of a particularly carefree soul. Hopscotching back across Memorial Days past pieced together a jigsaw image of a... a wistful and often troubled man. It was a portrait of excruciating self-consciousness, alienation, and more than anything else, plain, old tedium.

Maybe it's not so odd to feel nostalgia for that which we only think we remember having. It's unsettling to find one's self engaged in lamenting the loss of something that never happened or even existed though. It's got me wondering what else I'm remembering incorrectly. At some point, I'd like to, like a diligent Amish plowman, hitch up the old horse and turn a few fields over, haul out the rocks, sow again and see what comes up.

I've always wanted to be a farmer.

Just sayin'...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Discipline Part 2

Same root as disciple, or follower, or one who adheres to a discipline or faith.

Faith vs. Superstition? Sometimes I can't tell the difference. God vs. Magical Thinking? I want to have faith, but it's shaken when I try to reconcile that I also catch myself believing in black cats, lucky pennies and horoscopes. It's shaken when I can't reconcile all the horrible shit I see with the concept that some benevolent being is watching out for our best interests. It makes me feel simple and childish that my doubts have me returning to all these hackneyed arguments. I would prefer to say it all eloquently but the words aren't there. I would prefer to just believe.

And I fear the answers will never come unless I relent to absolute faith. Silly to fear abandonment by an entity that thus far has eluded me, but I am frightened to be wrong too. And I really don't want to believe that this is all there is either. I want desperately for there to be a rhyme and a reason for all this. And of course a salvation at the end, or the possibility of salvation.

A discipline is expected here.. the discipline to believe in and follow the faith, even when one can find no visible evidence. One is expected to go beyond logic and science. I struggle with that even though I witness a lot that defies logic, and beyond that there are scientific matters about which I remain agnostic.

A discipline of surrender and acceptance is expected. Get down on your knees and pray to him for strength. Do it daily. Do it hourly. Or as many times as you need to. Just do it. I am trying to make due with the serenity prayer, if only because I was told it was very very wrong to pray for anything more, because then you are just being selfish. Ignoring everything you should be grateful for. When you enter into the discipline of naming every little thing that you possess to be grateful for, I've read, you will find all the evidence of God that you require. That act in and of itself though requires more discipline than I often feel I am capable of, but I'm trying.

I am giving it my best shot, but that's not always so much. I am ashamed of this pride that stands between me and surrender and acceptance. I am mortified by the immensity of my ego. Ego is the the highest obstacle that one will face, it has been said, in the pursuit of happiness and peace. This discipline of daily self-examination makes me weary. Is this all just my ego? Self-doubt pervades even here.

But faith--I want to believe fully and wholly (holy?). I want to just exhale and give in to a higher power than my own. Even on the days though when any and every power seems higher than my own, the hurdle is there. Some days it is laughable and everything I want seems within my grasp. Then there are the interminable Days of Sisyphus when it's all I can do to keep it within the ditches. There are too many of these days. Of course I set myself up for them and everything on the back burners came to boil all at once. Too many kettles to manage it seems. Something is bound to get burned.

But of course the discipline of faith dictates that I accept that which is lost, and take care of what is within my power to save.

Conundrum... conundrum... The word sounds like a heartbeat.



I Googled the word "discipline" just so I could get a quick, easy, succinct caption to open a bit what is to be my first missive in months. I might have just looked up "irony" because the result will require an awful lot of discipline if I'm to integrate it into anything coherent. Writing is a discipline though, like yoga, or a daily workout, or even a punishment if one is to delve into the verb... discipline.

   /ˈdɪsəplɪn/ Show Spelled [dis-uh-plin] Show IPA noun, verb,-plined, -plin·ing.
training to act in accordance with rules; drill: military discipline.
activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training: A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer.
punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.
the rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc.: the harsh discipline of poverty.
behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control: good discipline in an army.
a set or system of rules and regulations.
Ecclesiastical. the system of government regulating the practice of a church as distinguished from its doctrine.
an instrument of punishment, esp. a whip or scourge, used in the practice of self-mortification or as an instrument of chastisement in certain religious communities.
a branch of instruction or learning: the disciplines of history and economics.
–verb (used with object)
to train by instruction and exercise; drill.
to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.
to punish or penalize in order to train and control; correct; chastise.

This will require more coffee. I will need more discipline. Self-discipline. I don't know if I'm ready for this. Maybe it's a cop-out to simply say that covered all my bases. Someone got here before me and said it better than I could have anyway. Why bother?

Unless it becomes personal... Use discipline in a sentence, or perhaps a bunch of sentences, and see how many of the above permutations can be covered in one morning. Am I ready to go personal? Not yet. It's been a while.

Firstly, it's notable that discipline, if one is to read through all the possible uses listed above, that the line between a worthy endeavor or exercise and punishment is left rather undefined. That's funny actually. It's been a while since I've strained, and grunted and farted through a round of morning calisthenics, but if memory serves it always seemed a cruel joke I was playing on myself. I never looked in the mirror after a workout and saw that glow of self-satisfaction I see on the faces of people leaving gyms all over New York City. No, in fact the face in the mirror was never more than a mask of grim determination... of resignation... of where the hell are my cigarettes?

No, this is going to require more... something. I am, at least for now, going to have to read and re-read the definitions above, and think about how each one, and how each is directly applicable to some facet of my life that's been under intense examination. I have, similarly to many others, I suppose, let too much go for too long. A wiser soul would try to manage one thing at a time, but time seems short. There is a now or never pall over everything. That may or may not be true but a sense of priorities is lacking. It all seems equally desperate.

Some things prioritize themselves though, so for now it comes down the the daily routines that pay the bills... time to apply the instruments of punishment that make me fit for public consumption.