A long, quiet discontent

There was a time when I believed that I would find the will to write about the content of my heart and soul. That I could assemble the necessary mental provisions to consistently express myself in a form that might have more permanence. I wanted some control over a medium, or format, that wouldn‘t disappear based on the fickle nature of technology and trend. And yet here I am, having gone almost two years since writing a single word.

Don’t worry, this wasn‘t written by an AI chatbot — as far as you know. I’m kidding, it’s 100% all me. Could a chatbot actually write that? Does it have enough self-loathing and reflect to reference itself? Am I merely the avatar of an AI a century into the future? Ha, no. If I were, I wouldn’t subject myself to this specific reality of doom and inanity.

At some point, after the accumulation of years has made you realize that the road behind you is far longer than the unmapped road in front, you will wonder how who you might be remember or prolonged or even accounted for into history of your non-existence. What digital archive will remain that retains anything you’ve done. Anything you were. Anything you made. If it vanishes, what remains of you? Once this domain expires, and this hosting service shuts down, and Facebook becomes a waterfall in Ames Iowa where geese poop, where are you?

I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe I’ll write a book that no one will buy, and no one will read, but might collect dust on a shelf in a rural library Ohio, and a random visitor in the fall of 2185 will stumble upon an autobiography called “Made You Look” and pick it up and begin to read about the made up history of a man who lived over one hundred years ago, who couldn‘t quite make his life become the thing he imagined and now his ashes have nurtured the growth of a small patch of grass at the far end of a field by a lake, and the visitor will wonder why he wasted his time and continue to eat his Arby’s™ roast beef sandwich.

So not much has been happening for 591 days. How’s your day going?

So much of nothing much

I’m not okay. And not in some worryingly exit ramp from life sort of way. I’m not okay, because I don’t know what it means to be okay. Am I contented? Am I happy? Am I depressed? Am I stressed? I don’t know. What I feel is that I am no longer myself. Or some part myself has changed in a way that other parts are unprepared or unfamiliar. I function, but only just. I wake up tired and remain tired. I walk and get sun. I eat and drink. I shower and dress every morning. And yet the routine feels completely and utterly pointless.

Somewhere between ending a job that others would kill for at the end of 2019, and venturing on an unsteady path into 2020, I along with the rest of the world, entered a time of uncertainty. Not only a literal pandemic, but a mental and emotional one as well. 

We collectively fought either with the truth or distraction or delusion. And the loss of life multipled. Perhaps there will be no tomorrow. Perhaps all our plans are no better than our vanishing breath. Perhaps there is no one who can protect us from ourselves. Perhaps everything will not be alright. That unrelenting shadow is heavy and exhausting. All of life is foolishness, if not for the fact that we refuse to acknowledge its unknowable trajectory.

The mounting anger we see everyday is just this fear expressed without thought or empathy. The most base of reactions: fight, flight, or freeze. Flee into fanciful fictions that trick our minds into appeasement and justification. Battle against the projections of our worst imaginations. Settle into placid distractions of nothingness.

Yet we are supposed to navigate our way back into some normalcy. Amnesiacs stumbling in a reality that remains foggy, pretending as if we understand the confusion. That everything is a video game and we can just begin again. The great pretending that we are all okay. Except are we? What is normal and why should we want to be it and even go back to it.

It seems many of us have discovered it’s time we stop living our life as if its only purpose is for the benefit of others to accept or reject. Using social equations to judge whether our choices, our actions, our personalities, our roles, our views are normal or not. So many want to drag us backward to a time when they felt powerful and important, unchallenged protagonists, clearly known and enforced hierarchies, comfortably mandating fealty, reigning supreme. Your entire life, in all its brevity and unknowablity, ought to be worth more than completfely molding it around the perceptions of strangers.

A veil of clouds wed to the sky

Something about just enough alcohol in my bloodstream which frees my mind from worry or distraction. Too much and it’s a dull blade, too little and I’m still sheathed, just enough and I become sharp. It’s dangerous and foolish, likely a poison, to blunt the edge intentionally, and yet in the cool evening air, sitting near a mild fire, I do feel peace. A subtle resolve before I wither.

I’m neither afraid of the infinite or the unknowable. I’m able to float away into interconnected community with creation. I feel allied, as a flame. All sounds, all senses, coalesce into me, as if we are one and the same. Perhaps we are.

I cannot know if the experience of my life is singular. All at once the only consciousness to repeat and share and revise infinitely. A tree. A bird. A flame. A wave. An elephant. A human. In time. In space. There’s no way to truly know if the recall of my life is collective or separate. Or if it’s even truth. If the story I wear is temporal or universal. Does it matter?

The smoke emerges, racing upward, toward disintegration. Born of energy, merged again to atmosphere. A warning. A call.. A scent. A temporary event.

Some may want more. Definitions around rules built on promises to provide meaning to choke out fear. Without it perhaps they are sad, as I once was, for the pain of disappearance and loss, wanting a reason. And yet, we are all vanishing smoke. Watching a fire slowly fade and die and leave behind the ash something.

We are brief and fleeting, expelling energy and providing some comfort, then exiting the world as a veil of clouds wed to the sky.

There it stays, neither affixed nor rooted but floating against the pull of gravity. Unpredictable yet constrained like all possibilities. A speck of dust, the detritus of time, all remenants of life. Fathomless yet invisible, except in the occasional beams of morning light, both rising and falling. These are the truths of history, not in words but in substance. A consciousness adrift and consumed and expelled. The ceaseless story.

There’s a horse in the hospital

It’s a strange experience to watch history unfold live through a television. Both fully detached from reality and emotionally engaging. Together this experience creates a form of otherness, unrealness, that allows us to distance ourselves from fact and authenticity. Often all we can muster is “I can’t believe this is happening”.

What happened on January 6th, 2021 was horribly predictable and preventable. Anyone with a sense of history or reason could see in 2016 the President-elect would be a strain on if not dismantling of democracy, decency, respect, and progress in America. A man who believed only in his own ego and superiority would do anything and everything to deceive, lie, cheat, and manipulate his way into more power and money. The party that nominated and enabled him would become caught in the wake of his corruption.

Substitute any other country in the world with the U.S. with what happened on Wednesday, and we’d be aghast, horrified at what was transpiring. Footage of people invading their government to overthrow an election, usurp a democratic process, would elicit and strong responses from our leaders and officials. Yet days after the complicit party can only muster a weak response no more useful or powerful than a strongly worded note.

This was not a protest. This was not peaceful. This was the outrage of white people who aren’t accustomed to losing, and have the freedom to do what they want, how they want, without penalty or recourse.

Throughout the summer of 2020 we watched again how thousands and thousands and thousands of people gathered in the streets to protest yet another and another and another black life being maliciously and callously taken. Lines and lines of law enforcement fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used excessive amounts of force on these protesters. Even a teenager with an overt sense of privilege shot and killed two people.

Yet on Wednesday, as thousands and thousands of white people stormed the Capitol, urged on by their President and party, waving America flags, Trump flags, religious banners, hate group propaganda, and Confederate flags, as a flailing, feeble, and half-hearted law enforcement presence simply had to step aside. Opening doors. Taking selfies. Helping people as they slowly walked away. A terrorist insurgency met with a shrug.

The difference between these responses is obvious: race.

White America is in revolt. A system they have rigged for their sake for hundreds of years is vanishing. Their voice, their power, their majority is shrinking. Republican lawmakers echo claims of fraud because they were so sure, so convinced, that they had succeeded in silencing so many voices of color, voices of openness, voices of tolerance, voices of progress, that there could be no way they lose.

Rather than confront their prejudices, expand their contingency, appeal to broader issues, the Republican party has tacitly agreed to amplify white superiority, religious nationalism, and anti-democratic policies. There is only one side that is responsible for a revolt against this country, and they are trying like hell to make sure you don’t notice.

There must be consequences, or our country is doomed for civil war and total collapse.

*The title is a reference to a hilarious John Mulaney bit

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
— James Baldwin

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

There has rightly been a lot of talk about systems over the last several months. Systems are an essential part of all aspects of life. They are meant to make our life efficient, stable, and functional. Biologically our bodies are made up of vast systems like the circulatory, nervous, skeletal, respiratory, muscular, digestive, and so on. Naturally they shape and enable our universe through weather, ecological, planetary, and solar systems. They are intertwining and interdependent mechanisms that produce and enforce a continuous cycle of predictability.

Systems aren’t meant to change. Change to a system causes problems; spurs disruptions, builds ineffectiveness, creates fractures, and provokes divisions. A system only functions when those elements within it conform. Any obstruction to the integrity of the system, either makes it less functional or completely broken. The obstruction must either be bypassed, repaired, or removed. Clots, blockages, pinches, tears, severs, or breaks, all automatically engage a signal for correction and healing.

Both consciously and unconsciously, we have developed and nurtured systems within our manufactured world. They are the basis and sustenance of our governments, our organizations, our institutions, and our corporations. They form our economies, communications, energy, healthcare, housing, and educational processes. They propel our hiring, training, building, aiding, creating, operating, paying, promoting, and benefiting practices. Stretching as far back in time as we can fathom, formulated on a path of a path of a path into the past.

Unlike natural systems, our fabricated structures are not involuntary or reflexive, they are neither impartial or neutral. Our constructed systems are paved with all our prejudices, our perceptions, our fears, our hatred, and our ignorance. The mechanisms for correction are implemented through rules and regulations, and laws and punishment. Yet just as inflexible, just as unchanging. They are systemic. 

Over time the processes originally meant to create and maintain consistency, comfort, efficiency, and progress, gradually turn into the opposite. They begin to obstruct, dominate, oppress, threaten, and control. They evolve, not into something new or progressive, but into something revised and similar. Resurfaced. Expanded. Widened. Cosmetic changes but with the same destinations. The ghost of the same path, the same outcome. 

Systems are important, essential even. But all systems break. All systems fail. All systems need restarting, rebuilding, reimagining, redoing. This is why new systems must be built within all our governments, organization, institutions, and corporations. With a new road, with broader and more inclusive perspectives, insights, compassion, and voices. Otherwise, yet again, the old operations will bypass, repair, or remove those not working within the rules. I’m repeating and repeating the same inequalities, injustices, intolerances, inequities, and failures to progress. 

Perhaps it’s time to do the very very very hard work, get out shovels, roll up sleeves, throw away excuses, and radically imagine systems that better for everyone, based on positive insights, equitable care, reasonable expectations, flexible processes, compassionate perspectives.

Permission to disappear

Was that the last time?

I find myself dwelling on this thought more often day by day. Not only because I turned 48 at the start of June, or that two thirds of my kids are adults, or that I — like so many other of millions — am purposely isolating amidst a global pandemic. But because I realize that so many moments are disappearing with my permission.

There is always a last time; a last hug, a last word, a last look, and I will fail to see it because I am not here.

Over time so many of us prioritized careers and tasks and busyness and distractions over relationships. And there is no right or wrong in that. They are just choices that have to be made. Things that need to be done, responsibilities that must be assumed, and food and clothes and shelter and security to provide.

But maybe somewhere, not to very far in the future, we will be without our kids, without our jobs, without our abilities and facilities to do what we once did, and we’ll reach out for a connection that has slowly withered to a faint memory.

Perhaps we will look back in regret that we chose an hour in front of a machine, in a car driving in circles, in making efforts to chase something imagined or maybe flee a ghostly fear of our failures. Will we wish that we found an hour to be in front of a friend, to find value in the being present, and delay the pressures of being reduced to lists and tallies and records of activity.

I am guilty, and I don’t want to be the last to realize there is no time remaining to grasp the moment.

Hammurabi was wrong

I’ve been thinking about something that is buried and nagging and screaming in the back of my mind. It’s related to what I feel might lurk in the actions and reactions of countless white people to what is happening right now in every major city across this country, and around the world.

It’s not a pretty thought. It’s not logical. It’s not just. It’s not fair. It’s not reasonable. It’s not comforting. But it’s there. At least I believe it is, even if we don’t actively acknowledge it. I will not use the words white supremacy, white privilege, or racism; despite those all being at the heart of what I want to bring out into the open. Instead I just want to say out loud what is usually kept inside.

I want to talk about the concept of equal and opposite. For every action, there is another action to counter-balance or equalize what was just done. It’s a mathematical probability within physics, also called Newton’s Third Law Of Motion. It’s a fundamental concept that most all of us are taught at some point In our schooling. And somewhere, somehow, in that propagation we begin to conflate physical laws with social expectations. We use ancient sayings, such as “an eye for an eye”, the Hammurabi codes, and turn them into some universal laws of retaliation and reciprocity, woven into our social fabric and concept of justice. Codes becomes inescapable rules.

But what happens to a society who builds themselves upon a foundation of justified inequality, inhumanity, and cruelty? What happens when the excuses and reasoning around owning, selling, segregating, isolating, incriminating, imprisoning, and killing others on the basis of race begins to crumble? When those subjugated to those enslavements, segregations, isolations, criminalities, imprisonments, and deaths begin to rise up in revolt? What do we do with those innate, immutable societal rules when we are confronted with our past behavior?

Let’s not be coy. The U.S. is built around the ownership of others through slavery. The buying and selling of human beings of color, that we took from their counties, put on a boat, chained together into pens worse than livestock, shipped to our country, to work for a white man to do work that he didn’t want to do himself. Not to mention the labor and exploitation of women and the poor to further do things that these white men just didn’t want to do; you know, like raise children or cook or work somewhere smelly or dangerous or tiring or laborious. And since these white man had the power, because they had the money which controlled who was allowed or not allowed to participate in decisions or work or ownership within communities, they were also the ones wrote and made the laws, and therefore could make “just” and “legal” all their actions. After all, this is what had been done for centuries before the formation of this country. But for good measure let’s make it ordained by God, with His infinite blessing, because it’ll end any arguments to what we’re doing. And let’s also say everyone is equal, even though that’s not entirely what we mean. Wink. So society fundamentally could not and would not see any other human being as equal to a white man.

But then we’ve had some issues – little disturbances like a “unrest” and small “riots” and a “civil war”’and what not – all in reaction to these systematic policies. And again, let’s be clear, when we say systematic, we mean a never-ending cycle of people talking and yelling and fighting about the words we should use about the things we do, so that people don’t feel bad about it.

And throughout these centuries, looming large in the reasoning and actions, built into the laws of these white men, is fear. Maybe not fully realized or articulated or acknowledged. But baked into all of their ideas of justice goes back to physics. Equal and opposite. An eye for an eye. It forms our societal acceptance of retribution, of retaliation, of justice. And that fear only exists because they must know what we’ve done is wrong and cruel and horrible. And to keep those masses from doing unto them what they’ve done to others, this system has to stay intact.

What I’m saying is that, we as white people fight so hard against the ideas of inclusion and diversity and equality, in how we educate, in where we have communities, in the way we hire and pay, in where we worship, in how we disseminate justice, in who we elect, in how we believe we are “reasonable” and “logical” and “fair”, is really because deep down somewhere in our psychology, we’re terrified that people of color, minorities, immigrants, the oppressed, the poor, could and would be justified in doing to us what we’ve done to them.

Whether that means taking our jobs, paying us less, kicking us out of our homes, arresting us for no reason, raping us and our children, hanging us from trees with a crowd to watch, burning us alive, putting us in prison, killing just because we’re white – it would be just and right because that is what we’ve done to them. The Third Law Of Motion. It’s math. Inescapable truth.

I know we’re afraid of this imagined possibility, because it is exactly how we justify the actions we use to protect ourselves, from letters we write into our laws, from the decisions make in our courts, and from the words we use to make ourselves feel better.

We fear that we truly will reap what we sow. We fear that what we have done to others, will be done to us. In a world of equal and opposite, a world of retribution and retaliation, a world we created to benefit ourselves, which have to be equalized. Maybe it is what we deserve. What I deserve. Live with that a little.

Now is the time to do all that can be done to repair, rebuild, renew, to make equal and fair and right and just, to make whole and well and healthy, to finally become country and people that we were told that we were.

I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save is all.

—Maya Angelou

Thursday, 10:02am, another day during a pandemic

There’s no way to know how to talk about the current time we’re living in. It’s both terrifying and boring. Mindnumbing and gripping. Everyday the number of people dying increases over the previous day. When will it reverse? When will it be safe? When will we know the danger has passed? How will I remember this time?

I guess the only way is to document it as best and honestly as I can.

I don’t know if I’m capable of setting aside my fears at any moment during this pandemic. Nearly every minute of the day, whether it’s light or dark, sunny or cloudy, I’m burdened by the thought of it’s presence. It’s lingering danger. It’s threat. I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I can’t be consumed or paralyzed. And yet I’m left speechless and terrified. Every day. Full of fear.

Fear that one of us in this house will get sick. And then worsen, and be forced to go to the hospital, where they will be diagnosed with Covid-19, admitted to intensive care, put in quarantine, and forever be isolated, never to hold or hug or breathe in them again, as they die alone and scared and in pain.

I cannot bear the possibility of that loss. No matter the slight chances of infection, there are still chances, still possibilities for that nightmare to be real – as it is for many thousands and thousands of people right now.

So I’m plagued that every ache, every moment of exhaustion, every cough, that I feel is the start of the end. And I cannot escape that looming path. I worry about what we touch, and who touched it before we touched it, and what they touched and if they were infected, and chanting inside to not touch my face, and to wash my hands again, better and longer and with more vigor, and to wipe everything down to kill this fucking virus that is taunting the world.

I attempt to ignore it. To distract myself with work and projects and mindless entertainment. But the fear is like a chime, steady and loud, persistently torturing my peace. “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here”

I sleep terribly, besotted with dreams of this hidden invader. Of fevers and pain and isolation and drowning and dying alone – missing the chance to know who my kids become and accomplish.

What will the world learns from this? How will we move on? What will we recover and ignore and change and grow into? Who will we lose and who will we blame? How will we stop this?

So now as I write, lying in bed on a Thursday morning, yet again awoken at 2am in panic, I try to breath in as deeply as I can. Holding it in. Savoring the moment.

Right now, we are fine. That is all I can know. This moment is all I can experience. We are alive and ok.

So hold it, and stand up, and move on.