Friday, February 19, 2010

Cloud Interlude 6/ The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1. Crossing the 'Macaroni Bridge' (as my son calls it) into Cincinnati:

2. My response to every teabagger I meet who wants to argue about our country's economic model and the relative usefulness of various socialist concepts:

So, you think 'socialism doesn't work'?

You mean to tell me that you don't appreciate national parks, the mail service, the fire department, and public libraries? All socialist ideas, you know. How about the 40 hour work week, vacation pay, the police department, snow trucks, child labor laws, and stop lights? More socialism. You mean to tell me that Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and The Netherlands aren't functioning countries?

I'm not arguing for a pure socialist system, but I will argue that our current mixed-model economic system is worth preserving, even though it is imperfect. We can talk serious economic theory if you want, but I'm not convinced that you're able to go there with me. All I hear in your arguments are simplistic echoes of Sean Hannity/ Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh talking points. They don't reflect independent thought, and aren't even good representations of conservative ideology. Personally, I think you could do better.

3. Roger Ebert is dying, but that is only secondary to the way he is living. Inspiring.

4. It was a Stimulating Stimulus. Reading material for embattled pragmatists. Here.

5. I'm going to see this band with my wife at the end of March. I'm excited. We haven't been to a rock concert in awhile. Portugal. The Man:

6. And, finally, my wife was kind enough to post this video for all of our friends on Facebook to see the other day, so I thought I would extend the damage by offering the video up to the public at large. When you are your own worst enemy, you have a lot fewer corners to peek around, you know?

I had been doing the dishes, but then 'Beast Of Burden' by the Rolling Stones came on the radio. I would like to meet the person that can resist dancing to that tune. Okay, let the seduction ritual begin:

Okay, everyone. Have a great weekend!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Googling Dead Friends

We were trying to break into a scene together. What scene wasn’t completely certain; a literary scene, for sure. An edgy scene that would welcome two self absorbed and combative misfits from the Midwest would be perfect, and in the ideal scene, we’d get to meet Woody Allen someday, and he would like us.

But my friend killed himself, and now we’re not a ‘we’ in the same sense that we were, although he’s still with me, lazily hitch-hiking on my journey, free-riding his way in my psyche. He doesn’t contribute anything; he just gives me the creeps. He doesn’t mean whatever he thought he would mean to me after he did what he did, and now it’s me that’s getting fat and old and biting my nails and trying to be a good person and live a life that means something. I’m not hauling his corpse around with me as much as I used to, although I still do Google him from time to time. For awhile I got a twisted sense of accomplishment as my hits increased and his stayed the same, but now, I shake my head at the silliness of it all, how painfully serious we were about ourselves, and how unnecessary his self murder was. I never made the scene. He never made the scene. I don’t even like the idea of a scene anymore. Never die for a notion that you haven’t really articulated, because all clothing goes out of style at one point or another.

After my friend jumped off that overpass, I developed a little problem with alcohol. I don’t mean to set the two things up as cause and effect, because I’m not sure they’re related that way. I know it affected me, but I wouldn’t say it drove me to drink. I was already drinking a little bit because I wanted to understand scotch, and overtime I did understand scotch. Ask and ye shall receive. It wasn't the suicide that brought me to drinking, although I may have buckled under the pressure of dealing directly with the suicide, and other things in my life. Once you realize what a wonderful ‘hold’ button alcohol can be, it’s hard not to use it from time to time. It’s like commercial breaks for life.

There were other things. I was (and am still) a young father, and am desperate to help my children find health and happiness, even though I am not always healthy and happy; I am an unskilled mechanic, a brain surgeon with no eyes. This causes stress, and alcohol provides temporary relief from stress. I don’t know what it means to say I believe in God or don’t believe in God anymore, and I was once a big person to say I did believe in God, and it colored everything about me. I don’t believe anything anyone tells me about God, and I don’t believe what I read about God in any book, and I don’t think God talks to people, and I don’t even know what ‘the ground of all being’ means, although I suspect it is some serious bullshit. But I don’t disbelieve in God. It seems possible to me that some initiating intelligence might have put us here, who knows, it certainly seems more likely than teapots in space or fairies at the end of the garden. A shrug of the shoulders seems more appropriate to me on the issue of God than does a loud proclamation of belief or unbelief. If God wanted to talk to us, she certainly knows where to find us, and could probably come up with a better method of communication than private revelation and esoteric bronze age literature. I mean, even I know how to set up a blog.

When my friend killed himself, I had just given up pretending that I cared about W.H. Auden, and was exploring poetry that actually resonated with me. Charles Simic. Carl Dennis. Thomas Lux. Billy Collins. Guillaume Appolinaire. I was happy with my new, more authentic poets, especially since I had at least one French name on my list. My friend didn’t like poetry, because he thought it was elitist, although he was surely an elitist. So was I. Why pretend you’re milk and potatoes when you’re something a little more special? Our ideology was very confused. We knew we wanted to aspire to higher thoughts and higher art, yet we needed to remain in touch with the proletariat, even thought we hated and made fun of a lot of the thought and art we decided they liked and had. Kids, right?

My friend missed out on Billy Collins, and that astounds me. I had just begun reading him, and was so in love with what he wrote. I wanted to give my friend a copy of ‘Nine Horses’ the next time he was in town, because I thought I might finally be able to crack his resistance to poetry with Collins’s calm and humble voice. But, he killed himself, and now he is a sigh. He’s a corpse, he’s in the ground being transformed into all kinds of other things, filling the earth with his carbon, while I am up here getting bigger, wiser, trying not to bite my nails or drink as much, and playing games of checkers with my kids every chance I get. My dead friend is a freeloader in my life, and I’m doing all of the heavy lifting for him. When all of us who knew him are dead, he’ll be gone forever too, but we’re all still here making our case while he plead no contest.

My friend and I both loved Kurt Vonnegut, and my friend always wanted to be written about, so I feel I am in good faith to sum up thusly: So it goes.

Cross posted at The Daily Kos.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Canadian Patriotism

I'm posting this video not so much because it's a good interview with Louis C.K. (a comedian that I admire and think is awesome), but because as I was watching, it occurred to me that Canadian interviewers and celebrities are often very conscious of their nationality, and pretty reliably try to put a 'canadian spin' on their interviews, work, etc. The reason this is noteworthy to me is that I am incredibly irritated by nationalism in general, but Canadian nationalism doesn't irritate me. Is it because Canada is millitarily harmless? Is it because Canadian patriots are quaint, and cute, and cuddly? Is it because the nationalistic nuts in my own country are so loud and vulgar and stupid that the mild and thoughtful sounding patriotism of many Canadian public figures seems so reasonable in comparison?

I don't know the answer to the question, but I feel a little bit patriotic about Canada, even though I've never been there, not even on vacation.


Cross Posted at The Daily Kos

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Heart Valentine's Day

I.The following comments about Valentine's Day always irritate me:

1. Valentine's Day is just a made-up holiday that the greeting card industry uses to make a quick buck.

2. My man/woman (usually man) should love me all year 'round. If he/she needs a holiday to remind him/her, I'm not interested.


Regarding the first instance I say, of course Valentine's Day is just a made up holiday. All holidays are just made up holidays. Do you think the first of mankind to crawl out of the primordial sludge was greeted with specific instructions on how to carve the Thanksgiving day turkey? Of course not.

Regarding the second part of the first instance: this is America. We're a capitalist country. to survive in a capitalist society (and any society for that matter), you need to make capital. Besides, what else is the greeting card industry going to make money on?

The second instance is irritating for its solipsism, and its shortsightedness. The solipsism is evident, but the lack of perspective regarding the definitions of who we are that can be derived from the holidays we choose to celebrate, is alarming.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrations of family and communion. They also give us opportunities to be generous and thankful. Halloween provides our children with an opportunity to experiment with different aspects of their personality by playing dress-up, and it's the closest our culture ever comes to acknowledging death. New Year's is a chance to celebrate our successes and reset our goals. It also can serve as a good marker to measure our achievements against.

Valentine's Day is just as important. It's an opportunity for us to celebrate our partnerships, and to meditate on our loves. It's like a New Year's for the heart. And, besides, who doesn't like a little bit of champagne, dark chocolate, and Chet Baker every now and then?

There is also a certain hedonism to Valentine's Day that I find irresistable.

II. For 20+ years, Ted Kooser (a great poet) has been writing a Valentine's Day poem for an ever enlarging list of women, and mailing it to them. "Valentine's Day is a great holiday for the poet...It's not tied up with anything other than expressions of sentiment." Check it out.

III. Here is something of a universal Valentine poem that appeared in my e-book, Mule & Horse. I wrote it in honor of those wonderful devices that carry women from point A to point B.


Your legs
Your olive legs
Your caramel
Pink tan legs

Are the scissors
That cut my concentration

Through halls
Designed to indulge echo
You clip
My head

Your legs
Your thick legs
Your soft
Tattooed legs

Should require
A license to operate.

IV. And here's a poem I wrote more specifically for my wife, from the same collection:


As your breasts
make their glacial excursion
towards your hips,

and my balls begin to droop
like a Halloween bag
full of too much candy:

I will pause
(from time to time)
and remember years before:

when our two taut bodies
were so easily entertained
by such equally firm surfaces.

We explored them ruthlessly:
Like conquistadors,
looking for golden cities.

I will smile,
and consider these current days:
Terrain complex. Unpredictable.

A safari nowadays of the many
curves and folds,
may take months of planning.

And only god knows
how many hired natives
will be lost along the way.

V. Have a fun, happy, sexy, wonderfully indulgent & celebratory Valentine's Day everyone!

Flight Of The Conchords:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winning Quote Of The Week

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." - Bertrand Russell

Thanks to Paul Toth for making that quote his facebook status update. It made me laugh at myself.

More Russell:

Good stuff.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hell? No.

Sometimes, when dealing with more moderate Christians, I can forget that although they are often extremely reasonable when it comes to political issues and compassion issues(and are basically completely sane and reasonable overall), their minds can still be affected by the unreason of some particularly scary and damaging religious ideas; Original sin, the scapegoat concept, various unhealthy attitudes about sexuality. The religious mind can also lack a sense of urgency to fix the problems in this world and resolve personal conflicts that might otherwise be felt by a secular person.

I am writing this post because I was reminded of the scourge that religion can be on a human mind very recently, when a community leader that I admire in many ways (and like personally) made a very public statement about the importance of ‘getting right with god’ in order to avoid hellfire.

The threat of eternal damnation coming from respected adult figures can be incredibly scary to a young person (or anyone) who takes religion seriously. It's one thing to warn about dangers that can be substantiated (the dangers of drugs, casual sex, careless driving, treating people poorly), but hell is a threat that can't be substantiated, nestled within a religion whose divine inspiration can't be substantiated, nestled within a concept (the existence of divinity) that also can't be substantiated.

I write this with a certain amount of heartache, because I've spent most of my life trying my hardest to believe in the divine origin of Christian doctrine. While I have intellectually accepted that it's extremely unlikely that Christianity is a divinely inspired religion, I still bear the scars and neurotic remnants of my former religious life. While there are good and beautiful doctrines in Christianity that can be defended and supported via strictly secular means, I hate to think that others are being exposed to, and internalizing, some of the more damnable doctrines of the religion. I think the hell-threat is one of the worst.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hey, Republicans: Get On Board With Gay Rights

Sean Hannity likes to refer to the Democratic party as ‘the party of slavery’ from time to time, harkening back to the days of Republican abolitionists and conveniently ignoring that inconvenient piece of recent history that had democratic president Lyndon Johnson losing ‘the south for a generation’ by signing important civil right legislation.

The other part of Hannity’s useful (yet telling) omission is another recent historical fact: The modern GOP is the party of cynical opportunism. When democrats & moderates in the 60’s went to bat for our country’s minorities, the GOP at large--seeing the now disenfranchised southern racists--modified their party platform to welcome these bigots.

A generation later, not much has changed. In fact, the modern GOP is bending backwards to accommodate that same old dixiecrat/American Taliban/tea bag movement that has proved so useful for it in recent history. It’s well known that this constituency is very easy to get riled up and mobilized, and it’s also well known that social conservatives have a very short memory when it comes to the promises their elected officials make them while on the campaign trail regarding abortion, marriage, gay rights, etc. In fact, it’s very funny how vacuous these promises can be in order to slide by. Sometimes, a wink will suffice, although a wink can mean significantly different things to the winker than it does to the winkee.

This constituency is useful in the moment, but today’s republicans also love to take credit for yesterday’s progressive victories, i.e. Sean Hannity’s ‘party of slavery’ trope. Hannity can reach back to Lincoln’s republican affiliation to (sort of) validate his claim that the GOP is the forward thinking party, but I wonder who the Sean Hannities of the future are going to refer to while claiming the republican role in achieving gay equality (the inevitable next ‘progressive victory of yesterday’). There is no one, unless they want to try to squeeze Barry Goldwater or Cindy McCain into that role, which would be a stretch even for republicans.

It seems like it would behoove at least a handful of prominent republicans to acknowledge the opportunistic and cynical soil their modern party has sunk its roots in, and get out in front of this issue that is inevitably going to be viewed by history with progressive eyes.

Republicans can get a sugar buzz off of the support of the more dubious elements of their constituency by blocking and whoring on the issue of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, or, they can look to the future viability of their party, and join their voices with the president’s in ending it. The president has even created a space for Republicans to one-up him on the issue of gay rights by opposing gay marriage; but, I doubt the party of Palin has enough foresight to cash in on it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Dad Hates The Beatles

I can’t get over what a great rendition of ‘Stand By Me’ John Lennon does. It nearly makes me cry every time I hear it. Same goes for ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’. What wonderful sentiments. The following lines tug at my heart especially hard:

“I can hardly wait,
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we'll both,
Just have to be patient”

They’re real tear-jerkers, for one because I know that Mr. Lennon didn’t get the opportunity to see his son ‘come of age’, and two, because I am anxious to be there for my sons as long as they need me, and I am very excited to see the men that they become.

I’m nearing the age of 30, and I’ve only recently discovered the Beatles. The reason for this is that my father had an active hatred of the Beatles as I grew up, and of all the other little iconoclasms I committed against his worldview as I struggled to become my own person, it never occurred to me not to disregard the Beatles. That is, until I had a son of my own.

One day, while my wife and four year old son and I were shopping in our local Meijer grocery store, the song ‘Free as a Bird’ came on the musak, and my son started swaying his head back and forth and singing along with the music. He said, ‘who is singing this, daddy?’ and the whole scene melted my heart. We immediately went over to the electronics department and picked up a copy of The Beatles ‘1’ album (the CD with ‘Free As A Bird’ wasn’t in the store), and it was an instant hit with my son. I recognized most of the songs on the CD, but hadn’t realized that they were Beatles songs. On one level, I was very happy that my son had found a particular musical group to be excited about. This was the most important level. On a second level (I’m a little embarrassed to mention it), I was excited to have found yet another way to rebel against my father, who loves me, who is mystified by my detractions and detestations.

My father has given me something precious that he may not realize. He may think that I've rejected all of his values, but this is not the case. Children learn what they live is the title of a famous book about child-rearing, and I have surely learned what I lived growing up in my father’s house. What I learned from my father is to ‘hate the Beatles’ even if I learn to love The Beatles. I learned to be skeptical of popular opinion and received wisdom, and to feel uncomfortable in a mental crowd. That’s why you’ll never see me in a tea party parade, gleefully hoisting a homemade protest sign with the world ‘soshulism’ scrawled indignantly across it. That’s why I’ll never be at home in church, because there’s just too much that you’re supposed to swallow without first chewing, and you know that none of what they offer you is FDA approved.

My father, a black sheep, taught me how to be a black sheep, and I believe that I’ve improved the art. When in school, I was led to believe that much of what my teachers were telling me was liberal bunk, and even thought that was the case, I was to remember what they were teaching and to spit it back out at them in order to get a good grade. So, going into school, an important authority group was already undermined. My family didn’t go to church until I dragged them to a local Baptist church when I was in third grade. We went there for a couple of years, and again, my parents helped me to understand that not even our pastor had a direct line to God. We left sermons with my parents making fun of my Sunday school teacher’s end time prophecies, our pastor’s complaints against Rock and Roll (my dad loved Van Halen, and was not letting that go, not even for Jesus), and the pastor’s wife’s exhortations against alcohol use.

It was also my father that introduced me to George Carlin.

So, it was only a matter of time before I turned my well learned skepticism of tradition and unbelief in the infallibility of authority against the conservative, modified christian belief system that I was brought up in. I regret that this period in my relationship with him was so messy, and I know that I was often unnecessarily inflammatory and less than respectful in my exploration of ideas at this point. But, so it goes. We’re in a better place now, but it took us a while to get there.

I don’t know if my dad sought out to teach me this skepticism and unwillingness to move with the herd, but it’s been an invaluable tool for me. I know he wasn’t the only one who helped me learn this lesson; I was very much not welcome in almost every peer group I sought out in school (partially for my unusual interest in ideas, and partially because I possessed a weird cocktail of interest in doing whatever I needed to do to fit in with that group and conversely doing anything I could to sabotage the group’s aesthetic at the same time). This experience in school surely helped reinforce my isolation and need to think for myself. But my father gave me the tool, whether he sought to or not, and I am glad for it. I hope my kids are able to learn skepticism and the value of being as fully themselves as they can easier than I did, but I want them to have it. I want them to hesitate when joining groups. I want them to probe their intentions if they ever find their entire worldview lining up perfectly with some party platform. I don’t want them to be fearful if they feel the call to dissent. But, I don’t think they should feel too terrible if their honest inquiry and passion leads them into a group or a community.

After all, we are communal animals. That’s one of the parts I have trouble with that I don’t want to pass down to them. I want them to be as fiercely themselves as they can be, but if they ever find themselves in honest awe of one of the various edifices that have been erected by our (or any) culture, like, say, The Beatles, I want them to enjoy themselves. Because, Christ. You know it ain’t easy.

cross posted at The Daily Kos