Monday, January 30, 2012

Drop Inn Center Needs Help Now

Check out my article in today's Cincinnati Enquirer.

text:


Many Drop Inn Center supporters seem to imagine a critical moment in the future where they will lock arms in front of the building and prevent the shelter from being whisked away by nefarious developers to some alternate location.

What many of these good intentioned folks don’t realize is that the critical moment is not in the future. The critical moment is now. The critical moment is always now.

We receive a lot of support and advocacy from our community. We appreciate it. There is a time to fight big battles, and there is a time to make public stands. When the moment to rally comes, there are always more than enough people available to hold signs and shout slogans. Rallying is exciting. There is something sexy about it.

What is less sexy – but even more necessary – is maintenance. I understand the excitement of starting a new project or fighting a big fight in the public arena. In between these capital moments, however, someone has to sweep the floors. Someone has to pay the electric bill.

The Drop Inn Center is bigger than a location. It’s bigger than any one person. The Drop Inn Center exists to serve an idea: Every human being has an inherent dignity, and society owes it to itself to provide a safety net for its citizens. It is our community’s response to a system with cracks in it. The Drop Inn Center will do whatever is in the best interest of its residents and its community. If that entails moving to a new location that is better equipped to serve our population and provide them easy access to key services, then that is what we will do. If it’s determined that staying at our current location is the best way to provide for the population we represent, then so be it.

There may come a day when we need to lock arms and shout slogans. Until that day, what we really need is your money, your time and your advocacy.

Donate as much as you can afford. Canned goods, new underwear, socks, sweatpants, deodorant, laundry detergent, tooth brushes and toilet paper will make things a lot easier on our residents. Contact our volunteer coordinator to find out what volunteer opportunities are available. Advocate by inviting your friends, neighbors and business acquaintances to take a tour of our facility. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Tell folks what we do. Talk about us.

The Drop Inn Center vows to remain committed to its mission to be a community of residents, staff and volunteers working together to provide basic human services for men and women experiencing homelessness, with a primary commitment to shelter. Our success will be forever tied to the tangible support of folks who share our vision.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

'And because it is my heart.'

“In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: ‘Is it good, friend?’
‘It is bitter - bitter,’ he answered;
‘But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.’”

- Stephen Crane, “In the desert”

via Cock N Bull.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Perfect Day

I was thinking, 'what would a perfect day look like for me'? Of course, perfect days can totally catch you by surprise. The best days are usually not planned, but occur naturally; a weird and random confluence of pleasant and surprising events. That being said, I am a nerd--and a blogger (double nerd!)--so I thought I'd try to map out how a perfect day might look.

Wake up around 9 am after a night of interesting dreams and solid sleep. Take a shower, brush my teeth, get dressed. Everyone else is still in bed. Start the coffee, make some biscuits and gravy and fruit salad for breakfast. Eat breakfast with the family, and do the dishes. Sit down on the front deck with Abby while the kids entertain themselves. Alternate between talking to her and reading a book. The temperature should be about 60 degrees, and it should be Fall. Take the boys to the gym to play racquetball, then go for a hike with the family through the woods. This should culminate in ice cream somewhere. After that, write a blog post, and then have lunch with a smart person with a good sense of humor. I'm thinking a bowl of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich. Come home. Spontaneous sex with my wife. Lounge around with the family for awhile. lay in a hammock in the backyard and read some more. Maybe take a nap. There should be some kind of soundtrack throughout the day. Whatever music the day demands. Split some wood for a bonfire later in the evening.  Play a game of chess with Abby or one of the boys. Carry the baby around for awhile. Watch a movie or part of a television series I'm following. Take the family out for sushi, and then come back and start the fire. Sit around it, talk, and drink some hot chocolate. Lay in a hot bath and read. Read the kids a bed time story. I certainly wouldn't be offended by some more sex and a bedtime conversation about random things. Close with some more interesting dreams and a solid sleep.

That would be a solid day.

What would your perfect day look like?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why I Blog

The quick answer is 'it's my hobby'.

If I settled for the quick answer though, I wouldn't be a blogger, now would I?

A friend of mine posted a link to the following list of blogging euphemisms to my facebook page the other day. Over all they were funny, but a few of the cliches were a little bit stingy. Not 'stingy' as in unwilling to share, but 'sting-y' as in sharing a trait with the rear end of a bumblebee. Bumblebee's butts are stingy, but they have to be stingy with their stingers because they will die if they ever choose to use them.

The stingy (not stingy) parts of the list were that I was made aware that I have been engaging in cliched blogging. I hate that. Everything I do should always be completely novel and brilliant, and you shouldn't be able to say, 'there goes Spencer, counting his eggs before they hatch'.

But there it was. I had been lampooned.

 'Pre-humiliating yourself': of all nerdy undertakings, blogging is perhaps the easiest to mock. There's an element of self importance involved in blogging that pisses some people off. To blog--in some people's eyes--is to say, 'I am so smart, I have all of the answers, look at how smart I am'. There is some truth to that perception. Secondly, there is an element of vulnerability in blogging that makes the  aforementioned element even juicier: bloggers need validation. Why else put stuff out for public consumption? Either they don't have the will, or don't have the talent to write for a living, yet they persist on putting their stuff out for all to read. Bloggers--like amateur musicians and stand up comedians--are saying 'judge me'. Not only are they saying 'judge me', but they are saying, 'judge me kindly. Like me.' Seeing this coupled with element one (I am so smart), you are practically inviting scorn. I know I have been gently mocked for my hobby. A few folks have indicated--usually after losing an argument to me--that they would write more in response to my stupid, evil arguments if they only had more time. 'I'm too busy to talk about this longer. I don't have all this time to sit around and blog', they say. Although I know many of these people watch sports, and many of them play video games. When all is said and done, writing this post will take me about half an hour. How long does it take to watch a football game? How long to beat Modern Warfare? Exactly. The final reason that blogging is easy to make fun of is that there is an element of intimidation in it. Bloggers--on the whole--are usually smart people. Smart people who can kick your ass in a debate. People hate to lose in debates. Especially the stupider people.

So there you have it: Arrogant, vulnerable people who can kick your ass in a debate. Who wouldn't hate bloggers?

Then there's the 'Sabotaging the job hunt' euphemism. This is a real possibility. On the whole, however, I think it's worth the risk. If someone is turned off of hiring me because of my charming, clever, intelligent blogging, then balls to them. Everyone lies on job applications and resumes. If you're turned off by seeing the inner workings of a real person unafraid to be themselves in a wide-open kind of way, who needs you? I wish more folks would blog. This is supposed to be a country that supports freedom of expression. I say 'call them on it'. You want freedom of expression? Here it is.

 'Spilling the blandest beans': That's me all over. I am capable of being very boring. Blogging is an endurance game, and they can't all be brilliant. If you're going to write one or two blogs a week, every now and then you're going to have to pull an Andy Rooney. It's unavoidable.

'Reacting to what Dad said 20 years late': We live in a patriarchal society, so I think 'Dad' is an appropriate metaphor for whatever system you grew up in. 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad', Philip Larkin said. And they do. The system fucks you up. Mom. Dad. Aunt. Uncle. Teacher. Doctor. Priest. Preacher. Laws put perimeters on our instincts, and the people who make laws sometimes misjudge which instincts need to be checked. It takes time to process some of the wounds we receive as we grow, so it makes sense that we might be 20 or so years late on some of our rebuttals.

Finally, there's 'Alienating your cousins': I link to all of my blog posts on Facebook, and the number of family members (and old elementary and high school friends) has definitely fluctuated over time. One of the joys of Facebook is that it allows people to get an insight into the lives of people they haven't talked to in years. One of the horrors of Facebook is also that it allows people to get an insight into the lives of people they haven't talked to in years.

My hobby is fun, but it's also a public service. Not because what I am saying is so wise and wonderful, but because if I didn't write, I would be cranky. And if I didn't post what I write, I think I would rant at people a lot more than I do. I am the kind of person who is only palatable in small amounts. I would exhaust you if I was up in your face all the time. Blogging allows me to say what's on my mind in a public forum without harassing anyone. If someone is interested in reading my thoughts, here they are. If not, here they are.


Friday, January 20, 2012

I Used To Be a Pacifist


I used to be a pacifist. It was one of my most important identity markers for a long while, right beneath my Christianity. I arrived at pacifism through my Christianity, actually. I wasn’t a social justice Christian exactly, although I did think that Kurt Vonnegut got closer to the true spirit of Christ in his writings than did any Christian apologist. My Christ was a turn the other cheek Christ. Mine was the Christ that told me I was to pick up my cross in this world and follow him. ‘We are just passers-through here’, said my Jesus. ‘Don’t get too comfortable’. So even though I realized how unrealistic my refusal to endorse any kind of violence—even in self-defense—I still embraced it. It was a key principle. It allowed me to suffer as Christ did, and to stand firmly on the truth as I saw it. Maybe C.S. Lewis was right, and pacifism could only lead to a world without pacifists. That was fine. I was willing to suffer for my faith and—I suppose—willing to allow others to suffer for my faith as well. 

I abandoned pacifism before I abandoned Christ, though. My friends and family would argue with me about the untenable nature of my stance. They would argue that in a world where there are people who want to hurt you, it’s okay to hurt them back, or pre-emptively. In a world where big prays on small, it’s okay to stand up for small.  

It wasn’t any of their arguments that won me to the situational endorsement of violence. It was the realization (in a moment where I saw the life of my family put in peril by the vengeful act of a stupid, bitter person) that I was capable of violence. Great violence. At the moment that this incident occurred, I realized that I could kill someone. Not only that I could kill someone, but in this person’s case, I would gleefully kill someone.

The world is a violent place, and we are a violent race. For years I had pretended I didn’t have any elements of this violence in my person. Like in William Bly’s essential essay, I stuffed my violence into a bag until it revolted. When it got out, it was an ugly and misshapen thing. I didn’t know what to do with it at first. Eventually I came to understand it as much as those kinds of things can be understood, and now I accept it as part of my person.

These days I support the death penalty; partially out of bloodlust, but mostly out of pragmatism. I do enjoy the thought of putting down a child murderer or rapist or even a drunk driver guilty of manslaughter. The main reason I support the death penalty is that I think it just makes good sense to send defective parts back to the factory. ‘You are unable to engage in society without causing harm to others. There’s no place on this earth for you’, we say to the murderer and the rapist.

I also support the idea of just wars now. Iraq was not a just war. Neither was Afghanistan, really. Definitely not the way they were executed. They were sloppy, ill-considered vulgarities that were bad for everyone involved. I do believe there’s a role for military action in the world though. I approved of our recent intervention in Libya, both in style and in substance. World War II had to be fought. So did the Civil War. The War of 1812 was necessary too, and so was our demonstration of strength against the Barbary pirates under Thomas Jefferson & James Madison. We are a warlike people, so most of our wars have been bad wars. When the drumbeat starts, Americans find it hard not to dance. We have wreaked havoc on this globe with our wars, and we need people less easily seduced by the rhythm of violence at the helm of our great military industrial complex. 

But there have been good wars, and there will be good wars. There will be good acts of violence at a smaller scale, too:  ‘Wherever you see a cop beating a guy, I’ll be there’.  As our species evolves, we seem to lose our taste for violence. This is good. But we can never forget where we came from, and never forget that violence will always be a tool in our toolbox. 

It occurs to me as I wrap this piece up that I would be disturbed to hear any of my children utter some of the sentiments I have expressed above. The way I phrased my support for the death penalty, coming out of their mouths, would be chilling. Right now my 10 year old son thinks war is always bad, and thinks the death penalty is never okay. I’m proud of him for these stances. He is one of the most humane people I know.  I’m pretty sure he’s comfortable with the idea of self-defense though, and I am glad for that.

Usually, it makes a parent feel good to hear their children echo their own beliefs. Maybe there is some cognitive dissonance from my own days as a passionate pacifist. Maybe I hope that he’s right, and one day there will be more people like him.

Unfortunately, until the day when there are more people like him, there will have to be some people like me.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Art Stretches the Middle


On the one hand, I have this constant performance anxiety. I want to avoid committing atrocities, and—if possible—I’d like to perform little acts of goodness here and there. ‘Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity’*.

 On the other hand, I don’t want to be bored, and I don’t know what to do with myself. There really aren’t any instructions for life—I mean, there are, but they’re radically inconsistent and varied—so it’s really anyone’s guess. It’s like when you go to the doctor’s office and have to read the magazines in the waiting area to pass the time. They’re never magazines you’re terribly interested in, but you read them. You learn a little something about the Kardashians, and maybe read an article on managerial empowerment. The doctor’s appointment is the big deal, but it’s not like he’s going to just come out and meet with you in the waiting area. There are protocols. “Everyone, deep in their heart, is waiting for the end of the world to come”^. That’s me.

One good way to pass the time is to engage in art.

According to Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, neanderthals didn't do cave paintings. Homo sapiens did, and the movie is about a particularly wonderful and historic set of them in Chauvet cave in southern France. The paintings are beautiful, and Herzog--reliably--transfers a sense of awe to the audience.

It seems that humans have always used the arts as a tool for making sense of the world around them. That's part of the reason they're my favorite animals. It's probably part of the reason we do terrible things too: our ability to think abstractly enables us to build and to destroy in equally creative ways. It's easy to get caught up in this aspect of our nature. How terrible we can be. But if we weren't us, we wouldn't be making such assessments. We would be moving along as all of our fellow-animals do; drinking, fucking, eating, shitting, sleeping. Not that this is blameworthy. It's not. We're just gifted with the ability to take a meta-view of things when we are so inclined.

And we also get bored.  I wonder if the reason we get bored is because we know we’re going to die. I don’t know if pigs get bored. I think I remember hearing that they do. Whatever the case, they definitely don’t make art while they’re bored. Pigs on Bob Evans factory farms never leave behind bleak existential memoirs the way some survivors of Stalin’s gulags did. Or at least I’ve never heard about that happening.

From the very beginning humans have found activities that fill the time between now and the big appointment with color, as well as lending it a deeper meaning. Art is a tool for escape; we can't escape out the beginning or the end, but we seem to be able to expand the space in the middle. At least conceptually. That's cool.



*Horace Mann
^ Haruki Murakami

Monday, January 9, 2012

Caffeine

It gives me a small joy to stand on the sidewalk outside the local Speedway at 6 am and watch caffeine-starved working folk pull up in front of the store ready for their early morning fix. The tired and desperate look on their faces is very real and beautiful.

The looks on the faces of the Speedway crowd are better than the looks on the faces of  the Starbucks crowd because they need it more. It's also better than the looks that other kinds of junkies get on their faces because it's not as tragic. As far as drugs go, caffeine is pretty benign. In a country where certain segments of our population can go through their entire live fully furnished with all of the basic requirements of survival, it's nice to see people need things every now and then, even if it's just a cheap high.






Friday, January 6, 2012

We Need Our Dark Places


"When you move into an apartment, you cannot start to illuminate every last corner with neon light. If there are no dark corners or hidden niches, your house becomes uninhabitable. Human beings who are trying to self-reflect and explore their innermost being to the last corner become uninhabitable people."
~ Werner Herzog

Thursday, January 5, 2012

25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing

This was fun to read.

Best part:
"Momentum is everything. Cut the brake lines. Careen wildly and unsteadily toward your goal. I hate to bludgeon you about the head and neck with a hammer forged in the volcanic fires of Mount Obvious, but the only way you can finish something is by not stopping. That story isn’t going to unfuck itself."
Thanks to Timothy Gager for linking to this on his facebook page.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Righteous Battles of Privileged Atheists


The other day, my friend Bridget McKinney made the following statement on her excellent tumblr Greater Than Lapsed:
"I’m increasingly convinced that the reason that movement atheism is so dominated by white men is because there is no other way they can experience oppression."
She received a flood of rebuttals, rebukes, and high-fives on this statement, but one of the more interesting thoughts that came out of this conversation is a statement by Bridget that--to pararaphrase--many white atheist men, unaware of their privilege, are overwhelmingly concerned with the few first world problems that their lifestyle and our social structure allow to get through to them. I.E., whether or not 'under god' is on our currency, keeping 'merry christmas' greetings out of public schools, etc.

David Silverman of the American Atheists' group seems to have made it his goal in life to  embody this complaint. From the Friendly Atheist site:
"This morning, American Atheists’ Dave Silverman made an offer to Cee Lo Green after the singer altered the lyrics to “Imagine” on New Years Eve:
Come to the Reason Rally and sing the song with the line “And no religion, too.” Dave even offered to pay the expenses for the trip."
I don't know. When movement atheists go after Tim Tebow, or make too big of a deal out of vulgarities like Cee Lo Green's embarrassing (to him) rendition of Imagine, I can only roll my eyes. It's fine to engage in trifles. It can be fun. But when a group that is supposed to represent America's Atheists becomes overly identified in the popular consciousness with waging righteous battles over the kinds of issues listed in this post, I think it trivializes them.That's too bad. In movement politics, it's important to consider the perceptions of the casual follower.

UPDATE:

There was a lot of misunderstanding of this piece over at Daily Kos, so I thought it might be useful to clarify a few things.

This is by no means a piece telling anyone to shut up. I think it's great and important to put the spotlight on stupid and regressive things that occur in our culture. There are a lot of stupid things that we could turn our spotlight on, and some stupid things deserve our attention and scorn more than others.  I also should say that I'm a member of the American Atheists'. I support the group, and think Dave Silverman is a charming and thoughtful spokesperson. However, he has made a series of public comments that have been groan-worthy, and I think the initiative against the 9-11 cross was a terrible waste of time and energy that was totally counter-productive. I suppose the bottom line is that I wish more atheists in the public sphere would put their gravitas behind issues like poverty and homelessness. When atheism fuels the pursuit of social justice, you get a bigger sense of urgency, I think. We also have all of these charming and intelligent spokespeople out there (way more charming and intelligent than me) who I think would be great advocates. Atheism and social justice fit beautifully together, and I'd like to see more freethinkers speak up about these issues publicly.

Leave Cee Lo to the Lennon fans.



Monday, January 2, 2012

How Dexter & Howard Stern Make Us Better People


I’m not a media critic, and I don’t read media criticism, but I’m guessing that many people have dissected the popular appeal of Dexter & Howard Stern over the years. As a big fan of both, I thought I’d take a swing not only at explaining their general appeal on a psychosocial level, but also at trying to sell you on why I believe they make us better people.

When a person finds out you’re a Stern fan, or a fan of Dexter, their eyebrows go up (it’s slightly less controversial to like Dexter than Stern though; something to think about). You immediately feel the need to apologize, or explain why you would be attracted to figures that are so stigmatizing. Stern is funny, Dexter is well written.  Both are true. But I think it goes deeper.

In Dexter, we have a character who hacks people up in his spare time while he tries to keep the fa├žade of a normal life. This is appealing because there are uncomfortable things in all of our lives that we try to keep hid while outwardly maintaining normalcy. We may not all have literal bodies to hide, or an appetite for killing human beings, but we do have appetites that we have either been told or decided we are not supposed to have, and we are good at hiding the evidence that they exist.  Dexter is cathartic in that sense. He also gives us hope, because he is indulging in his darker impulses and still functioning in society. Dexter doesn’t feel guilty about what he does. He knows that it would be bad news for him if he was found out, so he takes care to conceal his nocturnal hobbies. But he understands what he is. We should be so lucky as to recognize our darkness as clearly as he does. When it comes to self awareness, Dexter is a hero.

And then there’s Howard. I love Howard. After I listen to the Howard Stern show, I feel cleansed. I feel joyful. Howard Stern is no serial killer, yet he makes people even more uncomfortable than Dexter does. Why? Well, probably because he’s a real man. But that’s not the worst of it; Howard Stern is an honest man. He—like Dexter—is aware of his darkness. He’s also aware that much of what we have collectively deemed to call ‘darkness’ is not actually dark at all. Much of what we call darkness is simply human nature. It can be funny and it can be strange, but it’s not dark. Howard is moral hero because he embraces his darkness publicly, and calls bullshit on the diet darkness of the surface world. Howard doesn’t  keep his worlds separate the way Dexter does. His are both in plain view, as ours should be.

When we repress things, we hurt ourselves and others. It’s only when we really look into who we are, what we do, and why we do it, that we can be healthy. You are not healthy if you pretend you have no problems. You’re also not healthy if you think it is a problem to be who you are.  Steven Pinker just wrote a pretty good book called ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ that makes the case that mankind has become less violent over time. I believe that if this trend continues, it will be in part because we have cathartic icons like Dexter, and aspirational icons like Howard Stern to look towards in our culture. In these two phenomena, we see our society looking at itself, and recognizing things about itself that it could not have in past decades. In these two characters we are permitted to sigh from deep within our beings. Dexter and Howard help us know ourselves, and people who know themselves are more likely to contribute positively to the world they live in.




Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello, Police State.

The President signed NDAA last night.

 from the ACLU's press release:
“President Obama's action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.  The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”
This is seriously fucked. The Obama administration sought to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in the U.S. court system to show the world how good and just our legal system is. Now he has signed a bill that allows U.S. citizens to be detained indefinitely 'until the end of hostilities', if they are suspected of aiding terrorist agencies. Why is our court system good enough for foreign combatants, but not good enough for home grown terror suspects?

This was a very undemocratic act. The president deserves to get nailed hard for this in both the media and his poll numbers. This is his Alien and Sedition Act.

PS: The republican presidential candidates are no better on this issue. The only one to come out against NDAA was Ron Paul.

*UPDATE*


from a piece at Daily Kos:
"A presidential statement accompanying the bill signing says the administration will interpret and implement some parts of the law in way that gives counterterrorism officials flexibility and upholds the nation's values."
Oh, Christ. I didn't think I could be made to feel less comfortable with this legislation, but I was wrong. Any time the 'nation's values' are invoked, you know a good forced sodomizing is on the way.