Sunday, March 31, 2013

Finding My Religion

Writing is the closest thing to a religious rite that I will ever have. Whatever pain is the shadow part of my creativity and enthusiasm for life is worth it, because the thrill of pulling an idea out of the ether and transcribing it the best you can with the tools of your medium is the greatest feeling in the world.

What is even greater is to realize that the ether is inside of you, not outside. In the past, artists have prayed to gods and muses and attempted all manner of voodoo to summon creative spirits to them, because they too were addicts of the creative process. Like all addicts, however, they look for the pusher. There are plenty of people who will be glad to sell you a product that they promise will facilitate your creation, but it's just another product off the cart, and will probably make your dick go limp in the long run.

The ether is inside of you, and it's exciting to feel something new percolating. I feel bad for all of the artists who have killed themselves because they couldn't bare the ebb and flow of the disease anymore; there are long spells of suffering, and they can seem like they will never end, but they do end. When that new epiphany comes to you, it's like you had never been alive at all before you had realized it. What is even more exciting is when you're not sure exactly what is going to come out, but you feel it moving inside of you; you see connections and themes. You see ingredients to the recipe, but have no idea what they go together to make.

For example: I have been possessed by the concept of destructive beauty, or finding beauty in destruction or destruction in beauty, or maybe beauty in spite of destruction. Maybe the theme that I am looking for is the coexistence of the two. In various mediums, the thing occurs to me again and again.

It started when I saw this photo of a bunch of children goofing around in the wake of a car bomb in Northern Ireland:

Then this video by Capital Cities, which pairs joyful images of dancing with the horrors of war and tragedy.

Then I watched the Movie 'The Life of Pi' with my family which conveys my theme quite explicity.

And I notice it everywhere: In Cincinnati, the city where I work, developers are making Over The Rhine--an impoverished area--much more beautiful in a certain respect. They're refurbishing buildings, bringing in new businesses, and have recreated Washington Park into an area that is much more comfortable and attractive. As they do this, however, they're threatening to drive the area's poor into neighboring Price Hill. They are homogenizing the population, and displacing important human services. The new park is very pretty, but gentrification is very ugly.

President Obama is a hope to many, and a breath of fresh air. His election marks an important cultural milestone for our country. He has a beautiful family that can serve as a model for all American families, and he has brought many young people and disenfranchised minorities into the political system. On the other hand, his drones amass civilian casualties in foreign countries with abandon. What does the Pakistani father of a son killed as collateral damage in a drone strike think of President Obama and his beautiful family and progressive policies?

And so it goes. I see the Yin and the Yang everywhere. It makes me very upset at times, but also brings a certain sense of order along with it.

I don't know what these different elements are going to form themselves into in the ether that is inside of me. Maybe the stew will be completely unedible. Who knows? Who cares. I am just a humble pot. I am most alive when I am hot.

I've discovered my religion. If you haven't already, I hope that someday you discover yours.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's Okay To Need Jesus

This morning, John Loftus posted the following image to his Facebook page:

It's a thought I'm familiar with, and have hitherto been sympathetic to--I guess I'm still sympathetic to it--but I don't think I agree with it anymore.

This idea misses something that I think I also missed until I began working at the shelter I now work at. People--like that asshole Rick Warren--who state that people need God to be good, and state that if they did not have God they would not be good, are not good people. Belief in God does not make them good. Even with a belief in God, they are still inherently assholes. There are others, however--like a lot of folks who live and volunteer in my shelter--who are inherently good (they don't actually 'need' God to be good), who seem to use their religion as a vehicle for their goodness, or use religion as a source of strength to keep themselves afloat, and to keep themselves chugging along. It would be great if the people in the first category would see that it is perfectly possible to do good without their religion, but what business of mine is it to interfere with that? When it comes to the second group--those who use Jesus or Allah or whatever to find the strength to survive in this world--I have completely softened my view. In fact, I may have liquified.

There is a huge difference between someone who says 'If it weren't for God, I would be a serial killer', and someone who says, 'this world throws a lot of shit at me, and other people are hard to trust. Thank God for Jesus'. I believe Rick Warren when he says he'd be out doing all kinds of horrid things if he didn't have Jesus looking over his shoulder. In fact, who even knows what kind of horrid things Rick Warren gets up to? He's certainly said some horrid things. Personally, I wouldn't put anything past the dude. With the second guy, I am in heavy agreement; the world does throw a lot of shit at a person. Other people are very hard to trust. Shit, I'm not always very trustworthy. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some transcendent good guy out there somewhere who's love for us was guaranteed, and who would never sell us out for some kind of real or perceived political or economic advantage?

I know there's no God, and I hope for a day when belief in gods and demons are chucked in the cultural waste bin, but I never hope for a day when the kind of people we serve at our shelter are deprived of whatever they need to get themselves sober, get their mental illnesses treated, help them believe there is a chance in this society for someone who has not always made the best decisions and lacks the kind of personal resources it may take to bounce back from those not-the-best-decisions.

That day is far into the future, though, and I'm not inclined to look down on people who find the strength--however they do it--to make it in this scary, unpredictable, and unjust world that we live in. I believe that heaven and hell are a carrot and stick that mankind has cooked up--an opiate that keeps the masses hoping for a more just world on the other side of this veil of tears--but I don't think that's what a belief in some kind of god always amounts to.

People need to believe in themselves. We need others to believe in us, too. People need human sources of strength, and where there are none to be found, we will invent them.

So maybe if we hope for a day when gods and devils and fairies and goblins are a thing of the past, maybe we should step up for each others and ourselves, and become the people we need to be. If we don't want others to have to rely on imaginary friends to get them through the day, maybe we should try to be real friends to each other, and ourselves?

It's a much harder road, and will be very long in the making, but it is worth the effort, and will be much longer-lasting than simply shaming people out of their faith.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Recent Status Updates

3/22: Whenever I see two people jogging, I like to imagine the person in the back is chasing the person in the front. Today I saw a young guy in pretty good shape jogging, and about fifteen feet behind him there was an older, heavy set guy kind of huffing along. Looking at the older guy I thought, "There's no way he's going to catch that guy...Dude is definitely going to get away".

3/22: Sometimes I feel like I've barely amassed enough wisdom to advise my kids on their elementary school trials and tribulations. Hopefully I'll have collected enough of the good stuff to advise them through their teens, twenties, and thirties by the time they reach those stages. Parenting is a humbling vocation.

3/21: Jesus wants you to be a sheep, baby; I want you to be the wolf that I know you are.

3/20: People waste years and years studying the intricacies of a given issues when it turns out all they really needed to understand EVERY issue was to just tune into a couple of hours of conservative talk radio every weekday.

3/20: Confession: I spend very little time thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

3/19: Fuck today right in the ass.

3/16: The next time a comic company decides to kill off one of its most popular heroes to boost sales, I hope they don't have the character die in an epic battle to save the universe. It would be better if they died because they got drunk and forgot to turn the gas stove off, and then fell asleep with a lit cigarette in their hand. Wolverine comes to mind.

3/15: I can't think of a less rewarding job than being a wwf ref. Nobody listens to those guys.

3/15: I feel bad for all of the women in my life because they have to deal with me, but I don't know what I would do without them. They're the only reasonable people I know.

3/13: I think it's funny when people start to speculate about a new pope's potential move towards more modern views on social issues. I am sure there have been plenty of gay popes, but i doubt a pope will ever endorse gay marriage. I'm glad for that, too. It just hastens the church's journey to obscurity, and provides a needed shadow to the light of progress, reason, and humanism.

3/13: I like it when there is snow on the roof of music hall. It's pretty.

3/12: Hey, do you guys remember Sarah Palin? What the fuck was that all about?

3/11: Let's get old and fat together.

3/10: I chastise my kids for picking their noses, but i pick my nose all the time.

3/10: Reading accounts of the tribulations of afflicted artists in Kay Redfield Jamison's 'touched with fire', it occurs to me that if god had really wanted to make Christ suffer, he would have given him manic-depression instead of sending him to the cross.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mistakes Were Made!

What you see happening to the Republican Party right now is a microcosm of what has happened--and was inevitable to happen--to capitalism itself.

The Republicans have isolated women, homosexuals, non-christians,  the poor, and every person that is colored any color except white and pink. They've even isolated a lot of those white and pink folks.

The reason for this is that the Republican Party is the official party of Capitalism. The Democratic Party is a Capitalist party too, don't get me wrong, but they're a little more tempered. They're second string. To stick with language a Capitalist would understand, The Democrats are the Pepsi of Capitalism, while The Republicans are Coca Cola.

This isolation was inevitable, because Capitalism is about isolation. It is about protecting a given class and type above other classes and types. It sells itself as fair, but like so many of its other products, its actuality does not live up to its advertisement. Capitalism is about promoting the interests of the ruling class, and allowing the lower classes to breed and experience just enough freedom to keep them invested in the promulgation of the existing system.

It is so short sighted, too. It occurs to me now that it must be this way by design, but too bad for the Capitalist that he never thought to include other groups in his success. Being a white, christian man, he had to make sure that too much advantage wasn't given to other populations. Sure, tokens could rise up through sheer, mad, work from time to time, but that's no big deal. It gave the white christian man something exotic to look at in the office, and a reassurance that he was expansive. Rather than extending opportunity to others--something The Capitalist is definitionally unable to do--he hoarded it.

And now the populations of 'others' are growing. And fast.

The White Christian Man is scared.

I would say it didn't have to be that way, but I guess it really did. An interesting phenomenon can be noted when talking to members of these 'other groups'. However socially conservative, however traditional in the rest of their outlooks, members of 'other' groups tend to be far more sympathetic to Marxism than the White Christian Man is. This is too bad, because Marxism could benefit the White Christian Man too, but The White Christian Man has been too burdened by propaganda about what Marxism really is. While The White Christian Man was receiving mega doses of anti-marxist propaganda in the fifties and sixties, black people were being knocked over by Capitalist fire hoses. Women were being sexually harassed and trivialized in the work place. Gays and Atheists were being forced to remain in closets, lest they lose everything they had worked for in this society.

In the early 1900's, while The Capitalist was looking forward to a productive century, Lenin was having a 'Letter to The American Worker' smuggled into the country. he was appealing to 'The Other' to rise up, and claim America for itself. This man who is viewed today as a virtual devil by so many White Christian Men was doing his best to empower 'the others' all around the world. That is why his message--and Marx's message--can still receive an unbiased hearing in so many 'other' communities these days.

Mistakes were made by the Capitalists in America, but they were bound to be made. As The White Christian Man finds himself moving closer and closer to minority status himself, he is making token gestures that he is much more inclusive than he has in actuality been. It's not his fault, though. It is the fault of Capitalism. He was just at the top of the totem pole, and had become intoxicated with privilege (as any person reaching the top would be).

The White Christian Man can still redeem himself, but he's going to have to abandon his Capitalism in order to do so.

He is going to have to promote equality and justice before it is foisted upon him.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living With the Demon

Things got off to a rocky start today.

This morning, my car was covered with frost. I didn't clear off the passenger side window, and when turning onto the main road at the end of my street, I horribly miscalculated where I was at and hit the telephone pole on the corner. It knocked the passenger side window off, and put a bunch of splinters in the rim of my tire. There's also a huge scrape down the side of my car. Lesson learned: take the time to clear off your windows before driving in the morning.

Then I attempted to break up a fight between two large men at the shelter. Typically, I am able to de-escalate conflicts, but one of the guys wasn't having it, and he steamrolled through me to get to the other guy. I called the police, and watched as several other men tore the two fighters apart.

I hate it when I have no influence on a situation that is veering towards disaster. It is a helpless feeling, and I hate to be helpless.

A co-worker told me my bad luck was due to challenges thrown in my way by 'principalities and powers'. She was referencing the book of Ephesians:
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
She said there was evil in the air today. I thanked her for her council and shrugged my shoulders. I didn't say so, but the principalities and powers she referred to are mythological forces that I find myself in great sympathy with. Satan has always appeared to me to be the ultimate tragic-romantic hero, the ultimate freedom fighter. I doubt Satan would throw roadblocks in my way, because I am decidedly on his side. My bad luck this morning was more due to bad decisions (mine) and violent temperaments (the fighters). I can control one of those factors moving forward.

After I finally got into my office, I looked up some information Malala Yousafzai. She had been on my mind lately, and I wanted to check on her progress. I found this video, which inspired me:

Such courage, from such a small girl. Her struggles and triumphs put my terrestrial concerns in a much larger perspective.

I don't know why I am writing this. Recently I heard John Irving say writing was, for him, like the urge to have sex, the urge to sleep, the urge to eat. I identified with that. I refer to my urge to write as my demon. I become possessed by an emotional impetus, or an idea, and I am just compelled to type away.  Usually, I will write about something philosophical or political, or maybe something I think is funny, but right now I find myself with just the urge, and no real understanding of what the purpose of the urge is. So I've written this.

I don't care about being paid for writing, and I don't care too much about notoriety. I link to my pieces on Facebook, and cross post them at The Daily Kos sometimes, because writing seems like something that needs to be shared. It just feels wrong to keep it to yourself. The few pieces I have written for local newspapers have been to benefit a cause; that is a little different.

I write because I have to, because the demon tells me to. I like the demon most of the time. Sometimes he is horrible, but most of the time, he is beautiful. If I am going to continue living with him, I will have to write, even when the objective of the piece isn't clear.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"And Ye Shall Be As Gods"

My friend Andrew posted the following Carl Sagan quotation on Facebook:
“But surely there is a message in the heavens that the finiteness not just of life but of whole worlds, in fact of whole galaxies, is a bit antithetical to the conventional theological views in the West, although not in the East. And this then suggests a broader conclusion. And that is the idea of an immortal Creator.

By definition, as Ann Druyan has pointed out, an immortal Creator is a cruel god, because He, never having to face the fear of death, creates innumerable creatures who do. Why should He do that? If He’s omniscient, He could be kinder and create immortals, secure from the danger of death. He sets about creating a universe in which at least many parts of it, and perhaps the universe as a whole, dies. And in many myths, the one possibility the gods are most anxious about is that humans will discover some secret of immortality or even, as in the myth of the Tower of Babel, for example, attempt to stride the high heavens. There is a clear imperative in Western religion that humans must remain small and mortal creatures. Why? It’s a little bit like the rich imposing poverty on the poor and then asking to be loved because of it.”
To which I responded:
"I think our mortality is something that makes us much more precious--and infinitely more valuable--than any god man could dream up. Think of that...we invented an infinite god; what is the greatest thing our infinite, invented god could invent? Only us, only mere mortals."
To follow that train of thought to its natural conclusion, we invented the god who invented us, therefore we invented us. Human beings will always need stories--and we will always tell stories--but we are coming increasingly into an age where we needn't insist that our stories are anything more than stories. Great ideas and horrible ideas have incubated in the womb of religion; religion has allowed us to depersonalize our thought, to project our values, and to create a grand narrative to our lives. Increasingly, we can see behind the myth of religion, and look at the mechanics of what it has allowed us to do. It was a stage in our intellectual and spiritual evolution; it was the birthplace of the sciences, of philosophy, of art, of civic mindedness, and curiosity in general. I am feeling magnanimous this afternoon, so I won't get into some of the uglier things it birthed.

But we increasingly don't need it. In our humility and naivete we created gods and told stories about how they created us, and how they want to facilitate our growth to make us closer to them. We are coming to realize that there are no gods, and that we are the authors of our own stories, and our own world. 

Mankind is growing up.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Recent Status Updates

3/8: Marcus Aurelius said we should view each night when we go to sleep as a little death, and each morning when we wake up as a little birth. I agree; I am awake, and this morning I will not be circumcised.

 3/7: I figure it must be time to do something about my neck hair when I catch myself tucking it into the collar of my shirt.

3/6: Sometimes getting stuck in traffic is a blessing: anything to make us slow down for a moment.

3/2:  I can't believe I waited as long as I did to read The Sandman comics. They're so good!

2/28: Today I am equally thankful to my friends and my enemies; in your different ways, you have all made me stronger.

2/27:  I just got this text message from my wife: "Jack told me this morning that when he has a kid he's giving one to Spencer because he doesn't have any sperm left because he keeps kicking him in the balls." Lol. Kids.
2/25: Walk around Clifton on Sunday with a backpack on, people assume you're a student. Walk around OTR Sunday with a backpack on, get offered a bologna sandwich.

2/24: Langston just brought me a stack of paper plates that he had drawn on and said 'Let's play hats'. Then we took turns putting each plate on our heads.

2/14: At Bogarts, hiding my erection with a bunch of other hipsters who are pretending not to be too excited to see Marc Maron.

2/14: Woody Allen movies always lift my spirits. I think it's because he's just as confused as I am. Commiseration is therapeutic.

2/13: I've decided to one up Mike Moroski: Not only am I for homosexual marriage, I'm also against heterosexual marriage.

2/12: It makes me gag whenever a caller to a talk radio show announces their military status with the clear expectation of being stroked by the host.

2/12: It is an absolute scandal in my house when there is one fewer icing packet in the box than there are toaster strudels. The fear creeps in: is one of my children a capitalist?

2/10: Idea for a cyberpunk horror story: hackers break into Facebook and erase all of the likes and shares on everybody's posts. One rugged investigator must find a way to restore them before the majority of the population commits mass suicide from validation depletion.

2/9: Overhearing the conversation of a bunch of drunk middle-aged men at dinner tonight made me grateful for my sobriety.

2/9: When I think of the sheer number of books I want to read, my head nearly explodes. It will take the rest of my life to even get close. Not only that, as soon as I start reading one book, I start lusting after the next. I am an unfaithful bibliophile, and my eye is ever wandering.

2/8: Local taco joint is advertising for their tax service. Sounds legit.

2/8: Good names for a store that sells tie-dye shirts: 'we're all gonna dye', 'dye, dye, dye my darling', 'dye with me'. A non-profit that inspires troubled kids through group tie-dye projects:'only the good dye young'. I feel like you get the joke.

2/7: The religious mind cheapens poetry by insisting that it also be literally true; the mountains do not actually hear your cries. Your heart does not tell you who to love. The Sand Man doesn't seduce you to sleep, there are no Gods in heaven, and there is no heaven. Poetry is beautiful because it points to things we cannot describe. It allows us to characterize that which cannot be adequately characterized by plain language. Poetry points to something higher (or lower) without being that higher or lower thing. The lord is truly with us, but that is because the lord is something we have invented.

2/2: At home with Abby for 2 days in a row. It often seems like we're night and day managers of our family, only passing each other on the way to our other jobs. Every full day i get with her feels like a holiday.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I hate the gun argument that is going on in our country right now.  I am a supporter of President Obama, but I think he is wasting a lot of political capital by fighting this battle.  The appropriate place to discuss gun violence is not on a legal level, but a cultural level. I believe guns--any kind of guns--should be obtainable by a U.S. citizen. I also believe that drugs--any kind of drugs--should also be obtainable. Prostitution should be legal. Anyone--documented or undocumented--should be allowed to work and live in our country, visa or no visa. Gay marriage, straight marriage, and polygamous marriages should be legal. Abortion should be legal. Private schools should be able to teach whatever gobbledy gook they want, but they should receive no public funding, including bussing. Churches should be able to teach whatever gobbledy gook they want, but--like any business--should have to pay taxes.

In civil matters, the best way to change things is through social engineering, not laws. The law should always respect an individual's rights to pursue happiness, and make their own decisions, however dubious. Laws should protect individuals against discrimination, and should not only promote equality, but also justice.

In the areas I have mentioned above, any change a single citizen or group of citizens would like to see effected cannot be effected legislatively. We are a stubborn people. We fetishize violence. We are macho. We are backwards in some very real ways. We are reactionary. In many ways, gun rights activists are like teenagers: the more you nag them about their transgressions, the more they love their transgressions. The more you legislate their behavior, the more they fantasize about their role as some sort of revolutionary hold out.

Read 'Nudge' by Cass Sunstein. That is how social change of this variety effected. The culture must change, and then the guns will fall away. The culture changes--in regards such as this--through conversation, not laws.

I would much rather see President Obama spending his political capital on economic justice and social justice (positive actions), rather than spending his capital on legislating behavior (negative actions).

After all, it was he who opined that the constitution was a list of negative rights (things the government couldn't do to you) rather than positive rights (things the government could do for you).

Let's see more of that.

All of that being said, I think all of the president's executive orders on gun violence (abhorred by the right) were completely reasonable, and totally underwhelming.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"So You Want to Be a Writer?", By Charles Bukowski

As annoying as his many disciples and wannabes can be, Bukowski understood the demon. I'm grateful to him for that.

h/t Andrew Sullivan.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Of Antidepressants and Social Stigmas

I have a mental illness. Were I to say ‘I have high blood pressure’ or ‘I wear glasses’, you would have a vastly different reaction, even though all of these issues are essentially the same: something about my physiology needs aid in order to function properly.  We humans are made of matter. Variations appear in our form because our development is guided by evolution. Some variations can be beneficial, some can be hindrances. A person must be evaluated as a whole, not solely by variations from some socially constructed norm. All things considered, the need for glasses, blood pressure medication, or antidepressants do not make a person’s worth void. In fact, they may enhance a person’s worth, because they provide a special perspective on things that someone conforming more strictly to that socially constructed norm will not have access to.

In the movies, and in books, to ‘come out’ as a gay person in virtually any day in our society’s history has been to court disaster, but thankfully, the stigma is waning. This is due to the bravery of those who dared to come out, and the mass exposure therapy such action has provided our society. Society is naturally conservative, you see, and progress has to be made piece-by-piece.  There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness. Those of us with mental illness often feel it is something we need to conceal in order to ‘pass’. But 1 in 4 people in the U.S. have some kind of mental illness, and the services and support available to those with mental illness are completely inadequate. These services and support systems will not improve until the public possesses a better understanding of what it means to be mentally ill, and the public will not possess that understanding until those of us with mental illness let them know, first hand.  To many of the public, mental illness = school shootings and straightjackets. In reality, there are as many variations in the way mental illness manifests as there are people. More often than not, the effects are subtle.
They appeared subtle in my case. I could have easily continued to pass as ‘quirky’, but doing so would have required an amount of effort to simply maintain that a person should probably never have to put forth. Don’t get me wrong: the years of maintaining I did were highly informative and character building, but had I accepted earlier on what I needed to do and to accept to be as healthy as possible, and had I the courage to ignore the stigma attached to what I needed to do and to accept, I would gladly have done it.  The combination of medication and talk therapy have been wonderful for me; when my therapist informed me that ‘happiness is available to you’, it was like a revelation. I had internalized the notion that it was not, and that I would always be in some kind of pain. I romanticized struggle in order to make it more palatable. I still believe struggle is the only way to growth, but there is a point where struggling becomes needless suffering, and that is something that has to be avoided.

My own stigmas about what it means to be mentally ill kept me from pursuing treatment, or even allowing myself to accept what I knew deep inside to be true.  How many more people are out there trying to ‘go it alone’ with their mental illness because of their own internalized stigmas? I can’t tell you how much better I feel. You really don’t know how unhealthy you were until you become healthy. When I look back over the terrain of my past, I see a craggy, ominous country. It was definitely a huge journey. With medication, and talk therapy, I can look forward to more manageable country: there are still cracks and crevices and other dark spots on the horizon, but I am better equipped to deal with them.
As someone who has spent a lot of effort in the past few years discussing and organizing on the need for reforms in our mental health system, I felt consistency required that I be forthright about my own stake in this issue, and my own struggles with it.  If my ‘coming out’ makes it easier for another person to do so—and to help decrease the stigma associated with mental illness—then I am happy to do it.