Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Unexpected Detours (Updated)

I ended up in the hospital for three days and was discharged yesterday afternoon. I know the last month has been full of light posting, but I ask you to bear with me for now. Let me catch my stride again.

So the final score at the end of one year of play is Surgery 3, Kevin 0. Kevin hopes for the end of surgery season. My mother will be flying in from the Deep South on Saturday and staying long enough to assist with my care. When I have time and energy, I will blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Video

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

If I could be king or a ruler of nations
Wear jewels and diamonds profound
I'd rather know that I had salvation
Then to know my reward was Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free
He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

When I live my life that I've lived so reckless and evil
Drinking and running around
All the things that I do, for the will of the devil
I was giving my soul to Satan's jewel crown

Satan's jewel crown I've worn it so long
But God for my soul has reached down
His love set me free He made me his own
And helped me cast off Satan's jewel crown

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 8

Part 7 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is Part 8.

A work of fiction.

I met my second wife in the drunk tank. When I got pulled over, I knew I was a goner. I didn't even try to pretend otherwise. I knew I couldn't walk a straight line and went straight for the breathalyzer. Over the limit and into the back set of the cop car. I wondered how much it was going to cost me this time.

She'd found a clueless cop on the wrong side of town and evaded his pursuit with success. She'd turned the wrong way down a one-way street and found the flashing blue lights waiting for her.
She played the part of the clueless, stupid woman. She had out-of-state plates, so the alibi checked out.

I'm just from out of town, officer. I haven't had much to drink.

How tall were the drinks you drank? He asked this, clearly suspicious, not sure whether or not to believe her. She indicated with thumb and forefinger. She was sent on her way with a warning.

I wished for that moment that I'd been a woman. A man would have never be able to pull off a thing like that. Even with the inequality between men and women, sometimes being seen as a stupid lady had its perks, albeit demeaning ones.

We struck up a shy conversation before bail was posted for both of us, several hours later. She wrote down her phone number on the back of a discarded business card. I didn't know it then, but I'd just found a new drinking buddy.

It was like the Sixties film Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as the co-dependent alcoholic couple.

I was the king of co-dependent alcoholic couples. I pursued them, one by one, because it was fun in the beginning. The impulsive courtship, the ability to push the envelope. It was fun, in a perverse sort of way. I was out of control and didn't care.

But these are memories. Every morning I wake up here, I think I'm somewhere else I've lived in my life. Sometimes I think I'm in my childhood bedroom. Sometimes I think I'm living in a new city with an obsessive roommmate in a dark downstairs apartment. Sometimes it's the house of a girlfriend. Sometimes I'm crashing on someone's couch in college.

Then I reassociate to my current existence, this horribly uncomfortable bed, this wooden-frame bed with cinder block walls. Vital signs come next. One of the orderlies is gung-ho about it. He knocks on your door with military precision at 6:30 am every morning. Rap-rap-rap-rap. Wake up, gentlemen! The women live in one section, the men another.    

I rub the sleep from my eyes and try to avoid thoughts that are neither pure, nor wholesome. The only good thing about the whole setup is that once they've taken your pulse and blood pressure, you can eat breakfast. Awful though it is, it is still life-sustaining and dubiously nutritious

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Confederate Flag Controversy

The last state in the Old Confederacy to display the Confederate Battle Flag is South Carolina. As an Alabama native, I recall when our own dubious flag was finally furled for good and removed from the state capital dome. I seem to recall that this occurred in the early 90's, though it could have been in the late 80's. The act was seen as necessary, a sign of continued progress between whites and blacks.

And while I find everything deplorable about slavery, I am a Southerner through and through. Allegiances are strange things. Sherman's destructive march from Atlanta to the sea, the final nail in the coffin that ended the war, was total war before there was a term to coin it. It was war on civilians, though it could be said that it brought the war to a close sooner.

The Civil War destroyed the Southern economy, leaving it poverty-stricken. Arguable, it should have been based more on factories from the beginning, rather than its reliance upon agrarian plantations and an aristocratic planter elite mentality. Railroads were destroyed by invading Yankee armies, warehouses set ablaze, crops seized from the field. Following the war, the states of the former Confederacy were treated like a conquered land by its former adversaries.

It was the synopsis of the noted historian C. Vann Woodward that the South has a unique place in history, as literally having to live as defeated nation. He added further that the United States of America had much to learn from that example. I still believe the ripple effects from that old conflict are in place. And while it is true that Confederate Battle Flags were raised anew to protest integration a hundred years after the conflict, the roots go deeper than that.

Southerners are a proud people who refused to submit to the whims of the conqueror. One sees evidence of this across the globe in every civil war, from Africa to Asia. When we speak about the racism of the Confederate flag, we are not talking rot. Racism has a huge part and to not admit it would be sinful. But there is a kind of defiance present among Southern whites, a refusal to go gently into that good night.

William Faulker, Mississippi native and novelist, said it best and it has been quoted the most.

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

Despite the evils of the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, what we see here is a degree of valor and pride from white southerners. It may have always been an unrealistic, romanticized degree of valor and pride we view here, but even today one sees it. It exists, still. Even I once played as a boy with Rebel and Yankee soldier toys, though slaves and plantations were somehow never sold separately (or at all).

Some issues strike you so deep in the heart that they defy strict logic. I will tell you that I find it impossible to express anything other than contempt for the Northern soldier. His bravery and valor were likely the very same as those who opposed them in the field of battle. I care little for his political convictions or his sentiments, but he killed my ancestors, destroyed what economic base the South had by the end of the war, and was not above vandalizing and looting to accomplish his purpose, though I suppose the same is true for both sides and in all wars, which is why I oppose them with such great fervor.

Every Civil War has its trajectory, its epicenter, regardless of where it was fought. We could, for example, be talking about Iraq or Vietnam in this context. And yet they also have their commonalities, too, their bloodshed, and their million cruelties. Those wounds do not close quickly. Indeed, it has been a century and a half after the end of hostilities, and the wounds I and others display have yet to scab over and heal.

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was one of the South's finest commanders. Despite his numerous personal eccentricities and a religious streak strong enough that some of his own troops thought him Messianic, he had an uncanny sense of always putting his troops in the most advantageous position, and resorting to daring when needed. A battle had raged. The Union had taken over the Virginia town of Fredericksburg, then vacated it after a humiliating defeat.

Stonewall Jackson was outraged. His entire body shook in anger as he looked around him at what had been done to the city itself. He saw the pianos and the works of art and the crystal chandeliers smashed and ruined on the streets. He saw elegant furniture that had been wantonly vandalized and the remains of elegant, leather-bound books that had been burned for kindling. But it was the churches – the churches – that infuriated him most. Houses of God were pocked with bullet holes and charred by cannon shot. This was a crime against God – a despicable blasphemy – and it very nearly made him weep.

Dr. McGuire, who was seldom far from Jackson’s side, shook his head in revulsion. “What can we do about this kind of barbaric behavior?”

Jackson’s voice trembled. “Kill ‘em,” he said. “Kill 'em all."

Atrocities are commonplace during times of war. And no side ever has the moral high ground. The most severe blight on the Confederacy might be the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, where men were starved to death, reduced to skin and bones. But we can go tit for tat here if we wish and still be no further along. The brave men who died, were wounded, and lost limbs in combat should be our primary focus.

I can understand South Carolina's stance. South Carolina has always been a firebrand of revolution. They tried to defy President Andrew Jackson in 1832-33 as a pretext for secession, then were the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. It fought the first battle of The Civil War at Fort Sumpter, a Southern victory. Now it is the latest to defiantly and bitterly cling to a lost cause.

That said, I understand the seductive power of lost causes, even in unexpected places. They are beholden to denial and defiance. And they change with time. What strikes me as especially strange happened during a trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, some years back. A person displayed a Confederate Battle Flag from his residence. I was incredulous. "This state didn't even secede! It was a proud free state!"

So clearly the Confederate Battle Flag means more than old fashioned racism. It may be more in line with Tea Partiers, John Birch Society members, and others on the far-right. And it is from this lens that we may truly view the flag, this piece of cloth that means much to many. I do not pretend to think that Southern pride comes with the Stars and Bars attached, but I do know that it has been adopted, or perhaps even co-opted by others who do not live in the Deep South, who have never even set foot in Dixie. 

Can we be satisfied among us to acknowledge the tragedy of 1861-1865? Would it do us good to think of boys who never had a chance to become men? Can we take into account the slaves on plantations who died in the fields of overwork or ran away to seek their freedom, only to lose their lives in the process? In the midst of a grand tragedy with no clear winner or loser, only losers, one might argue that we've missed the point. The Civil War was not America at its best, contrary to some. Instead, it was America at its worst. The Confederate Flag is no symbol of pride. It is a symbol, like all flags, of irony and pain.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
The Band

Virgil Kane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
'Till Stoneman's cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65

We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, "Na, na, la, na, na, la"

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
"Virgil, quick, come see,
There goes Robert E. Lee!"

Now, I don't mind chopping wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest

But they should never
Have taken the very best
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing

Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat

Monday, June 22, 2015

Transgender Mom, Cisgender Bullying

In a recent workshop on the Patriarchy at the Quaker resource center Pendle Hill, I met Chloe Schwenke, a woman I had come in contact with a year or so earlier at a queer Quaker conference. At first, I have to say that she fooled me. I believed her to be a cisgender woman, but was in fact a transwoman. That was merely a clueless notion on my part or an extreme compliment, and I hope for the latter.

Her biography is unusual, particularly when we consider stereotypical notions of transwomen. They're supposed to be effete and mincing, and Chloe is most certainly neither. Her femininity is natural and seasoned. Chloe shared story after story during her presentation, where she talked about her interesting upbringing. Chloe's father was an officer in the Marine Corps, and yet she talks about him in reverent terms, as an upstanding man indebted to honor, not a humorless scold or martinet. Much of the time we speak about emotionally abusive or uncomprehending masculine fathers on the subject of transwomen, but not here.

Her talk centered around her work in Middle East. Following transition, she was treated far differently than a man would be. Renting a car first required a man to taxi her around. Driving by herself was impossible and against the rules. When she asked the young man behind the counter point-blank why this policy was in place, he could not answer her. She saw that as a small victory of a sort.

Since then, she has focused much of her attention on raising a fifteen-year-old daughter who has just survived the incessant bullying of middle school. But she still bears those scars, and Chloe is not always entirely sure of the proper way to respond. Thankfully, Chloe's gender identity is not the source of this teasing and taunting, as she is fortunate enough to pass for cisgender. Rather, it is the cruelty of adolescence, the kind many of us experience ourselves regardless of our sexual or gender identity. It is the sort that usually goes unnoticed and not confronted that causes Chloe the most pain.

Too many LGBT related, hate crimes are committed. They need to be prosecuted. We must bring them to light. But the same cruelty that characterized many of our lives has gone unaddressed for much too long. As a man, I might be afraid of being beaten up, but in many ways girls are far more vicious, far more cutting verbally, and more injurious that way.

We've talked about bullying considerably in feminist spaces, but I feel we sometimes ignore the cis side of the coin. I experienced some of it myself as a man, but one of my sisters has never entirely gotten over the teasing she experienced from the in-crowd, the popular girls. Middle school is where bullying spikes, but it should never be allowed to reach that sort of plateau, for any reason.

Referring to her biography,

Chloe is a post-operative transsexual, and until 2007 she lived and worked as Stephen. While she experienced many incidents throughout her life that might have been seen as evidence of her transgender status, it was not until she was well into her middle age years that she began to address her gender identity disorder in a determined, focused manner. With the help of expert counseling, a loving spouse and family, some (but not all) understanding employers, and a deeply supportive Quaker community, Chloe completed her gender transition. Chloe and her second spouse are now divorced but remain very close friends, and share in the raising of their children.

Liberal Friends remain supportive of LGBT individuals, including those who are transgender. Some faith groups do not, but we do. But to say that this process was an easy one would be a severe understatement. During the 1980's, Friends were divided over the progression of same-sex marriage and what were then termed gay rights. Fortunately, since then, within most branches, that issue has been largely resolved.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quote of the Week

Well, this one is kind of a modified quote, but a good one.

Flannery O'Connor is considered one of America's greatest fiction writers and one of the strongest apologists for Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century. Born of the marriage of two of Georgia's oldest Catholic families, O'Connor was a devout believer whose small but impressive body of fiction presents the soul's struggle with what she called the "stinking mad shadow of Jesus."

Saturday Video

When you were young
And your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live

You know you did
You know you did
You know you did

But if this ever changin' world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die
Live and let die

What does it matter to ya?
When you got a job to do you got to do it well
You got to give the other fella hell

You used to say live and let live
You know you did
You know you did
You know you did

But if this ever changin' world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die
Live and let die

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Busy Week

Posting this week is going to be minimal because of medical procedures. I have an endoscopy and a colonoscopy to detect where my ulcer is located. The procedure will be Wednesday, but I have to essentially clear my colon completely the day before. That will not be pleasant.

I have a meeting with the GI surgeon the following day, Thursday, where we will discuss the details of surgery, which is currently scheduled for July 1. Friday I have to give another round of labwork for my GP, as some of the results of the first batch turned out abnormal. They are probably nothing to worry about and may be related to other conditions I already have.

Being away for a week means that there's always tons of things that get backlogged and the same is true here for me.