Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Religion of Love

When I first started writing, I took a very narrow focus because I was finding my own voice. For a while, I wrote almost exclusively about politics. As part of a collective, the same fifty of us shared our thoughts as if we were the only other ones online. We were nurtured and our profiles boosted by a fellow writer who had used her Ivy League credentials to gain a plum position in the blogosphere. These were heady days for a bunch of honors roll students turned citizen journalists.
That seems like a thousand years ago now, though it is really only eight. Back then, no one could have predicted the rise of Twitter, or a brand new website my girlfriend at the time implored me to join. Only other college students could take part, I was told. When everyone was given access, a little later on, we were sure the end was nigh. I'm speaking of Facebook, of course. There was a time before social media. I wonder what another decade's worth of technological advances will reveal.

This only proves that yet again, conventional wisdom can be entirely wrong. Entirely and completely wrong. Thoughts and fears are, often times, fanciful or manipulative constructs created by people to suit their own private agenda. Another battle rages in the Holy Land, and we adopt the same worried posture and furrowed brow that came before it. I predict there will be many more. Regardless of who we are or where we live, we must always be wise to cloak and dagger mind games.

Few constructs of the collective imagination scare me as much as groupthink. We imagine ourselves to be individuals with the right to our own opinion, but it is remarkably easy to cast those aside when everyone else is, too. According to some religious fundamentalists, Armageddon beckons ever closer like nuclear war, and they use their own preferred text as justification. Once again, we fear for the worst, much as we have prior to the outbreak of another round of hostilities.

If we can only change ourselves for the better before we take a stab at anything else, we might want to begin here. Many religions, including my own, implore the believer to become the total and complete personification of love. I don't mean sticky Valentines and romantic comedies, I mean that I believe in the healing power of love. I'm sure I've said this a time or two before now. Putting ourselves and our own designs last is the only way we will ever live in peace.

Forget everything you've ever been taught and look again with fresh eyes. Regardless of who you are, believer or non-believer, think about the radical implications. Christianity, an influence on Jews and Muslims alike teaches that God loved every single one of us, as he loves us today, enough to take our form and to be the lowliest of the low in a forgotten, cursed corner of the world. If any lesson holds primacy over another, it is that our selfish designs must be cast aside for everyone's benefit.

This sounds simple, but nothing could be harder or more complicated. When we get it right, peace will no longer become an empty slogan or an evolutionary step yet to be achieved. Say what you will about the amoral, sadistic impulse of humanity. Violence is not our natural state, I assert, even if our leaders believe otherwise. The only thing we can do is keep diplomatic channels open, with the understanding that we should expect to win as much as we lose. Doing nothing is not an option.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Apologies for the video quality.

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
Well don't you know that no one alive
Can always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem to be bad

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Baby, sometimes I'm so carefree
With a joy that's hard to hide
And sometimes it seems that
All I have to do is worry
And then you're bound to see my other side

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has it's problems and I get my share
And that's one thing I never mean to do

'Cause I love you
Oh, oh, oh, baby, don't you know I'm human
Have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself long regretting
Some foolish thing, some little sinful thing I've done

I'm just a soul who's intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Faces of Poverty

The civic duty of every citizen, I have decided, is to kill three hours a year re-certifying or signing off on some new regulation or another. This is how I spent my Monday morning. The service center is located in a part of town that went from wealth to dire poverty and back. Now it is home to loft apartments and trendy coffee shops. Streets are regularly paved these days, the way only capital can.

Residents being pushed elsewhere at once wish they'd held onto properties and houses that could once be had for nearly nothing. At the back of the room, they talk about old times, the way Washington used to be. Conversations focus on soul singers and long-shuttered venues. Sooner than I might care to think, I'll be having my own conversation about the good old days when everything made sense.

The real face of poverty are a young mother and her ten-year-old daughter. Because I was the only other white face in line, she struck up a spontaneous conversation. I couldn't help but notice the way she'd treated her body over the years. Drug addiction had left her skin leathery, her facial features slightly off-center like a shattered window pane. I wanted to look away because the spectacle pained me, but wanted to be polite enough to grant friendly eye contact. My best friend growing up had an alcoholic father, and I watched the years of drinking finally catch up with him.

Mother and daughter were inseparable. They were more like sisters, a curious dynamic that could be both beneficial and harmful to the younger of the pair. They had each other and I got the feeling there were few other people in the lives of either. It was them against the world. Now they had embarked on a great adventure, driving halfway across the country to settle in Washington, DC. When asked for the reasons why, she noted with a straight face that she intended to help President Obama out with the job.

I didn't realize at first that she was actually quite serious. This was the stuff of delusions, but I hoped that it was harmless enough. I hoped she'd recognize the folly of her ways and make different plans. She was enough of a trusting soul that I could see how someone might take advantage of it. This is what concerned me most. Likely, many already had. Washington, DC, can be a very unfriendly place without a guide, and it certainly isn't Colorado Springs.

The daughter addressed me very innocently, believing that if I'd just spent the last twenty minutes talking to her mother, she could be comfortable in my company. I'm usually very uncomfortable around kids, never knowing what to say or what not to say. In a survivors' group, I remember a seventy-year-old woman talking about her own uneasy relationship with children. It was different with her own, she noted, but she was never going to volunteer to supervise or spend much time with anyone else's genetic contribution to the free world. Nods were seen in many of those sitting across the room.

When it was my time in line, the female workers behind the counter smiled at me. To them, I was fatherhood material. The news quickly spread across the center. For the rest of my three hour stay, I was treated with incredible politeness by every female worker. Children usually like me, and yet I push away from them as quickly as I can. I wondered what I truly represented to mother and child, or the women who saw me as paternal in a good way.

Lives like I have described above are not uncommon. I enjoy observing people from the other side of town, a reminder to not intellectualize who the poor and needy really are. They are a young mother and her daughter uprooting and replanting with few resources, no friends, a roof over their heads, but not much more than that. In a way, it's the immigrant experience made over again for our times. We provide a few basic services here and there, but fathers and caregivers cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote of the Week

"I never care that [my characters] are "strong". I never care that they're even affirmative. I look for that thing that's human and recognizable and emotional. You know, we're not perfect, we're not heroic, we're not in control. We're our own worst enemies sometimes, we cause our own tragedies ... that's the stuff that I think is really compelling."-Julianne Moore

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Video

You say I only hear what I want to
You say I talk so all the time so.

And I thought what I felt was simple,
And I thought that I don't belong,
And now that I am leaving,
Now I know that I did something wrong

'cause I missed you.
Yeah, I missed you.

And you say I only hear what I want to:
I don't listen hard,
I don't pay attention to the distance that you're running

Or to anyone, anywhere,
I don't understand if you really care,
I'm only hearing negative: no, no, no (bad)

And so I, I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up
And this woman was singin' my song:
The lover's in love and the other's run away,
The lover is cryin' 'cause the other won't stay.

Some of us hover when we weep for the other who was
Dying since the day they were born.
Well, this is not that:
I think that I'm throwing, but I'm thrown.

And I thought I'd live forever,
but now I'm not so sure.

You try to tell me that I'm clever,
But that won't take my anyhow,
or anywhere with you.

You said that I was naive,
And I thought that I was strong.
I thought, "hey, I can leave, I can leave."
Oh but now I know that I was wrong, 'cause I missed you.

You said, "I caught you 'cause I want you
and one day I'll let you go."

You try to give away a keeper,
or keep me 'cause you know
you're just so scared to lose.
And you say, "Stay."

You say I only hear what I want to.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Who are the Next Generation of Prophets?

What follows is my own story. I include it to heighten awareness of what often goes unsaid and unspoken. The problem is as old as the human race itself, but like war, it continues. Everyone with an opinion must write with an audience in mind, and must form one's arguments accordingly. Every story like the one to follow takes the same relative trajectory, yet is unique and different.

The twin problems of rape culture and sexual assault may seem minimal, but with time I've realized how truly prevalent they are in our society. Forgive my boldness. This a harsh topic for many who do not daily confront it, but I bring it up one more time to serve my cause. Since many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported due to shame and intimidation, it's impossible to have definitive numerical understanding at our fingertips. But even if we had that hard data, would numbers and statistics alone serve anyone's greater purpose?

I've never shared this account before now. Until a particularly instructive therapy session in the recent past, I never knew it for what it was. As it commonplace with survivors, I had rationalized away what this act really was, minimizing and blunting its impact. It's a very common coping mechanism. Now I must keep myself focused on reality and linear time, which is to say that my brain lies to me, daily and constantly. It transforms what really happened to something less painful, softer, and maddeningly evasive.

I was a impressionable sophomore in college, newly out, and nowhere near full acceptance. Queer students had few resources at my college, with the exception of Gay/Straight Student Alliance. An LGBT center was being planned for construction, but was completed after I graduated and I could not benefit from it. I took the options available to me. The group was more social than instructional, a fundamental lacking that always bothered me. It could have been much more, but it often became a hook up point for gay men, another issue that stuck in my craw.

Now I know him for what he was. He was an opportunist, having heard about our group somehow, intending to benefit from his presence there. The organizers and sponsors had been too nice to turn him away, as he was not a student and had no reason to be there. He sat right next to me, stealthily but obviously to whomever might be watching closely. His legs touched mine frequently, deliberately. That was my first sign as to what he was up to, but I ignored it. Maybe he'd get the hint that I wasn't interested and leave me alone.

I remember his face well. He had a lazy eye and wore a baseball cap. That baseball cap would rather dramatically be burned two days later, as he had left it in the backseat of my car. The collective attitude of both of my parents was not sympathetic. To them, what I had done had served me right. So when I set the hat afire with lighter fluid in the driveway, my father asked me why I'd done such a stupid thing. I told him precisely why and he backed off, uncomfortable, and never raised the subject again.

The man in question broached my boundaries a little at a time. His hands moved further and further down my back, eventually moving other places. He built upon his gains, keeping the ultimate destination in mind at all times. The whole time he was chatting me up and feeling me up as we sat alongside a park. At his request, he suggested we move a couple blocks away, so that what we were doing was less conspicuous. I cranked the car and we pulled onto the curb of a remote stretch of roadway at the top of a mountain.

I did not want to do this. The thrill of doing something this risky and dangerous was perversely appealing, on one hand, but this was not what I wanted. Had sex been removed entirely from the equation, I would have been pleased, but this sequence of events was all about sex. This was not just about having a conversation. To this day, I do not know exactly why I didn't resist. I do not understand why feeling terrified was such a sexual high but just as repelling. I may never.

I saw him later at next year's Pride parade. He even bothered to introduce himself to me. Shocked that he would even dare contact me again, I nervously uttered a few incomprehensible words and then got as far away from him as possible. Male rape survivors are treated differently. Women are thought to have inferior physical strength to their male attackers and unable to prevent sexual assault. When I shared what had happened to me with male friends, they felt that I should have physically overpowered him. Few were understanding.

Over the years, I've learned that stories like my own are not uncommon. Because I am a man, I have a different set of variables at play than would be the case for a woman. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse tend to respond to their sexuality in one of two ways. The first way is to be afraid of sex. The second, which is my own, is to become promiscuous and hyper-sexual. I recognize promiscuous is a loaded term, one used to blame and guilt, but in this context, I think the word choice is apt.

To see this as a moral failing on everyone's part doesn't ring true. That is not enough. We must develop true community and a communal spirit. We cannot criticize injustice when we do not know our neighbors and do not take an active part in their lives. This is a problem as ancient as Moses' who came down from the Mount with his Ten Commandments in hand. In the meantime, I see another generation's bumper crop of prophets descending from the bluffs, coming directly behind my own.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Something Different

I had a busy day of medical appointments today, so I had no time to post.

Before I say another word, I want to preface my reason for posting the video below. Once, I, too, was a teenager and a college student. But I am now a man in his mid-thirties. I'm just not there anymore. Quite by random, I ran across a video of a high school or college aged young woman talking on her cell phone, and I must admit it makes me cringe.

Do not misunderstand. People like her will someday form the next wave of activists and planners to follow me. I am conscious of feeling marginalized and having my words to not be taken seriously because of my youth. But for the sake of good old fashioned curiosity, I found a video taken of a young woman talking on her cellphone while seated on a park bench. She will not talk like this when she is my age. (I hope)