The Vapors

The fireplace and hallway. See the peaceful Buddha

Sometimes I feel like it’s not just the house that is coming under fix-it.

On Friday, the contract proposal was announced by a flicker of blue on the right side of my screen. At that moment, I was reading about category management–because that’s actually a thing–and the quick slide in and out at the corner of my laptop almost escaped me.

Except not really. It was after 5 pm. To be fair, it was just barely. Like 5:04:21 pm or so. I was expecting the email. They said I’d get it by the end of the week. This firm is all about making commitments. I really like that about them.

The email was here and wasn’t going anywhere, so I followed a link to an HBR article about new-fangled procurement models. This is a joke in that I don’t know anything about old-fangled procurement models. I was studying.

The Spouse was on his ongoing work-about, in which he works for daze on end sans respite. But he does have running water. And coffee. It’s not the Outback. It’s The Mall.

My brain was twitching just behind my right eye. It wanted to open the email. It saw that glimpse of aqua and processed the letters to see that they were in the right place–like a partially completed crossword puzzle–to expose the name of our Project Manager.

Open. Open. Open.

The reptilian part of my brain was shutting down that idea. There would be nothing good exposed via that email. My internal crocodile knew that we had blown significanltly past our original scope. The number would be huge. To survive we should slither-swim by. With half-closed eyes. Our tails waving goodbye.

Open. Open. Open.

Enough croc-brain! I have the smelling salts in hand. I opened the email. And I sucked air. But I was still breathing.

The next few days I walked around with a new hallway, a new kitchen, a new bathroom, a new deck, a new den, a new office, a new staircase swirling around in my head. I really liked it.

I also turned the finances around and around and around. It seemed fair for the work. It’s still huge. Like a big rock wall in the desert. How to get to the other side? I couldn’t sleep.

I never can’t sleep.

Big decisions are so hard. What we can do can be different than what we should do. Capacity is as much about pushing limits as being within limits. I turned to Dad.

My dad hated debt. He didn’t want to have obligations hanging over him. He was adamant about keeping things in good repair. He’d replace a roof at year 14 of a 15 year lifespan. He mowed his lawn and shoveled his walk. He was responsible and sober.

As I walked to the subway, I wondered what my father would say about this big investment.  I began the budget analysis, and I heard his words. They were coming from behind my right ear, from the back of my head. It was about those shoes. He was speaking clearly.

In middle-school, I wanted a pair of shoes. They were white and had teardrop cutouts next to the buckles. They would be my first pair of high heels. Many girls at school were wearing these very shoes. At my behest, Dad drove me to Bakers Shoes. I tried on the desired pump. I walked up to him and asked him if he liked them. He said, “If you like them, buy them.”

If you like them, buy them.

Dang. I was feeling like Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams hearing his daddy’s voice in the cornfield.

If you like them, buy them.

That was it. He was telling me to follow my heart. Not the money.

I wasn’t expecting that. Not at all.

I’m not saying that my dad actually gave me advice. I know that he’s been dead for nine years. I know that. That said, I think that he was telling me something.

I told you. This is not just about the house.

Trade Winds

Underneath the sink. There's some pipes and a spare paper towel roll and the compost bin. It's a bit dark.

The trades came today. Like a whirlwind of pipes, wires and wood. They are the elders. Even those who are young. 

They came like the furies, ready to overtake those who have false oath, maybe those who would desecrate the soul of the house. Because the house has a soul. 

And, if we chose poorly, if we made decisions that ignore the bones and heartbeat of the house, if we impose too much au courant…

The mythological furies were tasked to “hear complaints brought by mortals against the insolence of the young to the aged, of children to parents, of hosts to guests, and of householders or city councils to suppliants – and to punish such crimes by hounding culprits relentlessly.”

Yikes. I’m thinking that we better not screw up.

So, I observed carefully. I studied as the structural engineer poured over the outlines, looking at the walls to be moved, seeing where the faults lie.

He was mostly bald and finished it off by a smart shave. His head was long. He had the strong features like my Slavic relatives and the confidence of looking at hundreds of homes. He pointed at invisible beams that framed the center hall. He pointed. Up. 

“This is what’s supporting the house.” 

I’m looking at the hallway anew. It’s a throwaway piece of architecture. Like important, but not like you knew its criticality. And now, I do. Or, at least, its potential.

I didn’t speak with the window guy, the floor guy, the heating and air guy, the electricity guy or the plumbing guy. I think that more guys walked through this morning. 

Me? I couldn’t stay. I had to go to work. We had a thing. But, today, something happened. Things were discussed. And I will know more. 

I’ll know more when the bids come in. They will be full of information. About capabilities. About options. About decisions. And I’m thinking now, and I’m remembering now, about what it is that I need to have done. And I’m listening. I’m ready to allow the house to push back. 

I find myself thinking about going to confession. As a prophylactic. To protect from the demons. Leaning on my historical Catholicism. Against the furies. 

That Sinking Feeling

The moment the SUV plunges into the thin ice on the mostly frozen lake. As captured on the local news.

“Oh man. Erich’s dad is so much fun.” The boy was breathless. They had a great time at the cabin. They made fires. They cooked on the made fires. They ran in the frozen woods at night with flashlights. Erich’s dad told the best ghost stories. He didn’t tell his mom, but Erich’s dad let him puff a pipe.

Mr. Bronch most definitely did not let him smoke, though. Sure, Erich’s dad was smoking. The boys asked him about it. Mr. Bronch didn’t want it to be a magical mystery, so he let all of them put their mouths on the lip of the pipe and suck or blow or whatever they did. It wasn’t a lesson in smoking, but a lesson that smoking wasn’t unknowable and wasn’t that important. But they were all sworn to secrecy. They very much liked that.

It was just an overnight trip, but it was the best day in the boy’s life. His own dad had many more rules, was always invoking said rules and was a big stick in the mud. You always had to do a safety check on your helmet before you got on your bike. You had to come in the house if it was thundering. You needed to do your homework before you could play your game–even though everyone else could do both. You had to go back and apologize to the second baseman you taunted after you stole that base. You always had to go to the bathroom before you left the house. Is there no privacy?? Just too much of the words “must” and “should.”

Mr. Bronch was good with them doing whatever they wanted. He didn’t intervene if they argued. He even jumped in on the one battle that got physical. That was hysterical. They all laughed so much they forgot what started the fight. But they remembered getting out of Erich’s dad’s headlock. And eating a huge bag of potato chips with a big jar of dip when they watched the movie that Mom did not want them to see. He got a little nervous, though, and looked away when they had that part with the lady without her shirt on. The guns, though, he was down with that. When that guy blew the other guy’s brains out? Erich’s dad told them it was all fake. They knew that mostly already.

“So can I go back to the cabin next week? Please?” His mom looked at him and shook her head.

“Not next week. Erich won’t be with his dad. Have him call me and we can figure out the next time.”

The next time wasn’t for a few weeks. But he was pumped and primed to go back. There would be him and Erich and Tom Jr. and Levi. And, of course, Mr. Bronch. They were going to bring their skates and skate on the lake.

His dad made him repack his backpack. “Where’s your toothbrush? Did you pack an extra pair of socks? It’s going to be cold. Here’s your ColdGear leggings. Just pack them!” Jeez. This was so annoying. He was sure that Erich’s dad didn’t poke in Erich’s bag.

Then his dad made him practice lacing up his skates. Seriously? And he went through a classic safety checklist. When he rolled his eyes, his dad grinned a little and said, “Guy, I just want you to be prepared. I trust you to do the right thing, but a little practice doesn’t hurt.” He went through the drills. He gave his dad a dap as he scrambled out of the car, his backpack swinging in his arm. He didn’t take the time to loop it over his shoulder. He was gone.

“See you tomorrow!” he chirped as he ran up the driveway to Erich’s dad’s big black truck.  The truck was running, but there wasn’t anyone in it. His dad parked the car. The boy rolled his eyes in his brain.

“What? Dad. It’s fine.” Erich’s dad came out the garage door, carrying some bags.

“Hey Tom.”

“Hey! How are you? Haven’t seen you for too long, man.” Erich’s dad grabbed his dad’s hand and pulled him in close for a hug.

“Yeah. Too long. You guys should come by. I finally got the direct gas line to the grill. We can put steaks and burgers on all winter.”

“Sure, but I think that your wife likes me not so much.”

“Don’t be paranoid. She can be friends with both you and your ex. She’d love to have you by. She was asking how you were doing.”

“Tell her I’m just fine. I talked to her last week anyway. She should have asked me then.”

“Sure, whatever. She was just doing logistics. Between my job, her job, the kids and her mom’s been sick.”

“No. Not her mom? That’s tough.”

“We think she’ll be fine. But it’s just a worry now until we go through the checklist of docs. Getting old seems to suck.” His laugh was a little hollow.

“We’re not going to do that, though. Get old that is. We have too much shit to do.” Tom’s laugh was full. They were interrupted by a yell from the tumble of boys in the front yard.

“Get OFF of me!” The boy’s dad looked over to assess the situation. Erich’s dad put his bags in the back of his truck.

“Hey, guys. Take it easy. I think Levi said he had enough.” The boy’s dad was good at deescalation. The pile broke up. The boy held out a hand to Levi. Tom Jr went behind him and lifted him up. Tom Jr was the youngest, but only by a Irish twin–ten months younger than his brother Erich, but bigger than all of them.

Erich’s dad clicked the remote to close the garage. The boy’s dad walked onto the porch and pulled on the front door to make sure it was locked. He stopped to give his son a quick hug before he returned to his car. “See you tomorrow!” The boy waved back. Then they all hopped into the truck. Erich had shotgun. The other three fought over who had to sit in the middle. Erich’s dad had them do rock, paper scissors and then told them to shut the hell up. They liked it when he cursed. They felt grown up.

They grabbed their backpacks and followed Erich’s dad into the dark cabin. It smelled of the fireplace and a little must. It was freezing.

“Okay, you guys go ahead and get your skates. I’ll get the fire started and meet you at the lake.” He flipped the top of a beer and shuffled through the branches next to the fireplace. “Erich, first go grab me a big log.”

Erich and the boy went to the back patio and pulled two big, for them, logs off the woodpile and brought them in. They found their skates. Levi and Tom Jr had already gone to the lake. Not like it was far. Just down a few steps, across the slatted cedar walk and down a few more steps to the dock. The other boys were laced up when Erich and the boy caught up.

The lake was plenty frozen. It was mostly smooth, too. As they skated across, it moaned underneath them. The moon provided the light for their games. They decided to run relays just as Mr. Bronch joined them. He skated out beyond their playground and they forgot about him as they swapped teams out for the next round of races.

Crack! Their was a fissure that was growing deep in the ice. Tom Jr. looked up to see if the rest of them were okay. The boy looked at Erich. This was his territory. Then they saw a dark figure racing towards them. He was coming fast. The boys locked their arms to be an impenetrable wall. They dug their skates sideways into the ice. Mr. Bronch was coming like a bullet fired from a gun. The boys steeled themselves and, just at impact, Erich’s dad snowplowed to a stop, showering the line of defense with ice. As the boys doubled over laughing, Tom Jr. lost his balance and fell.

Mr. Bronch pushed him along. Levi gave the next push. Tom Jr was laughing and couldn’t get up. The boy and Erich gathered Tom Jr by a leg each and swung him around the ice. His dad joined in and grabbed the boy by his arm and leg and swung him around and let go. Tom Jr. sailed across the ice and then disappeared. Out of their sight. The moon was behind the clouds. They were cracking up. Tom Jr flew off like a weird rocket.

“Tommy!” Erich yelled. They didn’t know where he was, not for sure. They couldn’t see Erich’s dad’s frown. “Tom?” He couldn’t have gone far. The ice cracked again underneath them.

“Dad, is he okay? Where is he? Is the ice gonna hold?”

“The ice is a foot thick. We are fine.” But he couldn’t see his boy. “Tom!? Hey, Tommy.” He raised his voice a little.

“TOM-MEEE,” Levi screamed. He was still playing. The boy joined in. “Oh, Tom. Oh Tom JOON-YER.” They skated out a bit. They couldn’t see very far, with the moon behind the clouds. It seemed like the wind was picking up. Or maybe it was the dark. “Tom. You okay? Say something.”

The clouds moved and let some moonlight through. Between that and their eyes adjusting, they could see a figure on the ice. Erich’s dad was surprised he was so far away. The four of them skated to the unmoving mass, the boys pulling up to let Mr. Bronch get there first.

“He’s okay.” They saw that Tom Jr was sitting up. Or maybe he was being propped up by his dad. “I’m going to take him to the cabin to warm up a little. You guys can skate for a while.”

Tom Jr was on his feet. He wasn’t talking but was responding by nodding to his dad’s questions. His dad supported him, really steered him, to the dock. “Man, you really flew!” The boys laughed. Tom Jr seemed to laugh, too. Then it was clear he wasn’t laughing, but throwing up.

“Gross!” “Jesus, what did you eat?” “I’m going to barf now.” “Does it taste the same?”

“Skate away from the puke,” said Erich’s dad. He sat Tom Jr on the dock and took off his skates. “He’ll be okay when I get him some water and get him warmed up.” Tom Jr couldn’t focus enough to get his boots back on by himself. His dad shoved his feet in his boots and tried to get him to stand up. Walking wasn’t working. Tom Jr threw up again. He wasn’t too big to carry.

The boy kept glancing over at Tom Jr and his dad. Nobody seemed to be very worried, so he worked to ignore his concern. The grownup had this. It was fine. It was getting colder and a big cloud was overtaking the moon. Erich pointed to the house, “Let’s get back in.” Erich grabbed Levi’s skate and the boy grabbed his boot so Levi had to sock skate after them for a little bit. It was too cold to play boot-keep-away for long. Erich tossed the skate back on the dock and ran up to the house. The boy waited for Levi to get his other boot on, and they raced back.

Tom Jr was on the couch in front of a big fire. He had a cloth on his head and a quilt over his body. His eyes were closed. He didn’t respond to any of them. The boy shook his shoulder. Erich grabbed his hand. “Dad. Dad. Dad. Tommy’s hand is really cold. Is it supposed to be so cold?” Erich’s dad had three microwaved hot cocoas looped on the fingers of his left hand. He put his right hand on Tom Jr’s as he handed the steaming mugs to the boys.

“Drink up. Then get your jackets. We’re going to take a side trip.”

When the boy’s dad came to the hospital to pick up the boy and Levi, the boy was more than relieved to see him. His dad wrapped him up in his arms and was surprised with the tightness of his son’s grasp around his neck.

The boy stopped being frightened. He was still scared for Tom Jr. but now that his dad was there, his dull, methodical and careful dad, he was exhausted. And he felt safe.

I Await A Guardian

The patronus of Severus Snape. It's a doe. It's pure love.

As the 2016 presidential campaign drags on

An intense cold swept over them all…The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. . . .He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder.

Right. The damn dementors.

“They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil.”–Remus Lupin from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is starting to sum up the emotional drain of this campaign. The swirling cold coarseness, the frigid hearts beating hate, the hijacking of all that can be good in our country and in our political system–yes, I feel my civic soul being sucked out. I must stop it before I am left with only the cynical soullessness of us-versus-them party politics.

I need a political patronus. Something to bring light to the darkness and to protect me from the shrouded rattling of the dementor breath and the stench of the race to the bottom.

First things first, I need a happy memory. A single, very happy memory.

I’m thinking about the times that I would vote with my dad. We’d go to the gym at our elementary school. Our school was named Norman Rockwell Elementary School. This is true.

One time in particular, I remember us waiting a very long time in line. The voting booths were big–to me anyway–metal contraptions with a curtain that’d close behind you when you pulled a big stick in the center. Your vote was secret. You would move small levers to mark your vote. They would register in the back of the machine on a counter when you moved the big stick back to open the curtain. It made significant mechanical noises and the curtain caused a little breeze. There was a little practice booth that I played with as we waited our turn. Dad let me go into the real booth with him. He picked me up after he made his choices and let me pull the curtain open. He told me I voted. It was cool. I participated in picking a president, a governor, a senator and likely members of the school board.

This is a happy thought. I am holding and concentrating on that first vote. I’m trying to conjure the charm I need to protect me from political misanthropy. I made a spark, but there is not enough joy to make a corporal patronus.

I was very happy, nay ecstatic, another time when I stood in another long line to vote. This was in 2008, and the line to vote at my local elementary school was blocks long. In Washington D.C., 75% of the electorate registered as Democrats. It was clear that this year, as in every year, the District’s three electoral votes were going to populate the “win” column for the Democratic candidate. Yet people stood in line so that they could cast their vote in a historic election for Barack Obama, our first African American president. Everyone in line was jubilant, with shared smiles and high-fives all around. People radiated hope.

Now let me work my patronus with this most happy thought. Sigh. Not much more than a spark. Still not enough. I need to dig deeper.

Let me go for a more recent happy political memory. I’m closing my eyes and feel the  joy at the dedication of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. There was so much work over generations to get the museum authorized and then opened. When former POTUS George W. Bush took to the podium, there was another rush of emotion. Of camaraderie and of warmth to the president who insisted that this museum would be on The Mall. Guaranteeing that the history of African Americans would be a part of the main promenade from Lincoln at the west end to the Capitol on the east and next to the big exclamation point of the Washington Monument. An important part of the fabric of America. And the current President (D) and the former President (R) came together with thousands and thousands of Americans—representing the amazing diversity of America—to celebrate.

I’m holding this memory tight and trying to get it to spark my patronous. There is the fuzzy outline, but no, not a full protective charm. Ugh. Don’t I have a pure, happy memory?

I’m smiling now. I’m standing next to The Big Guy for early voting. We had an errand, and I stopped to vote. He pulled out his wallet and registered on the spot and voted for City Council. And he studied the voter guide for the next election and cast his vote a second time. And he voted again in 2012, his first Presidential election. And I’m thinking about the future and about Baby Bear attending a political rally and calling his buddies out for not voting. They care about what happens. They care about our democracy. They think that they can do something, and they are right.

Expecto patronum. Google translates that from Latin to “I await a guardian.”

I see my patronus now. It is bright and shiny and protecting  me from the apathy and discouragement of political dementors. I look at it, and see that the guardian is me and every other American. It is the image of America. Now, time for my chocolate to complete the cure.

Et Tu?

President Obama and Laura Bush watch first lady Michelle Obama embracing president George W. Bush at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Who are the Americans in this picture?

“I, too, am America,” said the president. The President of the United States of America, that is.

He didn’t just say it once. He said it twice, but it seemed like I heard it at least four times. How ridiculous that the democratically elected leader of the free world would say it even once.

But that’s because since he became president, some have been trying to delegitimize him. To say he wasn’t American. That he is other.

I can’t tell you why. I don’t doubt that there are multiple reasons, and I’m sure that different people have different justifications and different combinations of pretext.

But thinking about it, when folks see people as other what does that mean? If they are other, are they not people? Are they animal? vegetable? mineral? monster? Does that make it easier to dismiss that other? To strip from them their humanity, their fears and struggles, their dreams and loves?

It’s pretty easy to be an American, though. In fact, we’ve welcomed people who are tired or poor. We’ve embraced huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve provided refuge to the wretched from another country’s teeming shore. We’ve provided a future to the homeless and those tossed by tempest.

America has work to do in order to live her ideals when it comes to people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, people who have different abilities, people who are poor, people who don’t fit heteronormative beliefs, people of different backgrounds.

But who is that “America?” Is it other? Is it not her people?

I, too, am America.

Ouch.

It’s Complicated

Low hanging fruit, specifically apples with a little dew, being picked off the tree.

It’s easy to say it’s easy. If you just blah blah blah, it would be fine. We seek the low hanging fruit, pilot programs to show how this can work and non-specific, non-tactical theories of change that will magically change the game. We dally at the edges, expecting the fundamental change to seep in. As if.

The problems, the big crazy stuff that we’re hating, that hold us back, that fuel anger and frustration, isn’t at the edges. While there are absolutely things to improve–or things to make us think we’ve improved–there are fundamental challenges that are hard to figure out.  The problems and the work are structural or we don’t know the interdependencies or the effort is unfathomable. What needs to be fixed isn’t at the edges. It’s in the middle of this huge mother-f’ng Gordian knot.

Our problems with water in our cities and counties is compounded many times by the decay of the water system and our lack of investment. Chronic underfunding, disagreements on jurisdiction and responsibilities and multiple years of delayed maintenance are behind today’s fire department call to Metro. I won’t try to unravel the geo-political scene, but suffice it to say, it’s knotty.

Like the Biggest Loser, we didn’t get to our current state of excess overnight. There is an accretion of decisions and circumstances and responses to those circumstances that begot today’s environment. And, like we have recently learned, austerity and starvation is not a solution. At least not in the long run.

Advocating platitudes like making government small, putting the Constitution first, or supporting “traditional” values (whatever tradition that calls to mind) doesn’t fix tough challenges caused by a globalized and interconnected economy, disenfranchisement that feeds disgust and polarization or technological changes that are getting in front of our ability to intellectually and ethically integrate and manage them.

We need to recognize our penchant to operate under Parkinson’s Law of Triviality; that we waste time on trivial issues or arguments while the critical problems remain unaddressed and unresolved.

We need to be smarter, more thoughtful, more creative and more flexible in creating a shared future. We need to be realistic and play a long game because it took a long time to get here. Enough of the quick fix. What’s quick doesn’t fix.

Truly, if it were so easy it would be done already. We have real work to do.

Rule Breaking

non-branded junk food, like fries a cheeseburger and a soda. Not even I diet soda!

I’ve been feeling hungry most of the afternoon. I want to clarify that this is a completely unrighteous hunger. I ate cereal for breakfast, a muffin top for elevensies, then had a proper lunch with two sides.

Unrighteous is truth. I tried to keep this phantom hunger at bay, first by working, then by drinking tea with fake sweetener and then by watching cute puppies on the internet. No good. I started gnawing at the inside of my cheek. I looked up and the clock said quitting time. I was out the door, looking forward to a healthy and satiating dinner. Then, it hit me.

The Beast needs food.

I punched myself in the head for blowing the task off this weekend. Punching made me less hungry for a second. Anyway, I literally drove by the dogfood store on Sunday after the dog park, but found no convenient parking. I couldn’t imagine success in trying to balance the insane 78 pound dog on one arm and a 35 pound bag of kibble in the other. I drove home. Now I am very sorry. Very sorry. And not less hungry. Maybe more hungry. I swallow reflexively.

My desperate mind races to the bottom of the food storage container. Even if I could scrape a scant dinner from the depths of his echoing bin, there would be nothing for tomorrow morning. That’s it. I have to buy dog food. I am without another choice.

I am feeling even more hungry. My stomach is eating itself. Not really, but the unrighteous hunger is unrelenting as I try to push it aside. Instead of going home and digging up some dinner, I need to hop in the car and drive to the store.

Now I’m thinking about what I can eat in the way to the dog food store. I don’t want to wait. I want to have something salty or sweet, or sweet and salty. I’m thinking of burger toppings. I’m thinking of filling up at a drive-thru.

Arrggh! I remember that it’s not food if arrives in the window of your car.  And I’d be breaking a bunch of other food rules, like only eating junk food that I make and only eating at a table. My steering wheel is not a table. And I already said muffin-top in the third sentence here, that’s as close as I want to be.

I start thinking about responsibilities. I call up those days–usually a sunny and warm day–when I get in my car and feel like I just want to drive. And drive. Drive right out of town. Maybe to the beach.

I want to roll down the windows and turn up the radio and sing as loud as I can. So loud that other motorists turn to see where the caterwauling is from. And I just laugh and sing even louder and with even more “feeling.” I don’t know where I’d go, but I’d go.

I’m at the train station. I walk out of the car to the platform. It’s sunny, but end of the day sunny with long shadows suggesting not much sun left. I’m wearing a coat and pull it a bit closer. It’s not that warm, either. I ride down the escalator and amble to the turnstile. I flash my pass and the gates open in front of me.

I’m not that hungry. I bet that The Beast is way hungrier than me. I near the house and see the car on the street. I can be back with the goods in a quick twenty minutes. A business walk and then just a few more minutes to get my plate on. I can hold out. And I can feel righteous in my choices.

My real dinner. Not junk. And Satisfying.
My real dinner. Not junk. And Satisfying.

 

Dyscussion

You know that email you wrote? Telling someone how absolutely and completely wronged you are by their cruel, thoughtless and idiotic deeds? You know that one? Don’t send it.

When I’m writing a howler, I very deliberately leave the “TO:” line blank.  That way, I can’t even mistakenly send it.

I’m definitely composing that ferocious email. I’m carefully going back and editing that email to hone all the barbs until they are quite sharp. I am ensuring that it is fully TO THE POINT and that no one could mistake my intention. Then I’m walking away. I might delete it right then. Or I might see it in my drafts folder later. I have never sent it when I saw it again later.

I, like you, need to get that righteous anger out of my system. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I need to put it directly into someone else’s system, just for one simple reason.

Nothing good will come of it.

I’m not motivated by making something bad happen. I personally get nothing out of exacting revenge. Ugliness I lavish will likely

  • escalate
  • screw me over
  • not make a whiff of difference in the other’s behavior
  • damage a relationship that I want (or need) to maintain
  • All of the Above

Hence, no good will come of it.

I’ve been contemplating rage-quitting Medium over the cycle of hurt and outrage that is brewing on that platform. But rage quitting feeds that shit cycle. So, if I’m leaving the platform behind, I will just pick up my keyboard and leave. Without a public fuss.

I was watching a clip from a TV show where grown men in suits and ties were calling each other names, being mean and dismissive, yelling over each other and, I dunno. It definitely was not civil. It was remarkably angry. It included glowering.  It was dysfunction dyscussion.

Is your goal to make some afraid? To force an error? To slam the door in someone’s face? To punish? To hurt? To win at any cost?

Let me be clear. I used to be much meaner. It just doesn’t work. Not for what I want, anyway.

Setting Sail on the S.S. Crapper

shipwreck in Australia

Dammit people! Have you not yet figured out how the internet works?

Let me break it down for you. You tell your “woe is me” story publicly–like for example on Medium or on Facebook where you post to 1,327 “friends” and friends of their friends so it’s pretty public–and people crap on you. That’s what happens.

Also some people will reach out to you as if you are a beautiful and fragile flower. Those people then crap on the people crapping on you. And then the initial crappers pay back.

Yes, your personal misery become a crapfest all because you see yourself as a writer speaking truth to power or speaking your own truth. You’re patient zero on a crapfest of your own making.

I have pathos for you. Really, on a personal level, I do. I know you are going through something and you want to get it off your chest.

Getting it off your chest in a most public forum, however, is NOT a solution. It might be a step in getting to a solution. It may–and I say may in the most improbable sense of the word–be a work of art.

What it IS though, and this is true whether or not you explicitly invite it, is an opportunity for people to engage with you. And call you mean names. And ask why you are lazy, stupid, + all the variants of stupid, playing the victim, selfish, self-entitled, self-absorbed, self-centered, self-everything, unambitious, and/or petty. Some will oddly attack your looks and say you’re fat, ugly, lumpy, disgusting…oh, I could go on, but you’ve already read those attacks. Sorry. And even though it’s about them trolling for reaction and not about you, it still feels mean and painful.

Then there’s the relativist responses. You know, that you don’t have it so bad. That others have it way worse. You are having first world problems. I walked eight miles to school uphill both ways in the snow wearing tires for shoes and with a piece of moldy bread for lunch. And of course, think of the CHILDREN??

So, I do feel for you personally because your dreams aren’t coming true in the way you imagined, that your parents won’t pay for your dream wedding, that your job sucks, that it’s really really hard to be bombarded with messages about having it all when you have baby poop on your suit.

But when you publish it for all to see, expect that not everyone will see it from your point of view. They see it through their own crap-covered glasses.

Godspeed!

Head to Head

helmet to helmet hit

Watching the AFC and NFC championship games and wondering, how much longer will we watch football?

Will a future civilized society look back at today’s Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays) of watching super humans in pads and helmets running into each other, bones cracking, brains shaking inside skulls and shake their own heads at our barbarism?

Today I watched a receiver grab the football and bring it close to his body, tucking in and cradling it by bringing his head closer to his chest. As he contracted himself, a defender running at full speed–which is very fast in the NFL–hit him. The defender was trying to get to him before the ball, or even better, to hit him just as the ball came in and cause a drop.

As the receiver lowered his head, the defender crashed into him, helmet meeting helmet. Flags flew. The defender somehow had to be able to stop himself to avoid hitting on the defenseless receiver.

That is an important rule. A rule pushing even the most agile and aware athletes at the top of their ability. Then there’s the conflict between pulling up and doing your job. Can it be enforced? When it’s enforced it’s 15 yards and a first down.

The rules to protect the gladiators are important. They likely are making a difference. But as we watch this crazy game, I wonder how long until it just isn’t the same game. More pads, more rules, more whistles.

Moms and dads don’t want their kids to play anymore. Young, promising players are walking away. And the issue is increasingly, and finally, becoming an issue. I’ve known people who loved playing football. I’ve loved watching it. But as the athletes become bigger and faster and stronger, maybe the game has run it’s course.

But don’t worry more civilized people of the future. Football is nothing compared to brutality as entertainment of the UFC. Maybe that’s football with the pads off.