08 January 2019

My Short-Lived Meditation Journals are Here Published and They Include Various Other Musings

Author's note: I neither sit like this nor am I a woman
I mediated today for the first time in over a year. (This time I mean to stick to it.) Coming back to meditating after a long lay-off is similar to working out after a prolonged period of laziness. It’s difficult to get back into a rhythm. Now that I think of it saying there is a rhythm to meditation is a bit weird but I’m sticking with it nonetheless. So what happened this morning when I gamely tried to meditate was that my brain — such as it is — immediately started flying off in all directions. Measured breathing, mantras, focussing on an image, none of these deterred my wandering mind. It got so bad that instead of focusing on my breathing I found myself planning to write this. I started observing all the various topics my mind was intent on addressing. This is not mindfulness, it’s more like mind full of nonsense.

I know enough about meditation to realize that what I experienced was not unusual — particularly for someone who is, let’s say, out of shape. It wasn’t a negative experience at all. It was a start. Tomorrow will probably be a little better, though maybe worse. Certainly if I continue daily meditation I’ll stop thinking about basketball, work, models, sex, Netflix, traveling and sundry other topics within a short meditation. One can hope.

Day two of mediating went just barely better than its predecessor. Actually there was a part two to day one that went well. If it gets better all the time then eventually it will be good and someday excellent with nirvana just around the corner.

So I suppose I’ve something of a meditation journal going on here. Maybe I could include other important daily practices like stretching, working out, reading, work, chores and writing. A daily journal in which I write about writing. Takes care of itself. Here I am now writing, Words. Sometimes a phrase. Occasionally a full sentence with a beginning, middle and end. Some of the sentences, like the preceding, will include commas. I may have enough sentences put together on one topic to complete an entire paragraph. Like so.

Writing has been a strange part of my life. It courses through my veins, makes me happy, alive, expressive. But I struggle with it so. Laziness and depression fight against my desire, my need to write. That deadens me inside. Like impotence. Speaking of impotence, the best cure for that is a good fuck. Not funny? Well, it’s just as when Groucho Marx recommended plenty of sleep as a cure for insomnia.

Yes, Julius H. Marx. One of my heroes. Like many really funny people (and he was among the funniest ever) he was extremely intelligent. See too: Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Christ Rock, Bill Hicks, David Letterman, Dick Cavett, Dave Chapelle and many more.

I’m funny and intelligent too but obviously not on a par with the aforementioned gentlemen. There’s a point. I only included men, though I did include three men of color and two Jews. Anytime you write or say a list of people you’ve got to be conscious of being inclusive. Making it a rainbow. This can be tough. It’s hard to compile a list of your favorite British kings, for example, without it coming out all white, Christian males. (I here add that I personally have never listed my favorite English kings. Not, for that matter have I impersonally made such a list. Personal is an interesting word. Sometimes on public transportation you are reminded to keep an eye on your personal belongings and not to forget them when you leave. This would suggest that any items related to work need not be looked after. If you’ve got a laptop from your job it’s not as important as your own personal umbrella.)

So where was I? Where have I been? What have I been doing? All important yet unanswerable questions. I’m struggling with being mindful while just doing and not thinking. I’m struggling with living in the moment while preparing for the future and not forgetting the lessons of the past. I’m struggling with what I’ve done and my perceptions of what I’ve done and how other people have reacted to what I’ve done and how I should interpret all this and whether it’s worth my time to interpret anything at all. Sometimes there’s mumbo jumbo and sometimes there’s deep insight.

I need to understand Dharma. Which means the four noble truths and the eightfold path. This seems a bit overwhelming but…. But. But. But. You’re never too old, it’s never too late. You have to find the path and that requires effort and that effort is being awake to it all. I start my awakening through meditation. I read. I write. I let go of my ego and take hold of my mantra and breath. Always. It’s all laid out for me.

I feel like I’ve come to the end of this writing. You’ve got to respect the part of your brain that says stop just as you do the part that tells you to carry on. Right now my brain is saying that I’ve exhausted the topic. For now. So I stop.

On day three of my return to meditation I listened to silence. It is pretty loud. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a total vacuum of noise, not in the natural world. I heard some sounds, of course. The first was my wife starting the car as she went to pick up oldest daughter from yoga. The sound of our car is very familiar and comforting to me. It can mean someone is home, or someone is leaving — perhaps to the store to buy food! Sometimes the sound is a harbinger that I’m about to have the dump to myself for a few blessed minutes — or hours.

I also heard an airplane. I like the sound of airplanes, assuming it’s not some massive jumbo jet flying ten feet above my domicile. The problem was that it got me thinking if air travel. So I focused on my breathing. Focusing on breathing is not the most fascinating thing one can do but then again this is meditation, not a trip to an exotic isle. So as you can see I’m still struggling (what the hell, it’s only been three days). But I shall persist.

Earlier I missed a train by seconds that would have got me home 15 minutes earlier. After my initial stifling of expletives I decided to focus — in a very Zen sort of way — on the feeling of frustration. To detach myself from the feeling and just examine it. This actually worked pretty well.

Later I was walking home from the subway station down quiet dark streets enjoying my solitude, then a young couple fell in step behind me. They were chattering away. This broke my reverie. I crossed the street. Later they crossed the street and were behind me again. So I crossed for a second time. They turned down the street I was going to turn down so I took an alternate route. The nerve of some people not knowing I like a nice quiet walk home minus people yakking at each other.

I’m reading Moby Dick. All I’ll say is that it’s a whale of a book. No, I’ll say more. I can’t understand why some people have such trouble with it. It really flows along for me. This is my second time with it. Maybe I’ll discuss it more at a later date. Wouldn’t that be exciting?

Just finished meditating and I did it right here at work. All I needed was an empty classroom. Again the results were mixed. I focused on my breathing, then on the sound of clock, I tried to feel the lightness in my body then the heaviness. I tried counting. I tried my social security number (seriously dude, what were you thinking?). I tried a mantra of “no thoughts, no thoughts, no thoughts.” I thought about every thing under the sun but what was most notable was that again I thought about what I would write after meditating. This is a clear signal that I should cease and desist these meditation journals. Maybe when I finally have meditation “success” maybe I’ll try again. Meanwhile I’m going to try to find a drawing board to go back to. Which is to say that I’ll be reading about meditation again so that I might better practice it. Better. There’s no way I could do worse unless I started screaming and listening to heavy metal at full blast.

All that being sad I feel better after meditating than I did before. More relaxed and happy. I’m hoping meditation will help mitigate my depression. Nothing much else has worked aside from running. Certainly meds have not magically cured me. Meds do allow me to sleep and have warded off panic attacks and keep my acid reflux in check but seem to have done nothing over the years for my depression. I think I’ll have better luck with meditating. I’m also looking into practicing other Buddhist principles in my life. You’ll perhaps hear more from me on that topic. I was going to write “you’ll perhaps hear more from me on that topic in the future” but I realized that “in the future” was redundant. You can’t exactly hear anything new in the past. Although if the scientific community can sort out the whole time travel business, who knows?

I here close my “meditation journals” with this quote from the Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I’m working on it.

01 January 2019

My Top Ten Films of 2018

1. First Reformed (Schrader)
2. Roma (Cuaron)
3. Burning Chang-dong Lee)
4. Shoplifters (Koreeda)
5. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)
6. The Favourite (Lannthimos)
7. Blackkklansman (Lee)
8. A Star is Born (Cooper)
9. Blindspotting (Estrada)
10. Wildlife (Dano)

Honorable Mention: Widows (McQueen);  Eighth Grade (Burnham);  Disobedience (Leilo);  Ben is Back (P. Hedges);  Sorry to Bother You (Riley);  A Ciambra (Carpignano)

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born).  Runners Up - Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Lucas Hedges (Ben is Back), Ah-in Yoo (Burning) Ed Oxenbould (Wildlife).

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (Wildlife).  Runners Up - Charlize Theron (Tully), Glenn Close (The Wife), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Julia Roberts (Ben is Back).

Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Runners Up  - Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Rafael Casal (Blindspotting), Steven Yeun (Burning).

Best Supporting Actress: Amanda Seyfried (First Reformed). Runners Up - Emma Stone (The Favourite), Rachael Weisz (The Favourite), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk).

31 December 2018

Wherein I Write My Last Post of the Calendar Year and Discuss Various Topics, The Photo of Rihanna Below is Gratuitous

I have to squeeze in one more blog post before the end of 2018. To the delight of many I've written far less on this blog this year than any previous (excepting those years in which this blog did not exist and most especially those years before the advent of the internet). I have any number of excuses for the lack of postings but the best are: working on novel, depression, laziness, helping bringing about peace in the Middle East. This last one has been particularly time-consuming and I must say not altogether successful -- yet. Give me time and I may be able to work things out. Hey, I'm just as likely to bring peace to the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, as is that knucklehead who currently occupies the White House.

Sadly the depression (was that just a pun?) was all too real and even laid me low this morning. Mine is a strange case that has the psychiatric community scratching their heads. My mood can go up and down like a yo-yo within a day, within hours, and sometimes within minutes. My lows can get pretty far down there and its a cause for concern but I've managed to avoid walking on the Golden Gate Bridge. I can joke about it, it's happening to me.

The novel is nearly ready to be peddled. I hate this part. I like to write, not sell. I don't want to have to write the perfect query letter, I want someone to look at what I've wrote and say, "brilliant, we'll take it." Hard work and not the kind I enjoy. I've also started to sketch out the prequel which I'm quite excited about. This is a different kind of fictional experience for me because I know where the story is going in advance. I hope to be able to share more about my writings in the future.

Oh yeah, another excuse I have for not posting more is....the holidays! It gets crazy around here during the holidays. I used to have a boss who was constantly going on about how "crazy" its been recently and how particular times were "crazy." This is a great catch-all for pardoning yourself for ignoring someone or something. You've got: "it gets crazy around here before the holidays" followed by "it gets around here during the holidays," and, of course, "it gets crazy around here right after the holidays." That covers several months of the year. You can use it for the Spring, Summer, or Fall. You've also got "it's our busy time of year" and we're getting ready for, or going on or just back from vacation. School age children add to your excuses. You've got the start of the school year and the end of the school year, and if their high school age, the end or beginning of the semester and if they play sports or in theater or a chorus or a band or the chess club that can add to the "craziness."

Laziness is my biggest bugaboo. TV used to make me lazy but I moved on from that and then the internet came along and that can really add to your laziness. Twitter, You Tube, Instagram, message boards, can all kill one helluva lot of time. Prudent use of the internet is a big net positive but time wasting is a huge deficit to your productivity and ultimately your happiness. I've been off work the past two weeks and have thus suffered from not having a routine. I've needed some down time but tend to get into bad habits such as the aforementioned wiling away of hours on the damn internet.

Today's news included word that the disgraced comedian Louis C.K. had performed recently and included in his routine poking a little fun at the survivors of the Parkland survivors. Clearly this is a man who has never heard the term, "too soon." I mean this is way way way way too soon. Plus the jokes were tasteless. It's a free country and the man can say whatever he wants and it's great that comedians push boundaries (all the great ones have or do, such as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor) but sometimes you can push the wrong boundary or push it too hard. You'll know if you've gone too far if people turn away from you or lambaste you. One thing that CK said was to question why we should have to listen to the survivors. A better question is why do we have to listen to Louis CK? I know I don't want to anymore.

But let's end up on a happy note. My 2018 was much better than my 2017 a year which two of my best friends died, I had a horrible rash that lasted months, I had a "minor" heart procedure and a "minor" foot surgery. On the plus side there was a trip to Europe. This year no one close to me died and I had no physical ailments to speak of other than losing a tooth. Of course there was no trip to Europe but there was one to NY and DC.

I now look forward to 2019, maybe things won't be so "crazy" all the time.

22 December 2018

Various Topics Here Include a Chat With Santa, A Missing Tooth, Advice For the Depressed and Films

When I spoke to Santa Claus recently (see my full interview with him from last year) he was very clear that Donald Trump was going to get a lump of coal in his stocking. “After all, he loves the stuff so much.” The irony.

Santa went on to say that the government shutdown will not effect work at the North Pole. “We don’t get a dime out of the US Government, not since FDR. The Finnish government gives us a little but we’re pretty much self sustaining.”

I asked Mr. Claus again about how he manages to make it to so many houses in one night. His answer had a lot to do with psychics and thermo dynamics and other scientific mumbo jumbo. He drew some illustrations on a giant chalkboard but it was all Greek to me.

Santa refused to divulge what I’m getting this year although he assured me that — according to his records — I’ve been a good boy. This was a relief.

In other news….

I’ve been off work this week as I will be next week. The complete and total absence of having to ride busses and subways — particularly during rush hour — has been blissful. It won’t be long before I retire from the workforce and will thus be recused from commuting.

I’m minus one of my teeth. In the world of dentistry it is the number ten tooth. It had been loose for awhile and so I made a dental appointment, the day before said appointment it fell out. I was tying my shoes pre work out and the sucker just leapt out of my mouth. I put it in my locker and proceeded to go run nine miles. The dentist couldn’t put it back in because the area’s in bad shape. I’ve “got options going forward” like an implant or a bridge and meanwhile have a hole where good all number ten used to reside. The thing about my “options” is that, even with insurance, they are pricey. I have great health coverage such that last year I had surgery on a foot to pare down an errant bone and it barely cost a nickel. But my dental care is another matter.  All I want for Christmas is my number ten tooth.

Running is a temporary cure for depression. It can keep the dark moods away for over 24 hours. This morning I was in the very depths and only the thought of my family kept me from contemplating suicide. But I managed to run eight miles and have since felt terrific. I am working with my shrink on a long term solution to the miseries. It’s a helluva long process and we might wrap it up about ten years after I’m dead. Better late then never.

If you suffer from depression, let people know. Encourage them to check in on you, particularly if you live alone. I have a loving spouse who can always tell if I’m depressed so I’m quite lucky. Not everyone is. Tell anyone you trust. Don’t isolate. If you know someone who suffers from depression, check in with them regularly, particularly if you’ve got reason to believe that they’re suffering. It makes a tremendous difference.

Ya know what the difference between famous and non famous people is? Famous people can talk to other famous people. If you’re famous, people are going to return your calls. If you’re not famous you can 't even get the phone number of famous people and if you do they’re not going to answer or return your call. Think about. If you’re Leonardo DiCaprio and you try to contact Paul McCartney, you’re going to get through to him. If a regular schmoe like me calls Sir Paul….Yeah, right. I have some former students who were on Saturday Night Live together (two as writers one as a cast member) and they got to meet many of their heroes. I’m okay with not being famous but I’d like to meet McCartney and Chris Rock and Martin Scorsese and most of all Rihanna.

It’s been a pretty good year for films and I’ll be publishing my top ten for the year soon. I here have to admit that two of the recent films I saw were in theaters and on Netflix at the same time and I opted to watch them on the latter. This had nothing to do with saving a few bucks and everything to do with avoiding fellow theater goers far too many of whom ruin the show. There are of course talkers, then there are cell phone abusers, people who rip through their bags to get at food they’ve smuggled in and lastly people who chomp loudly on pop corn or whatever else they’re devouring. All it takes is one idiot. Speaking of idiots…the president of the United States. Am I right, ladies and gentlemen?

14 December 2018

Random Thoughts, Opinions, Observations, Comments and Missives

Anyone else think that the TV show M*A*S*H was on about five years too long? Most of the original cast was long gone by the time it wheezed through its last season.

There are words from my youth (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) that you rarely hear anymore. For example, people don't quarrel anymore. Nor do they bicker. No one is ever cross with you. You don't meet people who are bashful. Children don't engage in rough housing or horseplay. No one is told to beat it or to scram. And people don't ever seem to be lonesome.

I don't like rap music. It in no way shape or form appeals to me. I also don't like punk rock, heavy metal or country and western. For some reason a lot of white people are afraid to say that they don't like rap. Silly.

Here are sentences you only ever hear in movies: "I don't want any trouble." "I'm afraid I'll have to insist." "You can learn to love me." "This is bigger than the both of us."

People who deny that climate change is real and man made are, in my opinion, just as stupid as people who believe that the Earth is flat or that golf is a sport.

I kind of miss the variety shows that were so prominent when I was a kid. Shows where there was a host, various acts performed, like a singer or a musical group and a comic and there were skits. Why don't we have those? SNL is sort of like one, but I could do with the old fashioned variety.

MSNBC isn't really a news channel. My wife watches and enjoys it as do many people and there is a lot of good content. However I was on the treadmill last night for over an hour and one of the TVs had MSNBC on. Their entire programming was dedicated to Trump -- as it often is. Not a word about Yemen, Syria, Brazil's new incoming president, the strife in Paris, the trouble with Brexit  the rapist who got no jail time, the incoming congress, poverty in America, climate change or the space program. Ridiculous.

Just wondering. Is there a bigger idiot than Betty Devos (not counting the current president?).

So the NFL is happy to employ wife beaters but draws the line at someone who started a peaceful protest. So very American.

Is is wrong that I love to look at pictures of Rihanna? They make me happy. Mind you I'm happily married and would much prefer a romantic evening with my wife than with Rihanna. But I still like how Rihanna looks.

How come Santa Claus has never been Time Magazine's Person of the Year? Name someone who brings more joy to people's lives, particularly children. You can't do it.

Ya know what was great? When you didn't have to listen to people talk on their telephones. You can't escape it anymore. People will jabber on their mobile phones anyplace, anytime. It used to be you had to be in someone's house to hear a phone conversation, or if you walked by someone on a public phone. I'll never get used to it.

When I was growing up we had five TV stations, now there are hundreds plus streaming services, so there's a helluva lot more to choose from and shows that aren't on regular broadcast channels aren't encumbered by censorship rules. Despite that I find the vast majority of TV shows that I've had any exposure to at all, to be garbage. But there were some excellent shows on TV in 2018. The best, in my opinion, being Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. I also enjoyed: Better Call Saul, The Deuce, The Good Place, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn 99, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Barry.

Speaking of TV shows, The Simpsons has deteriorated a lot these past few years. The show's heyday was during its first seven or so seasons and the quality remained fairly good for another 11 or 12 years, but in the last decade it has become a pale reflection of its former greatness. Might be time to hang em up.

If you follow college football one thing you know for a fact is there are way too many bowl games. When I was a kid (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth) there were about ten. That was too few. Now the pendulum has swung too far and there are four times that amount. The product is diluted when you have too much.

Sometimes I look around when I'm riding a bus or on the subway and I'll be the only person reading a book. Most people are looking at their phones and getting info bytes. There's a lot to be said for narratives. I worry about what's happening to reading habits (as in they'e vanishing).

On MUNI yesterday the transit cops, as they occasionally and quite randomly do, boarded to check everyone on my bus for either a transfer receipt or to see that they used their Clipper card. As far as I could tell they checked everybody, except me, the old white guy wearing a tie. Second time that's happened. Who says white privilege isn't real?

How many books over how many decades is it going to take to sort out the mess that is the current administration? There was a helluva lot written, and still being penned, about Nixon and Watergate but that was child's play next to this. It's going to be a lot for historian's to wade through.

As Christmas approaches it is once again evident that the Republicans are the party of Scrooge (before the ghostly visitations). They hate poor people preferring to lower taxes for the rich and keep the minimum wage as low as they can. They don't give a fig about gun violence, global warming, asylum seekers, immigrants or people of color. They have no conscience as evidenced by their refusal to stand up to the Moron-in-Chief. Bah humbug to them!

To all my fellow progressives: Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, whatever floats your boat.

06 December 2018

It's Not About Date Rape, For Crying Out Loud, Read the Lyrics

In the last few years there's been much talk about how the oft played Christmas song (though it has not a wit to do with Christmas) "Baby It's Cold Outside" is about date rape. This Christmas season a number of radio stations have stopped playing it, though one relented and is playing it again after much protest. Here's the crazy thing: there is no rape, date or otherwise in the song. The brouhaha is much ado about less than nothing.

At no point in the song does the woman say any of the following: get your hands off me, leave me alone, stop doing that, put it back in your pants, or anything else that suggests that the man is forcing himself on her. Rape is nonconsensual sex and there is no evidence anyone is so much as touched in the song.What the song is about is the age old art of seduction which  I believe is still commonly played by men and women. The man is trying to convince the woman to stay, most likely for the purpose of making love. There is nothing wrong with that, unless at some point she says "stop!" which she never does. Indeed the woman seems to be interested in this seduction and her objections are based on what others would think. For example she says: "My sister will be suspicious," "My brother will be there at the door," "My maiden aunt's mind is vicious," "There's bound to be talk tomorrow," "At least there will be plenty implied." She also says, late in the song: "You've really been grand." The song ends with both parties saying: "Baby, it's cold outside." In other words they are singing together and are of one mind. Who knows, maybe she'll spend the night. And yes, maybe he will rape her, but we can't conclude that from the song.

For the life of me I can't figure out where the notion came from that there is a rape involved in this charming little ditty. My only conclusion is that people raising objections haven't bothered to carefully listen to the song, let alone read the words. Who has time to look into things when jumping to conclusions is so much faster and easier?

Baby It's Cold Outside

(I really can't stay) But, baby, it's cold outside
(I've got to go away) But, baby, it's cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping that you'd drop in
(So very nice) I'll hold your hands they're just like ice

(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful, what's your hurry
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I'd better scurry) Beautiful, please don't hurry
(Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour

(The neighbors might think) Baby, it's bad out there
(Say what's in this drink) No cabs to be had out there
(I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now
(To break this spell) I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell

(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I'm gonna say that I tried) What's the sense of hurting my pride
(I really can't stay) Baby, don't hold doubt
[Both] Baby, it's cold outside

(I simply must go) Baby, it's cold outside
(The answer is no) Baby, it's cold outside
(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm

(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious
(My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore
(My maiden aunt's mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious
(But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before

(I got to get home) But, baby, you'd freeze out there
(Say lend me a coat) It's up to your knees out there
(You've really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand
(But don't you see) How can you do this thing to me

(There's bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow
(At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died
(I really can't stay) Get over that old doubt
[Both] Baby, it's cold
[Both] Baby, it's cold outside

27 November 2018

Too Much Time, Knowing Where You Stand, Taking Notes, Horrible Memories and Good Times

A few days ago I pointed out a grammar mistake in a comment on a message board. In response someone wrote that if that sort of thing "triggers" me I must have "too much time on (my) hands."
This got me thinking about what the proper amount of time one should have on their hands. Also, why are the guidelines for this nowhere published? Also, who decides the proper amount of time one should have -- on their hands? Yet another question: what should one do upon finding they have an excess of time -- on their hands. (And why is time on one's hands? Honestly, I don't get that.) I wish I knew the answer to these questions. I did find it interesting that the person who alerted me to having -- too much time on my hands, was able to make that determination based upon my having pointed out a simple grammar mistake. He must be an expert on time management. I wonder about this term and whether it is uniquely American. People in this country seem to love to be busy. They even brag about how busy they are. Why? Shouldn't we strive to have more leisure time? Time to think, reflect, ruminate, time for introspection? Plus if we are not terribly busy doesn't that mean we have time to do volunteer work, help others? I guess that could put us right back at being busy again. Americans take much less vacation than people in other first world countries. In many European countries workers get six weeks off. In the US you can be lucky to get two. Being busy isn't so great, sometimes it just represents poor time management. Also, couldn't it be that a person who keeps themselves busy, is trying to avoid being alone with their thoughts? Maybe being busy is fear based. You have time "on your hands" and you've got to face certain realties and contemplate who you are. Maybe people would rather be busy.

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had some years back. The person I was chatting with had just returned from visiting family in the south, Alabama, I think. Someone asked him about racists in that area and he pointed out that bigots there were very upfront about their prejudices. "It's not like here. Back there you know where you stand with your neighbor, here you don't." Yes I can well imagine how comforting it would be for an African American living in the Deep South to have a neighbor who has a Confederate flag sticker on his pick up and can occasionally be seen donning his white hood for a Klan meeting. Imagine that same African American moving to San Francisco. His neighbor is friendly, chats with him, invites him over for a barbecue, but he can't really be sure where he "stands" with this neighbor. Maybe all the friendliness is just a cover for a latent racist. Better to know for sure. By the same token if someone is lynching you, you damn well know "where you stand" with that person, while that person who cheerily greets you everyday may really be up to no good.

When I'm otherwise occupied I'll often come across topics that I want to write about on this here blog. Then when a moment presents itself when I can write I can't think of a bloody thing to write about. I should start talking notes. Everywhere I go, everything I do, I should carry a notebook in be prepared to jot down what's up. I frequently think of things, some very clever things when I'm in bed shortly before dozing off. I assure myself that there's no way I'll forget this idea, or joke, or line. I always do. Sometimes I remember that I had a very interesting notion the night before and go through fits of agony trying to remember what the hell it was. So there's one place that I should take notes in bed before the sandman arrives.

Sometimes I remember the exact feeling I had as a little kid when my schizophrenic mother would yell at me (not about me) while I was in my room playing. It was an awful voice, angry and loud spewing utter nonsense that had nothing to do with me. It was impossible to ignore and equally impossible to digest. I just had to take it and good lord it was terrible. I want to time travel and find that eight year old me and give me a hug and say it's okay. Poor kid. That was a childhood that fucked me but good for a lot of years. I've spent a lifetime in recovery. But people have dealt with worse so I don't complain. I just carry on. What else can you do?

I've got a lot of happy memories. My wife and children alone have provided tons (memories don't probably come in tons or pounds, but I ain't gonna worry about it). Most of my late teens and 20s were a riot of fun, laughter, parties and good times. I've done a lot of work that I've enjoyed and have fond memories of students and co-workers. I have great memories of travels, vacations, sports events attended, sports played, movies seen and friends and relatives. It's hard to feel the warmth of those memories when I'm depressed. But I'm not depressed now, so it's all good.

Life is a balancing act and you can never have too much time.

06 November 2018

The Writer Explains His Absence From this Blog is Due to Work on a Novel

I haven't written anything on this blog for awhile. Not that anyone would notice (except of course for you my faithful reader Mrs. Elaine Cartwright of Dayton, Ohio -- by the way, is little Jamie over his cold?). It's not that I haven't been writing at all, because in fact I've been writing up a storm (though not a storm big enough to damage homes). But the writing I've been doing has been in an effort to complete a novel. I'm delighted to say that the first draft is finished and I'm currently revising and refining and making sure that it is truly Pulitzer Prize material.

Now that you've all had a good laugh....

This will be my third completed novel. Unlike its two predecessors this one is very good. Of course that's just my opinion as I am thus far the only person to have read it. My first novel was interesting but a mess and now it is lost to the world. The second was pretty good but perhaps a bit too ambitious and as it involved a school shooting was a turn off to would be literary agents. I believe the third time is a charm. In any case it has been a labor of love and I'm proud of it and when it's completed and at the mercy of strangers I will write a prequel and then a sequel.

It is a gross exaggeration to say that "everyone has written a novel." Very few illiterate people have attempted to do so. Most plumbers do not spend their idle hours plugging away at the next Moby Dick. It is also rare that an infant even attempts writing so much as a novella. But it it is true that a lot of people try to write novels and many, such as myself are teachers. Many teachers aspire or did aspire to be something else. Some just teach.

Also there is something of playing the lottery to writing a novel. While your odds of getting rich by writing a book are probably greater than the odds of winning a multi hundred million dollar jackpot, the odds against being published are long indeed. Also the fame and fortune many would be novelists long for are rarely achieved. For every JK Rowling who has made a lottery's worth of dough writing books, there are thousands who've made enough to pay a couple of months rent and many thousands more who can't understand why no one will publish their book.

There, is, of course, self-publishing, the last refuge of the writer. Many writers aiming for the best seller last eschew the very idea as beneath them. Many who do go that route don't even break even on the proposition. But a lot of people don't write novels solely for the chance to be rich and famous or even widely read. Some people just love to write. If not a word of mine ever gets published (perish the thought) I will be sorely disappointed but will not have regretted one second of the writing process.

It has been my ambition to write a successful novel since I was eight years old -- maybe earlier. Over 50 years later I've only written three and at best only one that may see the light of day. There are various reasons for this. One has been drugs and alcohol which stymied a lot of my artistic ambition. Another has been depression which has at times rendered me incapable of typing a word let alone enough for story. Of course work and family have eaten up a lot of time. I've needed both to survive. But the biggest impediment to a successful writing career has been laziness. Which is no excuse at all. I owe myself a lot of apologies for not forcing myself to write daily.

Writing a full length novel takes work. As one can see on this blog I've easily written a slew of short stories (some aren't bad). I can write a decent short story in one day, though most take longer. A novel is infinitely more complex an endeavor, especially when you have work and family obligations.

I hope someday to share glad tidings here of the publication of my first novel. I've finally conquered my laziness and write religiously. This has allowed me to complete the first draft of my novel and make headway on the revisions. I'm really loving the hell out of it and recommend to anyone who has an inkling that they'd like to write to just do it. 

25 October 2018

The Time I was Accused of Sexual Harassment and a Segue into #MeToo and Woody

I was once investigated for sexual harassment. I was a middle school teacher so this was a serious charge.

It was a Friday. I’d just taught my first class of the day. It was my prep period. I was walking through the halls anticipating the weekend. The principal found me and told me to come to her office and I should bring another teacher as a union rep. This scared me from head to toe, I hadn't a clue what was going on. I found a colleague who was also on his prep. The principal was waiting in her office along with one of the vice principals and an associate superintendent for the school district. They looked somber. Without any preliminaries I was told that there had been a charge of sexual harassment against me by a student. I was further informed that I would be suspended immediately with pay while the matter was investigated. I was not told who the student was nor anything relating to the nature of the accusation.

The world had collapsed beneath me. I felt like I was in a Kafka novel.

I was led to my classroom to collect my things, one of the school safety officers was called over to drive me home. I'm not sure why this was necessary unless they just wanted to make sure that I left school property. Before leaving I went to turn off the classroom computer as I always did before going, but the vice principal was there to block me from touching it. That added further humiliation.

The rest of the day and the weekend were excruciating as I searched my mind for what possibly could have led to the accusation. I went over any possible interaction that might have been misconstrued and came up with nothing. Depression enveloped me, so did fear. My livelihood was on the line and I had no idea why. I could lose my job, I could lose my teaching credential, I could even face criminal charges.

Monday I was home, not having to work and getting paid for it but I couldn’t have been more miserable. Of course I had told my wife, but I couldn't let on with the children they were told I wasn't feeling well. I called the union office regularly for updates. They had nothing that they could share. I made arrangements with the school office to drop off lesson plans. I was under no official obligation to do so, but felt a personal and professional obligation to my students. Of course I could only come to school after students had been dismissed. A few colleagues came by to check in with me and offer their support and sympathy. I noted that my computer was gone, I later discovered it had been taken by school district officials and thoroughly searched.

On Thursday I finally got the call from the superintendent of human resources that I was free and clear and could back to work the next day. They were still unable to tell me who had charged me with what, just that I’d been cleared. It was a tremendous relief and I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

I subsequently learned that many of my female students had been interviewed. This was chilling. What must they know think of me now? Was I forever stigmatized in their minds?

To this day, over 13 years later, I have no idea who had accused me of what.

I was a teacher and I had five classes and about 120 students I was responsible for so I returned to work and put the nightmare behind me as best I could. But it nagged. Which of my female students had been questioned? What had they said? How did they feel about me after the questioning?  I completely put out of my mind any thoughts of who might have made the accusation. I’d been over that in my mind repeatedly during the suspension and came up with nothing. But my best guess was that a student had reported something rather innocuous, maybe as revenge for a bad grade or for me having taken disciplinary action against her, and the principal had decided to make a meal of it.

One of the factors working against me had been that, at the time, we had a simply awful principal who had a veritable enemies list among the teachers which included me. I reckoned that she was the real culprit. (I shed no tears when she was fired a year later and four years after that was similarly dismissed from another principal position for the same reasons that she was canned in Berkeley, those reasons including incompetence, pettiness and a propensity to lie.)

In the years since I rarely think about my suspension  although it occasionally resurfaces, causing a shudder and adding to the PTSD I already suffer from. I’m not angry or bitter about the experience anymore but I do still vividly recall how awful it was.

I think about this as women are increasingly coming forward with stories of sexual assaults and harassment that they have suffered. It is a painful time in our culture but an absolutely necessary one. For far too long women have suffered in relative silence, afraid to come forward with their stories. The recent Supreme Court hearings as well as accusations agains prominent people in the entertainment industry have exposed offenders and the degree to which society is silent and complicit in the face of gender abuse.

But I also believe in due process. It is a cornerstone of our democracy and in the principle of justice. When their are myriad credible accusations and stories such as those against the likes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, there can be little doubt of guilt. But even Cosby got his day in court before being found guilty. The #MeToo movement as done a great deal to expose offenders and support victims, but it is not without problems of its own.

The best example is Woody Allen who has unfairly been lumped in with real offenders. Allen was accused — 26 years ago — of molesting his adopted daughter, Dylan. This after an acrimonious break up with girlfriend and frequent film muse, Mia Farrow. Two separate investigations cleared Allen and suggested the possibility that Dylan had been coached in making her accusations, there were also witnesses to this. Indeed there are more witnesses to Farrow coaching Dylan to accuse her father than there are witnesses to any molestation. Further, the story Dylan told of being molested lacks credibility. She has it occurring on a day that a house was full of people many of whom were keeping a close eye on Allen. The setting she described for the violation also makes no sense and more fits to the lyrics of a song that Farrow’s sister wrote years before. Still Dylan re-introduced the accusation a few years ago via Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column and most people on social media believed her.

Last Spring another adopted child of Farrow and Allen, Moses, told a very different story in a blog post, contradicting what Dylan said and charging Farrow with abuse. Many in #MeToo were not kind to him for going against the dominate narrative. One wrote: I will not dignify his post by reading it. Imagine such a response to an abuse survivor bravely sharing his or her story. The actress Roseanne Arquette tweeted to Moses: how much did they pay you to write that? Again this to an abuse survivor recounting their past trauma. More recently Allen’s wife Soon-Yi was interviewed by Vulture and told her story about the abuse she suffered from Farrow. Reaction from many in #MeToo was swift. She was condemned. Evidently #believewomen only applies to certain women, not those who, again, contradict a preferred narrative. Hypocrisy was on further display as many pointed out that the interview was conducted by a friend of Allen’s. However two Vanity Fair articles boosting Dylan’s story were authored by a friend of the Farrows, Maureen Orth and the aforementioned Kristof, who yielded his column to Dylan, is a close friend of the Farrows. Proving he has no journalistic integrity, Kristof refused to give equal time to Moses.

All this is not to say that #MeToo is not important or does not have a place. But we need be wary of painting with too broad a brush and of denying due process where called for. Allen in fact was afforded due process and was cleared but now he’s being re-tried and found guilty — sans any new evidence — by social media.

Hopefully saner and cooler heads will soon prevail and some of the overreach and hypocrisy corrupting #MeToo will dissipate. Also as abusers are uncovered perhaps we can move away from merely castigating the offender and start to look at the causes of the abuse. After all when there is a mass shooting there is very little time devoted to railing against the killer (it is a given he will face justice) and more time spent examining the causes. Maybe in the future we will be able to safely assume that abusers will be prosecuted and afforded due process and focus instead on the difficult work of fixing the societal issues that lead to men violating women.  While who did it makes for good headlines, why it happens is what we need to focus on.