Monday, January 16, 2017

Onward and Upward.

Generally, I try to be cautious, thoughtful, and thorough (or totally absent) when it comes to politics, controversy, etc. I tend to save the anger for the inspiration and the jokes.

This past election and the incumbent POTUS tested my ability to do this and I failed that test. I snapped it in half like a dry cracker in a breadstick costume. You know the ones, they're the worst. They're the "raisins in a cookie" of the breadstick world and they can go jump in a lake, maybe sogging up with moss goo and fish secretions will help their godforsaken texture and taste.

 Anyway. Sorry. No excuse. It's hard to argue with the sort of issues where "the only rational response is anger" makes a lot of internal sense, but that rationalization is coming from anger and, as a result, shouldn't be trusted.

What's next:

There might be more fiction on here as that's a pretty undeveloped area for me, despite my larger interests and intentions. The combo of my academic background and my professional life (I work in PR and as a copywriter), has lead me to become comfortable, too comfortable, with nonfiction. I need to shake things up a bit. So if you're one of the meager few that come here and don't click away when you see fictional nonsense instead of a short essay, sorry about that. I hope you'll stick around. I'm sure essays will still pop in as I continue to try to channel spasms of frustration into expository writing to avoid putting my fist through a wall and/or taking a huge, anarchic shit in a bathroom sink.

Oh, you might have noticed the domain and name switch. Lockheed Martin sent me a charming C&D because they snagged the copyright on "Skunkworks" some fifty plus years after it fell into (admittedly esoteric) common use and well after I started the blog, but they had more money than me to throw at it, so they won. More style changes are coming, I'm even paying an artist to pitch in.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I'm Already Exhausted.

Okay, a thing happened. Again.

short version: The cast of Hamilton said the following to the audience after a performance in which they knew VP-elect Mike Pence was in the audience, so at the end, they made a statement.

“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out, because this message needs to be spread far and wide.

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do,” We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for (sharing) this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

The president-elect responded with the following.

"Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen! The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!"

Ooof. Okay.

So, hearing the incoming administration talk about harassment and referring to a concept of a safe space, let alone so grossly misunderstanding the definitions of both, shouldn't astonish me.

And yet, here we are. I already did a shit load of pull-ups, now I'm going to write about it because these are ways I deal with frustration.

On Theater

First, on the president-elect's comments: to crib from an expert (Dr. Fiona Harris Ramsby), the theater is not generally a safe space, not when it comes to the actual performance. It can be (like nearly anything), but it isn't typically. What it always is, though, is a rhetorical space, one where difficult concepts and ideas are accessed and discussed, not hidden from.

On Harassment

Okay, so, disagreement and respectful address at all, let alone in public for public opinions, is not harassment. Harassment requires aggression and intimidation. And while both are in the eye of the beholder, it's really hard to say that a wealthy, incredibly powerful person surrounded by armed guards felt intimidated by being addressed by the cast of a musical in regards to his legislative reputation. I'm not Mike Pence, I don't know how he felt, and if he felt intimidated or uncomfortable, I do sympathize. At the same time, this feels more like rhetorical gamesmanship cynically employed by the president-elect, someone who has a track record of arguing against the validity of the concepts he's invoking, so I'm struggling a bit in the empathy department. That said, that's on me.

Safe Spaces and their Public Perception vs. Reality

A safe space is not like declaring "base" in tag.

It is not freedom to say whatever you want without facing disagreement or consequences.

It is not an echo chamber. It can be, but it is not, by default, one.

It is not a "hug-box for the over sensitive." If you think it is, spend some time in a politically active student union some time. There's still screaming there, there's still a ton of arguments, it's just full of people that aren't going to ask to touch a black person's hair or ask a rape victim what she was wearing when she was attacked, implying guilt.

Here's what it is. Also, here's why it's in the news.

First, a safe space is an academic term used to describe an already existent idea, it's just sort of. . .codifying it. That codification of a long-existing human behavior and academic terminology has been working their way into the public progressive discourse for the past decade or so. (That said, it's worth noting the earliest reference I could dig up as a formally described "safe space" referred to LGBT community centers in the late 1980s at a point where being gay was, to put it lightly, still a dangerous proposition).

Safe spaces are old and they're everywhere. They're men's only clubs, it's the weekly bridge game with the ladies, it's a quilting bee, it's a mosh pit at a house show, it's the D&D game with old friends, it's a camping/hunting trip, it's a black student union, hell, it's Cheer's for Frasier during his divorce. It's AA. It's a counselling center or support group of any stripe.

At it's basic level, it's anywhere that (with implicit or explicit description), you can have a conversation where you can trust a certain level of common understanding. Note: this does not necessarily mean total agreement or unilateral support for whatever comes out of your mouth.

Which brings me to the next point: In an attempt to formally define an area as a safe space (especially as it pertains to progressive politics), you have to also define unsafe behavior, which means people will ask, which in turn ruffles feathers because when you're dealing with something like a systemic issue (racism, misogyny that enables assault, etc.) that permeate the concept of acceptable behavior for the unaffected, you create rhetorical combat: the people perpetrating the behavior that people need relief from don't acknowledge its existence and, in turn, feel accused. (I get it, and it's a problem the left needs to get way, way better at. I'm working on it in my tiny, raging at the storm-way).

Back to the Beginning

Look. Neither political ideology nor past behavior precludes someone from having access to a safe space. And as much as it can be uncomfortable to admit, people in powerful positions can experience acute harassment. Dismissing either is asking for trouble but, more importantly, it's a dick move.

That is something we need to remind ourselves of constantly. No matter how much this administration and its supporters may rail against the very idea, they are still allowed to have their own safe spaces. It's human nature to seek them, it's human nature to build them. I won't take it away from anyone. (By the way, this, of course, does not mean they can invade someone else's space under that same position of tolerance).

However, what cannot be tolerated is the dismissal, their devaluation, or their cynical invocation of a safe space, of harassment, to avoid disagreement, dialogue, or criticism, especially for public statements and behavior. And that's what the president-elect did.

It's going to be a long four years, folks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Existential Terror of an Enemy

“Total victory against humanity is impossible.”
“That’s absurd.”
“We can kill them, but we won’t win, not completely.”
“What do you mean?”
“Their psychology makes them unbeatable, as far as we define it. Nothing we can do to them results in true domination.”
“How do you figure?”
“They have this adoration of a narrative structure of self, I don’t know what else to call it, that the drama on which they hinge nearly all of their entertainment, that sort of beginning, middle, end, it’s so bare-bones and over-wrought that it’s how they order the cosmos in their minds. Time and space are bound to it, not the other way around. They’ve unintentionally, but fucking diabolically, rewired their brains to only comprehend through narrative. It’s how they remember, it’s how they retell, they can’t help it.”
“No avant-garde resistance?”
“The resistance is, in and of itself, still subject to it. Any attempt to perform or create an anti-narrative results in a thing that is a reaction to that narrative, and therefore still shaped by and subject  to it.”
“That’s diabolical.”
“That’s what I’m saying. It’s fucking infuriating, too.”
“So if we just eradicate them?”
“They will not comprehend us as anything more than the source of their demise. They won’t think of us as fully present beings like them, which is, in and of itself, called dehumanization, but to be dehumanized isn’t to become something other than human, it’s to become a force of nature to be tolerated, defeated, railed against. We just become setting at that point, object of narrative, something like that.”
“So as the last human dies?”
“The last human, even if we surprise them, will have time for a selfish fucking nerve impulse that says ‘here is the tragic end of us’ and their narrative still finishes and gives them the end that, while they may not have personally wanted, humanity will accept as completion, removing us as the victors in any meaningful way we’d understand.”
“I know, it’s the worst. It totally shits.”
“So even though we’re the most brutal, intelligent force in the galaxy, the galactic neighborhood, of anything we’ve ever encountered, and they’ve dared to fight us, we can’t actually beat them, because beating them won’t beat them.”
“It’s literally impossible to have a satisfying end to this.”
“So do we just kill them all anyway? Take their pathetic territory, erase them from memory?”
“No! That won’t fucking work either, because then some jackass will use his last neurons to think, ‘Here lies humanity, taken before its time and left forgotten to time’ and he will shed a tear for himself and bow for an audience that gives a tremendous shit about them because that audience only exists in their mind and will feel and believe what they think it should as if it were them watching a fiction unfold for their benefit.
“That’s god damned psychotic.”
“I mean, yeah, but put another way, it’s brilliant, whether they did it on purpose or not.”
“You know what the extra kicker is?”
“Our own definition of victory, culturally mandated, is the only thing that makes this war untenable.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, we’re sitting here talking about how easy it would be to wipe them from space.”
“Right. But we can’t do it.”
“Why not?”
“Because we won’t accept a victory without a sort of concession that humanity is utterly incapable of recognizing.”
“What the fuck is wrong with us?”
“I know, right!”
“So what do we do?”
“Fight them for awhile. Ally with them eventually. Subsume into their culture and acquire that same sort of resilience. Pretend we don’t understand it, but let it wash over us and gain immortality.”
“And then what?”
“We essentially conquer the universe together.”
“There’s got to be something nastier out there than us, or us with the humans in tow, as intimidatingly gross as that seems.”
“Oh, I’m sure, but we won’t care.”
“Why not?”
“Because we’ll have the human thing where whatever kills us is just part of our story and it can’t win.”
“What happens if they don’t have our definition of victory and wipe us out?”
“We won’t care, we’ll be dead.”
“This is the worst conversation I’ve ever had. My head hurts. You realize none of this would have happened if we hadn’t talked to humans first, right? Just wiped them out?”

“Yeah, but we did. We had to, we had to learn their culture to feel their acquiescence when we crushed them.”
“They’re going to end up ruling the fucking galaxy and we’re going to do the work for them.”
“Fuck. Fuck!”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Role of the Ally as Interpreter

There’s a communications gap that needs to be addressed.

It’s not just that the outdated model of color blindness in regards to race, of the taboo of acknowledgement of prejudicial behavior (self and other), and the definition of racism or oppression as overt acts of violence, has long been tossed on its ear by academics and activists, alike.

It’s that those in power, both actively (those wielding control through their influence, wealth, etc.) and passively (those most associated with a ruling class by default behaviors, cultural, or racial affiliation), have not yet received definitive word of this abandonment and rethinking of the best approach because they haven’t had to. Or rather, they have, but they haven’t been forced, they haven’t been compelled to change except for those actively engaged with the changing notions on race relations by personal inclination, be it intellectual or emotional.

The loudest voices calling for change are very, very familiar with this new approach and have been fully inculcated into it as the starting premise of the discussion. And, while attempting to address de facto oppression and deep-seeded micro aggressive behaviors is both noble and absolutely critical, it creates a situation where the passively powerful and uninitiated are, as a matter of default, at fault and participants in a systemic problem that villainizes them (the uninitiated beneficiary) immediately.

Now, given the concept of systemic oppression, this is a correct assessment of the situation. Unfortunately, the very human, personal, and emotional issues and reactions at play in both leveling and being on the business end of accusations of oppression, whether gender, sexual, racial, class, etc. are extremely intense. As a result, the priority of creating a communications consensus, that everyone is working with the same basic premise and, therefore, intellectual toolkit to disassemble society’s ills, is usually left by the wayside in the name of righteous indignation.

Now, this is not to say that failing to address this communications gap is going to prevent progress, far from it. The largest growing demographics are those already on this particular page. (Although, as an aside, I do catch myself wondering what will come along that puts them to the right of a social issue. The passion on display tends to be more of a hallmark of intractability than an emphasis on adapting to new ideas, an intractability that, by the nature of time, turns these people into a future generation’s conservatives. e.g. The grown up hippies of the baby boom that insist they fixed racism and environmentalism and colonial violence and that’s why they’re pushing back against today’s elements looking to continue their work. The insecurity of realizing you didn’t kick it all is strong, the realization that you’ve gotten too tired to continue is likely even worse, the absolute unwillingness to hear this from a generation that is, and until you die will be regarded as, children, has to be nearly impossible). So, there is an inevitability that’s at work here, some compromise between “sides,” such as they are, will manifest with the same sort of self-leveling exhaustion as always. This is, ultimately, a good thing because obviously no side is immune from the allure of simplistic extremism, no matter how close to the angels their perspective keeps them.


What this does do is create a polarized climate, vividly so. As the definition of racism changes, and the introduction to this new way of understanding it (well, new to most people, not new to humanities scholars, this has been their bread and butter since before the Cold War), comes as an accusation rather than an explanation, it has the nasty backlash of putting those that are passively in the position of power, or beneficiary of oppression, on the immediate defensive. This runs the very, very real risk of making them active oppressors, using their voice and vote to stand in the way of social movement or legislation that could start to rectify some of the greater issues at play.

While the burden of change itself is on that of the passive beneficiary of oppression, the burden of changing their minds, of reaching them, of coming to them in their own intellectual space and redefining it for them, one person at a time if necessary, falls on those already aware of the new paradigm. (Or at least more aware, to say anyone fully understands it is a bit of a reach, to say anyone knows how things will end up even in a best case scenario is fantasy wool gathering).

Is this fair? Absolutely not. To say that the oppressed, whoever they may be, in whatever form it may manifest, need to also now get through to the very people benefiting from their own difficulties is likely too much to take for a lot of people.

So, if I can presume and overreach and step on toes: if there’s a role of ally, or this ally, especially an ally that is more naturally aligned in any capacity with the oppressor and/or passive beneficiaries of oppression, it’s doing this leg work. It’s listening to the (if you’ll forgive a simplistic descriptor) oppressed party, of engaging with the issues intellectually, thinking of it as an act of work, of academic effort and patience. This is more productive, and definitely more helpful than exercising your chance (as ally) to play fist-balled revolutionary, purging anger on the villainous ideological apparatus and its masters. That is the privilege of the victim.

Addressing that communications gap, doing that work, is a crucial role available for us, (if I can presume), the ally.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Command the Survival

Drink the water. Eat the food. Keep running. Watch the rocks. Mind that sand. Run that hill. Ford that creek. Mind those bears. Crouch beneath the bushes. Run across the log. Do it now. Run faster. Run faster! Duck behind the rocks. Count your blessings. Drink the water from the bottle. Eat the berries, the red berries, eat the red berries. Skip the blue berries, they’re not blueberries. Wait here.

Wait here.

Wait here.

Breath. Keep breathing. Flare your nostrils. Quiet the air. Control that breathing, don’t hyperventilate. Sweep your eyes around. Check for pursuers. Count to ten. Find the quiet. Check again. Run.  

Duck. Duck now! Get in that hole. Slide through. Get wet. Use the water. Fall slow. Splash quietly. Wade deep. Move steady; breath steadier. Hands high, hands dry. Get your neck wet. Feel the draft on it. Let it guide you like it’s pushing you. Step carefully. Use your toes. Grab the rocks. Mind the slime. Go deeper. Feel the draft strengthen. Watch for light, any light ahead. Tilt your head back and breath. Use your scalp to feel the draft. Flatten your palms on the ceiling. Flatten your face on the ceiling. Kiss the stone while you walk. Even breaths, don’t panic; do not panic.

Look down across your face. Look towards your mouth, over it. Look for light. Breath even. Breath easy. Walk slow, walk steady. Tilt your head forward while the water lowers. Don’t rush it. Eyes forward. Step up with the stones. Put your hands in front of you. Crawl up the bank. Head forward. Keep the water at your chin. Feel for ripples. Look for light. Follow the light. Move up, always up.

Stop. Listen. Take easier breaths, and listen. Move. Move now. Move faster. Kick! Don’t let them get a grip on your legs! Kick them off! Get away. Fight. Struggle. Keep struggling. Kick with your free leg! Get them off of you! Claw at their gums! Drag your nails. Harder! Peel flesh! Make them sorry! Make them let go, make them scream, whatever you do, make them let go!

Get out of that hole. Get back outside. Don’t think about what happened. Stop the bleeding. Worry later. Tourniquet now. Put weight on it. Run, limp, run. Keep moving. Get focused. Keep focused. Keep sharp. Start counting to yourself. Count as high as you can. Keep running. Picture your mother. Think of her voice. Think of her voice counting to you. Don’t count numbers, count things, memories. Keep sharp. Ignore the pain, keep moving.
Run. Walk. Crawl.

Crawl! Keep crawling. Use your arms. Drag your legs. Keep counting. Keep thinking of your mother. Think of her voice. Think of her smell. Think of her counting. Count one song. Count two stories. Count three birthdays. Keep counting. Keep using your brain. Think of her tears. Keep dragging those legs. Let the doctors worry about them later. Get free. Get away. Keep crawling. Eat later. Drink later. Everything later. Don’t listen to their song. Don’t let it take over. Keep crawling, keep counting. Grab that root. Ignore the sounds behind you. Ignore the sounds below you. Drag yourself over the rocks. Breath. Do not stop. Do not listen. Move. Keep going. Ignore that their chasing has stopped. Ignore that the pain is fading. Ignore the pleasure. Ignore the song. Ignore the silence. Keep going. Keep crawling. Grab that vine. Hoist yourself over that log. Fall off the other side. Roll down the hill. Think of one. Think of two. Think of three. Keep counting. See the lights. See the wall. See the guards. See the doctors. Picture them closer. Picture them near. Do not follow the pleasure’s voice. Focus. Don’t give up. Stay with me.

Please don’t give up. You’re so close.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Atlanta, Black Lives Matter, and Civil Action

So, those of you pushing back against the recent marches, traffic disruptions, protests, and particularly bristling at and dismissing comparisons to the civil rights marches of the 60s:

Listen, I know uncertainty is scary and stressful. And I know feeling the status quo get disrupted is equally scary and stressful, especially when things don't feel that bad from where you're standing.

However, at this point, the evidence is piling pretty high indicating that thus far, most of us have lived a life insulated from the challenges that large chunks of this country have had to deal with every day, making everything anywhere from a little bit more difficult than it has to be, all the way up to life threatening. This doesn't mean your life has been easy, but it does mean there are additional challenges you've never even really sniffed.

That sort of difficulty and danger on top of life itself is worth getting mad about. That's worth stopping traffic for. That's worth marching through cities over. That's worth gnashing teeth, waved signs, and a whole lot of "how dare you not take this seriously/how dare you make this about you."

The Civil Rights Movement is baked into the narrative of American history as a victory over evil. It was taught to many of us as a straight line inevitability. This starts with the emphasis on the founding fathers that tried to get slavery abolished in the constitutional convention but had to "table it in the name of compromise" (for 90 years?!) and the downplaying of Washington and Jefferson's own chattel slave holdings.

It's not a straight line. Very little in history is. It's taught as a narrative because it's easier to digest that way, but there are very few straight lines. Any primary source accounts you read speaking out against Dr. King's marches reveal hurled invective of the ugliest type, calling him things that even ardent racists know to avoid in polite company these days, but you'll also see the same sorts of quiet, insidious, 9th grade persuasive essay style dismissals and pleadings for peace, calm, orderly action over protest, an objection to disrupting the status quo, and an insistence that the world is the way it is as a result of natural behavior and in no way because the deck is stacked against the descendants of this country's original sin.

So maybe stop before you say "No, this is nothing like that" and recognize that you're in the middle of change and the narrative isn't written for you, yet. You have to look at the moving parts and recognize for yourself what may be wrong and how you can help or, in the fullness of time, where you want to say you stood when the end of the sentences you inhabit turned to question marks.

Stop before you explain to nobody in particular that the disenfranchised, angry, and scared need to act like they have the authority and comfort of simply going to a negotiation table with a system, a concept, and a culture that struggles to even acknowledge their complaint exists, or even worse, deliberately denies it out of fear of the complexity of the solution.

Don't be denial or fear. The only sensible answer to the call "black lives matter" is "of course they do. Now, how can I help?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Annex the Dead

The man’s back shouted “Annex the dead!” with white paint on black leather, the lines of each letter two fingers wide. It sat like a dread warning of a bad idea taken to the point of rabid dedication where nobody would know what to do when they got there but that never slowed the drive.

It scared the shit out of Robbie, sitting there in the alley. She couldn’t help but think of thumbs pressed into soft, rotten abdomens, the complex anatomy that made humans work reduced to pointlessness without its differentiation, complexity, specialization, and focus; just a pile of “guts,” goo sifted through for something identifiable, pawed by the untrained hands of the sort of assholes that split the world into what they could use immediately and what they couldn’t.

Robbie couldn’t breath, she pressed her chest out harder, making it suck cool breathe deeper just so she could feel the evidence of air to promise her panic that it was okay, “See?”

Meanwhile, her brain shouted back waving a chair in her face like a wild-eyed lion tamer, begging in screams to do something about the men trying to kill complexity, turn gorgeous wonderful organs of circumstance and idea into easily comprehendible and therefore dismissible undifferentiated fetid slime.

Robbie sat down and squeezed the tears of rage past her defenses, maybe letting out the hot pressure of every bully she ever knew using their bodies to make the world a lie of simplicity. She wanted to lash out, to find the jacket, to pound her fists into the words and say “you can’t do that!”

They wouldn’t care, they’d say “this crazy girl” and put on a mask of empathy because empathy went soft with the kidneys and all they understood was grabbing the dangerous edges of iliac crest and pulling on hips until they had what they wanted from life.

Robbie’s breath caught in a jaw clenched just barely open in an illusion of control, she pressed both fists into the cement at her sides, seated in that alley, lifting of the ground like a baby crow, propelled by terrified rage and she shook.

They didn’t understand. They didn’t understand. They didn’t understand. They didn’t understand.

She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t. This was wrong.