Writer’s Block: Glorious mediocrity

For those of you who have asked – and I quote – “Where’s your next lousy blog post?”, I have a confession. I have writers block. I had resolved to write about the 4th of July.   But, I got nothing. My resolution has gone the way of all my New Year’s resolutions, upon which if I had followed through would have resulted in David (now apparently referring to himself only in the third person ) would be 185 lbs with six pack abs and biceps that make LL Cool J jealous. Instead I am around 210, I have abs the size of a six pack, and my biceps wouldn’t strike fear into the heart of Richard Simmons.

So, it’s no surprise my resolution to write about the 4th of July can’t even be aided by a 5th of Jack Daniels.

I’m sure this even happened to the greats. I’m sure Shakespeare had trouble…. “To be or…. what? To be…. or… that is the question”.

Or even Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein “what door bells!?… no that doesn’t work… what hooters! That doesn’t even make sense in the scene. What knockers! That’s it!”

At least I am in good company.

Truth is, I’ve not written much in a month or more. I could never make a living this way. Writing requires creativity. Even writing an article for a dry scientific journal requires the brain to be firing on all cylinders. Mine clearly is not. Why this is, is as simple as water yet as complex as a nuclear submarine[1].

The simple part is I haven’t cared much about writing. The complexity is in the why. Might have something to do with my marriage ending, the rest of my personal life in the crapper, my career sputtering, and my “give a shit factor” (aka “GAS Factor”) being at zero. That actually describes the past month pretty well.

But it’s getting better. I’m me again. In all my glorious mediocrity, I am me. Even if I am idling a little rough and in desperate need of a “valve” job.

Please don’t think I am cutting myself down by calling myself mediocre. Statistically speaking, if “normal” lays (lies?) within two standard deviations of the mean, then 95% of us are normal. I’ll accept that I am somewhere in that 95%. Only 2.5% of us suck and only 2.5% of us are truly extraordinary. I don’t believe I am really extraordinary. I might suck, but I don’t swallow, so I got that going for me.

This 4th, I wanted to write funny things about our nation’s independence. Like how our national anthem is basically unsingable. The fact that the tune is an old drinking song doesn’t help. If we want to use a famous drinking song as our national anthem, Free Bird remains available. We already stand when it’s sung and every southern boy already knows the words. Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw is another fine option. I bet the current president has sung it a time or three.

I thought about songs that could define our last election and the three campaigns .

Gary Johnson: One Toke Over The Line (Brewer and Shipley)

Hillary: Evil Woman (ELO)

Trump: Crazy Train (Ozzy) or maybe just Crazy by Patsy Cline.

I wanted to write about how Andrew Jackson was really the Donald Trump of his age: Faux common man who wasn’t a “politician”.

I wanted to say something about how America remains a great experiment in government by and for the People. About how the Founders devised the Senate to be a chastity belt restraining the passions of the House. Today the senate tends to inflame those passions.

These are all things I wanted to write about. Nope. Not happening. Even so, here are a few things that make me proud to be an American.

For example, Donald Trump, who proves any vulgar, misogynistic, lying, grab-em-by-the-Putin, paste eating moron can become president. Means there’s hope for even the worst of us.

Also for television commercials with dogs driving Suburus and a subtitle to make sure we know it’s a really just a dramatization.

For Costco where I can by a pack of 48 condoms or a box of 48 diapers in case one of the condoms breaks.

Speaking of which…. I’m glad to see young people today so educated about condoms. We weren’t. Through undergrad and vet school not a single woman asked me to wear one nor did I offer. We were either ignorant or willfully foolish. To us, condoms were a means of birth control. HIV was regarded – wrongly – as a gay disease. Other STDs were (we thought) rare and/or treatable.  I can’t speak for anyone else with certainty but I know they never came up. It may have taken a generation, but it seems the concept of safe sex has finally sunk in. Even for Neanderthals like me.

Perhaps that’s emblematic of America. We fuck up. We learn. We move on. Sometimes our mistakes are deadly. But we generally learn from them, even at other’s expense. It’s true, we are always preparing for the last war, the last epidemic. But we survive; sometimes in spite of ourselves.

That’s America. And because it is, in all our glorious mediocrity, not just us, but tens of millions more are free.

 

[1] I’m not even sure I like that sentence, but I have nothing better.

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Demons

 

It’s 1:30AM. The middle of the night. That’s when the demons are their loudest. In my mind, they appear as a medieval stone relief, fanciful shapes from 13th century imaginations. The demons dance and mock me. They tell me my life has been a mistake. A waste. A lifelong masterbatory exercise with no purpose, meaning, or impact. They even quote scripture, from Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! It’s all meaningless!”

In a sea of positive voices, I hear the lone dissenter. The demon telling me I’m not good enough. I don’t make the cut, past actions or attitudes irredeemable, future actions of no value. I am a stained garment that cannot be bleached clean.

Depression hears the dissenting voice. Sometimes it *is* the dissenting voice, a demon if its own. Either way, it tells me – all too effectively- I am nothing and as nothing, descending into the nothingness of death is not only a viable option, it is even desirable.

Demons come in all forms. To quote Kenny Chesney,

“Sometimes they’re in a bottle,

Sometimes in high heeled shoes….

When I’m not chasing demons,

there’s demons chasing me.”

 

I’ve spent most of my life dancing with or fighting my own demons. Insecurity taunts me, the idea that I am not good enough to be loved. I may choose to fight it with alcohol. Or I may choose to fight it by simply “proving” it wrong, if you catch my meaning.

The greatest demon I face is my depression. It’s the largest gargoyle on the cathedral. It is the great liar. It takes every good thing and tells me it was unearned. Depression takes every personal rejection and reminds me I am unloved and unlovable, incapable and undeserving.

I wish I didn’t have this damn disease. Of course, I recognize it now. I didn’t until i was 50. I am a late bloomer I guess. But it’s never too late to change your life and seek a new beginning. No treatment is perfect and while I have been generally well controlled, these past 3 months have been, in a word, “shit”. It’s affected my marriage (I’m not sure whether the dissolution came first, which made the depression worse or the severe depression caused the dissolution of the marriage. Doesn’t matter.)

Someone said the opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s vitality. It’s possible to be happy “in the moment” and be depressed as hell. Most people with depression can hide it very well. I am no different. I know it’s there, like a computer program running in the background. Every now and then it announces itself. “Hey moron. If people knew who you really were, no one would like you.” You ignore the voice for now, but keep coming back to it often enough it becomes almost hard wired.

It’s not possible to pray it away. It’s not possible to think it, wish it, screw it, drink it (lord, no), will it, or cry it away. It just laughs. It will come and go seemingly of its own volition, usually without warning and at the worst possible time. Sometimes it brings its BFF, anxiety, over for a visit and you’re outnumbered.

Medication helps fight the demons. They make it a much more even fight. But there are no magic bullets. Medication helps normalize neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. I’m still me. They just allow me to maintain me. Sometimes I feel great and truly alive. Others in a funk, unable or unwilling to move beyond a snail’s pace. Even so, there is no doubting the benefit of my meds. I’d like to be off them, but I doubt that will ever happen. Maybe I can get down to one?

The other thing that helps is music. Fast and loud, mostly; but also songs to make you cry and release the pent up emotions that we hide from others. Sometimes it’s AC/DC, others it’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Music moves the emotions in a way the demons can’t touch. It’s not magic, but it is the strongest weapon in the arsenal.

Fighting demons is a constant battle. It’s the original insurgent fight and long before Iraq, the battle against this insurgency was and is for the heart and mind. Losing is not an option. You hold at all costs.

“Some come rolled in paper,

Some have six strings and only play the Blues.

Once you’ve met the devil

There’s no way he’ll let you be.

When I’m not chasing demons,

There’s demons chasing me.”

 

 

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The sun is the same in a relative way…

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older

Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Time, Pink Floyd

 

The trouble is, you think you have time.

Buddha

 

Every morning the sun illuminates my office through east-facing windows, filtering through the rather robust creosote bush directly opposite my desk. Depending upon the season, the sun may be angled more from the north or south, but it rises on schedule each morning, casting its light upon the ever so subtly pale blue walls, giving the room a glow that reminds me of Coastal Carolina. Warm and inviting.

Such has occurred more than 19,000 times since I have been on this earth. We measure time by the sun’s rising and setting and it adds up to weeks, months, and years. By any measure, seeing anything close to 20,000 times is a lot. You probably have it kind of figured out by then.

Time, however, is different. It slips through our hands like water, at best staying long enough to yield a small taste. It moves quickly yet can stand still. Ask any child waiting for Christmas and they will swear the clock is running backwards.

In your youth, you swear time is an inexhaustible resource.

As a young adult, you plan your life as if the days are promised.

At middle age, you begin to look back and wonder whether your life has amounted to shit,

even whilst planning the rest of it so you don’t become a burden.

In your seniority, you look back with wonder; asking “where did it all go?”; the once inexhaustible resource now spent, “shorter of breath and one day closer to death”.

The problem with time, said the Buddha, is we think we have more of it. Life is short, for some very short. Having had both my biological parents die of cancer causes me to wonder how short mine will be. Not that I can influence it a whole lot.

One piece of advice almost all seniors will give young people is to care for how you use time. Many wish they’d used theirs differently. I’ve never met anyone who wished they’d spent more time at work and less time with family.

All the world’s religions are full of advice or requirements on how we are to live our lives – spend our time. In fact, there’s a fascinating term: “spend our time”. Time is finite, like money. Some seem to have it in excess, but it exists only in specific quantities. The difference for most of us is, we know how much money we have. We can budget, earning and spending accordingly. Time is different. Unless we have a terminal illness, we don’t know how long it will be until our time account is emptied. And you can’t borrow any more.

What is the end of the matter? What matters most? How we answer that largely depends upon one’s world view and/or religion. I’ll answer with my own thoughts, but since life and faith are a journey that answer may change over, well, time.

I think the answer is both ancient and modern; universal and personal. A prophet to Judah told the people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” I love the fact that this rendering of Micah 6:8 from the King James Version published 406 years ago makes justice a noun, rather than the adverb “justly”, as do some modern renderings. Justice and mercy flow together. There can be no justice without the other, only mindless adherence to law. (Then, as now, that seems to have been a problem). I also appreciate the metaphor, cliched as it is in some religious circles, of “walking” with God. This is a journey, not a static adherence to a set of beliefs devised by men to explain things written down long ago or to force certain behavioral conduct. Walking is active and it takes, wait for it, time. Finally, the personal pronoun “your” is used; I think with great effect. You go for a walk with a friend, an individual, a lover. You may hold hands, kiss. You may take a detour and make love in the grass, warmed by the sun, yet moist with the admixture of passion and the remaining morning dew. That’s personal and intimate. That is love actuated. It is a journey in which the joy is in the travel, not merely the destination. At the end of the day, love is the best way to spend your time.

 

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The Purpose of the Struggle

Life, I have found, often doesn’t give us much say. We are born to parents we don’t choose, in a place we don’t know, in a time we don’t comprehend and the first thing someone does is smack us on the ass. Welcome to life, kid. And, if you’re a boy, odds are they’ll snip off the end of your dick. No wonder so many men have anger issues.

Other times, life does present us with options, which then begat decisions. While many of my decisions may be filed under “well, that seemed like a good idea at the time”, in truth many of our decisions are based upon bad options from which are simply trying make the best.

The movie Argo recounted the heretofore largely unknown story of how a group of Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy during the Iran hostage crisis were rescued by CIA operatives posing as a Canadian film crew. Among a host of famous lines is one where Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck were attempting to sell their idea to the Director of the CIA. The Director asked them, “Is this the best bad option you have?” “Yes, this is the best bad option.” This seems to sum up my life.

The options we have and the choices we make help direct us, but they don’t define us. We are still the same people and if we make the hard choice it can make us stronger (so goes the cliché). Frankly, I think a lot of that is off the stable floor. If a single choice makes or breaks you, odds are you’re fucked. Good decisions usually need to be strung together for their cumulative weight to make a difference. When they do, they can be powerful and change your life. However, a single bad decision can kill you.

Sometimes the right decisions are the most painful. Just because you made the best call doesn’t mean it doesn’t truly suck.  When I was thirteen I was sent to a boarding school in Frederick County Maryland. It was against my will and I did not want to be there. This is the story of one decision, once chance encounter, that changed my life.

I had returned the previous summer from Southern California where I had lived with my aunt and uncle and their two high school children. There I lived for most of the second semester of my eighth grade year. The circumstances which led me to be there I have never shared.

In what was then called junior high I was bullied, somewhat mercilessly. To this day I don’t know why, other than I was an easy target. I was raised by a sometime single mom who was between marriages at the time. I didn’t fight back. I was painfully shy, too tall and rail thin. I did however, have a winning smile, bright eyes, and was a willing student popular with my teachers. (Yeah, like that helped.)

By the middle of eighth grade, I had had enough and I simply refused to go to school. My mom wasn’t sure how to handle me. I wasn’t defiant. I never gave my mom a lick of trouble. I’m not certain whether I told her I was bullied, but I don’t believe I did. I was too embarrassed. This went on for weeks and at different times she brought in my dad, whom I rarely saw in those years, and then my step dad, with whom I had been fairly close when he and my mom were married. Finally, she took me to a child psychiatrist who decided on the first visit that I needed inpatient psychiatric care. The issue, however, was there would not be an opening in the facility for probably a month.

I am not sure who thought of this first, but my mom asked her oldest sister and brother in law whether they could take me for a month. My aunt didn’t work outside the home and I would have a safe place to stay. It was quickly decided that I would fly to Los Angeles – alone – and stay with my aunt, uncle and cousins.

On the appointed day, my father took me to Dulles airport to board a United DC8 for LAX. I had never been on a plane and, in fact, had always been deathly afraid of flying (I was scared of a lot of things, back then, as I think of it). Procedures for unaccompanied minors must have been rather lax because I was neither escorted on or off the plane. I was to fly to LAX, gather my bags then find the bus to the Disneyland hotel where I was supposed to meet my Aunt who lived in Southern LA County. Somehow, I managed to pull this off with no adult supervision whatsoever. Maybe being a latch key kid had increased my level of resourcefulness.

I lived with my aunt, uncle and cousins for a few weeks and it was quickly decided that I seemed stable enough to stay with them and go to school. I was keen on the idea – anything was better than where I was. They enrolled me in a parochial school run by a Baptist Church in Whittier. It was the most welcoming place I had known. I came in the middle of the year into a place where most of the kids had known each other for years and I was treated like a long lost relative. I got back on track academically and finished my eighth-grade year and returned home in June.

By then my mom had met the man who would become husband number three. Chuck was younger than my mom by roughly a decade, had never been married, and had no idea about teens. Frankly, he was a little peculiar. This man whom I had never met was to be my new step dad in a week. Welcome home, son.

As an aside, Chuck and my mom remained married until my mom’s death in 2007. He has since remarried and is happy. We keep in touch.

Fast forward to August. We had moved to Severn, Maryland where Chuck owned a townhouse. I of course had no friends there. I did, however, find some porn magazines Chuck apparently had forgotten were stashed under the mattress in what became my room; so at least I had something to do. Even with that nightly entertainment, I was dreading the upcoming school year and we toured a collection of schools including a small protestant school down in Rockville. That of course was nowhere near Severn, but it was near enough to my grandmother’s that maybe I could live there, I thought.

As the school year started and I was yet to be enrolled anywhere, mom and Chuck decided I would go to a catholic school outside Baltimore. I decided otherwise and it became a standoff. I wanted to go down to the school in Rockville and they wanted me to go to the Catholic school near them. Chuck decided I needed good old fashioned discipline and wanted me to go to a military school.

I’m not sure how we ended up at Highland Academy in western Maryland, but it was an Adventist Boarding School. It was in an idyllic location, I will grant you that, but I didn’t want to be there either. I had one single minded goal, and in the elastic mind of a 13 year old it was achievable: to go to school at Temple Christian School in Rockville, MD. The people seemed friendly, it was small, and it didn’t look like I was going to get beat up.

When I arrived at Highland Academy I was already plotting my escape. The school was only a mile or two off I-70 and just down I-70 was a rest area. I would go to the rest area and hitch a ride with a trucker headed to the DC area. Easy peasy.

My first night at Highland academy I put my plan in motion. I made it down to the main road and a short way down to the highway before the headmaster found me. I should have waited until their guard was down. I’m not sure whether I tried again the next day or waited a day or two, but I tried again, this time in the day when everyone was in class. I made it down to the main road undetected. So far so good. I walked briskly down to the interstate. I carried no belongings. I didn’t even have any water on me.

Here is where the story takes a strange twist of fate. I suppose life is full of improbable moments. Life itself is so improbable as to be laughable. But here we are. There was obviously a giant flaw in my plan. It was during the work week, in the middle of the day, and I was clearly a runaway. There was no other explanation, obvious or otherwise. Yet to me, this plan was foolproof.

I made it to the I-70 interchange and saw the rest area maybe a half mile away. However, between myself and my ride to freedom was a young couple changing a tire; right at the interchange where I was going to enter the shoulder to walk to the rest area. I came up and said hello. I don’t recall whether we spoke much at that point, but I did continue walking toward the rest area. As they were just putting the flat tire in the trunk when I left them, they caught up to me before I had gone far.

“Where are you heading?”

“I’m heading to the DC area. I attend school up here and I want to get home for the weekend and my folks don’t have a way to come get me. I was going to see if I could hitch a ride down here at the rest area.”

“Well we are headed to Virginia. We can take you down there.”

I got in the backseat and breathed the biggest sigh of relief I have breathed then or sense. They asked me a few questions and we made small talk. I could think fast and answered their questions in a manner that suggested that, if I wasn’t telling the truth, I has at least worked really hard on the lie.

We drove to Bethesda, MD just north of DC and since they were headed to Virginia I asked them to drop me off at River Road and 495. Which they did. I thanked them kindly and began walking up River Road toward the Congressional Country Club.

Looking back and with the benefit of google maps, I see my walking route was rather circuitous, but I knew the street names so that’s how I went. My walk, it appears was 7.8 miles. No wonder I was tired when I got to my grandmother’s house. Her next door neighbor, Mrs. Miller, was there visiting and was just preparing to go when I knocked on the door. “Oh, it’s David. Will you go let the dog in?” I did as requested and walked toward the back door of my grandmother’s small cape, as Mrs.  Miller said her good byes out the front. I returned to my grandmother in the living room and looked at her and she at me, as it dawned on her. So far as she know, I was sixty miles away.

“Wait. What are you doing here?” I told her the whole story, which was beginning to take on the character of Alice’s Restaurant, complete with full orchestration and four-part harmony. Grandma called my mom who then called the school. Her next call was to the school in Rockville. I was to be enrolled there. I would live with my grandmother. I had won.

Rarely in life does a single good decision bear lifelong fruit; especially one that was inherently a foolish act of an impetuous teenager. But somehow or Someone protected me. The school I attended was nothing special. In fact, it was quite fundamentalist, the science education was non-existent, and it was by today’s standards rather racist. But we were full of the vigor of the newly formed Religious Right who was going to “take back America”. We were insanely – willfully – foolish and if we had bothered to read the Bible we preached we would have seen that.

I cover this topic elsewhere in an essay called “Religion in America- part two” and the nature of the school and the education I received is really irrelevant to this story. What is critical to understand is I found friends. Good friends. I found a girlfriend who even though I was skinny thought I was special. Eventually she became my first lover. I will never forget her or the time. This was a big step for kids who had been taught God would send us to hell without a swamp cooler if we fornicated. Well, we fornicated like rabbits for three or four years and enjoyed every minute of it.  Over time the relationship became dysfunctional. I developed anger issues, I presume the bullying and uncertain home life had taken an unknown toll. She developed an enjoyment for drugs, not just marijuana. We broke up, but we both survived.

Garth Brooks sings about unanswered prayers and I am so glad mine in those days were. In retrospect, I had developed depression that I see quite clearly now, but was unknown then. Someday I may write about the intervening years, but what continually amazes me are the circumstances that led me to my high school. And the one aspect I will never forget is the couple changing the tire. To me they are angels, sent by God to protect a 13 year old boy. That may be a fanciful interpretation and those events merely a series of amazing coincidences. The universe was built upon those – and physics. Who drives them is ultimately a matter of faith and I’ll leave it to you to decide.

I only know this. A troubled teen, with an unstable home life, was bullied and scared. He had few friends and was to be sent for inpatient treatment, where this being the mid 70’s who knows what would have happened. As it turned out, he just needed a change of scenery. He also needed acceptance. He found it, or at least enough of it, to be happy. And even thrive. Never mind that the acceptance was based in large measure on conformity. I at least wasn’t threatened and I found two men, Larry Scites and Fred Shope, who were real and genuine and loving mentors. I finally had a vision of the man I could grow up to be. My friends Tim, Tim, Merl, Chris and others shared adventures with me I will never forget. We have for the most part lost touch, but we were there for one another when it mattered. If any of them needed me I would be there in a heartbeat.

As I write this, I am going through a struggle that consumes me almost as much as the one recounted above. Someone asked me yesterday what I was looking for and I articulated it for the first time: acceptance. I see I am back to where I was forty years ago. Looking to be free and be me whether I conform to you or not. Free to love as powerfully and recklessly as I wish, based upon the grace extended to me. I finally understand the purpose of my struggle: acceptance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cashew Chicken Half Off

When I was growing up in the 70’s, body art was generally limited to bikers, hippies, and those in prison. Somewhere along the line that changed. Now, even Republicans (at least those not previously in prison – see “break in, Watergate”) are getting tattoos. I think this is an excellent phenomenon, one in which I just participated.

As an aside – and this does have something to do with this essay – I am continually amazed how many people find Jesus in prison. If they had found him before their particular crime, perhaps their ass wouldn’t have ended up in the can in the first place. The reasons for this, may end up the subject of another essay at some point.

grace tat 2017.05.06

This rather hairless and skinny left ankle is mine. I’m small boned.  The symbol is the Mandarin character for “grace”, as in God’s grace or the grace and forgiveness we extend, all too rarely, to others.  Philip Yancey has written it’s “the last, best word”. Fellow Oxford professors once asked CS Lewis what separated Christianity from other belief systems. He answered, “that’s easy; grace.” Grace means giving up your right to punish, to seek revenge, to become bitter. Grace, most assuredly, does not mean weakness. To the contrary, it requires amazing strength of character. I wish I had more of that strength.

When I decided to get my first ink, something over which I have been quietly ruminating for several years, I knew I wanted it to be something about grace. When I found this symbol, I knew it was the one. I looked for other options and kept coming back to this one. Like taking an exam, go with your first answer.

There is always a risk in tattooing a foreign word on your person. I attempted to verify online the authenticity of this character by checking multiple websites and it all checked out. Of course, there is always the nagging fear that it actually means “cashew chicken half off”. Should I travel to China, where a shitload of actual Chinese people live, I shall keep it covered. I could not stand the laughter if I am wrong.

People can tattoo whatever they wish, but the best ones seem to me to be those which are personal and carry deep meaning for the individual. My nineteen year old daughter, Livia, has “Blessed” tattooed inside her left forearm. She says it means she is blessed her birth parents gave her life back in Romania and to have been adopted by us. I love that girl.

Tattooing this message was my version of a “semi colon” tattoo, which I also considered. I also considered a tattoo on my penis. Part of the time it would read “Wendy”. At others it would be, “Welcome to Arizona. Have a nice day.”

Grace is indeed an amazing word and you need not accept the religious connotation to appreciate it. To appreciate grace, you need to consider “gracelessness”. Without grace for one another, we become ISIS, immolating our enemies, at least metaphorically. Too many followers of history’s leading purveyor of grace completely lack it, missing the essence of his message. Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal, we reduce life and faith to a business arrangement, wherein we simply must keep up our end of the Contract, or else. That’s not love. That’s employment. No relationship can long survive under those conditions.

As difficult as it is to demonstrate grace for others, it is harder still to give grace to oneself. At least for me. I’ve never given myself “two thumbs up” for anything and my own sins and failings I find hard to let go. It’s not that I advocate ignoring one’s failings (how would we ever mature and grow?) It is more a matter of keeping things in proper perspective. My new tattoo reminds me to live my life consistently showing grace to others and treating myself the same. It reminds me Someone believes I am worthy of grace and who am I to argue? Of course, the phrase, “worthy of grace” is an oxymoron of global proportions. By definition, one can’t ever be “worthy” of grace, only retribution. Our whole criminal justice system is based upon that, with retribution supposedly proportional to the offense. Of course, if you’re Black, your offenses must be worse.

Grace…. The best word. It frees us to love. To hope. To have faith in the Ultimate Good. In a truly fucked up world, grace is the only hope for peace. Presidents and prime ministers, popes and princes can’t bring it. Admirals and armies can’t protect it. Only grace can. It’s what Gandhi preached. It’s what King learned from Gandhi and is the ultimate irony. Only with grace can we have justice. Only with grace can there be reconciliation. Someone has to be the first to say, “enough”. Without it, there is no justice; only law.

Thus, I chose grace as my first tattoo. It is pregnant with meaning and a reminder that if I am to be strong, if I am to be a lover, if I am to live in faith and hope, then it all starts with grace. Grace is a circle. Only by giving it away can it be fully received and only by receiving it can it be given away.

 

 

 

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An intimate act

Writing is an intimate act. Like sex it can be a great deal of work for sometimes little reward, or it can flow and build to a flood that would make both Noah and John Holmes proud.

In my writing I attempt to learn more about myself while revealing it to others; sort of thinking out loud and publishing it on the internet. Some days I am successful beyond my wildest expectations and there are essays a wrote years ago that I will go back and read and think, “Damn, Bledsoe (I’ve decided to go by one name, like Bono or Sting), that was pretty good.” Others I will read and think, “Seriously. You need to start drinking a better brand of bourbon.”

At its best, writing should be comfortable, like an old denim shirt frayed around the collar and cuffs. I have shirts like that, which I refuse to get rid of. I still wear them. Even in public. I had a homeless person try to give *me* money once. He was like, “dude, you obviously need this more than I do.”

Good writing of the type to which I aspire should draw you in and elicit an emotional response, involuntary, but comforting. I’m not going to change the world with my little essays, but in writing them I change myself and that’s a start.

Maybe the reader will laugh out loud and wake up their spouse. I’m ok with an angry husband under those circumstances. Maybe the reader will think anew about a matter and begin to ponder. Either way, if someone responds in some way then I am content.

When one has to form thoughts and commit them to a screen they must be sufficiently coherent to at least fit within the confines of some sort of reason. That’s how writing changes the writer. Thoughts left in the brain- at least my thoughts- are rarely organized. They look like my daughters’ playroom when they were small. My brain is full of naked Barbies, strewn about with various articles of clothing in piles on the floor. One of my daughters, whose initials are Courtney, used to join them in their nakedidity. I figured she would either grow out of it or get really good at it and make a lot of money. (For the record, she grew out of it.)

Unorganized thoughts must queue up to exit my mind and make it to my hands to be typed onto a page. Sometimes they come out and collide into one another, occasionally yielding inter-word road rage. That’s where f bombs come from. They are debris left over from a word wreck, like bits of windshield in an intersection.

Writing is not always pretty, but the act of producing the finished product, the journey, is what changes me. In ruminating on matters large and small I am forced to confront sacred cows and sometimes slaughter them. That’s as it should be. There is no value in merely repeating the same mantras while not considering their consequence. It should be like travel in the mind where you experience new thoughts and opportunities to see your world differently.

In that sense, writing is both arrogant, assuming one would want to read it, and humble, approaching the blank screen with a mindset that allows for a wandering across hill and hollow perhaps to find a small gemstone in an unexpected place.

Life is like that in general. Or should be. Travel should change us. Our experiences should change us. Our preconceived notions should be held up to scrutiny and discarded if found wanting. I believe that’s called growth.

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2016: What it was

What a year! Please tell me it’s almost over. Some events were memorable, for all the wrong reasons. We’ve watched Syria engage in a masturbatory convulsion of violence. On the other hand, we watched the USA win a truckload of medals in the Rio Olympics and took joy in the fact that the Russian swim team did so poorly; especially the women, whose beards created too much resistance in the water.

Like most years, this one began in January… when Kim Jong Il executed six family members who had the effrontery to have names that came ahead of his in the alphabet. According to the official North Korean Hungwell News Agency, all six committed suicide by shooting themselves in the back. Kim celebrated by exploding a thermonuclear device and climbing Mounts Everest and Kilimanjaro in the same day. All of this truly amazed Donald Trump who dispatched to North Korea his BFF and Good Will Ambassador to the Universe, Dennis Rodman, to discuss whether Kim might consider heading the Justice Department in his Administration, on the off chance he were to win in November. Literary note: this is called foreshadowing. It’s kind of like foreplay, which for the men would take too long to explain, because we have to move onto….

 February…. Where republicans and democrats decided to hold a primary in New Hampshire. It seems kind of stupid to hold an election there that time of year because it’s fucking cold.  During one of the Republican debates, Donald Trump declared his penis – in spite of the cold –  was so large it had three electoral votes. This crude remark was widely predicted to cost Donald Trump the election. So, of course he won New Hampshire, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Uranus. Vladimir Putin (whose last name roughly translates into English, as “grab ‘em by the pussy”, sent Trump a bottle of vodka and an autographed copy of his new book, “Go Hack Yourself: how to beg, borrow and steal Internet secrets”.

Putin’s book was released in March… when Ben Carson, a kind, decent and exceptionally intelligent man, dropped out of the presidential race and promptly endorsed Donald Trump, who is exactly none of those. Not to be outdone, on the Dem side, Bernie “Feel the Bern” Sanders declared in front of God and everyone that Hillary Clinton did not, in fact, have a penis. Libertarian candidate, Gary “Ride The” Johnson, chose former Massachusetts governor William “Bill” Weld to be his running mate, prompting media pundits to ask, “Why the hell isn’t Weld running for president himself?”

NASA announced that 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded in the history of humankind. We’re not saying anything, but there’s a lot of Mexicans trying to head north. Maybe they’re related? Possibly, because…

In April things really began to heat up with the birth announcement for the world’s first baby born with DNA from three parents: Larry, Marie and someone named “Stan”. Video of the conception is available on PornHub. Also, a 26’ python was found in Malaysia living inside someone’s toilet and Donald Trump told Fox News host Megyn “Blood from her Wherever” Kelly she had a “nice rack”. This was widely predicted to be the beginning of the end of the Trump Candidacy. Also in April, a reunion of women allegedly raped by Bill “Spanish Fly” Cosby was held in Madison Square Garden. Trump then asked Cosby to be his running mate, because, hey, they have a lot in common. That and “the Blacks love me!” Commenting about “the Blacks” when, you know, they’re standing right there, was widely expected to mark the end of Trump’s candidacy.

By May it seemed to be that the country and the world were headed to Hell, but, as it so often happens, just in the nick of time, a 70 year old Indian woman gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the hospital. Ever been to India? There’s like a bazillion people there. There’s no room for fucking anybody! They all work for “tech support” companies and have names like “Bob” and “Joe”.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Brazil impeached their president because of corruption and replaced her with the previous vice president, himself earlier removed from office for, you guessed it, corruption. This all literally weeks before the Olympics.

Then Harambe the gorilla was shot in the Columbus Zoo.

It was a good thing that the schedule called for the month of June because on the 1st, Switzerland (literally “land of Switz”) opened their 57  km Gotthard (literally “stay hard”) tunnel through the Alps. This would have been very handy for Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. In science news, CO2 was successfully turned into “stone” by Icelandic scientists, in an effort to find out what to do with all this excess carbon floating around. Considering that this was in Iceland, methinks it was the scientists that were stoned. (I have my own solution to this problem: trap all the extra CO2 and use it for beer. More beer, less carbon in the atmosphere. A win-win.

Not much else happened in June, but on the 18th the first British astronaut, Sir Ian Austin Goldfinger Bond Powers, returned from the International space station. Fellow travelers, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Sonofavich and American Robert “Bob” Patton, said “Not a moment too soon. We couldn’t understand a word he said.”

By July, Donald Trump decided that he really did want to be president and accepted the Republican nomination. Hillary, in spite of having all the popularity among younger voters of a sexually transmitted disease, won the Democratic nomination with the help of so-called “super delegates”, meaning other politicians on whom Hillary had enough dirt that they really had to support her.  Bernie didn’t give up without a fight, however, and gave a rousing speech at the convention, saying, and we quote, “This nation is something, something…. Free sex toys for someone…. Tax (we think) somebody…. Giant sucking sound…”. We’re not really sure but it sounded like he was discussing some unlawful acts with goats, but, honestly, we could understand Sir Goldfinger Bond Powers better.

Donald Trump nominated Mike Pence to be his running mate and Hillary Clinton nominated Tim Kane. Both of these gentlemen were as bland as matzah, but each possessed two indispensable qualifications: each were somewhat palatable to their party’s base and neither were under Federal indictment.

August represents the “dog days” of summer in most of Murica, and 2016 was no different, except, the Summer Olympics opened in Rio. Preparations were finally, well sorta, almost… not really, complete. However, at least each Olympic athlete received 40! condoms. The Olympics last but a fortnight and each participant got enough latex to git ‘r done almost three times/day. These athletes were honed and skilled and apparently also quite randy. But 3 times a day?  Whatever happened to the days when my old high school coach told us to “keep ‘it’ in our pants” the night before the big game? Not that there was much chance of “it” being used for much other than taking a leak, but I, at least, did make sure “it” was very, very clean, if you get my drift.

Anyway, the Olympics came off more or less without a glitch, if you don’t consider the Olympic diving pool, which turned the color of Augusta National midway through the competition. NBC, fearful that Putin would drop a nuke on Rockefeller Center, didn’t disclose the cause of the color change, but it appears a Russian diver went wee wee in the pool and all the drugs in her urine turned the pool into a giant version of those field ID kits they use to identify seizures on Border Wars.

There was also the small issue of members of the US Swim team deciding to hold up a convenience store because they had already used all their official Trojans.

The Olympics at least took our minds off the election for a while, but by September it was in full swing. Even Bill Clinton got involved after he heard the word “swing”. Staff members had to explain it wasn’t that kind of swinging and Bill decided he should have just stayed in Rio.

At the Vatican, Mother Theresa was “canonized” (literally, “shot out of a canon”) after someone claimed they saw her in a vision give 3-1 odds that the Cubs would win the World Series. St Theresa of Las Vegas, Calcutta and Monaco is the newest saint in the “Roman” Catholic pantheon.

NASA launched the Osiris-Rex probe to retrieve a rock sample off the Kardashian asteroid, so called because it’s almost as big as Kim’s ass. Also in science, the world’s oldest fishhooks were discovered in Okinawa, accompanied by an ancient Popiel Pocket Fisherman and a stone tablet version of Playboy magazine; featuring “articles” and a prehistoric centerfold of a model named “Og” (literally, “they’re not real”).

All this stimulation was too much so we ejaculated ourselves straight into October where an audio recording surfaced of Donald Trump being interviewed by Howard Stern. These recordings caused much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst everyone but actual voters who seemed to have already factored such things into their disdain or support for Trump. Even so, this was widely predicted to mark the end of Trump’s chances of winning the presidency.

South Korean firm Samsung recalled their Notes 7 phones when they proved to have a tendency to catch fire; an undesirable feature of a product typically held next to the user’s face. This proved to be especially troublesome for some women in the Dallas and Houston areas who are known for using copious amounts of – as it turns out – highly flammable hairspray.

In cultural news, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Really.

By November it was time to finally get the US presidential election over with. So, like a kidney stone, it came to pass that on November 8th, a date which shall live in high school textbooks everywhere, Donald Trump won the presidency. He performed unexpectedly well, confounding media pundits (with the exception of Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un (literally “single penis Kim”). Trump even won Michigan, as voters there basically said, “what the hell? It can’t possibly get any worse” and Wisconsin where Trump carried the state by 40,000 votes in spite of CNN not being able to find a single voter who would admit doing so. Not long after the election, Russian president Putin was accused by the CIA, FBI, and the NFL of meddling in the election. Evidence included a check for $100,000,000 made out to Trump for America that was signed by “V. Putin”, billboards all across Moscow featuring Putin and Trump in a vaguely homoerotic embrace (this really happened, well mostly), and campaign balloons that were suspiciously underinflated. (Did I mention that Tom Brady supported Trump, as well?).

When the fullness of November’s days had come, she opened her thighs and gave birth to December, whereupon on some specific date, French president Francois Hollande (literally “Frank Holland”) said “fuck this shit” and announced he was not running for a second term. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump called the president of Taiwan and attempted to order Chinese carry out, thus pissing off both Taiwan and the Mainland. (Historical footnote: Trump stiffed the delivery person).

Philippine president Something Duterte boasted he personally killed criminals when he was mayor of some city in the Philippines. Not to be outdone Donald Trump announced he will hold public executions at the White House. Speaking of the White House, the Cabinet will again be all white with one token black dude, Ben Carson, who was nominated to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Unfortunately, on his way to the white house to meet the president he was pulled over by a white Fairfax county police officer named “Earl” and arrested because he was a) black and b) clearly not an NBA player or rapper and c) obviously no black man could afford a Mercedes unless he was an athlete, rapper, or a drug dealer.

A series of cease fires were declared in Aleppo, some of which lasted as long as 4, even 5 minutes, before devolving into an orgy of artillery fire. During these interludes (literally from the Latin meaning “time to reload”) as many as a dozen civilians were evacuated from the city before the firing would start again.

And so you have it. 2016. A year in which America, united for all of two weeks for the Olympics, won more medals than ever, but ended up more divided than before. Where one candidate was elected without technically getting more votes (well if you don’t count California he won by 2 million votes, if you do, he lost by 3.5 or something… this is humor, not an effing history book). Where al Qaeda has been replaced by something so much worse, we long for the days of bin Laden. Where the Soviet Union seems being rebuilt republic by republic. Where Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. (This happened earlier in the year, but we forgot to mention it. Or maybe it was last year. Everyone talks about it so damn much you’d think the vote was last week. Frankly, we don’t give a shit.)

The only thing certain is that on January 1, 2017 will be upon us… and you know what that means: The Trump presidency! This will surely lead to an even more eventful, not to mention hilarious look at 2017, what it was, about this time next year. Until then, I have to ask: did those athletes really use all those condoms?

PS: The Cubs won the World Series! Woo hoo! You’d think they cured HIV or discovered cold fusion or something the way these people carry on. Can we get on with our lives now. Please?

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