I Can’t Relate…

Enough politics brothers and sisters. Let’s talk about something a little more important today. I feel like preachin’ on parenting and paradox. Ooooh, alliteration, just like a real televangelist…

A wise associate of mine once pointed out that parenting is the ultimate emotional paradox: The better one does it the more the outcome is likely to hurt. You love your children deeply and want them in your life but good parents help their children become independent and autonomous. In other words you’re planning to make yourself obsolete from the thing you care about most. If I parent really well this small beloved child won’t need me at all. Hooray?

Yes hooray, but it still kind of sucks. Thinking about it recently I’ve decided that it’s probably even worse than that. I think good parenting means that you can’t possibly hope to UNDERSTAND your own child. This line of thought started with a Chris Rock joke. He quipped that he didn’t get his kids because they’re rich and he doesn’t know what it’s like to be spoiled and wealthy kid. Growing up poor he didn’t even KNOW a rich kid. Okay, kind of funny, but really really smart. He’s been financially successful so his children are going to have resources and opportunities, attitudes and confidences that he literally can’t imagine. I bet this phenomenon applies to all sorts of things.

Many of us grow up in less than ideal situations. Angry, stupid or abusive parents can combine with the external forces of peer pressure or poverty to make a deeply toxic environment. The fact is that childhood SUCKS for a lot of people and if that’s your experience you have two basic choices; deal with the crap you were given or pass it on to your kids. It’s not exactly news that a lot of abused or repressed kids go on to do the same things to their progeny. In that case the parent and child can both relate to each other on equal ground. But what about those people that make the harder choice and decide that the abuse is going to stop with them?

In these pages I’ve been pretty honest about the mild physical and ugly emotional abuse that filled my formative years. No need to dwell on the particulars, let’s just say I reached adulthood with a full escort of demons. I’ve spent much of my life trying, to the best of my ability, to exorcise as man of them as possible. I’d like to think that I’ve had some success (at the very least I’m not an alcoholic). I know that I’ve managed to keep many of the worst of the abuses out of my children’s life. They grew up better than I did. Of course that’s a good thing, but…

My children are more confident, calmer, and probably smarter than I will ever be. Their improved childhood means that I can’t identify with them at all, and vice versa. They have no idea what’s like to carry some of the demons in my life and I have no idea what it’s like to face life without them. That’s a good thing though it does limit our ability to understand each other.

I’m blessed with many wonderful friends both old and new. One of the ways we’re bonded is through shared experiences. We’re drawn to each other because something in our pasts resonate. In other words we’ve all fought, and continue to fight, some similar demons. If I met my children as adults I might not gravitate towards them, or them to me. Their emotional health and my scars wouldn’t be drawn together as naturally. They live in a better world. I helped move them there, but I can never go myself.

Well, that got a little maudlin. Sorry about that. None the less the point is a valid one. If you deal with the shit you were given and parent with some compassion and patience than your children will have more skills and confidence than you do. If that gap turns out to be rather large it’s going to mean that you won’t really be able to understand each other on many levels. Your experiences will just be too different. And that’s the very fucking definition of bittersweet.

I hope that I will always be an important part of my children’s life. I also pray that they won’t ever need me. That’s the nature of the original parenting paradox. This new paradox means that we’re going to have to work a little harder and with more awareness to understand each other even though we’re likely to remain mystified by the each other’s motivations. My friend Speedy used to have a bumper sticker on his truck that read ‘Guns don’t kill people, bad parenting kills people’. A good point, but want does good parenting do? It brings joy and pain in equal measure. It creates generations that can’t possibly relate to the pain and struggles of their predecessors. It brings balance.

So go forth brothers and sisters and slay those demons. Keep them from your child’s back. Be the one that does the work and ends the abuse. Understand that in doing so you’re creating a better world, but one that you might not get to appreciate or even understand. Joy and pain, sacrifice and acceptance. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Spewing Rage

As Charlie Brown used to say, “aaaaaaargh”. I try. I really try. Meditate, breathe, find my happy place. Ahhhh, calm acceptance. Compassion and understanding for the short sighted hateful mouth-breathing moral midgets who continue to make the world a shittier place for anyone trying to manifest the slightest fucking wisp of joy. Aaaaaaaaargh. See, I tried. I guess sometimes you just have to let the rage run a little. A cleansing fire hose of pure fury to blast out the cobwebs of apathy and despair. So stand back ’cause here it comes…

Let’s start small. Like with arresting a three year old for writing her name in chalk on her front stoop. Yep, apparently writing in chalk doesn’t count as free speech and toddlers are always a threat to national security. Occupy and other political protesters have taken to writing slogans in chalk so our supposedly elected representatives have made chalking illegal in many places. Draw a picture, go to jail. The LAPD dispatched 140 heavily armed cops to arrest an art teacher and some protesters who dared to write the word ‘crooks’ outside a Citibank. In court the prosecution said that it counted as graffiti because there was ‘malicious intent’. There you have it, right in front of your face. Free political speech is malicious and can get you arrested. Even if you’re three. Some inbred power hungry idiot cop used one of those laws to arrest a toddler in Brooklyn and fined her $300. Chalk, the gateway art supply. Land of the free. And quiet. And apparently chalk-less.

Oh, and by the way did you know that YOU no longer have the right to protest or exercise free speech or gather for political purposes on federal property or anywhere that Homeland Security considers important, or within two miles of any politician under secret service protection. It’s true. So says a new law passed overwhelmingly by BOTH PARTIES in BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS and signed by the President. Democrats and Republicans were concerned that someone might want to give an unapproved opinion near one of their conventions so they just made it illegal. That’s okay with you fucking sheep, right?

But wait, you say, I didn’t see any of that reported on the nightly news. Of course you didn’t. The media are owned by the same corporations that buy politicians. They don’t inform, they reinforce the dominant viewpoints. Here’s a teeny little example: Almost every week there are reports about some dumb criminal who robs somebody in a ridiculous way. You know the kind I mean. Barefoot man breaks into pizza joint and steals cheese. These reports always mock the poor jerk and get a good chuckle out of the smug asswhipe reading the story. Do you realize the subtext of these stories? Of course not. You’re not fucking starving. Here’s another way to tell the same story- Some poor human being in your community is so sad, hungry, or addled that he had to break in just to get something to eat even though he had no shoes for his cold and sore feet. Yeah, pretty funny, huh. Poverty and pain are fucking hysterical until you remember that they’re just people like you. Poverty isn’t funny. Desperation isn’t worth a quick chuckle at the end of some pseudo-news program. It’s a crying child who’s stomach hurts because he hasn’t eaten for two days. But that won’t sell you a Toyota during the next commercial break. Disney and their politicians want you to mock the poor. It makes you feel better about yourself at their expense. Cynicism and division. Enjoy your fucking news tonight and laugh out loud. You aren’t the hungry guy stealing food. YET. And Jesus just fucking loves it when you belittle pain and sadness on your way to watching Dancing with the Stars.

Wanna hear another story that your local media somehow ‘missed’? Go google the word ‘Trapwire”. You might not like what you see. A CIA attached corporation named Abraxas is gathering a little information. Small stuff like all the images from cameras around the country. Hell, the city of Long Beach just finished bragging about their new federally funded camera system. They’re using that info to track the movements of ever US citizen with some fancy new software. We don’t know much about it because the only ones who have been able to find out about it are Anonymous and Wikileaks. Right now your government is bombing Wikileaks computers with a denial of service attack to keep the facts from coming out. No warrants, no congressional or judicial approval. Certainly no ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Just constant surveillance. If you think that it doesn’t matter much, talk to the people all around Seattle and Portland who have been arrested for having “anarchist materials and beliefs”. They’ve committed no other crimes, but the government watched them and decided that they might be a terrorist threat.

You, yes you, are being specifically monitored and manipulated. Not in some crazy aluminum foil hat way. In a very real unconstitutional, horribly unchristian way. Your government is increasingly isolated and insular. It continues to pass more and more Draconian restrictions in the name of security. Your rights are disappearing and your media is helping. The trajectory towards a more totalitarian, economically calcified state is clear. Your fear and anxiety is being used to keep you quiet and contained. Your cynicism is their comfort. Too bad. Things could be better if you’d just show a little heart and spine.

I have one small message for elites of this country: We have no history of totalitarianism in this country. Americans are an ornery lot. We’ve been kicked out of every respectable country on earth and eventually we will wake up. And when we do you’d do well to remember that this ain’t no third world country. We have guns and we know how to use them. The army is made up of us, not you. Policemen are Americans and public employees too. So go ahead, do what you will. Push your agenda. Steal everything. Lock up as many as you can. Legislate away our God given rights. Because Karma is coming and for you, my friends, it will SUCK.

Feel the heat of the rage. It burns so hot and clean but remember that it always ends up scalding you in the end. It’s dangerous as hell but I think we might need to stoke it a little anyway. Burn out some complacency, ennui, and fear even if it gets out of control for a while. The forest needs some thinning. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

Hey, You Kids…

Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills

It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill

Springsteen, Shackled and Drawn

I’ve been thinking about this post for months. I think I’ve put it off because it just seems so damn trite. Oh boy, another rant by some old codger bitterly complaining about the kids these days. Really grandpa, your generation was so much better? Hey you kids, get off my lawn! Yuck. Except I think I’m right, I’m royally pissed off, and I’m pretty sure that age doesn’t have a fucking thing to do with it.

It’s not exactly a news flash that the world, and this country in particular, is a little fucked up at the moment. Millions of people are losing their homes. There are soldiers and paramilitary cops in our streets. A whole way of life protected by the constitution is clearly in peril. Privacy, free speech, freedom of travel, middle class amenities, labor power, and basic civil rights are becoming a thing of the past. War has become a perpetual fact of life while a select few are becoming richer by the second. And the nearly universal response from the youth of our land? “Whatever, not my problem, who cares.” God weeps.

I’m a Springsteen guy. His songs make up a significant portion of the soundtrack to my life. To me he’s the essence of Rock and Roll. A yearning to find something better. The lament of the common man as he tries to transcend to something more. The pain of failure and heartbreak. Good stories, memorable lyrics, tears and revelations. I understand that he doesn’t speak to everybody and that’s cool. Liking Bruce isn’t a prerequisite to understanding the point I’m going to make. Read on even if he isn’t your troubadour…

As a Bruce fan I couldn’t wait until his new album ‘Wrecking Ball’ came out. I loved it as soon as I heard the whole thing. Bruce’s best album in years, but that’s beside the point. It’s a protest album, more in the mode of Woody Guthrie or early Bob Dylan. It’s songs decry the current state of affairs. They’re full of righteous anger and despair. And, like many of his early albums, it finishes with hope and perhaps redemption. Wow. I felt like I’d been waiting years for a mainstream musician to articulate the need for rebellion, and here it was, performed by my favorite artist. Maybe now the world at large might pay a little more attention to the losers in this unrelenting war on humanity. As it turns out, not so much.

The album hasn’t been much of a commercial success but I don’t really give a crap about that. What was more interesting to me were the reviews. While many critics loved the album there were quite a few more who were turned off by the political content. In particular younger reviewers said they couldn’t identify with the outrage and didn’t feel this kind of anger. More than one reviewer referred to the record and it’s ethic as ‘old fashioned’. My 20 year old son said most of his contemporaries agree. Huh?

I have a friend who’s tangentially involved in a lawsuit involving a state’s right to collect your DNA and keep it on file. He was doing a little venting when one of the young attorneys asked why he was bothered by the case. My older friend explained that the lack of personal privacy and encroachment by the state into our private lives was very troubling. The young attorney disagreed. He said that his generation had no expectation of privacy and assumed that the government was, and should be, monitoring it’s citizens. Most of the rest of the people under 40 agreed with him. Really?

Have you been to any of the Occupy festivities? There are a few very devoted young people at the heart of the movement. And there are a few violent anarchists that haven’t celebrated their 30th birthday yet. But look at the marches. Look at the big demonstrations. They’re full of old folks. Instead of marijuana and tear gas they smell like incense and Depends. Were are the kids? Where’s the youthful idealism and righteous anger? I didn’t realize those things were just a ‘fad’ who’s time had passed.

Apparently outrage over inhumanity is old fashioned? Privacy is a thing of the past? Caring about poor people makes one somehow anachronistic? Hope for a better future now qualifies as fucking quaint? If that’s the case I have a message for today’s youth: FUCK YOU AND EVERYBODY THAT LOOKS LIKE YOU.

Oh, look at grandpa, carrying on again about today’s youth. Actually there’s one little problem with that particular dismissal: We’re still pissed off about the EXACT SAME THINGS THAT BOTHERED US WHEN WE WERE YOUR AGE. Us old folks haven’t changed. War, poverty, and civil rights had us riled up 30 years ago. They still aren’t fixed so we’re still cranky about it. This ain’t no old age complaint, it’s an age old battle. So put down your fucking video game and go pick up Pete Seeger’s Banjo. Head out to the streets, or better yet, figure out some other way to advance the agenda. But first, get pissed off and inspired. Because if those things are old fashioned I’m not sure I want to live here any more. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

On Comfort Zones and Life…

It’s time to get back to preachin. Enough politics. Enough screeching and hating over false choices. I’m preachin something more practical today. Let’s talk about comfort zones and their place in human and spiritual growth.

It’s quite fashionable these days to exhort people to ‘move outside their comfort zone’ in order to live more fully. I also hear people talk about ‘living outside their comfort zone’ as a prescription for growth. I think they might be wrong. Oh, I don’t disagree with the impulse, I think that’s spot on. And lord knows I enjoy making people uncomfortable. I just think they’re just being imprecise in their language and that can lead to counter-productive behavior.

So, let’s be precise and get to the CORE of things. Clearly choosing comfort all the time is a bad thing but constantly choosing unease could be just as useless. Sometimes you should live right smack in the middle of your comfort zone. I’m a biker. I NEVER ride outside of my comfort zone. The penalty would be too severe. By staying wholly in control and confidant I gain experience and become a better rider. My skills naturally expand with that experience and I never end up being scraped off of a guard rail. Hell, a certain amount of comfort and confidence is necessary at all times or we become ineffective. So at best leaving one’s comfort zone should be done judiciously.

A more useful construct is the idea of finding one’s training edge. This concept is really useful when learning martial arts and probably applies to most other pursuits. Of course you can’t learn much if you aren’t willing to go past what you already know. The learning process also requires that you apply increasing amounts of stress to your knowledge in order to find the spots where it breaks down. Both of those things are clearly outside your comfort zone. BUT, if you go too far it becomes impossible to learn anything at all. Your system freaks out and stops matriculating new information. More than likely you’ll get hurt or even hurt someone else. Too much too fast is just as useless and more dangerous than blind complacency. The trick is to get JUST outside the comfort zone but not too far. This area is your training edge. Walk at the edge of the cliff, see the view, but don’t fall in the ravine. Once a student has a feel for it there’s no limit to how much they can learn.

As useful as the training edge concept is, I don’t think that’s what most people are referring to when they talk about leaving one’s comfort zone. In my opinion what people really mean is that they need to return to beginners mind. Being a beginner at something is really hard. Everything is foreign and many things seem impossible. Besides that you’re probably going to look stupid a lot. Your feet will be backwards. Your hands won’t do what you tell them. Everyone’s using words that don’t seem to mean what you thought they meant or that you’ve never even heard. And what’s worse, you have to say “I don’t know, teach me”. The ego shudders. Oh the shame, the shame. It’s like the first day of kindergarten all over again.

Yep, being a beginner is hard. And wonderful. And scary as fuck. Adults HATE IT. How can I be cool and in control? What will people think of me? I’ll be judged. Oh horror, someone might even laugh at my ineptitude. Or make fun of me. Boo-fucking-hoo. I’ll grant you it might be uncomfortable for some, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to get your whiny little ego in check.

A couple years ago I realized that there was a real lack in my life. I was good at everything I did. The things that had been hard were now easy. I had expertise and experience at almost everything I did. I didn’t need to leave my comfort zone by pushing those skills further, I needed to be a beginner again. So at 48 I decided to learn to play the bagpipes. I had zero musical experience and no skills at all. I didn’t read music or know the first thing about it. I was a beginner again. It’s hard. I get nervous before a lesson. Mostly I suck at it. But I’m getting better. And it brings me joy.

You see, I didn’t need to be uncomfortable, I needed to be inept. My ego needed a good smack down. Ironically I’ve been in this position enough times now in my life that the role of beginner is pretty damn comfortable. I don’t mind looking stupid. Fools can judge me all they like. I’m learning. I’m finding more joy. I know what I’m good at and I know my value. I also know when to put those tools back in the box and start over.

I grant you that being a beginner is tough. You might even have to learn things that conflict with something you thought you understood. I just don’t necessarily think it has to be uncomfortable. In fact shouldn’t growth, a smaller ego, and playing the fool be a comfortable part of all our lives? There’s a punk/biker saying that if you aren’t living on the edge you’re taking up too much room. Cute, but instead I’d say that if you aren’t constantly growing bigger and taking up more space you’re just waiting to die. So, my friends, go learn something new. Find your training edge. And when some dumbass laughs at you just give him a big joyful smile. Cause he’s already dead and you aren’t. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viv la Revolucion.