Archive for the 'For My Son' Category

Sep 04 2015

I See Dead People

Over the past day or two, I’ve had the (mis)fortune of having Aylan Kurdi’s photo assault my senses without warning in my Facebook feed.  I suspect this photo will go down in history alongside that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc and countless other photos documenting the extremely tragic consequences of being caught in the crossfire of war and unnecessary violence.

I also had the (mis)fortune (several days ago) of seeing Alison Parker and Adam Ward gunned down by Bryce Williams/Vester Flanagan, both from Ward’s perspective, and Flanagan’s perspective.

And, then, of course, there are people shooting up churches, movie theaters, schools, etc.

And, as usual, there is outrage.  There is anger. There is righteous indignation.

After that, there is outrage that there isn’t enough outrage.  There is anger that there isn’t enough anger. There is righteous indignation that there isn’t enough righteous indignation.

As usual.

Then there is the inevitable “While you were distracted by this Thing, This Other Thing was happening!” type hectoring, about how we’re all “sheeple” and puppets of the media/government/etc. and we should be ashamed, but oh wait, here’s the Next Thing to be outraged, angered and indignant about.

As usual.

There are also occasional forays into “You’re outraged for the wrong reasons and I’m outraged at you!”

(to note: Kim Davis denying marriage licenses in Kentucky for “religious” reasons, but pointing out her hypocrisy based on multiple divorces and children born out of wedlock, is now being called “slut shaming” and nobody’s allowed to point out the very obvious fact that she looks kinda like Annie Wilkes in Misery).

"Dirty Birdies! No Cockadoodie Marriage License for YOU!"

“Dirty Birdies! No Cockadoodie Marriage License for YOU!”

Aren’t we all pissed off about someone shooting a lion, too?  Or are we done with that now?

Anyway.

Let’s talk about dead people.

While not directed at me in particular (thankfully, or I would be forced to cut a bitch), it seems that I’m now seeing the outrage-that-there-isn’t-enough-outrage phase of the reactions to the photo of Aylan Kurdi’s body on the beach. People are getting cranky that others aren’t publicly displaying their outrage in sufficient quantities.

So, let me offer my reasons for NOT going on about this particular tragedy in great length on social media (and by “great length” I mean “at all”).  Because, you know, my silence on the subject obviously means I’m either apathetic or a monster of some sort.

  1. Aylan Kurdi is the same age as my son.
  2. Aylan Kurdi’s position on the beach is in many ways similar to a position in which my son likes to sleep.
  3. My son was born prematurely, 6 weeks after we found out about him even existing.
  4. My wife and my son almost died a few days before he was born.
  5. My wife’s blood pressure reached Scanners – type levels, that everyone we’ve told the numbers to, is in awe that she didn’t stroke out.
  6. As a result, my son was born via emergency C-Section, after an entire night of all of us staying awake, trying to keep my wife and son alive.
  7. My son was not breathing when he was taken out. They had to intubate him immediately.
  8. My wife almost died again in the recovery room, and had to be taken to the ICU.
  9. My son then spent the next 11 weeks in the NICU.  During this time:
    • He developed Necrotizing Enterocolitis.
    • One of the other infants in the NICU died from this.
    • My son was also diagnosed with Tracheomalacia.
    • My son had frequent Apnea Bradycardia episodes.
    • Because of these things, he coded a number of times, including once while sleeping on me, and once while feeding from his mother.
    • My infant son had more wires and tubes sticking out of him than the humans in The Matrix.
    • My wife (bless her) spent every single day, all day, in the NICU with our son.
    • I could only spend the weekends, due to being 120 miles south  and starting a new job. This tore me apart inside, and still does.
  10. As if all this wasn’t enough, the time you spend in the NICU is not private.  You’re surrounded by other premature infants with their own host of medical issues, their parents, their doctors, and the assorted alarms going off around you. Constantly.
  11. We all survived this (yay!), but then shortly after we got home, the three of us got the flu, and this happened:
    • My 3 month son coughed up some phlegm and aspirated on it.
    • I picked him up, and he was cold, and his body had as much rigidity as a dead salmon you’d pick up at the fish market.
    • We called 911, and during the longest 10 minutes of my life, I was able to half-resucitate him, and keep him alive long enough for the paramedics to show up.
    • I got to ride in an ambulance with my 3 month old son fighting for his life in the back for the second longest 10 minutes of my life.
    • We spent all night at the local hospital that told us they didn’t want him there because they weren’t comfortable with the idea.
    • Our ER nurse kept disappearing, and I had to keep my son breathing for hours, by manually stimulating him.
    • When they finally moved him to a different room in the ER, he started to code again. This brought about a flood of doctors attempting to perform CPR, injecting him with Ketamine (for reasons I still don’t understand), and unsuccessfully trying to intubate him for far longer than necessary.
    • All of this while waiting for us to get transferred back to the NICU where we’d started (120 miles north). And then finding out that the helicopter had to turn back because of bad weather.
    • I then got to ride in an ambulance for 120 miles in back, with my son, stabilized, but in a metal canister, and beyond my ability to touch.  All I could do was watch him through a small window.
    • Then 10 more days of the NICU.

So, then.  We all survived, because, you know, #WhitePrivilege or something. And this now brings us to Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach.

If you re-read #3-11 above, I think -I hope- you would understand that I have PTSD from all of this.  Now, if you tie that back to #1 and #2, above, you’ll understand why I don’t have a whole lot to say about Aylan Kurdi.  But in case you don’t, let me elaborate:

It isn’t that I don’t feel Abdullah Kurdi’s loss.  The problem is, I do.  Seeing Aylan. Seeing Aylan on the beach.  Seeing how big (little) he is, and the position he’s in, brings #3-11 screaming back to me.  In my mind, in my body, in my veins.  I want to throw up. I want to scream.  Abullah has said “I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.”

And the problem is, I get that.  I know that.  I know because I came close to that too many times.

So, why am I not joining in the outrage on social media?

Because, ultimately, it doesn’t do anything.

It doesn’t save lives. It doesn’t change the world (unless you count some of the lynch mobs launched from Twitter), and, frankly, to me, it often straddles the line into masturbatory exercises about tragedy porn.

“But it raises awareness!”

Great! I’m aware!

Now what?  Do we all pat ourselves on the back for being “aware” now?  I’m aware. You’re aware. Now we don’t have to do anything else.  We’re aware.  All we need to do now is make sure everyone else is aware, too.  And if they’re not contributing to the Chorus of Being Aware (via “liking and sharing”) then THEY ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

I am aware that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are killed and/or imprisoned by the police.  I’m aware of this. For the record, I think this sucks.

I am aware that some white kid shot up an African-American church.  I’m aware of this. For the record, I think this sucks.

I am aware that the frankly ludicrous solution to this was for everyone to run around demanding Confederate flags be taken down, because this would instantly solve racism, or something.  More likely, it’s just going to piss people off.  Also, I find the logic of “you lost the war, why are you flying it?!” to be a dangerous road to take.  I look forward to the eradication of the Palestinan flag by the Left based on the same grounds. Yeah, I didn’t think so (and, for the record, I fully support Palestinan statehood).

I am aware that #BlackLivesMatter.  I believe they do.

I am also aware that #AllLivesMatter.  I also believe they do.  That includes your life. My life. My wife’s life. My son’s life. Aylan Kurdi’s life. The lives of those killed in the Charleston church shooting. The people killed by Anders Breivik. Everyone’s life.  Yet this is frowned upon as being somehow “racist.” (Personally, I think that by believing that #AllLivesMatter, it means I’ve got your back, regardless, and you don’t have to worry about whether I think you’re in the cool kids club or not.  But that’s me, and I refuse to be an “ally”.)

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot in cold blood by someone who took the time to post the fucking video online. That someone, Vester Flanagan, was a gay black man.

#WhoseLivesMattered?

The cold harsh reality of life is that it is complex (beautifully, painfully complex), and cannot be summed up in simple categorizations based on hashtags, or whatever groups one identifies with. To simply categorize anyone is to dehumanize them.

And that’s not something I’m okay with.

I am aware that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist.  For the record, I simply don’t give a shit.

Personally, I don’t think “awareness” is enough when it comes to problems such as these. Awareness is a cop-out. Go fucking do something, if you’re up in arms about an issue, or, alternatively, recognize the limitations of what you can do. I can be upset about Aylan Kurdi (and I am).  I can be upset about all of these issues.  But what I can’t do, realistically speaking, is anything to directly help the refugee situation, the victims of the latest shooting, or the outrage du jour.  While posting about these things on social media might make some people feel better (by bringing “awareness”) to me, it’s (too often) an empty gesture.

 

If you want to find a helpful organization to give to, then please do. I respect that.

If I had money to spare, I’d probably do the same.

Life doesn’t check your hashtags to make sure you’re one of the Good Guys (please forgive my use of cis-gendered heteronormative binary privileged nomenclature here).

And while I concede and agree that we all deal with shit differently, I am also a firm believer in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew when it comes to these things:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them (verse 1)

When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others (verse 2)

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others (verse 5)

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting (verse 16).

So don’t assume my “silence” on an issue is apathy (even though it’s entirely possible it may sometimes be). For me, Facebook is not “life.”  I owe you no explanations or reasons for my perceived silence on any issue. You don’t know what’s going on in my head, or my heart, or even my life.

Though now, close to 2,000 words later, you have a glimpse.

 

 

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Feb 25 2014

Art and Artist

Back in September, I had the good fortune to attend a Death In June concert with my wife, in San Francisco. The show was visited by a few misguided AntiFa protesters – I’ve written about it here.

Don't make me get all batrachian on you...

Don’t make me get all batrachian on you…

Twice now, within the last few months, I’ve again had to deal with more self-appointed culture police. This time, the target is H.P. Lovecraft.

The argument usually goes like this: “How do you reconcile your love of Lovecraft with the fact that he was a horrible racist/sexist and the ‘he was a product of his times’ argument doesn’t count – GO!”

This is what’s known as a shit test. It is designed to provoke, and it is also designed to prevent any “correct” answers, because to defend Lovecraft makes you an equally reprehensible person. You should be ashamed for liking such things, because these are “enlightened” times!

Or something.

First and foremost, you should never have to defend art, music, or literature that appeals to you. I may not like what you like, and you may not like what I like. However, I find art that is forced to sanitize itself into some sort of all-inclusive tokenism just to make sure someone somewhere isn’t inadvertantly having their delicate sensibilities shattered by the Big Bad Insensitive Artist to be incredibly dull and boring. Did anyone really actually enjoy “We Are The World”?

Really?

Second, I’m sorry, but nobody has a monopoly on “transgressive” art (whatever that is). So, Douglas P., and H.P.L. are both entitled to use provocative symbols, and have beliefs that don’t sit well with today’s hand-wringers. I will also support your right to create films with topless women making out in university libraries, cracking eggs on each other’s heads, and dancing around chicken carcasses.

will laugh at that, however.

I also find Herrmann Nitsch to be rather fascinating. You should check him out.

I think these days we seem to be running into a convergence of conveniences.

  1. It is convenient to categorize thoughts, feelings, beliefs into two categories: “correct” and “incorrect”
  2. This enables us to instantly decide that anything, or anyone, that does not fall into one of our two convenient categories, must therefore belong to the other category.
  3. It is more convenient to hold people forever accountable for their brief forays into “incorrect” than it is to acknowledge that they are human, may have different beliefs from you, may grow, may change their minds, and may renounce their former beliefs.  Thus it is easier, to forever hold, say, Tony Wakeford, accountable for his brief participation in ultra-right wing political groups and therefore believe he is secretly leading an entire musical genre in promoting crypto-fascism (sometimes so crypto as to be unidentifiable even with a microscope), than it is to acknowledge his own repeated mea culpas. It is more convenient to simply label him and anyone ever seen in the same room with him as fascists. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of them, learn anything about any of them, or worry about tainting your precious little mind with the “dangerous” ideas that you read somewhere they are promoting. Effort is hard.
  4. It is convenient to just have all of the answers handed to you. When reality doesn’t fit your worldview, obviously reality is wrong. The rest of us just need to “do the research!” and we’ll be instantly enlightened as well.

I think some of this is pure laziness.  I think a good chunk of it (at least in the States) is the fault of the educational system. Kids are no longer being taught how to think, but rather provided with lists of things to memorize for The Test.

Before our son was born, my wife decided to take a philosophy of religion course at the local junior college. From what she told me, it sounded more like remedial high school English. The professor spent more time trying to teach the students how to write 5 paragraph themes than being able to effectively discuss philosophy or religion; the students kept demanding to know where the answers were in the book for their discussion topics.

Discussion Topics. Discuss. Philosophy. As in, “What do you think?”

As a former compiler of course and faculty evaluations at a different university, I was saddened by how many professors were getting low marks for “lecturing too much – wouldn’t tell us what was on the exam.”

With convenient categories, of course, comes the lack of a need to recognize complexity and nuance. Instead, you skim for a few indicators and red flags, and you instantly know all you need to know about an artist/author/person and there’s no need to investigate further once you’ve put them in their appropriate box: “Correct” or “Incorrect”

For the record, there’s a third category: “Problematic,” which is usually reserved for people who you want to like, but simply can’t, because they’re in the “Incorrect” box.  “Problematic” puts the categorizer in a bind, because on a level they acknowledge human complexity.  But, since everything has to be a zero-sum game, “Correct”/”Incorrect”, most people prefer to err on the side of caution, and go with “Incorrect”, lest they be tarnished by association, and also labelled “Incorrect.”

This dance is tiresome.

Russell Berman, in his preface to Ernst Jünger’s book On Pain (2008. Telos Press), agrees:

Although conventional political thinking still tries to police a neat separation between left and right, we should not be afraid to explore the gray zone in between without leaping prematurely or unnecessarily to an unwarranted assertion of identity (p. viii).

So, can you separate art and artist? Is it okay to like someone’s creative output, even though you think they may be a bit of an asshole?

There’s a simple solution.

The quick version: Don’t hate the Player, hate the Game.

The not-so-quick version: like what you like. Who, ultimately, gives a fuck?

If you are so caught up in worrying about what other people think of your tastes, then you have bigger issues than “is Dave Sim a misogynist, or might he have a few points?” Nobody has all the answers – especially in these “enlightened” times. If you feel that you suddenly aren’t “allowed” to like something, because the creator has unpopular opinions, or may have put their foot in their mouth in an interview somewhere and is currently being eaten alive by the Internet Outrage Machine, then I have to question the strength of your sense of self-identity.

As Robert Anton Wilson said to me, and I’m fond of repeating: “Read things you disagree with. Otherwise you aren’t exercising your mind.”

Embrace that which scares you and makes you uncomfortable.  That is what art is supposed to do.

This is also good practice for embracing other uncomfortable moments in life.

To quote Aleister Crowley:

There are only two courses open to logic; one can either accept the universe as it is, face every fact frankly and fearlessly, and make one’s soul immune to the influence of any invasion; or abolish the whole thing by administering soporifics to the spirit…The pious pretence that evil does not exist only makes it vague, enormous and menacing. Its overshadowing formlessness obsesses the mind. The way to beat an enemy is to define him clearly, to analyse and measure him. Once an idea is intelligently grasped, it ceases to threaten the mind with the terrors of the unknown.

Quit whining.

Own up to your tastes.

Tell me why you like the things you do, rather than apologize for them.

And enjoy (sidenote:  if you’re worried about your etheric body, wear a condom).

There are no brownie points.

Really.

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Jan 28 2014

An Evolving Checklist for the Next Generation

‘Old men like to offer good advice in order to console themselves for no longer being in a position to give bad examples’ (François de La Rochefoucauld)

My son just turned two years old not long ago.

He is starting to assert his independence, and while it is challenging at times, I couldn’t be happier for him. This has to be exciting for him, and sometimes I can almost see the little neural networks forming in his head.

I didn’t plan to be a father.  In fact, due to complications, he was born significantly earlier than we expected. I will probably write about this at some point (I still hit PTSD-induced blocks when trying to put it in writing), but for now, I’ve been reflecting on what values I want to instill in him. If I was to write my own version of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, to pass on to him, what would it look like?

I find myself in the uncomfortable place of dis-identifying as a Leftist. I certainly support the aims and goals that the Left aspires to (I’m not about to go join the Heritage Foundation, or suddenly vote Republican), but in practice, I see too many self-contradictions and things that either don’t work, or don’t add up. (See Destroying the Village in Order to Save It, for example).  In all honesty, as much as I am loathe to appear to endorse him or his actions, I think Ted Kaczynski has at least a few points in his Critiques of the Left section of The Unabomber Manifesto. Am I advocating that mailing pipe bombs is a good idea?  Hell no. But I think if the Left were to take a moment of honest self-appraisal, it would see that his comments – while biting – are not without accuracy at times.

If the Right lost the plot long ago (which, I think most of them have), and the Left seems hellbent on throwing the plot away (which I think most of them are intent on doing through endless self-flagellation), what do I tell my son is morally and ethically right?

Maybe I’m getting old (or, maybe I’ve been in California too long), but I’m becoming increasingly of the opinion that no one “side” has all the answers.  Trying to conform facts and reality to ideology is a waste of time.  This is something that both sides are guilty of. Yes, they are. Shut up. Additionally, I can no longer in good faith stand by and agree to any theory that posits that every single human interaction is based in oppression and domination. It is nihilistic, and does not take into account the beautiful complexity of life. As Dr. Candida Moss says,

 It turns disagreement into a struggle for survival with an innocent ‘us’ pitted against a hateful ‘them.’ This polarizing view of the world not only makes it impossible to have meaningful dialogue and collaboration, but it can also be used to legitimize violence against others in the name of “self-defense.”

This is a work in progress, but if my son were to approach me right now, and say “Hey Dad, what do you believe?” this is how I would answer.  This is what I would tell him is important in life.  I will be elaborating on each of these themes in coming posts, as I see fit. I don’t claim to be expert at any of these things. But that doesn’t mean he and I can’t learn together.

PRIDE:

Pride in who you are. Pride in where you come from. Who are your ancestors? What did they do so you could be here? Where did they come from? Why did they leave? Do not let anyone make you feel bad for being who you are. You are not responsible for the ills in the world. You are only responsible for the ills you perpetrate. There is no guilt by association – do not believe those who would condemn you because you look a certain way, believe certain things, or love who you are (see RESPECT, and also give others these same benefits). Do not perpetrate ill, unless a situation calls for it. These situations, while rare, do exist. Think twice, and carefully diagram the reasoning behind vengeance. Consider the cost/benefit ratio. Sleep on it. Sleep on it for seven days. If your heart still burns for vengeance, be careful in how you execute it. Ask yourself if the object of your vengeance could do a better job destroying themselves than you could. 99.9999999999999999% of the time, this is the case.

RESPECT:

Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect those who deserve respect, and don’t waste your time with those who do not. If they mistreat you, take appropriate action. Don’t start fights, but be prepared to finish them. Know when it is wiser to walk away. Everybody is entitled to one freebie. Just as you would be respected by others, offer the same respect to them; even if it is not immediately forthcoming from them. Be the bigger person, but also know when to cut your losses. Be prepared to let them go (see PROVISIONAL ALLIANCES). Respect the land, and its inhabitants. If you find yourself away from home, respect and honor the traditions of those you are visiting. Know your own history, and know the histories of others. You can never know enough history. The more you know, the easier it is to respect.

FAIRNESS:

Be fair in your dealings with others. Expect and demand fairness in return. There are no zero-sum games. Everyone has a chance to prove themselves. You do not get a ribbon, however, simply for showing up. Equality of opportunity – not outcome. Genuinely support the attempts of others. Know and respect your own limitations.

SELF-INQUIRY:

Be open to self-analysis. Could you have handled a bad situation differently? Is an apology in order? If so, make it. Just as you may have had to let people go, others may feel that they need to let you go. Ask yourself why that is. Be objective. Be critical. Be equally prepared to understand that it may be something you did, or it may be them. Sometimes what may seem like a loss may not be one after all.

RESPONSIBILITY:

Take ownership of your actions. Admit to mistakes, and take pride in accomplishments.

PROVISIONAL ALLIANCES:

Almost every alliance you form is ultimately temporary. Some will be permanent. It is my hope that you find true love with a partner of your choosing, and that love you provide him/her will be equally returned to you. You will know when you find this person. You will learn how to not be deceived. Know, too, that organizations, ideologies, and belief systems do not love you. They are using you. You can use them, too, and ally yourself with them (and certainly join up with them if you agree with them!) Ally yourself with them provisionally, however. Know when their usefulness has expired, and apply the same inquiry you apply to yourself, to them. If an organization, ideology, or belief system you subscribe to does not follow the criteria I’ve listed above, it doesn’t serve you. Actions speak louder than words. Hold any group you join to high standards.

EMBRACE PARADOX – QUESTION AUTHORITY:

Why? Because I said so.

“Never stop learning, and always do a little more than you have to.” – Adele Gutsch Hunter

“Always read things you disagree with – otherwise you are not exercising your mind.” – Robert Anton Wilson

 

 

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