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Monday Morning

I dreamed the house was full of smoke. When you have a woodstove, that's not a dream you can ignore. You have to get up and check. It was both cold and unexciting in these parts round midnight; the wind had blown the fire out and I did not start it again. Dawn comes soon enough. What else are blankets for?

Thursday Morning

Imagine if you were a jellyfish and the water you were in suddenly froze solid. Yes, it is most probably a terrible experience, but before you died, you'd have an intense crystalline awareness of who you are; where your body ended and the sea began, boundaries wrought of pain are still boundaries.

That's how I feel right now, except I'm fresh thawed and moving. And maybe a little bit ferocious. There is an immensity of potential - so much could be done - and I have found my war. My life's work. Thomas Hobbes was wrong; we are not, absent a common power to keep us all in awe, inevitably doomed to a short, brutish fate. We are the better angels. Our capacity for evil pales beside our capacity for greatness. Despair, bitter envy, and ignorance are powerful forces, but they can be fought and they will not win.

I see everywhere that I am not alone in this fight. There are voices speaking out, saying "Not in my name". Allies in unexpected places; people in power as well as regular folks. History supports this; mankind has gotten itself into some hateful untenable corners before, and we've gotten out - barely, sometimes; slowly, far too often - and the pen is, in fact, far mightier than the sword.

Sunlight is the best medicine. To illuminate - to shine the light on what is happening - to brighten, so all might see and judge for themselves - to introduce context and backstory and perspective where they've gone missing - is what it will take to win hearts and minds and action. Afterward, of course, it will be said to have been inevitable, the forward motion of progress doing what it does. But sometimes progress needs a kick in the ass to get going, and that's what I'm fixing to do.

Wednesday Morning

A chickadee just tried to drink from our Christmas lights. There's a handful of them this morning, flying fast. They look tight, feathers shining, bellies plump; this late in November sometimes that's not the case. It's been warm where they've been. It's warm here. Migrating must be easier when the whole world's not frozen beneath you.

I'm having a hard time this morning. My brain doesn't want to wrap around the things it needs to. But I wanted to write something here; I feel an almost pathological need to take things down - later, we might want a record of what we were thinking in these times. "Some of us were aghast" Where has all the history gone? Not even obsessively detailed nerd history such as the collective here is fond of, but basic broad sweeping generalizations about how the world has lined up over time and how people are prone to act?

And there comes a point where you know they don't know, and that they don't care that they don't know. There is no amount of information that is going to sway their view; the world is permanently decided into "Us" and "Them". Without a shred of irony, they count themselves oppressed. The world is out to get them; they are being persecuted because they are not being obeyed.

I shouldn't have spent all that time reading Luther. It lets me see patterns I'd rather not see. And "The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" is killing me. There is a battle for hearts and minds that must be won - there, at the point of radicalization, here, at the point where we're losing/we have lost the ability to see the other as humans because we are afraid something bad is going to happen and we are going to die. But something bad is going to happen and we are going to die, nobody is getting out of this alive - but who will we be before that point happens, that is the question, the only question, the question I don't know how to ask in the right way, the transformative way, the game changing way.

There is an urge to inventory. What resources are available; what tools can be put to use. You have a voice, sing out, sing out with all your might! I hear the hands clapping, the feet on the floor as the hymn echoes through the nicely liberal church hall. To be radical in an echo chamber achieves nothing. Stepping out is not a zero-cost option; silence isn't free either. Which way is safer? Is safety our ultimate goal here? A million questions, no answers, and the horror of complicity hanging overhead every moment. That's what I've counted up. Now I need to do other things. And then maybe I need to stop doing other things and find a way to give this voice in a way that makes a difference. I don't know what that looks like but it'll probably be more effective than growling at people about how they need to read Solhzhenitsyn.

Tuesday Noontime

The national debate regarding refugees has revealed to me sides of my fellow Americans I'd much prefer to have never seen at all. Cowards, fools and bigots - the worst ones, of course, are those who have spent a lifetime preaching at me and singing real loud about how much they love Jesus. It makes me sick and I don't think it's going to get any better. What can you do? I'll keep holding the line on my position that treating people with kindness is the only way we're going to turn this tide if it can be turned at all. Maybe someone will listen before I'm killed as a collaborator.

Monday Morning

This is a duplicate from Facebook, which I try not to do, but no time this morning:

The first law of thermodynamics tells us that matter (which is a storage medium for energy) can neither be created nor destroyed - only changed. The bombs falling from the sky right now are simply martyr seeds; killing leaders, soldiers, fathers, brothers, sons, lovers, husbands - all of whom will need avenging, meaning the cycle of killing may slow from time to time, but it will never truly stop.

Important to remember happy, prosperous people who have a reasonable hope for their future and a meaningful place in the culture they live in don't become suicide bombers; important to look at why young men are becoming radicalized and so willing to throw their lives away - because it is there, at those pivotal points, that this war will be won, if it can be won at all.

Globally, if we invested a fraction of what will be spent on war into peacemaking - which yes, does mean sacrifice on our parts to create better lives for others, by providing education, healthcare, and most important of all, avenues to careers & entrepreneurship for the legions who don't have these things - we would see the appeal of joining Daesh fail. In fact, people would be invested to fight against Daesh, because they'd want to protect the good lives they have.

But hey, it's a lot more fun to pretend that might makes right, and that killing enough people will make this problem evaporate, and that we can bomb our way into peace. It's never, ever worked before, in all of human history, but who knows? Maybe this is the time it will.

Friday Morning

In Benin, lots of people have had polio. You don't have to have vaccines there if you believe God doesn't want you to. The ones who have grown up with withered legs - the ones who can not stand, who can not walk, who have no hope of this ever changing - do not have much in the way of economic opportunity. But there are people who will specially modify Vespa scooters so they can carry far more fuel than others, and they change up the handlebars so the bikes can be operated by using only the hands. And the people with polio sit on top of these modified Vespa fuel tanks and they drive from Benin into Nigeria, where the fuel is cheap and plentiful, and they bring this fuel back, and everyone, most especially the border guards, know what is going on is illegal smuggling, but in Africa, the law has exceptions. It's all very formal and correct; the people with polio have helpers who will ride with them in case of mechanical emergency or to assist the rider on and off the scooter, but they are strictly not allowed to be part of the fuel-handling - that would be wrong. The proprieties must be observed; not everyone is allowed to break the law, only those with polio.

The fuel comes from Nigeria. So too did the polio.

I heard this story for the first time this morning, but apparently it's been common knowledge for a while. The things people have to do to survive, here there and everywhere. It is astonishing. It is humbling.

Thursday Morning

Refusenik is one of those words I thought meant one thing but really means another. In truth, refuseniks were Soviet citizens denied permission to leave the country and move to Israel. I'd long thought refusenik meant living the life of no, of observing the cultural and societal norms in play around one and deliberately opting out, the failure to embrace the common motivation, the constant and persistant insistence that life should be other than it is. Refusenik; like Beatnik, but more obstinanate and with less attachment to black turtlenecks.

Can you say no to things you don't understand? Obviously, you can; people do it all the time. But let's set that aside, and take up instead the idea that before one actively refuses something - rather than passively ignoring its existence, in the hopes inattention will make it go away, the way one does with the IRS - one feels a duty to know what one's rejecting and why.

Perhaps the need for this duty arises out of the most common objection to a firm no - if only you understood, not all Xs are like that, yadda yadda yadda, if I bludgeon you with data points you will see that I'm right! Perhaps it is to avoid turning one's back on things one shouldn't.  Either way, examining cultural structures is uncomfortable; you will invariably find good people in bad systems and bad people in good ones. Working out how that happens can make your head hurt. Good people grow very attached to bad systems; if you say no to the system, they feel, not entirely without justification, that you are saying no to them or at least some part of them that they find vital. As one might imagine, very little good stuff happens after this point.Silence grows ten times faster than understanding.

What happens next? The Refusenik class has its own orthodoxies; one who can not and does not adhere to these finds themselves even more isolated. Movements splinter into a kalediscope of opinions, each refinement shapes anew that initial refusal into some strange new form. If you dropped Martin Luther into Joel Osteen's church, do you think he'd recognize his handiwork? (Assuming Luther to be once again alive; I understand his vision isn't now quite what it used to be and it was never all that good.) Grasping the tail makes it hard to see the beast's teeth. We don't always know the star we've hitched our wagon to.

Understanding takes time. Thinking takes time. And time is the one thing we're not allowed. Every day brings new outrage, piled one atop the other in towering heaps. There's no time to even absorb what is being shown to us; there has to be a response immediately if not even sooner. The idea of looking at situations both on an individual basis and as part of a larger phenomenon seems to be beyond our collective powers. The sense of a common good seems to have been lost along the way. Perhaps it never was. Perhaps it was, and now it's been refused.

Onward, upward, forward, y'all. We're going to have to rebuild something after this train we're on finishes crashing and burning.

Wednesday Morning

Rise and shine, rise and shine, rise and shine! It's Veteran's Day, which means no school; we slept in and it was glorious.

On Veteran's Day one of the things people do is talk about how absolutely shitty our government's treatment of veterans is. And it's true - the VA medical system alone is a nightmare, never no mind all the rest of the benefits soldiers should get. I wonder if that's the case in other countries; I know crappy treatment of soldiers is a constant theme throughout history.

I think it's important to talk about how the military experience is siloed off from the rest of American life. A Facebook friend was upset because his daughter's homework used examples of military vehicles in an exercise (bar graphing/comparison - which is faster, by how much?) and called it propoganda; on one hand I can see the discomfort, on the other hand, we've been at war for over a decade, it looks like we're ramping up for even more war, and all of the fighting is currently being done by only 4 tenths of one percent of our population. There's so much more to military life than dramatic movies and FPS games; maybe we need more everyday people looking at and talking about what's happening rather than less.

It is good to see the true diversity of America's military being discussed and acknowledged. That wasn't something that happened so much when I was little, yet there were definitely female soldiers, soldiers of color, soldiers of many faiths, queer soldiers and more back then too. There's a conversation to be had about the very pervasive fundamentalist Christian influence in the military today, particularly in the Air Force; while there's starting to be some serious push-back against this, I worry that the situatin may get worse before it gets better.

And now it's time to get to work. Onward, upward, forward, y'all - and if you've served, Thank You. We couldn't do what we do without you.

Tuesday Morning

Solving a problem in isolation is not the same as solving a problem in society. Let's use drinking as an example, as that's what I'm talking about. For much of my life, most of my drinking was done at home; I'm a terrible driver even sober and there are no bars within walking distance, so there you go. So stopping drinking meant largely making sure there was no booze in the house and doing other things instead of drinking. You all know I'm bone-lazy: if getting a drink meant getting my act together enough to actually leave the house and drive many miles to get it, I'm not going to do it. It's a system that has worked for me, and it's been a few years now of sobriety, which has been more good than bad.

The thing I'd forgotten about is how attached other people get to your drinking. Again, this is largely not a problem, as I don't see other people in social settings all that often. It is remarkably easy to forget how much life centers around drinking. When you run into it, it's not a shock in the sense of "Oh  my Goodness!" pearl clutching as much as "Oh, yes. That's what this is."

It turns out that the few years of not drinking at home makes it easy to not drink in other settings. For me, at least. It turns out that me not drinking at home and me not drinking in other settings changes the behavior of other people. There's a qualitative shift in the relationship; I'm  not sure if  hostility is the right word, but something not good happens when I say, "No, thanks, I'm good," and continue drinking my Coke and Coke.

I could understand this better if I was a fun drunk. But I'm really not a lot of fun when I've been drinking. What little bit of social filter I have evaporates, and I say unfortunate, hurtful things. That angry-Hulk-smash-all-the-things side of my character comes roaring out. I make epically bad decisions, often at a very loud volume. I really don't like who I am when I'm drinking, which is honestly the main reason I stopped drinking. Yes, health reasons - booze is bad on many levels when your body has strange quirks the way mine does - but when it comes right down to it, I stopped drinking because I have spent enough of my life being a nasty asshole.

It puzzles me that people miss me being like that. I especially like when people who barely know me try to talk me out of my sobriety, minimizing my lived experience with a handwave. "Oh, it couldn't have been that bad!" Dude. I know what skulls look like when they've been Jiffy Popped open. When I drink, I wind up seeing all sorts of things I could have lived without ever seeing. It is that bad. But by all means, I'll happily throw away the calm and stability and the not getting into those stories I really hate to tell just because you feel bad that you're having Jell-O shots and I'm not. Oh, wait, I won't. So sad, too bad. Better off to stay home. There's books and tea and serenity there, and that's more than enough for me.

Monday Morning

When I talk about 'day job' I mean the client I do the majority of my ghost/copy writing for. Still living the glamorous life; the revenue model's just sort of split into This One Big Job and Everything Else.

It was a crazy weekend with lots of driving & errands & getting things done. There was a special birthday party for my Mom and her sweetheart and that was fun. She was surprised, which is hard to do with my Mom.

We went down to the Catskills, where I grew up, and maybe it was just November, but boy, that region looks very tumble down and depressed. All of the resorts I remember as being pretty grand when I was wee are now by and large abandoned; houses I remember going up to great fanfare stand empty and unloved. There are standing weeds, khaki and rust and black, scratching up against the windows - the kids got tired of hearing me say "But that place used to be fancy!" as we went along. But no one vacations the way they used to: I guess I was lucky enough to see the end of an age.

Reading A.C. Wise's The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again, which is actually a pretty profound book underneath some blatantly impossible roller-derby fabulous superhero action. I have one more short story to read, but I like how the text works together, developing the characters through the progression of stories; this is one of those books that looks like it is simple but there's a lot of incredibly complicated things going on.

Made chili yesterday for the first time in the while. The children still do not like it. I, however, thought it was yummy. We had to drive in early this morning, and the moon was hanging like a little crescent grin just above the horizon. The night was laughing at us. What are you doing out of bed so early? That's the time for sleeping!